WATCH: Young poets and the art of spoken word
MANILA, Philippines — Is poetry dead?
Far from it.
Poets say the art not only exists on paper, but also in the streets, in music, in images, in motion. It is everywhere. And for some, it’s up there on stage.
The room was packed, dotted with small tables, beers, and microphones. Nonstop clapping and chatter fanned the early summer heat. It was open mic night, people went up and down the stage. Some were mad, others sad; some spoke loudly, others softly; some had paper in hand, others held none.
“We don’t just read poetry, we perform it.” That’s how the crowd defined the art of spoken word poetry.
Before tonight, Abby would only recite poems in her bed, sometimes in her head. The only spoken word artists she knew were from YouTube, all were foreigners. Tonight she was in a basement full of Filipinos, expressing stories not only in English but also in different Philippine languages.
Abby found home.
At the end of the evening, she became friends with 3 other bedroom poets. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
From a group of 4, they grew to 11. Today they are known as Words Anonymous, a team of Filipino performance poets “weaving tales of love, loss, inequality, and the struggles of finding one's place in the world.”
They dream of spreading the art of spoken word poetry across the country, starting with bars and cafés in Manila.
Abby mostly talks about love, but spoken word poetry can be about anything and everything. The people behind Words Anonymous reflect this diversity.
“I talk about depression and self-worth,” says Trevor. “I’m currently beating depression for 7 years now. I take a lot from it with what I write.” While most of his teammates have literature or theater backgrounds, Trevor lives and breathes science, “I studied microbiology, now I’m a med student.”
His first performance happened right after being dumped on Valentine’s Day, “I was goaded to perform.”
“Mine was inside a classroom,” says Roch, with her students as her audience. “They were afraid of public speaking, I had to come up with a way to engage them.” The young teacher then showed her class YouTube videos of her favorite spoken word artists, “They loved it.”
Meanwhile, the group’s youngest member, Michelle, draws strength from spoken word poetry. “It helped me gain self-esteem, and face crowds.”
Others developed their love for words much earlier. “I tape-recorded made-up stories when I was a kid,” Louise recalls, “I love writing stories and poems.” It took a while before Louise found others like her. “There was no scene before I found Sev’s, it was very underground.”
After a tough break-up, Louise visited an open mic night at Sev’s Cafe, “And I never left since.” The cafe, owned by veteran journalist Howie Severino, hosts monthly arts and culture events organized by different youth groups.
It was also at Sev’s where Words Anonymous was born.
The group’s open mic nights are open to everyone, not just its members.
In the past year, popular topics included LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues, politics and corruption, the Filipino identity, and of course, love.
“We also get socially relevant poems,” says Abby. In fact, one of the crowd favorites was a piece on the reproductive health law, performed by a young man. “The goal [of spoken word poetry] is to help people tell their stories, and to give voice to the unheard.”
Though the group is composed of 20-somethings, their audience comes from all ages. There are even families who come to Sev’s to perform, “Some bring their parents, it’s refreshing to hear their perspectives too,” Abby adds. “May hugot din pala sila.” (They also have their own angst.)
As for those who love to write but are afraid to speak in public, "Just dive into the experience," Words Anonymous advises. For them, every story is important.
Everyone started out a little nervous on stage, but eventually got the hang of it. "You can just tell stories, rant, talk about your first love, whatever," says Abby. "We're just here waiting for you, ready to listen."
The audience is encouraged to perform, but are not forced. Some just go to watch performances and to find pieces they can relate with. Some first-timers in the audience, however, become performers themselves in succeeding visits.
Future of spoken word
"It's bright," Words Anonymous believes, "It's gaining ground."
The group clarifies that they did not start the spoken word movement in the Philippines, but only built a "home" for those interested.
The group will be celebrating their 1st year anniversary in April, with the hopes of getting more people to speak.
In the future, they hope to see more Filipino spoken word artists across the country, delivering pieces in languages other than Tagalog. "We also want also want to see inter-school spoken word events."
"Right now when we say open mic, people think about music. We want to change that, we want them to think about poetry too," Trevor says. "The scene is still small, but at least now we have spaces."
In the age of social media, the art of spoken word poetry is spreading even faster.
All members of Words Anonymous began by only watching YouTube videos, today they are the ones being filmed. Hopefully, their videos can also inspire other poets secretly performing in their bedrooms. – Rappler.com
The group hosts Poetry and Open Mic Nights at Sev's Cafe every 3rd Saturday of the month.