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Poetry and the Spoken Word

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By AA Patawaran

I met Lourd de Veyra for the first time in his bat cave, a small studio apartment in Quezon City that serves as his personal recording studio for his Saturday show Chillax Radio on Radyo Singko 92.3.

It literally was a man cave, a little dark, hazy with cigarette smoke, the walls lined with LPs (or vinyls) and books and movie posters, like that of Sangandaan, the Mike de Leon-helmed movie of Vilma Santos as an activist nun, which was later renamed Sister Stella L (because mega film producer Lily Monteverde did not approve the original title), and a bar full of any poison you might choose, from beer and wine to vodka and whisky.

Lourd de Veyra

Lourd de Veyra

Lourd invited us over to guest in a two-hour episode dedicated to Bigkas Pilipinas The Album, a collection of 20 pieces of poetry read, spoken, whispered, screamed, sung, performed by 20 different artists (the album is now available on iTunes, Spotify, and Deezer). With me on the show were sonneteer Charms Tianzon, page poet and professor Joel Toledo, and Kooky Tuason, who, as Lourd introduced her, was the “overlord” of the Bigkas Pilipinas project. Co-hosting the show was Bert Sulat.

There were a couple of readings for each of us guests, although the first batch of readings was just aired off the Bigkas Pilipinas collection, Kooky’s “If Your Sister Asks,” Charms’s “Love Sonnet III,” and Joel’s “The Refusal of Piety.” I read “The Day After Tomorrow” from my book Hai[Na]Ku And Other Poems. In the end, because Lourd de Veyra is also part of the album, his performance piece “Reading Lang Leav My F*cking Head Exploded” was aired just before “Satan Rules” by Easy Fagela with Los Chupacabras capped the show.

There were live readings, too. I read “It’s Not What I Thought” from the pages of Hai[Na]Ku. Kooky read an untitled piece by Saul Williams from her phone. Charms recited “Sonnet No. 5” from her notebook while Joel—applause!—read his piece “Brook” from memory.

Kooky Tuazon

Kooky Tuason

It was a conversation animated and uninterrupted, even while we went off air every now and then to give way to the other songs and performances on the playlist, such as Sylvia la Torre’s “Alak,” DJ Krust’s “Coded Language,” featuring Saul Williams, and Vim Nadera’s performance of Francisco Arcellana’s “Prayer,” which is included in Bigkas Pilipinas The Album.

We digressed a lot from the evening’s topic, which was mainly the spoken word and how it was catching fire in Manila and also causing a deep divide among the current crop of practitioners. But two hours is a lot of time to talk about poetry, so if I must say so myself, I’d say we covered a lot of ground, the emergence, for instance, or preponderance of shallow, insubstantial, just-riding-on-the-trend spoken word poseurs.


 

The world exacts revenge through dry petals and forgetfulness. —Lourd de Veyra, ‘Strange Day, With Bicycle’


 

The overall consensus was that one must master the rules before one could break them. I agree completely. My book Write Here Write Now and many of my essays in this space underscore that golden rule, but on the show I played the devil’s advocate not exactly for argument’s sake but for my own sake—and that of other artists—who like to do things out of exploration rather than expertise.

The truth is nothing really changes when we follow the rules. You want to keep things as they are, make sure all the rules are followed. It’s from the tweaks here and there, the deviations and the departures, and maybe the breaking away from standard norms that we stumble upon new ways of doing things. If you are an aspiring poet, however, it goes without saying that you have great interest in poetry and I would assume you have read a great deal of poems of every form, not only reading them for pleasure, but studying them, testing them against your own skills and your own aspirations, trying to see how you can emulate them, later surpass them, and later veer from them completely to come to your own.

Joel

Joel Toledo

This is exactly why I agree completely with Lourd, Kooky, Charms, and Joel, but this is also exactly why I begged to differ with them on the show. I guess I am naive, but I have faith that if you are into poetry, or painting, or fiction, or music, you are in fact invested in the medium and therefore it is fair to assume that you will do your best to master it if only for your own benefit. The other assumption, though this isn’t always the case, is that you have something to say and so, whether your medium is a long line of verses, or a swirl of monochromatic oil paint, or  a searing novel, or an angry, mocking song like Lourd’s “Gusto Ko ng Baboy” (from his Radioactive Sago Project days), you will have found a way to say it well.

I don’t know of people who go into certain fields without any desire to excel in them, and if I suspect that their desire is not so much about excellence or self-mastery or the work as it is about fame or fortune, self-promotion, or the respect of their peers, I stop myself short of judging them, refraining instead from supporting their work. I guess time is the ultimate judge of any creative work, although, of course, marketing in this day and age, when memory is short and fame is briefer than Oscar Wilde’s 15 minutes, has a lot to do with your work surviving the test of time and remaining in the memory of 10, 10,000, or 10 million people.

When all is said and done, when you are cut out for what you do, everything boils down to intention, as Lourd tried to say on the show, although by the time he said this, vodka had invaded my thought processes. “It’s like feeding the kids,” he said, if I may paraphrase him. “They can be happy with sugar, which is all they want, but you have to find a way to give them the vegetables they need.”

“What you need is a hook,” I said. Whether in satire or in metaphor, whether in soothing sounds or in deafening noise, whether in words or in melody or in pictures, the artist must find a way to resonate with his target public, which is to say that the artist must first be understood. All form is incidental, because what the public resonates with foremost is the truth and authenticity—or novelty, this last one, though, obviously doesn’t last long, unless it sets the stage for the new order.

Charms

Charms Tianzon

I guess you just do your best. I’m no spoken word artist, so when Kooky invited me to take part in Bigkas Pilipinas, my initial reaction was, “Why me? I’m no performer.” I’m always worried I might fall for what Dolphy once cautioned us against. Asked why he wasn’t running for president, the late great Comedy King said, “Madaling tumakbo, pero paano kung manalo (It’s easy to run the presidential race, but what if I win)?”

But whether or not it is honorable to accept this opportunity from Kooky, I think I owe it to my poems to explore a new medium for them—and to meet all the poets and spoken word artists, including Lourd, that I have met so far as a result of my participation in this spoken word album.

Do poets dream of immortality? Do we write poems so we will be remembered forever? The answer is yes and no. If you say yes, that will be a cringe moment for me, if I were asking the question, but you will get plus points for honesty. If you say no, well, you may be lying, but you may be right. As an artist, you are a product of your time, and a reflection thereof.

With hope, you are being heard in the time in which you are doing all this, baring your soul. If not, try harder, speak a little louder, be bolder, be truer.

With hope, your poems will have use for the poets or the scholars or the dreamers of the future. If not, well, you’ll just be a dead poet or a forgotten poet and that’s fine. Dead or forgotten, there’s a poetic ring to either word.

The author is also on Twitter and Instagram as @aapatawaran and Facebook as Arnel Patawaran.

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