Cheryl Salvador doesn’t have to veer away from the concrete jungles of Makati to find inspiration. She constructs effective spoken pieces out of the pointless situations that she found herself in before, from hypocritical “You are beautiful” messages by cosmetic companies to that age-old question, “Is this all there is to life?”
It has always been a very personal sentiment, but Salvador’s musings are reaching a larger audience tonight. In a small coffeehouse in Malate, the spoken word movement – combining poetry, performance art and stand-up comedy – holds the attention of dozens of people, mostly in their late teens and early twenties.
Some people express themselves through paintbrushes. A few others use clay. Many more convey their feelings through notes. But for the eight members of White Wall Poetry, the medium is words.
Spoken word, in particular.
The spoken word is a postmodern art movement in which poetry is performed onstage. The movement has gained ground in the local arts scene in recent years as writers find it an effective means to express themselves outside mainstream venues such as the academe and conventional institutions.
The views of those who engage in spoken word artists, thus, consist of frank – sometimes brutally so – commentary on subjects that are often regarded as inappropriate to discuss publicly, such as religion, politics and gender.
“The spoken word scene here is very much alive, but it still needs to mature in a lot of ways,” White Wall Poetry co-founder Jamie Delos Reyes says.
It was for that desire for maturity that the group was formed, with the members looking to hold workshops within them to improve their writing and performance.
“Everything happened really quickly, in a matter of days,” says Delos Reyes, who along with Slac Cayamanda, founded the group over a few bottles of beer. “A few days after, we invited several people we thought would want to be a part of the group, then dropped the bomb on them – that we’re holding this event in a month to launch our group, and it’s going to be a part of Fringe (Manila).”
The group would then welcome to its fold Salvador, Jake Zakk Habitan, Carla Nicoyco, Franz Pantaleon, Lourna Musngi and Cha Roque – all artists tackling different issues, ranging from love to self-acceptance to freedom from the stifling demands of the corporate world.
Such a wide range of issues is specifically why Cayamanda was drawn to the spoken word.
“I want to talk about political and social issues. I want to talk about issues in our country like political views, poverty, unemployment or employment, and LGBTQ issues,” he says. “I don’t mind talking about love from time to time. It is a very beautiful thing. But I want my craft to be an avenue for topics that are more relevant so that we can put it out there and make it known to people.”
If relevance of the spoken word was the goal, the next step then was to introduce themselves to the public through These Spaces. The process towards the event came fast, and the difficulties mostly stemmed from the pressure to give a good first impression.
“We spent countless sleepless nights together trying to workshop our pieces and practice our performances,” Salvador recalls. “I can’t even remember how many times I scrapped my draft before I arrived at the final draft. We gave honest feedback on each other’s pieces not just to point out what didn’t work in a piece but to help the writer improve and make it tighter.”
The constant preparation resulted in a coherent performance and a sense of belongingness among the group members.
“Everyone was involved in the workshop to the point that we already memorized lines from each other’s poems and I liked that because it gives a sense that members really care about each other’s pieces,” Salvador says.
Perhaps more importantly, it raised awareness on the essence of the spoken word movement.
“What These Spaces taught me is that poetry has blood and it is flowing,” Delos Reyes says. “It’s not some inaccesible highbrow niche. It’s ours. It doesn’t matter who you are or how new you are to this craft; if you have something to say and willing to share it, the spoken word stage will welcome you.”
Not just the stage. Tonight, the crowd appreciates the emotions gushing from the mouths of the poets. The performances are their stories, too, and the universality of these themes resonate within the cramped venue.
Panataleon describes himself a storyteller that serves as the voice for people who cannot find the words themselves.
“We’re mostly dealing with the realities of life that most people tend to avoid,” he says. “Beyond love and pain lie dread and dreams, after all.”
In addition, Habitan identifies that connection that draws the audience in and inspires them to perform their pieces, too.
“It’s like a performance that can inspire other people to write and perform more in the future,” he says.
The night gets deeper. It’s a weekday, but no one seems to mind. Certainly not Delos Reyes, nor Salvador, nor the other performers. The turnout of the audience and their response are, to say the least, unexpected.
“I never expected a lot of people to show up, familiar faces and strangers alike, and how we slipped into the scene like there is an allotted pocket for us to fill,” Nicoyco says.
“All the stress and sleepless nights and revisions are all worth it when I saw the large number of people willing to wait in line just to attend the event,” Salvador says. “It just shows that spoken word is really gaining ground.”
But the question then becomes, what next? Where to from here?
According to Cayamanda, the White Wall Poetry intends to build on this momentum and take it up a notch in future performances. These include workshops, slams and open mics.
“I know we could have done more,” he says. “They can expect more on our next show. We will conquer more social issues and more love feels.”