The Power of Passion: Bicolana Poet

Behind every word and line in a literary work lies a passion and a unique perspective of a writer working tirelessly to create a masterpiece in the world of writing. Within this creative industry emerges Merlita Lorena Tariman, a prolific Bicolana writer from Daraga, Albay, whose journey in writing is as inspiring as the verses she crafts.

Tariman’s interest in writing poetry started during her high school years in the former Albay High School, when she was first recognized for contributing to a school paper. She later earned the prestigious title of “Class Poet” during her graduation in 1966. Little did she know that this would be the start of her literary journey.

She carried her passion for writing poetry into her college years while pursuing a degree in Education at Bicol University. Driven by the thrill of seeing her work in print and the modest reward it brought, Tariman began submitting her poems to national publications.

Her first published poem, “Labor and Industry,” was a heartfelt tribute to her mother and the sacrifices of mothers everywhere. This initial success fueled her focus on themes related to women and the everyday struggles of ordinary people.

Throughout her career, Tariman has used her writing as a powerful tool to fight against social injustices. Her poetry explores themes such as feminism, empowerment, poverty, and the environment, aiming to shed light on the issues that often go unnoticed.

Dating back to the 1970s, Tariman started writing short stories in Filipino as a way to finance her college education. Despite experiencing some success, her aspirations were abruptly halted by the onset of martial law imposed by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. During this period of political turmoil, many print and broadcast media outlets were forcibly closed, including the magazine to which she had been contributing her stories. Tariman’s freedom was also compromised during this time when she was taken into military custody in 1974. 

“That’s how martial law stole my chance at becoming a short story writer, and also my freedom later on when I was taken under military custody in 1974. Through the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, I was one of the tens of thousands of martial law victims who were extended government compensation in 2019,” Tariman said.

Bold personality

Despite facing numerous challenges, including the oppressive regime of martial law and periods of political unrest, she turned setbacks into a comeback by resuming her poetry contributions to various publications, such as ‘‘Focus Philippines” and “Woman’s Home Companion.’’ Her works occasionally appeared in magazines like the “Sunday Times,”  “Philippines Free Press,” and “Sunday Inquirer” until the 1990s. 

By the mid-1990s, Tariman began exploring writing in Filipino poetry and later in Bikol, where she discovered that her native language was more melodic in poetry. 

This shift in the medium led to her first book, “Pinatubo At Iba Pang Tula,” a bilingual collection of Filipino-Bikol poetry published in 2014 with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

She has also authored “Ako Bikolnon,”  initially composed in 1994 and revised in 1999, which serves as a testament to her deep connection to her origins. According to her, Dr. Paz Verdades Santos selected this poem for her anthology, “Hagkus: Twentieth-Century Bikol Women Writers,” which was published by De La Salle University Press in Manila in 2003.

Currently, some of her latest English poems appear in the “Philippine Graphic Reader,” highlighting her continuous contribution to contemporary literature.

Asked about the challenges she encountered as a Bicolana writer, she firmly believes that a writer’s place of origin, such as being a Bicolana, should not influence their acceptance within a literary community. Although there may be perceived hierarchies within literary communities, she sees this as a natural aspect of any industry and not necessarily a sign of discrimination.

“I would like to believe that the quality of any writer’s output, or the lack of it—as well as his or her attitude toward other people—will be the determining factor for one’s acceptance to or rejection from any group or society, like in a literary community that seeks to find excellence in the writing industry,” Tariman said.

Year 1974 when she was married to Pablo Tariman who is also known for his roles as a writer-journalist, author, and impresario. Together, they were blessed with three daughters.

Her daughter Kerima Lorena Tariman was a renowned writer who significantly made a legacy in the world of literature and poetry. Kerima was a braved activist, a former editor and a writer whose literary works left an indelible mark to her readers. She died in a clash between the new people’s army and the Philippine military in Negros Occidental year 2021.

Behind pen and paper

Tariman’s commitment to social change not only reflects on the pages of her poetry but also in actions that could probably make a difference in people’s lives. 

Deeply committed to advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, Tariman has actively participated in organizations aimed at uplifting rural women, such as the Foundation for the Advancement of Filipino Women (FAFW) and the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP).

Recalling her engagement with FAFW, she shares how the organization promotes community-based projects for rural women, with one notable initiative recognized by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNICEF).

“One of the most significant strategies it has developed was the ‘Kababaihang Barangay of San Miguel, Bulacan, which organization and its self-help projects was hailed by UNICEF as a model for economic empowerment of rural women,” Tariman said.

Meanwhile, CAPWIP focused on transformational leadership and the political empowerment of women across Asia and the Pacific region. 

The lessons she learned from these organizations have undoubtedly shaped the narrative of her poetry, infusing it with a deep understanding of the struggles and aspirations of women in society.

In her previous role, she worked as a government employee at the Technology Resource Center in Makati and subsequently held positions with several other public and private entities while continuing to pursue her passion for writing poetry on the side. She also served as a manager at the Print and Publications Department of the Technology Resource Center in Pasig City, along with various positions in the civil service. 

Now, a loving mother of two grown daughters is no longer bound by the demands of her previous career, yet she’s still wholeheartedly embracing her passion for writing. Her days are now spent on writing and preparing her poems for future publication.

More than anything, she believes that the true essence of success is not merely defined by external recognition or awards but by the impact of her words on the hearts and minds of her readers. Whether it makes them feel, think, or take action, those moments of connection matter most to her as a writer. | Lyzha Mae Agnote

You can find some of her literary works on the links below.

Graphic, P. (2023, June 14). ARC OF OUR VOICE. Philippines Graphic.

Graphic, P. (2023b, August 9). Passion of waterfalls. Philippines Graphic.

Graphic, P. (2024, April 4). Patterns. Philippines Graphic.