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.

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