Sunday, December 6, 2009

Filipino Poetry Workshop = Chills

Two hours was not enough.

I’m sure anyone who has met spoken word artist Len Cervantes will agree. Coordinator of Kapisanan’s ever-growing workshop series Poetry is Our Second Language and eight-year veteran of spoken word, Len introduced the CLUTCH girls to tanagas, balagtasans and the history of poetic expression in the Philippines this past Saturday.

Sitting beside us was a young lady by the name of Naya Valdellon, whom Len had brought along as a “special guest.” She seemed unassuming, exhibiting no pretensions but instead a gentle eagerness to be there, so I figured she was with us to learn about poetry, perhaps attempt to write a couple on the spot. As soon as she began reading out the first few lines of her poetry, we knew we were in the presence of greatness. Turns out not only does she have several poems published in magazines and books (such as "One Hundred Love Poems: Philippine Love Poems Since 1905," seen above), she has also received the Palanca Award two years in a row — a prestigious national literary award, basically the Pulitzer Prize of the Philippines.

Her words gave us chills and poem after poem, Kristina and I sat dreamy-eyed, chins resting on our fists like little children, enthralled with Naya’s natural ability to story-tell through poetry. “All kids started out as artists,” she said. “What we need to do as artists now is see that same world with wonder.” Having lived in the Philippines all her life, the former editor and content writer for a website design company decided to “go on an adventure” and head to Toronto in 2006 for the English and Creative Writing masters program at U of T. She fell in love with the city and has been here since, even amalgamating poems about her previous life in Manila with newfound Toronto stories about the mix of people and urban landscape. She also admits to learning about her own Filipino identity just as much as we were: “Growing up in the Philippines, I never questioned my identity … Writing about being Filipino in the Philippines was considered corny,” she told us.

We told her our own stories and how we could relate to her, despite our differences in backgrounds and where we all grew up. We saw ourselves through her and it was comforting. Len agreed: we need to see more of these strong female writers and chill-inducing spoken word artists in the community... and beyond. We didn’t have enough time to pummel her with more questions we had about her life in the Philippines, her writing processes and learning experiences but Len did have time to give us homework: to come up with our own “tanaga” — a sort of Filipino haiku, but with seven syllables and four verses, same rhyme at the end of each line — to be posted on the CLUTCH blog in the next couple weeks.

“You always have to be ready for inspiration,” Len said to us. My pen will be ready.


Other quick updates:
-Met with silkscreen artist Jeff Garcia last week at his studio for a brainstorming blitz for our project (and potential installation piece) and demo sesh to get an idea of the process. Uber cool guy with raging ideas, raging energy and raging hair.

-Went on a wild goose chase, running up and down each floor of an architecture school, finding scrap wood materials for our spray-painting piece. Found sweet pieces, despite cut-eye from students. Garbage turned art... adds a new dimension to the final piece.

-More hours spent coming up with a title for the February 20 exhibit. You could tell when the delirium kicks in as you read through the long list of ideas, top to bottom. We want it to punch your soul...

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