Program Description: Poetry flirts with many forms and adapts novel “publishing” routes just to get itself out there. Where can the audience for poetry find the Filipino poem today?
Poet, Gemino Abad once said in a writers workshop, I believe that was a panel discussion about a poem, “all literary works must move towards poetry. Poetry is the finest language.” Poetry, therefore, is not flirting with other genres, but it is poetry that is being flirted with. True, there are experimental works that adapt poetry into other forms; say a novel in verses, or on the extreme side, a series of example phrases & sentences lifted directly from the Anvil-Macquarie Dictionary of Philippine English for High School as in “Philippine English: A Novel” by Angelo Suarez, which is, as a whole, a poem. Yet works like these are not for the goal of “putting poetry out there” but for creativity itself. Poetry in the Philippines has already grown and has adapted a lot of forms, and I am just going to discuss one that is very much prevalent these days.
Well, there will always be that assumption that poetry is the least popular of all literary genres. Most of my friends would turn down a page when they see that the words are written in lines (or verse), even the ones who read more often than usual. Writers already understand that there is not much money to expect from publishing a collection of poems. One would then assume that it would need a lot of effort for poetry to get noticed. But that is already an old thought. On the other hand; poetry is the easiest to market or the easiest to deliver. Since the start of slam poetry or spoken word, Poetry had become a well-liked form of entertainment. It has even become a sport in some parts of the world.
Poetry Slam or spoken word poetry is a technique that utilizes wordplay and story-telling. The poems are written for the purpose of being performed in front of an immediate audience. The technique originated from the poetry of African-Americans in Harlem (Marc Smith, 1984, Chicago). It often includes collaboration and experimentation with other art forms such as music, theater, and dance. And so, the poet will have to exhibit a certain degree of acting as well as some appropriate dynamics in public speaking and body language. Surely, schools have exposed us to the more complicated poems, there are even poets whom poets only understand. It is for these experiences that some of us believe that poetry is hard to understand and hard to write. But let’s leave those to academics; spoken word brings poetry to the people for making it simpler and the art accessible. A great tool is relativity. Human beings are sad by default. What also made spoken word famous is the subject matter that they discuss. But let us leave that for later. I have a paragraph or two for that. Moving on…
“Finding” poetry hasn’t been a problem in major cities and other parts of the Philippines. Let’s say for example in Manila, spoken word events are E V E R Y W H E R E. Seriously, a spoken word event can be as popular as a gig for rock bands. Listening to someone talk about his or her past, about the wounds opened and re-opened is now a trend. The most famous in the North, is Word Anonymous. One is even becoming a TV Star, Juan Miguel Severo, has a spot in “On the Wings of Love.” Haha. I always thought poetry can never be a profession in the Philippines, and here’s this guy making money out of it. And last February, well-known spoken word artists/poets came to the Philippines and did a sold out show, Sarah Kaye and Phil Kaye. Yeah, artists or poets, go on tour now. Before, we hold poetry readings where some people go to, now poetry readings are sold out shows.
In Cebu, just for poetry reading events, or just literature itself, there are four organizations that keep the wheel going; Bathalad, WILA (Women in Literary Arts), Nomads, and Tinta (UP Cebu’s lit org). These organizations team up to come up with poetry reading. Hearing this being told to me by a friend, Jona Bering, it was in full zest, “Yes, Dar! The poetry scene is growing. Mostly college students, gender issues are frequent topics, and yeah, some are not that good yet, but we are getting there.” When I was in Dumaguete, they were like holding a poetry reading every week, or it was just so timely that there were several authors who launched their book that time.
In Cagayan de Oro, Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa CDO and Bathalad (Mindanao Chapter) are having poetry readings from time to time. If not Spoken Word, it is Improv. We see that there is a growing interest in Poetry in various parts of the country. Poetry readings are everywhere. I suppose that culture, be it famous or not, will never die.
And of course, here in Davao, we have a LitOrgy. Young Davao Writers, we can say is the unofficial, younger version of Davao Writers Guild. Well, it was for Davao Writers’ Guild’s several poetry reading events that LitOrgy was born. In general, it is a biannual poetry reading event that is now being rebranded as a spoken word event. Angely Chi, or as we address her, the Patron Saint of Davao Arts, said in an essay, “I am reminded that LitOrgy was not only supposed to be a “literary orgy” of the writing and the reading public, but also a coming together of people from different disciplines whose texts are not found in pages but in their bodies, in their songs, and in their images.”
Bragging aside, last August, the Young Davao Writers organized the seventh LitOrgy, called it “Seventh Seers,” which tickets got sold out in about 2 hours when the ticket reservations were open. Because we wanted each poetry reading event to be an intimate one, else the purpose of the whole thing would be defeated, we had to make the goers reserve their slots. There were still a lot of people who were asking for passes, so we organized a second show. And August 30 and 31 packed the Red Rooster Bar along MacArthur Highway with an attentive crowd who went there not only to listen but brought with them their own poems to read in the open mic. As they say, the orgy happens in the open mic. Poetry reading events usually has only less than ten readers of performers, and the rest of the night, which expands to about two to three hours until the bar closes, is allotted to the open mic. And it is wonderful to discover gems among the audiences. So parang scouting din yung open mic, so we can find fresh blood to join the next LitOrgy events. So if I will be asked if poetry is alive? Yes, poetry in general, very much.
There will always be critics to a technique. Even I myself have reservations. Spoken word poetry had been a good outlet of self-expression. If you check out videos online, the usual topics would be pain, unsuccessful relationship, gender issues; these are one of the reasons that I have grown tired of checking out youtube videos. Spoken word, I suppose, is a detouring from the Philippine Literary tradition due to the utilization of certain techniques. Say for example, sentimentality, purple patches, and cliché in order to capture their attention and also to be relatable. You know the word, “hugot”?” It might be annoying to some but it is what sells. The lines, “these hands wrote your name on pages/ after blank pages then colored it with the brightest fireworks/ of January first and February fourteenth” borders to the cliché but hey, this works for audience who are just there for the “feels.”
Here’s the catch, spoken word poetry might not be the most brilliant technique in poetry for majority of people who know better, but it opens the opportunity for other techniques. In Young Davao Writers’ events, LitOrgy, there are always open mics. Anything goes; all kinds of poets, all kinds of technique. And when some of the people in the crowd become interested enough, they will start to look for other sources, for the purpose of quenching the thirst for literature (that is also the reason why some events are not the frequent, so that people will hunger for it) and also if they try to write themselves. And so the cycle begins or continues.
Whenever there is a poetry reading, there is a small BLTX; the zine culture continues. Poetry books are not likely to be the ones displayed on the glass windows of NBS, Fully Booked, etc., and the ratio of poets getting published to the poets is too less to many. Most publishers, in the name of profits, will not really prioritize poetry over the more popular genre. There are no longer shelves for poetry books in leading bookstore; more often than usual, they are just mixed up with other Filipino Literary books; but poetry will always find a way to get out. One effective example of this is the zine culture; independent publishing by single individuals or by organizations, say for example, LitSoc, the academic organization for Creative Writing Students in UP Mindanao, compiles their works in a bundle of bond papers stapled to become a coffee table book and sells it during a proper event; a BLTX or a poetry reading where the organizers were kind enough to set up a table for “merch.” Yeah, I had a friend, who’s a great poet; he won an international award for poetry last year, compiled five of his poems in a bond paper, folded it in a fancy way, and then sold the collection for 30php. Clearly, it was not for the profits but to get read.
Although there are constraints put up by the market for Poetry books, authors will always find a way to put their works out there. In the internet age, everything is possible. One can just start a blog to broadcast his or her works to the public. It’s as easy as signing up for a wordpress account or other free hosting sites that provides you a subdomain, or if you have the money, buy a domain name, a webhosting account, set up the site, and voila, you’ll have your own corner in the internet where you can post your poems or other works. There are a lot of young people today who are trying to write however they can and post it in social media sites. So Filipino poetry, in this time and age, is literally everywhere since you can just access them anytime you need to. You can just read on, say for example, authors featured in various sites, panitikan.com, dagmay.kom.ph, and the rest. Or someone can do that for you by posting a copy of your poem or a link to your site, or to a site where it is available. Restricting yourself to be read in free mediums will always be your prerogative. Some prefer to keep their poems to themselves until they are ready to be in physical pages, some would resort to express themselves in the open world of the internet. Nonetheless, this is how poetry copes up with the times.
I have always been told that a good poem is one that works great on stage and looks good on the page. So therefore, a poet does not stop at spoken word. It is just a phase. The page is as wide as it can be for the many creative minds that we have in the country.
Darylle “Darsi” Rubino is a graduate of the Creative Writing program of the University of the Philippines Mindanao. This essay was first delivered in the 6th Philippine International Literary Festival on November 20–21, 2015 at Seda Abreeza, Davao City.