Source: Finding me in MEdiocrity
For most working people, weekends are a lot of things. We may be lazing around, waking up on late mornings, stuffing our mouth with comfort food after comfort food. Sometimes, weekends are about meetups with friends and joining events. Three weeks ago, I got a combo: poetry readings slash meetups. And what could be hectic (if not crazy) is joining, not just one, but two poetry readings!
The first one was held in the 2nd basement of Robinsons Galleria, by the group MAD otherwise called, Mga Anak sa Dagang (Children of the Plume?). I totally forgot the theme* of this reading (I’m horrible with details), but I knew it was in celebration of International Women’s Month. In short, it was about women. Or was it just that? The various verses read and shared certainly showed that there was more. “For the fucking boys” was addressed to boys whose false perception of girls distorts some things (or every thing) — from respect to expectations. Pieces by local favorite Cora Almerino and international spoken word artist Sarah Kay were also shared, concocting a powerful shot of what it takes to be a girl and a woman within and outside the confines of the lover’s and the society’s reality (of the woman).
For my turn, I’ve read my first published work, “Kon Nganong Dili Mi Moadtog Lucky Plaza.” It was my first time reading it in front of an audience and just as I expected, it was a trippy read. Why? Well first, it was personal. I’ve written it, trying to capture how it felt — to become both witness and conspirator of something intangible yet gripping: discrimination against Pinays and women, in general. Second, it’s emotionally charged, which is risky. If you’ve watched quite a number of spoken word performances, you would seldom miss the challenges it involved. There’s that part of building up the momentum, only to fail in delivering a “good drop” — one that “seals the deal” with a denouement so convincing it gives you that strong “feels.” To address these two, I not only had to dig up the applicable insight; I also had to sustain the courage to execute. I played with its personal element, reading the poem the way it really sounds upon writing: full of angst, unapologetically pained. For that decent “drop,” I went for a slight but not exaggerated pause.
Kon Nganong Dili Mi Moadtog Lucky Plaza Igsakay sa bus o MRT magyuko-yuko dayon mi labi na kon makadungog og Tinagalog magsalig mi kay sa among hitsura magduda ka: Malay o Pinay? Ug kon dili madalag yuko ug magkatinutokay gani, padayon lang gihapon og lakaw kay dili man gihapon matabok sa among mga mata ang distansya sa pagsabot nga angay para nimo, ninyo, kay kami gipaeskuyla para naa miy batobalani nga pangkolekta sa ilang pagtahod, gali lang nagkadaghan na kining batoha, wala nay mahabilin para nimo, ninyo — bahalag mas puypoy ang pagpanglimpiyo sugod sa ground floor hangtod third floor bahala’g usahay wala moy tarong katulog, kaon, pahuway BAHALA MO ug ayaw namog katingala nga magtuyok-tuyok kining among lapalapa para lang dili makadalikyat og agi anang Lucky Plaza kay di mi ganahan makadungog sa inyong estorya o pangutana kon nakapadala na ba mo, o gasakit lang gihapon inyong bukobuko? Dili namo buot nga mabatian inyong bagutbot, kasakit, pagduhaduha ug pag-ambak dira sa paril sa inyung pagka babaye DILI. Kay dili pod lalim ang pagsulod sa bus o MRT, sugaton og mga mata nga ga-ingon: “kini, mupatol ni og Bangla.” (Bisaya Magasin, June 2016)
Importantly, after my reading, I asked my friend, “How was it?” No matter how hyped up, it’s essential for us to settle down, get feedback and work on improving for the next reading. Right?
“Gabiing Dako.” That’s the theme for the second poetry/literature event. The first part was held inside UP-Cebu’s arts hall. Because of conflicting schedules between the two events, plus the time it took to travel from the first venue to the next, we came in late for the first part. And very hungry, too — that we had to get out and satisfy our palate. We enjoyed our liempo, tinola soup, and puso mixed with conversations over which is better: to know about that used-to-be-special someone’s romantic feelings for you after your wedding or to not know at all — a conversation which was catalyzed by an excerpt shared by a WILA (Women in Literary Arts) member at the arts hall. One friend said, it’s better not to know since you’re already married, the knowledge could only confuse you. Another said, it’ll be better to know as it could actually help you really move forward in your married life with less baggage. How about me? I said (in non verbatim) it doesn’t matter. Both could take their unfulfilled yearning for each other as a great lesson — one that teaches them to become a better lover for their new partner.
By the time we went back to the university, the first part has ended. And the arrangements were made for the second part of Gabiing Dako, to be held rightly so, under the light of the moon, on the university’s grounds. We took mats to sit and lie on. The shadows of trees and everything else cocooning us verse-stricken poets, listeners, Cebuanos. We read and shared through the light of an electric lamp, the mood was awesome, it made me miss school life so bad (aww…). In between readings is a brief Q&A session. One student (or alumni?) asked, how do you handle writer’s block? Or how does your creative process work? To which the professor-poet answered (again, in non verbatim): it depends on the type of difficulty you are experiencing. There’s this difficulty in executing — an issue about techniques. In this case, he’d patiently sit and work on his piece until he finds or masters the technique to execute and flesh it. Sometimes, it’s an issue of imagination, not quite knowing what to put together, the pieces of the piece aren’t there yet. For this one, the poet takes his time to work on something else. Working on another piece takes his mind off the first piece, eases his psyche that by the time he’s back on it, he can effectively resume, seeing clearly what was amiss, what needs to be done for the piece. This pattern of sharing tips and reading pieces wore on and on. I haven’t shared my tip in addressing writer’s block (as a lot had already been shared about it during the outdoor reading), but if I were to answer, what would it be?
For starters, I don’t really call it “writer’s block.” I don’t name it at all (I secretly believe that naming your demons is bad business; naming it could mean that you will constantly summon it to use your mortal exercise of making excuses). My tip for that difficult writing is this: don’t write it. Leave it in your head, leave it and risk the chance of forgetting it. If it’s not worth forgetting, it’s going to spill itself… At this rate, the essence of the two elements will come in play: the power of the words itself + your skill. I know, I’m making this sound so easy… but who ever said we write because it’s easy? And another point worth bringing out is that I didn’t come up with this personal concept overnight. I actually had to suffer weeks of constant self-questioning, then a more difficult period of acceptance and working for the inevitable: change. The reward of all these is this… a more organic creative process. Thinking and writing through this personal process became more natural for me that after finishing it, I’m mildly surprised with each resulting piece. Writing becomes more of an accident, it leaves me wounded yet cleansed. It’s also a release, probably of some suppressed truth which comes after me biting, scratching.
Back to the event, I came out the last one to read. The crowd became fewer; as the night deepens, each went to brave the Saturday traffic and get home. But the night breeze didn’t falter to comfort those who remained sitting on the grass. And I just had to brave this and share my voice one more time.
*after careful googling, I saw the event’s theme! Read “Babayeng Gamhanan” at MAD reading
Ayaw ko suwatig balak
–tutuki lang ko
gikan sa akung samaran nga ulo hangtud sa mga bungtud nga gaginhawag lawum
ug kwebang baba
kabantay ka unsay kalahian nako sa uban?
ako kay estatwa
oo, tawu ko nga nahimung batu pero tawu gihapun
apan sa uban
kay dili kahipugngan ang mga ngalan nga muduaw sa akung panumduman, ngalan sa mga tawu nga akung gibiyaan
bisag dili pa ko intawun
WORDS OF OUR BRAIN TUMOR PATIENT IN WARD 11
Don’t write me a poem
–just look at me
from my wounded head to the mountains that breathe deep
and the caved mouth
have you noticed what makes me different from the others?
I am a statue
yes, I’m a person transformed into stone but a person still
but for the others
because no one can stop the names from visiting my memory, names of people
who I have deserted
even when I’m not yet
*image by Krista Mangulsone
sama sa sando ni papa
nga karun akung gikuso-kuso
para mawala ang mantsa
dili sama sa aslum nga baho nga
taud-taud na pung mugawas gikan
anang na-ughan nga baba.
sama sa kalimutaw sa uwak nga gahuwat
gawas sa amung balay.
Fifty peso-worth, white
like papa’s sando
which now I had to wash
to remove the vomit
unlike the sour scent
which had been flowing out from that
like that of the crow which waits
outside our house.
*image by Aaron Burden
For a book that covers the long and enduring story of Cebuano literature, Bisayangdako is an easy and pleasurable read.
Perhaps, we can attribute it to the fact that I’m a homegrown Bisdak (Cebu City-bred). Some words (gugma), places (Parian), and events (Sinulog) are familiar to me. And then the rest is a whole, new world —and yes, I had to accept that horrible truth that I don’t know a lot about Cebu, its history, culture, and literature —which is why this book is for me. Maybe, it’s for you, too. 🙂
A VERY LONG DISCLAIMER
I know. It’s absurd that I don’t know much about my own culture and literature even though I’m certainly on it, through it. It’s childish to blame it to some invisible things or people or institution (haha), but… I think it boils down to your own “personal culture.” My father’s Tagalog while my mother’s Bisaya (taga-Badian). And while my siblings and I were raised here, I can’t really say that our values are purely Bisaya (if “pure” really exists). My father who closely monitored our activities (and own ideologies) had been quite influential in the development of my personal culture. For instance, when we were young, his Bisaya vocabulary was so limited, he’d often speak to us in Tagalog. Naturally, I got confused —why do kids at school laugh when I say it’s “bubuyog” (Tagalog for bee)? For them, it’s just “buyog.” Speaking in English was also stressed more at school, especially during university.
I’ve gained my interest in reading and writing in Bisaya at Cebu Normal University and went to attend local poetry sessions with fellow grad students. Still, I saw myself at a disadvantage to others who had deeper foundation in the Cebuano/Bisaya language. I’ve noticed that those people who hailed from neighboring provinces or islands had a wider stack of Bisaya vocabulary. I also have this friend whose writing voice she hypothesized to have been lifted from her childhood — times she had spent listening to the local AM radio with her lola.
Now, how can I top that? I can’t. And I guess, I don’t really have to. My own personal culture, mixed with another regional culture, may actually benefit my never-too-late attempts at learning or re-learning our own culture, our literature.
Books like Bisayangdako has showed me the progress others before me had had. Perhaps, one day I could do my part, too (cross-fingers).
Top book image from Mary Martin Booksellers