Regarded as one of the most prolific Filipino poets in the twenty-first century with eighteen volumes of poetry under his belt, Hollow represents the many conceits present in both Arguelles’s past and succeeding works. While older Filipino critics tend to describe Arguelles’s work as a welcome departure from the weary lyrical and symbolist tradition, doing so does not really do much justice to what his works have to offer. For instance, the poems “Your Life Will Always Fail” (Ang Iyong Buhay ay Laging Mabibigo) and “Vocabulary” (Bokabularyo) can be seen as more relaxed, refined, and chiseled versions of Arguelles’s “surface poetry” and non-lyrical pieces in Menos Kuwarto (Pithaya Press, 2002) and Ilahás (High Chair, 2004). “Exercises in Futility” (Pagsasanay sa Walang Saysay), on the other hand, reads like a sequel to his first book-length erasure project in Alingaw (High Chair, 2010) and a prequel to the same project featured in Pesoa (Balangay, 2014). Then there are, of course, pieces that showcase the deceptive simplicity of Arguelles’s language and how they lend themselves to translation in different ways.
“All of the texts Arguelles has worked with have molted their skins with provocation from the poet, and Muslim… translate[s] and add[s] on to the rebirthed creatures compellingly.”
—Izzy Peroni, in The Sock Drawer Literary Magazine
“[Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles in] Three Books shows the ambition of a daring poet in full force, attuned to the language that is only revealed between margins.”
—Leo Boix, in Poetry London
“Arguelles’s poetry is a result of his unique deconstructive processes: intensely curated erasures from a variety of primary texts. The final product, further amplified by translation, is a hyper-modern, radical poetry, minimalist in style and important not just for what it includes, but also for what it excludes. This excavation of public language offers a sudden tonality that’s both sharp and delicate, an example of how metaphysics is hiding in plain sight, everywhere.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, Poetry Book Society citation for Three Books (2020)
Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles (b. October 1977) is the author of twenty books of and about poetry and a three-time finalist for the National Book Award. He works as a book editor and translator, and teaches literature and creative writing at the De La Salle University in Manila.
Kristine Ong Muslim (b. September 1980) is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry. Her translations of the works of Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles include Twelve Clay Birds: Selected Poems (University of the Philippines Press, 2021) and Three Books (Broken Sleep Books, 2020). Muslim grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.