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A poetry reading unlike any other

Photo by Joey Samson

BY Krip Yuson
Philippine Star
17 January 2011

It was a reading like no other I’ve experienced. For one, it took place at the very heart of a posh shopping mall, the activity center called the Gallery on the second floor of Greenbelt 5 in Makati.

The celebration of The Philippine STAR’s 25th anniversary this year came off with a bang with the first of a full month’s series of literary activities involving the Lifestyle section’s writer-editors and regular contributing columnists — as conceived and spearheaded by Lifestyle Editor Millet Mananquil.

For January, the focus will be on Literature, with National Book store as a partner. The first Saturday was given over to a grand Poetry Reading, the conduct of which I was tasked to oversee, as well as emcee.

Millet and I initially came up with a roster of readers that numbered a full dozen — headed by full-fledged poets who also served as Star columnists: Juaniyo Arcellana, Ed Maranan, and Danton Remoto. Also asked to participate in the breakout activity were fiction writer Myrza Sison and young columnists Audrey Carpio, Raymond Ang, Regina Belmonte, Enrico Subido and Leandro Leviste.

Trix Syjuco: Superb performance Millet also invited guest and celebrity readers — a move that turned out to guarantee an even more lively and entertaining program.

The “reinforcements” all proved scintillating, especially since each one was a proven entertainer. I asked everyone to stick to poems by Filipino poets, if not their own, whether in English or Filipino. And that we avoid any angst-ridden verse, since we were just starting out the year, thus should ideally entertain the audience by way of sharing poems of good cheer and hope, or prideful ones of family and country. Oh, love poems would be acceptable, as long as they didn’t end in lugubrious fashion.

Some of the readers asked for a selection of poems they could pick from; others chose what they were familiar with — of Philippine poetry.

Raymond Ang, my former A-plus student in an Ateneo fiction class, former Guidon editor, and now assistant editor of the STAR’s Supreme section, broke the ice by reading the works of his fellow Ateneans, both Palanca prizewinning poets: Mikael Co’s “As Courage, to Camus” and Mookie Katigbak’s “Pop Music.”

Karen Davila: Beauty and brains Next to take the mic was the statuesque, glamorous Myrza Sison, editorial director of Summit Media and editor-in-chief of the websites and She read a poem by her sister Skakira Andrea Sison, a Poetry fellow at the1999 UP National Writers Workshop in Davao. Myrza herself was a Fiction fellow at the 2004 National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete. In 2006 she won a Palanca 2nd Prize for the Short Story.

I next called on the Young Star columnist Leandro Leviste, who had just returned from Myanmar with his mother Sen. Loren Legarda. Of the poems I e-mailed him, he chose to read “Stone, Papyrus, Clay” by my former student Johanna Carissa Fernandez. Lean said its environmentalist theme appealed to him.

Then the first of the guest readers, meaning non-Star writers, was called to the mic. And what a sight to behold was Maxine Syjuco, all in white and short shorts. The young poet and ever-enthralling multi-media visual artist read from her own first book of poetry, A Secret Life. For some secret reason, I had to call on my buddy, the incomparable writer and visual artist Igan D’Bayan, to do the honors in introducing Maxine.

Champion swimmer and heartthrob entertainer Enchong Dee followed, eliciting squeals from young fans who had surged close to the stage. Enchong chose to read translations into Filipino of poems by Emmanuel Lacaba and Eric Gamalinda.

Another attractive young writer, Regina Belmonte, did an excellent rendition of a sea poem by the distinguished Fil-Am poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, titlled “Coco Cay.” Its closing lines read: “Tiny red seahorses glide in/ & out of the coral shrubs./ I want one to curl/ its ribbed tail around/ my finger, a mermaid’s ring./ The next time I press my hand/ on my lover, he would feel/ the gallop. The cavalry is here./ Every neigh & wild whip of hair.”

Also a fine pop singer and budding photographer, the 23-year-old Regina writes a STAR column while also serving as the assistant beauty editor of Cosmopolitan Philippines.

STAR fixture, national desk editor, columnist, poet and author Juaniyo Arcellana read two of his own takes on the urban quotidian, celebrating the distinct virtues of the districts Quiapo and Sta. Ana. We announced that our compadre Juaning has a third book coming out soon.

Enchong Dee: Making a splash with words Next up was the winsome and willowy Audrey Carpio, who has been writing for the STAR since 1999 and is an assistant editor of the YStyle section. She chose to read a poem each by the UST poets Ramil Digal Gulle and the recently departed, much-lamented Ophelia A. Dimalanta.

Danton Remoto had everyone in titters over his first poem, and may have shocked a couple of grandmothers in the audience with his second. But trust the former Ateneo literature professor to get away with scandalous verse, what with his A-plus charm.

Treat after treat regaled the audience, with the flow quickening with outstanding performances that presented fresh aspects of the spoken word.

My TV talk show co-host (on GNN Channel’s arts & culture program Illuminati) Trix Syjuco pulled off a performance that had everyone craning necks to see what she’d do next, until she melted into and past the crowd.

A page poet in her own right, Trix creates complex multi-media works where she is all of writer, conceptualist, director, performer/actress, video editor, sound and installation artist. She recently represented Luzon and Metro Manila in the 2010 Visayas Biennale hosted by Cebu City, with her works also soon to be remounted in Bacolod City.

A fitting follow-up was Enrico Subido’s rap number, which drew such hearty cheers and applause, such has rap become a mainstay of pop culture. When Enrico, a four-time Palanca first-prize winner for the Kabataan Essay, oh-so-politely asked by e-mail if he could rap instead of read poetry, I said “Of course, that’s even better ’cuz you recite it.”

Cerebral chic: Reggie Belmonte and Myrza Sison The last five readers shared tons of gravitas. Palanca-prize record holder Ed Maranan, also a Star columnist, got back to Manila that very day, after his flight back from a Batanes sojourn had been canceled the previous day. Of course he read his own poetry. And we can trust this traveler and place reveler to come up with poems on the Ivatans soon.

Television broadcast anchor and icon Karen Davila, whom we briefly introduced as a beauty-and-brains exemplar, selected a lyric poem by UP Centennial poetry winner Marte Abueg for her first number. Her second, fattening my own heart, was National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo’s classic poem “Bonsai.” Seeing the words scrolling up on a Plasma screen, I made sure to take photos to send to Mom Edith in Montemar, Sibulan.

Cesare A.X. Syjuco made it in time from attendance at Baby Orosa’s book launch at Instituto Cervantes. The acclaimed multi-media artist, musician, poet and art critic rendered two pieces, one while accompanying himself with a harmonica, from his soon-to-be-released 15-track CD album and book set of his avant-garde poetry and music titled “A Sudden Rush of Genius.”

The penultimate reader was a surprise participant. She had only meant to be a stage mom in accompanying her son Lean to the event. But she couldn’t say no to her good friend Millet when pressed into service. And that’s how Sen. Loren Legarda wound up joining us on stage.

Loren’s last-minute choice of poem proved astute: “Sestina” by Simeon Dumdum, Jr., which we had shared in this space recently as part of the poet’s keynote address at the PEN Conference held in Cebu City last month. It is dedicated to Mom Edith, and is also the culminating poem in Judge “Jun” Dumdum’s new book, “If I Write You This Poem, Will You Make It Fly?” (a book of birds and verse forms).

Last but not least, as they say, showbiz superstar Derek Ramsay was warmly welcomed by the crowd as soon as he was intro-ed by Millet. Derek acknowledged that he wrote poems while in high school (heard him whisper to a friend before he went up the stage that they were love poems), and proceeded to read the poem featured in the film Rosario by director Albert Martinez.

By 5 p.m. the most spontaneous, variegated, warmest, and best-received poetry reading I’ve joined in years came to pass. But there were photo ops a-plenty, and signing sessions with literary and showbiz groupies. Thanks to Krispy Kreme and Starbucks for their support, and to Miguel Ramos of National Book Store who set off the memorable reading with his opening remarks and intro to this monster of ceremonies, whose heart grew even fatter upon hearing of a remark from an oldtimer of a St. Scho English teacher —how she and her colleagues had enjoyed it to the full, and that there should be more of such literary events shared with an appreciative public.


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