Philippine poetry in an unlikely place

Philippine poetry in an unlikely place
01/18/2011 | 11:19 AM

Share Although the Philippine International Arts Festival is scheduled for February, the first month of the year has already been filled with events for the artistically inclined.

On January 8 at the Greenbelt 5 Gallery, Palanca Hall of Famer Alfred "Krip" Yuson led a star-studded poetry reading featuring Ed Maranan, Enchong Dee, Cesare Syjuco, Maxine Syjuco, Trix Syjuco, Myrza Sison, Danton Remoto, Enrico Subido Juaniyo Arcellana, Reggie Belmonte, Leandro Leviste, Raymond Ang, Ronald Regis, Audrey Carpio, and Igan D' Bayan. Also featured were Karen Davila and Derek Ramsay, who as it turns out has been writing poetry since he was a child.

The event was en grande, as Krip Yuson (GMANews.TV editor-at-large) had warned me. And why not, since it was a celebration of the Philippine Star's 25th anniversary. But attending a poetry reading in the middle of a mall had a certain dissonance to it. My feelings on a mall as a venue for poetry reading were similar to my qualms with mass being celebrated amid shops. If Jesus drove the market away from the church, why are they bringing the church to the market?

Poetry, like holy mass, is sacred. There's a reason that poetry is a less popular genre as compared to fiction, which a lot more people prefer. Of course, even more people would choose non-fiction - thus the largely successful self-help section. There isn't much science to it, it's as simple as poetry is delicate - every pause is important, no punctuation mark is accidental. Poetry needs to be heard. It deserves undivided attention, and that may be why it's seen as inaccessible. I wonder though, if it's such a good idea to put a poetry reading in the middle of a crowded place, where the echo is such that much of the poems being read disappear in the din.

On the other hand, as I arrived, Karen Davila was telling a reporter that "it's a noble cause, mainstreaming Filipino poetry." I agree, just as Instituto Cervantes' "Berso sa Metro" is an admirable project with the same noble cause. The difference, however, is that poetry reading is a performance while the poems of "Berso sa Metro" are static and can be read at will, on the commuter's own time, whether or not there is noise around.

Perhaps it's also a case of being used to poetry readings held in bars and cafes, like the PIAF NCCA Poetry Night at Tomato Bomb in Quezon City, where poets from four poetry groups converged. Regulars of Joel Toledo's Happy Mondays (now a nomad group since Magnet Cafe closed last year), Open Spoken, Bigkas Pilipinas and Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) all trooped to the event, which featured performances by Johnoy Danao and Diwa De Leon as well as the staple poetry reading.

Young actor Enchong Dee read works by Eman Lacaba and Eric Gamalinda.
There's also a steady noise level at bars and cafes, but unlike a mall, most of the people present attend intentionally, and are a bit more respectful of whoever holds the microphone. In Greenbelt 5, you could hardly tell between the guests and those who just happened to pass by.

That could be both good and bad; after all, if a spark was lit in someone who just happened to pass by, then the event did, indeed, bring poetry to the masses. That is, if the masses can be found among the Saturday afternoon clientele of Greenbelt 5.

Curiously enough, a table set up by the event's main sponsor National Bookstore offered a selection of poetry books, though none were local.

Some people in the audience were evidently drawn not by the prospect of poetry, but by the opportunity to see famous personalities up close. Still, there were those who seemed to be sincerely savoring the words, nodding and clapping in appreciation. Danton Remoto's performance of his own love poems was very popular, despite or perhaps because of their PG-13 nature, as was Maxine Syjuco's performance of her own poems from her book "A Secret Life," although it may have been the distractingly dazzling whiteness of her skin and her outfit.

Davila read works by National Artist Edith Tiempo, while Ramsay read the poem "Don't Stand at My Grave and Weep" from the MMFF wallflower "Rosario." Star athlete Enchong Dee read works by Eman Lacaba and Eric Gamalinda, and Summit Media's Myrza Sison, herself a Palanca awardee for her fiction, read poetry by her sister, Andrea Sison. Regina Belmonta read work by half-Filipino Aimee Nezhukumataphil, and Raymond Ang read Mikael Co's "As Courage to Camus."

Trix Syjuco had all eyes on her as she performed a piece from a dark period in her life. The audience seemed to be enthralled, if not by the poetry, by the free doughnuts and coffee. All in all it was indeed a grand event, and a pleasant diversion for the mall-going crowd.

The poetry reading with Krip Yuson is the first in a series of literary events presented by The Star and National Book Store. On January 22 at NBS Glorietta 5, Jessica Zafra and the Star's top writers discuss favorite books. On January 29 at NBS Edsa Shangri-La Plaza, Jose “Butch" Dalisay talks on “The Writing Profession: How Writers Can Improve their Craft and Earn a Living." - GMANews.TV

Photos by JB Eudela

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