Sunday, 22 April 2012

00003 The Philippine Star, Cesare Syjuco's Literary Hybrids At Galeria Duemila, March 12, 2012

Cesare Syjuco's literary hybrids at Galleria Duemila
(The Philippine Star) March 12, 2012 12:00 AM 

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Cesare Syjuco holds an all-words exhibition at Galleria Duemila.
MANILA, Philippines - Multi-awarded art iconoclast Cesare A.X. Syjuco unveils a solo exhibition of his literary hybrids on March 17, 4:30 p.m. at Galleria Duemila. The show runs until April 26.
Titled “A Life of the Mind: His Poems for Walls,” this landmark all-words exhibition showcases only works made entirely of text created in the past 30 years.

As a fiercely imaginative “poet of the gallery,” Syjuco forges the connection between the visual arts and literature with his innovative use of a variety of mediums, from neon, to backlit acrylic and tarpaulin panels, to video projections, vitrines, and others.
For inquiries, call 831-99-90, or 833-98-15, e-mail:, or visit and

00000 The Business Mirror, Walls And Words And Arts: The Text of Syjuco, April 17, 2012

Walls and Words and Arts: The Text of Syjuco

I HAVE been reading and re-reading this book called Reading Literature Today, which is composed of, as the cover puts it, “Two Complementary Essays and a Conversation.”
I have been viewing and re-viewing the photos taken of Cesare A. X. Syjuco’s exhibit at Galeria Duemila and wondering if I need to read those texts or imagine them as they were posted on the walls.
Centuries of traditions and traditions of aesthetics have created a fissure between the picture and the words. One can conjure art from pictures, from images or simulacra. From words and with words, one can create texts and, in so many ways, communicate. Images through art send messages but the layperson perceives in the addressing a mediation, an intervention of feelings and interpretations. With texts, one can merely, as in directly, read. Or so we all naturally think.
I go back again to the book of reading by Tabish Khair and Sébastien Doubinsky, and they talk about different ways of reading, different ways of sensing. Khair, a poet, critic and educator, talks first—about the death of the author, echoing Roland Barthes, and saying: the reader is “the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed.”
For this writer, “the reader is simply that space in which the traces by which the written text is constituted come together.”
Sébastien Doubinsky comes next in the book with his “Last Words.” He talks about fiction as being “ontologically free.” Doubinsky, who writes classical literature and crime fiction, tells us “fiction does not know it is free until surrounded by walls.” Doubinsky goes on: “The problem is not the walls themselves, but when the walls are not considered as walls, but as necessities, or even worse, as real.”
I then look at the works/words of Syjuco and realize we are cooped and caged in and by definitions. Sometimes, we are not aware of being walled in as we think these are not walls—the working definitions of what constitute art, and what consist of images and words.
And so there they are, the pieces from Cesare A. X. Syjuco, described as an iconoclast. But iconoclasm is also a set of walls, ivied perhaps by more recent battles and tentative triumphs but nevertheless divisive and categorizing.
In a collection called “A Life of the Mind,” the texts are assumed primacy over what they are usually employed for: labeling, explanation and classification.
Some words are set in neon lights where the lights sometimes matter most than what they are lighting. There are pure texts but purity ends with the idea written on acrylic panel: “Caution: Falling Ninjas”. Does the work triumph when I look up and indeed wait for black-clad spies from the sky?  The Japanese is there in “Tanka Covenant No.2,” acrylic on marine plywood, but the reference ends with the use of the word “tanka” which literally refers to a short poem. In the work, however, there are layers of frames in graded grays and white. Prominent at bottom center is a square with what looks like an “X” barring entrance or exit. The covenant becomes a wall again, an assumed form promised by exponents for many years.
There is text on a mirror and we are relieved and surprised at the same time, for the mirror installation is about reflection. Syjuco gives it a title: “Our reflection in blank.” The title is reflected on the mirror making it not a reflection on reflection but a reflection of our (in this case) reflection in blank, referring to the blankness of the mirror.
There is this modern (because it does not follow the rigor of traditional practices) haiku which says: Until the fly-swatter/the fly/does not exist. Until our reflection, the mirror was blank. But that does not suffice.

In Photo: A river stays spread on pages (1/5), 1983/2012, backlit text on acrylic panel, 15.96"x56.93"x4.53" and The table of zero (A.k.a. One of these things is not like the others (1/5), 1983-2012, laser cut acrylic text on acrylic panel 60.09"x48.07"x2.56"

00002 The Manila Bulletin, Cesare A.X. Syjuco: Thinking And Creating Within And Outside The Box (The Quiddity of 'Concept' and 'Object' in Conceptual Art) Part 1, March 26, 2012

Cesare A.X. Syjuco: Thinking And Creating Within And Outside The Box (The Quiddity of ‘Concept’ and ‘Object’ in Conceptual Art) (Part I) 
 Cesare A.X. Syjuco's Sudden Rush of Genius (2011 book & CD of poems and music)

MANILA, Philippines -- Imagine standing in the middle of an urban landscape pullulated with towering buildings, crisscrossing bridges and highways, unnerving cacophony of car engines, obtrusive signage glaring with neon lights, lofty billboards with half-naked women endorsing products, harried faces and footsteps scurrying on busy streets, stray cats and dogs walking and sniveling along the squalid pavements and alleyways. 
Now, in a more claustrophobic ambience, imagine standing in the middle of a 20- square-foot art gallery filled with conspicuous images, signage and neon lights, albeit some art pieces are confined either within glass boxes or behind transparent acrylic panels. Texts and images become alive through the three-dimensional objects, coiled neon lights on the wall, and projected video on the floor. 
Some images may conjure up nostalgia and decay. For instance, an emaciated bonsai tree bereft of leaves, a stone engraved with Latin words, or a sepia photograph of children sitting on the rocks by the sea. Other images may elicit psychological tension, like a wooden religious statue without a hand, an airplane about to take off, or a neon-lighted typeface that reads “perfection” with unlit letter “n.” 
How such poignant imageries create a poetic and conceptual landscape in the human mind and senses is the ingenious creation of a literary iconoclast -- poet and conceptual artist Cesare A.X. Syjuco
A Brief Glimpse on the History of Conceptual Art 
In an 1885 foreboding novel “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” written by the proponent of existentialism the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 –1900), a madman cried: “Gott ist tot!” or “God is dead!” Thereafter, that controversial avowal of God’s death would change the course of man’s perception of God and the world, and, later, reshape the history of art and literature from a spiritually- centered quest for beauty to a more concrete affair in the secular world. 
In 1917, three decades later after Nietzsche’s stark criticism on Christianity through his novel and philosophical writings, another ‘death’ was foretold and this time, the imminent death of classical art in the form of “urinal.” Precursor of conceptual art the French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887 –1968) transformed an ordinary readymade urinal into an objet d’art titled “Fountain” signed with his pseudonym “R. Mutt.” 
From there, Marcel Duchamp paved the way for modern and postmodern art movements throughout Europe, America, and Asia, particularly the theoretical development of conceptual art. American artist Joseph Kosuth would later acknowledge Duchamp’s important role in conceptual art when he said that all art, after Duchamp, is conceptual in nature because art only exists conceptually (1969 essay “Art after Philosophy”). 
But Conceptual Art did not emerge as a movement until the mid 1960s, with the notion of elevating and transforming any idea or concept into an artistic form using found and readymade objects, as auxiliary devices to the theoretical and conceptual approach of art making. Conceptual art, per se, subverts the conventional form of aesthetics with limitless possibilities –- dynamic, transformational and interactive. 
Contrary to Dadaism and Surrealism that defy reason with emphasis on chance and the supremacy of dreams, conceptual art celebrates reason and sensual perception, imploring the participation of the audience to deduce and complete the meaning of any presented works (assemblages or installations) by the conceptual artists.  
Some well-known practitioners of conceptual art across the globe are Robert Rauschenberg (1925 –2008), Solomon "Sol" LeWitt (1928–2007), Walter De Maria (1935–), Robert Smithson (1938– 1973), Lawrence Weiner (1942–), Joseph Kosuth (1945–), Jenny Holzer (1950–), and Damien Hirst (1965 --), to name a few. 
In the Philippines, the forerunners in their own respective styles and tendencies are David Medalla (residing and creating his art in different continents), Roberto Chabet, and Cesare A.X. Syjuco, among other senior and younger generation of artists who are swinging between painting or sculpture and conceptual art. 
Perhaps, one of the powerful and influential bodies of works in the Philippine art scene that span three decades of art making, which is more than any Filipino contemporary conceptual artist could ever produce in his or her lifetime, is Cesare A.X. Syjuco’s works. His art is the crossbred of visual art and literature, mimicking literary texts and mass media campaigns. 
Although Cesare A.X. Syjuco refuses to be labeled with any aesthetic style and genre, his artistic practice is the embodiment of conceptual art -- socially relevant, jarring and intellectually confounding. His works are reminiscent of an American conceptual artist Joseph Kossuth. But unlike Kossuth, who uses an open space to designate the elements of his works, Syjuco uses a defined space within space to collocate the binary elements of his compositions in a cohesive and logical manner. 
Known as “Literary Hybrids,” Syjuco explores multifarious combination of literary and art references through his collocated “texts” and “visual” images. In the form of ‘media-collocation,’ he meticulously gathers selected elements (texts, images and objects) for his composition, meld and interlock them together within glass boxes or rectangular transparent acrylic panels, with the exceptions of neon lights and video projections that have found their respective spaces on wall, floor or ceiling. 
By fusing literature and visual art, his opus is an acerbic commentary on global culture, politics, commercialism and technology, imbued with witty intellection, irony and humor. 
The Quiddity of ‘Concept’ and ‘Object’ in Conceptual Art 
Cogito Ergo Sum by Cesare Syjuco
In his 2010 exhibit, The Ancestry of Stone, at Gelleria Duemila, Cesare A.X. Syjuco carved “Cogito Ergo Sum” on a semi-flat stone and encased it inside a glass box. On the frontal surface of the glass is a phrase that reads: “:It means I love you in Greek. : No, Stupid. It’s Latin. : Whatever.” Judging from the two inscriptions both inside and outside the box, one can deduce an ostensibly out of context statements with no correlation at all. 
A closer look, however, reveals a subtle yet humorous way of anticipating the viewer’s reaction in case they fail to understand the Latin text inside the box. Their anticipated response is subliminally fed in their mind through the readymade answer outside the box. In this regard, the text serves as a point of reference (terminus a quo), vis-à-vis, to the text inside the box (terminus ad quem). 
On the contrary, although both textual contents within and outside the box are both syllogistic concepts of the artwork yet, either one can become an “object” referring to each other’s symbolic meaning, depending on the subjective interpretation of the viewers. Although, the artist has already laid out the concept of his art yet, he also considers the ‘variables’ of interpretation: How the different viewers of diverse backgrounds, for example, might perceive his work as a whole. 
By providing a readymade answer outside the box, the artist wittingly engages the viewers to think beyond the ‘quiddity’ of an object and examine how it represents the concept of his composition. ‘Quiddity,’ by definition, comes from Latin “quidditas” (root words “quid, quis” or “who/what”), which refers to the “whatness” or “thingness” of an object or concept before it is used as a symbolic representation.  
The ‘quiddity’ of an object, as employed by this writer in conceptual art, is independent of the concept, but when it is used and conferred upon with artistic value, the object transforms its “whatness” and assumes a new epistemic meaning. What precedes the object is the main concept or idea of an artwork. Hence, the ‘quiddity’ of an object is always relative and variable congruent to the “concept” that it represents.  
But even the quiddity of any object or concept can assume its own locus when presented as an objet d’art contingent upon the ‘primum intentione’ (objective) of the artist. 
For instance, in Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, the artist blatantly presented the object as a work of art, no more no less, bereft of any symbolic meaning. In this manner, the quiddity of urinal becomes both the terminus a quo and terminus ad quem, the literal and the symbolic, the subject and the predicate. Considering its novel and innovative presentation, Duchamp’s urinal has become both the material and final cause of aesthetics in its highest form, comparable to the renaissance and classical art or any contemporary art, for that matter. 
In Cesare Syjuco’s “Cogito Ergo Sum,” he uses the quiddity of objects, e.g., stone, glass box, and ‘auxiliary text,’ to amplify his concept in a transformational and interactive manner. Similarly, the textual contents inside and outside the box interchangeably complement and play both as “concept” and “object,” depending on the construal of the viewers. What is outside the box can be an auxiliary object to signify the concept inside the box, or vice versa.  
For the viewers who are familiar with philosophers, they can immediately tell what inside the box (“Cogito Ergo Sum”) signifies by associating it to a French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596 -1650). And, of course, “Cogito Ergo Sum” means “I think, therefore I am,” known also as a ‘Cartesian doubt,’ a methodological skepticism in rationalizing the truth of one’s existence or the truth in relation to God. 
But for the viewers who are alien to both philosophy and Latin language, the text inside the box can be abstruse and inconsequential. While the text outside (:It means I love you in Greek. : No, Stupid. It’s Latin. : Whatever) provides a readymade answer to the ‘what and why’ of the artwork as it percolates through their mind and senses. In fact, what is written outside the box is surreptitiously intended for them in a cynical manner. 
Hypothetically, to put it in a dialogic conversation, imagine three best friends discussing about the text (Cogito Ergo Sum) inside the box. Friend A says ironically, “It means I love you in Greek.” Friend B who feels intelligently superior among the three replies, “No, Stupid. It’s Latin.” But friend C, who does not give a damn what friends A nor B thought, exclaims, “WHATEVER.”
 Arguably, that is precisely the point of the artist! 
(Cesare A.X. Syjuco’s solo exhibit “A Life of the Mind” is ongoing at Galleria Duemila, 210 Loring Street, Pasay City, Philippines.)
*Published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle (Arts & Culture), March 26, 2012, p. E1-2

0001 The Philippine Star, Word, Mirror, Dragonfly, March 26, 2012

Word, mirror, dragonfly
ZOETROPE By Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) March 26, 2012

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White light, white heat: Cesare Syjuco’s poems for walls at Galleria Duemila
The days of art criticism may soon be at an end when an art critic himself has turned to making art, which is the best and only form of criticism, come to think of it, in whatever language. And whatever else might be said of Cesare Syjuco, whose latest one-man show “A Life of the Mind,” poems for walls opened recently at Galleria Duemila in Loring Street, Pasay, he’s a grown man now and should be responsible for the words and concepts and found images he has deemed fit to exhibit.
In Cesare’s case, the word itself becomes art — which remains a family affair (his wife the sculptress and performance artist Jean Marie is curator — be it a barely decipherable progression of tankas etched on marine plywood that greets the gallery-goer left of entrance, to the almost cheesy rendition of “Snow White forever” scrawled on the restroom’s mirror, the scent of contraband hovering. There are falling ninjas too and what looks like a cat’s skeleton preserved in a glass case, entitled “Gazelle.” There are carved neon of white light in a succession of four words on canvas, best plugged in for maximum effect. Also a table of zeroes that tackles the exponents of zero the hero, nada pues nada. A corner of mirrored reflections, you have to see it to believe it at the risk of sounding redundant, and no ants in Antwerp. Small comfort is provided by the original cover design of the Philippine Studies issue published by Ateneo and edited by the late Alfrredo Navarro Salanga in the early ’80s, which gives new life to the cover of a telephone directory.

The exhibited poems on walls qualify perhaps more as art criticism than as poetry, then again I am only guessing. Maybe the poems are saying that most art coming out these days lacks context, much less a solid textual foundation or construct. The Structuralists and Post-Structuralists might have a bone to pick, as well they should, for Cesare’s conceptual approach can be a bit heavy, as opposed to heavy-handed. Cesare as poet was never a slouch to begin with, and as art critic his demeanor comes across more like that of a construction worker, as in workmanlike, however landed his origins. Still missing or left out for the nonce are works like “American Scarecrow” of the suspicious looking nuns on bus, and that poster poem hanging on MRT trains that is like an entry for a contest of a literary magazine.

You wander into Galleria Duemila at Loring and see and hear the bongo players evoking the ghost of the white hermit, blowing in with the sea breeze nearby strains of an old Joni Mitchell song: “I was driving across the burning desert/ When I spotted six jet planes/ Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain/ It was the hexagram of the heavens/ It was the strings of my guitar/ Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”

If art becomes criticism and here in these poems for walls do they meet, then art criticism may only be for the blind, who according to the Greeks are the ones who can truly see. Consider Teresias the blind seer, or even Oedipus who tears out his eyes when the truth of his origins blinds him.

So do Cesare’s words mirror a black truth, the death of art criticism as we know it due to falling ninjas imported from the old Pinaglabanan Gallery. He’s the last holdout of “Chromatext,” whose art is a concept by which he measures his words.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

0010B Contemporary Jazz In The Philippines: 1970 To The Year 2010, Transitions Via Extrapolation, 2010

On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos ("Macoy") stunned the world when he declared Presidential Decree 1081, more known and feared as Martial Law.  The Tagalog slogan of the day was: "Sa Kaunlad ng Bayan, Disciplina ang Kailangan" [In the Making of a Nation, Discipline is Needed].  As a dictator, he enforced this by the mighty arm of military rule.  A curfew was set from midnight to four in the morning, and all those who were caught violating the curfew were detained at Camp Crame constabulary headquarters.  I was one of those unlucky motorists apprehended by men in fatigues and brought to the camp where I had to cut cogon grass as a result of my innocent tryst in the wee hours.  This hard lesson taught me to practice caution and I was never apprehended again.

Somehow, this rule of law played an enormous part in inspiring artists from all walks of life.  In the music scene, for example, bands were sprouting up from one end of Manila to the other, extending to the exclusive subdivisions of Makati, an area located centrally within the 60,000 plus hectare area of greater Manila.

The Ayala Corporation of the Ayala-Zobel-Roxas families developed Makati into what is now the business hub of the country.  The upscale residents in this enclave nurtured the bars and clubs in this area.

Eventually, in 1975, avant-garde artist Cesare Syjuco, his wife Jean Marie, and their outfit Mergatroid Productions partnered with Ramon Jacinto's radio station DZRJ and launched a nationwide Battle of the Bands contest.  Sponsored by Pepsi Cola and its subsidiaries RC Cola and Seven-Up, the first-of-its-kind competition offered P10,000.00 as a major prize, together with an eight-foot trophy shaped in the form of a G clef.  Three well-respected musicians were tapped as independent judges:  the revered musical-director and pianist Emil Mijares, who at the time headed his own band called Time Machine; professor and trumpeter Eliseo Clamor, who headed the Winds and Percussion Department of the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music; and professor and pianist Carmencita Arambulo, a master's graduate from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, who headed her own music school called the Greenhills Music Studio.

The battleground was an empty lot along the corner of EDSA and the South Superhighway, and the participating garage bands performed on the makeshift stage built on the cogon grass field.  The bands worth mentioning culled from various high schools and colleges from all over Manila.  Some of the bands that competed and paid their dues were:  Walter Wirth's Petrified Anthem, Johnny Alegre's Hourglass, Ed Jose and Richie Quirino's Destiny, Resty Fabunan's Maria Cafra, Alex Cruz's Anak Bayan, Florante, Gabe Ascalon and Harry Tambuatco's Mother Earth, Dennis Garcia's Red Fox, Heber Bartolome's Banyuhay, Gin Goni's and Jim Sarthou's Aunt Irma, and the late Hicky Tambuatco's Feathers.

The result of the competition was controversial because it was a tie between two unpopular bands involved with the experimentation of fusion at a time when rock music was at its height.  At the time that the nationwide Battle of the Bands was held, composer-guitarist Johnny Alegre was a journalism student at the UP.  He faithfully chronicled this event with precision:

"More than 200 musical groups of all styles participated to record their original compositions, and were subsequently given air time over DZRJ's Pinoy Rock and Rhythm Show.  Of the bulk, twenty semi-finalists were selected, then short-listed further to ten.  Concerts were held in "Jam Park", a vacant lot beside the Roche pharmaceutical complex in the corner of Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) and the South Superhighway.  The contest's final grand prize was adjudged a tie, between the two related bands that made a difference because they performed a jazz-fusion repertoire that was not considered popular at the time:  Destiny and Mother Earth.  Together with other participants like Petrified Anthem, Hourglass, Aunt Irma, Feathers, Banyuhay and Florante, they were given recording hours at the sophisticated Cinema-Audio Recording Studios to release a collective album.  Leading the anthology of original material in this record project was Ed Jose's "Moments of Tranquility" for Destiny, a contemporary performance that heralded contemporary compositional ideas in jazz."

The overnight success of the Battle of the Bands encouraged the formation of numerous garage bands that were inspired by the new wave of fusion sound.  Because fusion employed or borrowed a lot of rock elements, quite a few groups playing pop, folk, blues and rock die-hards, tried their hands at this evolving genre; some were short-lived, and others met with considerable success!

(Excerpt taken from Richie Quirino's "Contemporary Jazz In The Philippines:  1970 To The Year 2010", Anvil Publishing 2010)

Monday, 4 July 2011

0012B Hounds In Heaven, The Cesare Syjuco, January 2008

By Lui Bacaltos

The Year:
Sometime in 1993

The Exhibit:
The ArtLab's Wall-less Gallery

The Scene:
The empty basement space of MAC.
The artists started to arrive.
Works were slowly unloaded from vans, cars, trucks, etc.
I saw the bulk of the items: leaves, bricks, tree trunk, etc.
I told the staff to have an early lunch.
I knew it will be a long day. . .

Day 1
The works were all unloaded and waiting for installation.
The artists were milling about, smoking and drinking.
Then they all went home.

Day 2
More works were unloaded.
No installations yet.
More smoking and drinking.
They all went home without installing.

Day 3
More works unloaded.
More smoking and drinking.

By the afternoon of the same day, one of the artists went up to me and pleaded to step in with my curatorial authority and demand the installation of the exhibit. I smiled helplessly. Although I curate and do the layout of most of the exhibitions at that art space, I normally work (collaborate) with the artist/artists and in some instance the guest curator/s. This particular exhibition happen to have its own Curator in the person of Cesare Syjuco. Cesare was also one of the artists in that exhibition. I respect curatorial authority and unless I'm asked, I will not meddle in the installation or screening of the exhibit.

But sensing that there might be problems in the ingress proceedings, I went to the basement to check. A whole pile of objects stood waiting along the walls of the space. The artists stood in one area watching the empty space. I almost laughed out loud but three days is not exactly a laughing matter considering I mount major exhibitions in that huge space in one day!

I was asked for my suggestion and I computed works and number of artists and made several possible layouts. I called my lone gallery hand and together we started installing panel walls for the artists to see. After moving the panels several times, a consensus was called and the artists started claiming their spaces. And the installation began . . . and what came out made the three days of suspenseful waiting worth it!

The ArtLab's Wallless Gallery exhibit was one of the most exciting and highly visited exhibitions at MAC that year. The exhibit has gone on tours to different sites and yet people kept coming in droves. Children and students came in buses and on foot! It was one of those rare major exhibitions where people can touch and interact with the artworks on exhibit! And the controversy most of the works generated was as astounding as only the brilliant minds of a true artist can produce. Audiences were awed and asked themselves what they were seeing. Is this art? For they never experienced or seen anything like these works in most galleries.

But such is the magic of Cesare Syjuco, one of the most acclaimed Filipino multi-media artists of our time, Cesare is a painter, poet and art critic who is a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines) awardee for Art and Culture Advancement, The Gerry Roxas Foundation Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement in the arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines Gawad CCP sa Sining Biswal, the Art Association of the Philippines Grand Prize and Gold Medal for Painting, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in English Poetry, the UNESCO Paris Gold Medals for Photography and Design, the Catholic Mass Media Awards for Outstanding Filipino Communicator, and the first Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Award for Art Criticism, among many others.

I salute his genius.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

0010 The Philippine Star, Poets on Stage, June 2010

By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star, 28 June 2010

Exactly a week ago, the impresario Rock Drilon and I slipped into senti reveries at his flagship (and remaining) Mag:net venue on Katipunan Avenue, after he reminded me that it was the summer solstice. That evening’s Happy Mondays poetry reading was bound to be special, he said. And so it was, with many young poets taking to ether. 

Rock harked back to a couple of decades ago when we both got involved in a memorable outdoor reading at Rizal Park in the wake of the Mt. Pinatubo blast and ashfall that had turned Manila gray. Billed as a healing ritual involving poetry, music, and performance art, it also fell on the day of the summer solstice. 
So that was why he had asked that I importune Cesare A.X. Syjuco to be present at Mag:net last Monday. It would have been a reprise of sorts, sans occasion of natural disaster. I excused my kumpadre for being taken up in domestic frenzy, since he still had to complete his new works for a Galeria Duemila show early next month.

But two nights later Cesare did show up, at another reading, one that has also become traditional, albeit conducted only once a year. It surprised me, in fact, that the Printemps des Poetes reading at Alliance Française was already on its 12th edition, as a souvenir poster declared.

Wow. I hadn’t realized that. Usually held around March in token recognition of springtime in the West, this year it had to be deferred to June due to technical concerns. Still and all, 23 poets and a few musicians pushed through with their participation, delighting the organizers led by AF president Deanna Ongpin-Recto and deputy director Mickael Balcon.

Just as gratified was the audience, 200-strong for the first part, but which noticeably dwindled after the extended intermezzo that featured a buffet table with tasty couscous, and a bar that opened its floodgates for red and white wine.   

I had brought my day-old yellow vuvuzela a friend had hand-carried from Johannesburg, and was nursing the notion of giving it a blast before starting on my poem, and ending my reading in the same horn-blowing manner. Discretion prevailed, urged by a sensing that the hosts were in a sensitive mood after their football team was booted out of the World Cup just the night before, by no less than the Bafana Bafana eleven. Ah, oui, no sense in rubbing it in with a beehive drone from a yellow horn with a South Africa sticker, when Les Bleus had just turned into Les Miserables. 

Despite what could have been a dour ambience, the reading went exceedingly well, with all the poems (and songs) dwelling on the year’s theme of “Couleur femme” or “Color of Woman.”

My kumare Grace Monte de Ramos had a standout performance with her spiritually saucy poem “Kama Sutra for Woman.” So did Yanna Verbo Acosta with “Stranger,” handmaiden-ed by a haunting guitar beat. Also providing primetime props by way of providing poetry cum pulchritude were the young poet-performers Asha Macam, Mookie Katigbak, Maxine Syjuco and Johanna Fernandez.
We missed La Tondeña non pareil Virginia R. Moreno, who had always been a fixture at this annual gathering. Last year she brought the house down with a sportive, sashaying-with-a string-of-pearls number. 

This time, it was Ambassador Jimmy Yambao who chanted Urdu verse. Pete Lacaba and Princess Nemenzo took turns with Pete’s Salinawit renditions of La Vie en Rose et al. in Tagalog, with Martin Makalintal of the French Embassy on keyboards. Poet-as-pasha Virgilio Almario had his poem read in the original Filipino by Marne Kilates, whose translation of it into English was in turn read by Marivic Rufino.

Well, Rio’s a National Artist for Literature, so he can get away with master-ful appreciation of his own poem while seated on the front row. Besides, as he had confided at barside, these days he enjoys indulging in energetic playtime with his apo, except that it leaves him in a state of exhaustion. Must have something to do with the tot’s relative youth.  

The French ambassador, His Excellency Monsieur Thierry Borja de Mozota, who had joined the reading last year, sent in a poem to be read by proxy, on the rainbow colors of “Binibini” nights in Manila, with the striking metaphors of a “yellow card” and a “red light” included in the last line. A “red card” might have been more prescient, but the poem as it was could have been no less cheerily ominous. Ah, irony.
In any case, after we had all expressed our gratitude to our hosts, and exchanged congrats all around for a fun night, I had the chance to tell Jean Marie Syjuco about the Mag:net flashback to our Rizal Park reading in June of 1991.

Yes, she said, that was quite memorable, with everyone throwing off sparks to illumine the entire bonding experience that sought to cast away the demons of the ring of fire that had wrought havoc on our country. And she recalled that Cesare had also performed a poem with the same prop he used on our latest Printemps gig: a toy space gun that emitted a variety of sounds. Why, indeed he had proven that after two decades, he can still pull the trigger.

This impels me to shoot off more recollections of memorable poetry readings, out of the hundreds that we must have joined or helped organize.

First and foremost would be that evening of an early Paco Park Presents gig, way back in 1982, when Jimmy Abad, Cirilo Bautista, Freddie Salanga, Ric de Ungria and I had our first public reading as the Philippine Arts Council or PLAC. We read poems in the company of then fresh UP graduate Loren Legarda, Joy Virata, Gigi Virata and Boots Anson-Roa, while UP College of Music stalwarts Ryan Cayabyab, Ramon Santos, Chino Toledo and Lester Demetillo, among others, served up the finer poetry.  
Then there was another unforgettable PLAC gig, this time in UP Baguio, one summer afternoon in the early ’80s, with Imee Marcos in attendance. And Freddie read his hyper-militant verse, yet had the temerity to take me to task for reading a lyrical poem that had the line “In the palace by the river...” Jimmy, Cirilo and Ricky keep looking back over their shoulders as we walked away from the campus, with Freddie and I still wrangling over who had been insensitive to the presence of someone special in the audience. 

It was PLAC & Friends that had a command performance in the ’90s, in Baguio’s Cafe by the Ruins — as organized by our friend Boy Yuchengco for his dad, Ambassador “Big Al,” and his friend the Japanese Ambassador to Manila. A typhoon blew in and knocked the power out just as we were about to begin our reading. Flashlights and kerosene lamps circled the stage as we pushed through with quite a dynamic hour, of heartfelt poetry in the dark amidst howling wind and drumming rain.
If I recall correctly, RayVi Sunico and Danton Remoto were with us, both as Fabilioh! as the raging bagyo, and Myra Beltran also danced up a storm. But what made it even more memorable was that the Japanese ambassador also stepped up and drew out several haiku on a sheet from his breast pocket, and read with great aplomb.

I remember the readings at La Moreno’s Cafe Orfeo in Malate, where one night in the early ’80s, the poet and art critic Leo Benesa took me aside and castigated me with a hiss for mispronouncing the word “assassin.” After which the young Rock Drilon lifted up my spirits by having me sit by the Malvar St. gutter to pose for what turned out to be a bipolar portrait in charcoal.

There was a spontaneous reading we had one May evening together with the young writing fellows at the Dumaguete workshop, barely a month after Nick Joaquin had passed away. Armed with bottles of vodka and rum, we assembled on the grassy lawn of South Sea Resort and did our thing. What broke us up was an act perpetrated by a duo that read excerpts from Nick’s Portrait of the Artist... — casting themselves as Candida and Paula, and rendering the dramatic lines in instant translation into Visayan gayspeak.

Then there was that act at a book launch held on the swimming pool deck of a hotel on Roxas Blvd. — where the legendary Ermita outlaw Pepito Bosch held up a silvery bangus while frozen in place by poolside, as visual accompaniment to a reading performance by... was it Jean Marie or Cesare?
Ric de Ungria played percussion with an ethnic instrument from Mindanao while he read a winning poem to great effect at a Palanca Awards night. Jimmy Abad does NOT ever read, BUT recites his poetry and that of many others, always to wild, admiring acclaim, especially when it’s his “Tae” poem — this last at Kitty Taniguchi’s Gallery Cristina in Dumaguete.

Top-of-the-line among our poet-readers would be Gelo Suarez, whom I first witnessed reading from a roll of toilet paper when he entered a UP-sponsored love-poetry-reading contest at Filipinas Heritage Library. He won it, too, when he was but 16! Since then, he’s killed chicks by attaching them to balloons he lofts up in the air to dramatize a poem, stood on the center island on Katips Ave. howling his verses at the traffic both ways, and had himself dragged off the CCP’s Main Gallery while delivering a poem of protest.

Vim Nadera has attired himself in more guises than Willie Nep’s for his performance readings — as an imam, a revolucionario, a peasant, a black-smocked terrorist, or as a fiesta host forcing swigs of lambanog down several rows of an audience in titters. 

And of course the Syjuico sisters Trix and Maxine have always been showstoppers, more for the audacity and aplomb of their conceptualized personae at readings than their undeniable good looks. Trix has slain and mutilated many a giant teddy bear with her infamous pair of scissors, crawled on the floor of Mag:net at Boni High St. (now defunct), bound herself in chains and masking tape, and rolled herself upon flour and talc to express herself in poetry.

At Alliance Française last Wednesday, Maxine departed from her usual bravura acts by simply reading a bittersweet poem ever so sweetly. It takes all kinds, of decisions and moods, that lead to an exemplary reading. But no doubt we have numerous signature performers of the realm when it comes to the spoken word, chanted word, space-gun-attended word, or consummately inflected word (like RayVi’s act at the latest Printemps; another paragon in this department is Mikael de Lara Co) — enough to make the Pinoy poet a class act on any stage.

These days there are regular fortnightly readings (on the first and third Mondays of the month) that continue the long-running Happy Mondays series at Mag:net Katips, as organized and deftly handled by poet-impresario Joel Toledo. And no, he’s not into it because he wants to make a name for himself or ingratiate himself with generations of active, vital, public-reading poets... But for the lovers, yes! Of the spoken word and all things bright and beautiful, and/or speak of kindred spirit and warm camaraderie. And oh, even for the haters who are also invited, and sometimes do join in, if rather awkwardly, then go on with their blog and FB rants, maybe because they have yet to get a life, or get it up. Up on stage.