On 12 September, 2018, Verity La editor, poet, and our dear friend Ramon Loyola passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm. On 30 September Verity La held a memorial gathering for Ramon’s family, friends & work colleagues. To celebrate Ramon’s life, we’d like to share some of the tributes given.
Ramon Loyola was a much loved and highly respected member of our writing community, and a dear friend who we were blessed to know. I first met Ramon online as a Facebook friend, one of those who would cheer your every achievement and share all your posts. He was unfailingly generous, but also very humble about his own considerable achievements.
When I finally met Ramon in person several years ago, I was struck by what a special soul he was. Just an incredibly gentle, thoughtful person. He was passionate about poetry, and about opening up the often narrow range of Australian poetry to include more diverse voices such as his own. When I asked Ramon if he’d like to join Verity La as editor of what has became known as our Discoursing Diaspora publishing stream, he immediately accepted, and became a huge champion of other writers, especially those struggling to get their stories heard. He spent countless hours volunteering his time at the journal to edit other writers’ work, and it was my pleasure to share time with him in this way. He was just such a dream to work with, so supportive and kind, as well as being incredibly smart — and really well organised and conscientious! Ramon always emailed back, always took the time to double check his work, was always courteous; which is rare in this world! He was also multi-talented, and as well as helping out with editing, he turned his hand to designing a range of flyers for the journal, and even designed our stunning ebook cover for The Hunger.
Because of this, I came to lean on Ramon more and more, both as a member of Verity La and as a dear friend, and as time goes by I am realising how very much I will miss him. Ramon was unfailingly supportive and never said a bad word about anyone; he just quietly went about doing good work — and good — in the world.
Sometimes Ramon would jokingly call me ‘Sister’, and sometimes he would call me ‘Mum’ — but only ever when I was being bossy! Not bossy about work — that was never necessary — but about standing up for himself. Ramon was a gentle and sensitive soul, and as my fellow poets can attest, despite what you might think, the poetry world can sometimes be harsh! So when Ramon would confide in me about something unkind someone had said, or a situation he was concerned about, I’d become quite protective and harangue him, ‘You just tell that person xxxx !’ Then he would roll his eyes and sigh, ‘Yes Mum’; but I think he secretly loved it.
The great love of Ramon’s life, however (after his family, who he spoke about constantly), was poetry. His love for poetry was deep, and I know that although he never bragged, he was quietly proud of having had his latest book, The Measure of Skin, recently published by Vagabond Press. I was there for his Sydney book launch, and Ramon read beautifully and did himself proud. I wish more than anything he was here to read his poems for you today. But how wonderful that we have them as a memento of our dear friend.
Sam Trayhurn, Managing Editor, Pink Cover Zine
When I released the theme for this issue, Mementos, I had no idea of the significance that would be confounded in these pages. I enlisted the help of Ramon Loyola as guest editor, and we mused on the idea of the things we carry from place to place — in our hands — our hearts — our bodies. Both the things we want to remember and those we would prefer to forget. The bitter-sweetness of reminiscence. We wanted to provide a place to put those memories down for a while. To alleviate the burden, or share the joy.
On the 12th of September, just as we were putting the finishing touches on the final draft, I learned that Ramon Loyola had unexpectedly passed away from a brain aneurysm during the night. Like so many others who knew Ramon, I was shocked and devastated by the news. I pictured him as he was during our last meeting at a café near his office in Sydney. He was excited about the quality of work we had received, invigorated by his passion for poetry and prose. He was a long way from his work cubicle; the top button of his business shirt was undone. We talked about being far from home. About printing presses in Manila in the 1980’s.
Recalling our time working together, I knew that people could too be mementos. We can continue to carry them with us. I felt very grateful that our project was a source of happiness for him, and even more grateful that he got to see it come to fruition. Since I arrived in Sydney, Ramon was a kind ear, a mentor, and an advocate of this project. I have no doubt that the success of Pink Cover Zine is in no small part due to Ramon’s support.
Contained within is a collection of work selected by Ramon. His own editorial note in the coming pages is now so much more poignant. Ramon touched all of these poems in his own way. Providing inspiration from his greening home city, in the gentle ebb of shared time, by the simple brush of a punctuation mark. For me, this collection is not only a testament to Ramon’s editorial gifts, but it is something that we can all remember him by.
Whether you knew Ramon or not, I hope this issue will connect you to vestiges of light, love, loss and longing; and to this beautiful and talented soul.
I will be forever grateful for this memento of a dear friend.
(Momentos is available online for purchase in print, or as a free digital download, from Pink Cover Zine.)
The Ways That We Were, by Ramon Loyola in Memento
Remembrance. Sometimes, it’s a conscious thing for most of us who wear our longings on the sleeve. And sometimes, it comes at you like a swift gust of wind, a kick in the stomach, a speeding train that passes by in a flash. It can hunker down on you with the weight of the world until every last drop of tear has been shed. Or it can embed itself in you like a seed germinating underneath the skin.
The glean of Mementos — the moving, the subtle, the grating, the vibrating pulse — presents itself as tangible objects, manifesting as narratives of the olden-days and past-times; it carries time in pockets of memory.
I had the honour of marveling at this selection of art, prose and poetry that carries the sweetness (and sometimes, difficulty) of memorialising the times, people, places and things that shape and mold us into the ways that we were and the ways that we are now — and it has stoked the fire of my own longing for such mementos inhabiting the chambers of the broken heart, the echo-caves of the mind.
I’m amazed at how simple acts and interactions invoke memories that encroach on the senses, those connections and impressions that stick to the walls of the mind. The mementos contained in this brilliant issue of Pink Cover Zine are the stories of our collective lives, the connecting threads and ribbons of remembrances that make it easier to live in the now and that enable us to look brightly towards a possibly fulfilling (and fulfilled) future. I hope they become your own mementos.
I am deeply indebted to Sam Trayhurn for letting me be a part of all the reminiscing.
Ramon Loyola, 2018
Ramon and I met when we did some literary events together in 2016. I remember us bonding over having common ground as artists who were also lawyers, and the first event we did together was actually Ramon’s first public reading of his poetry — and it was a privilege to be there to see that.
Being the very generous person that he was, Ramon also did me a huge favour at the launch of an Asian writing anthology that I edited, by reading the work of the award-winning Filipino writer John Bengan, who was very sad to hear of Ramon’s passing because he’d always expected to meet Ramon at some point and be able to thank him in person.
Ramon was perhaps one of the loveliest people I’ve ever come across, and it is a great loss to the world that he has gone so soon. I offer my deepest condolences to his family and friends, near and far. I suppose one consolation is that he was a poet, and that we can reach him still through his work. So I’d like now to read one of his poems from his collection The Measure of Skin, called ‘Two Measures’.
how many rays does the sun produce,
in its enormous power of luminescence,
so that our skins burn in radiance
and chlorophyll propagates
as the beams caress the veins of the leaves?
how much feeling does the heart emit,
in its rapturous applause to life,
so that our minds glow in remembrance
and memory preserves
as the emotions surrounding the vessel of love?
unfathomable, even for me.
I apologise in advance for the inadequacy of these words. I cannot profess to have known Ramon well, but all the same the news of his sudden passing came as a blow — because I remember us sitting on the stairs at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown, where we’d just participated in the launch of an Asian writing anthology, and introducing ourselves, and chatting, and me being struck by how open and modest and genuine he was. I also saw him participate on a panel at the NSW Writers’ Centre, and again, he struck me as someone who spoke sincerely, unpretentiously, and from the heart. And on social media, he was always quick to offer unalloyed encouragement and joy in response to any good news.
For the almost-two years of our bare acquaintance I thought to myself, he seems like such a wonderful and positive person and I hope, I’m sure, our paths will continue to cross and I’ll get to know him better. But then this happened, and thanks to his untimely departure I won’t ever get to know him better. It’s only when someone is gone do we realise how precious they are and how they should have been a priority to get to know. Ramon really should have been appreciated publicly in an event like this while he was still alive. Farewell, Ramon. You will be missed, and I’m sorry it has come too late.
I first made contact with Ramon through Facebook in 2010. He posted a few poems and I was struck by his gentle writing voice — the authenticity of the works — the vulnerability of the writing. I knew at once that I wanted to publish him in Blank Rune Press. I offered him a chapbook and he sent the manuscript for Swells in Tiny Rooms which struck me as being something very special — and the book as they say was birthed. Ramon continued to support both me and the press — and we supported him…including his works in anthologies, broadsheets, and more recently the magazine arm of the press HUSK.
I am a migrante, a wanderer, no less,
In your urbane culture and means.
I deal with only grace in my heart,
With scriptures from the soul of man.
These lines, from Ramon’s poem ‘To be a landscape’, capture part of his life. His spirit, born in the Philippines, with love of family, never ceased to be both inquisitive and embracing — indeed there is no part of his poetry where he is not a humanist. Love was the universal treasure sought by Ramon — expressed in both his work and career.
As befitted a young man at the start of his adult life, Ramon pursued a profession that offered appeal for its ability to assist the suffering of others. Yet chemistry was not large enough to contain his ambition. Years later, through study and application, Ramon changed his profession and sought to use the law to assist persons injured in the workplace.
But creative writing, especially poetry, became the vehicle through which Ramon could best put his humanism to work. Poetry does not need a specialist language — it can be translated — nor is it critical to have a certain level of education for it to move a person. Ramon’s gift — for that is what all creatives have at the base of their work — was for making feelings known. His poetry is expressed as a lone voice, but just as a single actor on a stage has a spotlight, this singleness serves to broadcast his message of love and hope.
So how do we value Ramon? How do we understand him? Perhaps these are the wrong questions. Ramon himself has written about his background in the Philippines in a piece in Cordite Review. For Ramon, the past is instrumental in what you do today. For this wanderer, his hope was to be a voice in his native land — despite being a voluntary exile in Australia for over two decades. There was no ‘identity politics’ about Ramon — his life was about being inclusive. Instead, he sought platforms in Australia where his voice could be heard and matched with others who experience(d) a different Australia. If he identified with being culturally from Asia, or from a former land with a colonial past, this was not a limit to his poetic expression.
Indeed, at a time when Australia is uneasily reviewing its place in the world, Ramon serves as a reminder of our national past. We are all on a journey — it is just that we have started from a multitude of different places. Ramon knew this and although aspects of diaspora engaged him, it was not with a specific racial identity. Rather, for this traveller, engagement with emotions, of observation and recording, became Ramon’s method of navigation in the world.
As a poet, Ramon felt keenly that personal experience impacted upon insight. Self-effacing, he suggested in an SBS interview that his was a ‘dull and simple life’ — not flashy — something that caused him concern as a poet. If his struggle to understand others was a challenge, then it was something Ramon overcame. Just examine how he closes the poem ‘Touch me where it hurts’.
Touch me here, where my heart sits quietly
in submission to love and only love.
There is no pain here, no judgment or strife.
The wound does not hurt; it is just as strong
as the desire to touch another’s skin
Ramon longed to be a good poet: it was a dream he realised. The more I read Ramon’s work the more I realise just how good he is.
So, thank you Ramon, for living and giving us your wonderful poetry. I am proud to have known you and blessed to call you friend. I love you and I will miss you.
Valli Poole, Publisher, Blank Rune Press, Sept 20th 2018
A beautiful tribute to Ramon and account of his memorial and the distribution of his precious library of books can also be found by his friend Andy Quan on his website.
(Soliloquy on the Grave)
Forget not the sweetness, not the
love unconditionally given, not the
flowers that bloomed in your midst.
The stillness of hearts in quiet moments.
Forget not the touch, not the
tenderness freely shared, not the
voice that soothed towards tranquility.
The purity of love in secret pockets.
Forever rest. Go well.
A flower blooms deep in the heart.
It carries your face and the sun.
Forget not your face.
‘Forget Not’, by Ramon Loyola, was first published in HUSK #2, 2018