The persistence of poetry in Cagayan de Oro City
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Through the busy streets of Cagayan de Oro City, souls sought refuge in a tea house. It was there that they joined other souls either weary from the day’s work or simply lost.
Just then, someone appeared on the tiny stage with a bright smile. She was visibly excited as she greeted the audience on Saturday night, April 23. CDO Poetry Night was about to begin.
News about the event swept through social media, and soon, in whispers among friends and colleagues. People from all walks of life came pouring in, packing the tea shop.
It has been two long years, and CDO Poetry Night has been making quite a name for itself in the literary scene of the city.
When it started as an idea and a simple Facebook post, Vel Marie “Mai” Santillan did not expect it would gain traction, much less get a positive reception among the youth from her area.
It was the second time that CDO Poetry Night was held at Chingkeetea house, and it still surprised Santillan that the number of people keeps on rising.
“I really thought that only a few people would appreciate (poetry),” said Santillan. “But I think because a lot of people are interested in the arts, in poetry particularly, although some in secret, and then CDO Poetry Night happened. And then they just came out!”
“In a way, it became a venue for like-minded people to come together and celebrate poetry,” added Santillan, a poet herself.
The Nagkahiusang Mambabalak sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC), of which she is the founder and chairperson, has organized the event with Santillan. It recently conducted the first-ever CDO Writers Workshop.
With the theme, "Ephemeral," Santillan explained: “We’ve all gone through this experience where someone leaves, or the place we grew up in changes. In a way, this (event) is to synthesize, to process that experience of letting go and accepting that not everything stays forever. We, as human beings, ourselves are ephemeral in this world.”
Despite the humid heat in the venue, and the space becoming increasingly cramped, many people stayed till the end of poetry night. The audience’s eyes were glued to the tiny stage whenever a poet stepped up, as if to fill their yearning.
Earlier poems already struck everyone, including “Rate Your Pain from 1-10” by Christian Baldomero leaving everyone to ache in sweet pain, whether they already knew how it felt to be left behind, or they were able to relate to the poet’s loss.
And then you said it, “You were not ready.”
How the fuck can you not be ready?
It was years; we were together for five fucking years!
A week after that, I saw you with him.
“You're not ready,” you said.
“Please rate your pain from one to ten,” the nurse asked again.
I said, “What’s after ten?”
Poems, some untitled, seemed to have ignited – or re-ignited – those past memories that left everyone in bliss.
Hazel Aspera’s excerpt of her short story entitled, “The Ghosts We Hear” haunted everyone; it was about what they didn’t know about Maguindanao before the massacre in 2009. The unheard-of story left everyone speechless, as if reliving her experience, as if sympathizing with her.
"Fifty-eight white markers stuck the virtually dry earth in a small space where the bodies were found, has been etched in my mind. Nobody deserves to die like this."
"Just a week after the massacre, news started to leak out that the prime suspect had begun sleeping on a bench because he was afraid of ghosts. I wonder if those were the same ghosts we still hear at Masalay, and I wonder if they haven’t forgotten either."
Soon afterwards, a series poems with themes of heartache, patriotism, bittersweetness, frustration, and maybes slipped from the poet’s mouths, touching the audience, something they’ll remember even for a while.
A word from the wise
Dr Anthony Tan, a Palanca Awardee, chanced upon a Facebook post on event. The theme immediately piqued his interest. He had a lecture at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan before he went to the poetry night.
Dr Tan was supposed to read his works, but said his poetry might not be suited to the crowd. When asked for his genre, he said, “My poems are like timbre music that needs to be in a quiet room and will therefore, not make sense to them.”
He was ecstatic at the idea of holding a poetry night. He was pleased that a majority of the participants and audience members are young people.
“It’s good making people come and do something artistic like this instead of the usual things. This is more meaningful since it has to do with art and literature,” Tan added.
April is National Literature Month
Bisaya poems catch one's attention because of its humor or its erotic nature, or both. Still, they captivated just about everyone.
Although ludicrous, with repeated themes that needed much censorship, the audience just couldn't get enough of the pieces. In a way, everyone just seemed to connect more when poets shift to the native tongue. (READ: 12 reasons to save the national language)
Poems like “Unhan Nalang Taka” by Arvin Narvaza, “Sinaluang Bunga” by Gari Jamero and “Move On: Hugot Bisa’g Lu’ag Pa” by Shen Linohon, entertained many despite their crass theme. Another is Alton Dapanas’ flash fiction, "Balak ni Parlorista kay DOTA."
Mai Santillan’s “Passive Aggressive,” was a short poem that carried deep hugot of leaving. Santillan’s two other poems – “Unsaon Pag-amuma sa Iring Laaw” and “Nibalik ang Iring” – which were about her cats, shared the same meaning, too, although in a symbolic way.
Linohon’s “Paras na Dila” and Alexie Colipano’s “Dumi sa Mata” were poems dedicated to the farmers of Kidapawan, questioning the government and condemning social injustice.
Dapanas said what makes Bisaya poems work so well is because “[Bisaya] is the language that we think.”
Tan also praised poets who recited in Bisaya, even sharing a tip to writers on how to make a poem work.
“Write in a language of your own native language – may it be Lumad, Cebuano, among others. And it works because people are responding to them easily! Wherein in English, it’s like a firewall, taking people quite some time to process the words,” Tan said.
April is National Literature Month. Coincidentally, CDO Poetry Night: Ephemeral fell on the 400th death anniversary of the one of the world’s greatest English writers, William Shakespeare. (READ: Film, theater and literature: Voices that cannot be silenced)
Fleeting as it may be, souls who were present at the event pondered a worthwhile experience of letting go and rising again, so much that their hearts must have found an ephemeral space to breathe in and out, and reflect.
In the time of hugot and new media, in Cagayan de Oro, “The City of Golden Friendship,” poetry remains vital; it strives. Poetry is yet to cease in the hearts of many. – Rappler.com
Alyssa Michelle Viado is a Rappler intern based in Cagayan de Oro City, studying Development Communication at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan.