Spreading the Spoken Word
Photo by Cebu Literary Festival and Mel Baquiran
“The opposite of war isn’t peace,” says a lyric in “La Vie Boheme”, the climactic number of Jonathan Larson’s RENT, “it’s creation!” Following this train of thought, it can be said that poetry itself is the opposite of war – the word itself derives from the Greek “poiesis”: making.
Even with its etymology in mind, poetry is much easier to create than it is to define. There are those poems which follow the rules of meter and rhythm like a code, while there are others that simply cast words onto a blank sheet like paint splatter, disregarding any traditional conventions.
Spoken word poetry, however, bypasses the textual completely, and in doing so opens up not only a new genre, but an entirely different art in itself — one which demands the artistic wordplay of poetry, the emotion of theatrer and the self-assured confidence of public speaking. Long viewed as a stereotypical fixture of starving artist college life, relegated to underground clubs with soft lighting and bar stools on a creaky stage, the audience of spoken word events has grown from university students to the entire world with the assistance of social media and the formation of national and worldwide poetry events and organizations.
The Philippines is no exception to this in any tongue. Spoken word in Tagalog, English and even regional dialects is thriving, and gives Filipino poets a vehicle to get in touch with their emotions as well as their language, whatever it may be. Slam poetry and spoken word in the Philippines have attracted such a strong following that noted poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, best known for their double acts such as When Love Arrives, have visited the country to perform for two years now, with enough demand to warrant separate shows in Bacolod and Cebu.
The Cebu show, organized by Cebu Literary Festival and held at J Centre Mall in Mandaue, opened with pieces from local spoken word poets Maxim Ilagan, Paolo Perez, Juanita Romualdez, John Tan, Francis Terrado and Shandie Tumaliwan. “If this is your first time attending a local poetry event in Cebu,” Kay said, addressing the audience, “you’re [expletive] up.”
“It is your job to support your local artists,” she added. “It shouldn’t be that you wait for Phil and I to come through town to come out and see a show.”
“I started with covering When Love Arrives for a fundraiser back in 2014,” Terrado said when asked about opening for the show. “I missed their first Philippine show in 2015. I volunteered to help out just to make sure I did not miss their first Cebu show in 2016. You can bet your ass that I had stars in my eyes when I opened for their 2017 Cebu show.”
Cebu Literary Festival, in addition to hosting events for poets such as not only Kay and Kaye, but also local spoken word poets such as Juan Miguel Severo, holds regular open mic events for poets and musicians in Cebu.