Navigating These Spaces

I hadn’t read my poetry out loud in public in a long while. I used to do it often back in the early part of 2000 at Sanctum. I had gotten so comfortable with walking up on stage and reading my work that I would begin with a bit of a story at the beginning to contextualise the piece before-hand. I quickly because a regular fixture at the Sanctum poetry readings and I became friends with the owners of the bar, Tricia and Aslie, and later, the other regulars as well.

Quiet down... Slac Cayamanda is in the house!

Quiet down… Slac Cayamanda is in the house!

But it is a long time since Sanctum and my poetry has sort of evolved since then. And the spoken word has changed dramatically.

Going to Sev’s Cafe to attend These Spaces, an open mic poetry reading event of White Wall Poetry for Fringe Manila was an act of pure rebellion on my part as I was assaulted by so much emotions with the root of it stemming from “What have I been doing with my life?”

All the shows I have been watching for Fringe Manila and work, one after another, and I completely felt so impotent. I thought I was aspiring to be an artist. If I was then were was my work? I met Slac Cayamanda of White Wall Poetry and she invited me to attend and read something for These Spaces and I couldn’t refuse. No, it was my chance to put something out instead of just being an observer.

There was a rush of joy when my poem got published in Panorama magazine the Sunday before These Spaces and it was a reminder that I was still a poet and attending and reading at Sev’s Cafe was going to make my audience bigger and engage and get to know the spoken word artists of this generation.

What I did not expect was the huge turnout for the event. Sev’s Cafe was packed and it was standing room only and the energy was buzzing. I got so nervous but I didn’t want to drink because I knew I was going to get light-headed and just stumble throughout my piece which was long and verbose and wordy. I had one beer and it was enough to keep me dizzy until much later when it would be my turn to speak.

It was a mixed blessing that the poets called up before me were fantastic. A lot of great performances, great energy, and rawness of emotion; the honesty was palpable, and there were also a slew of really, really good poems. I say it was a mixed blessing because, to begin with, I was in really good company and these pieces really prepared the audience for good work, and second, it frightened me because it felt tough to have to match their intensity and craftsmanship.

My favourite performance (and probably one of my favourite poems) of the evening, "Skin" by Redj Francisco

My favourite performance (and probably one of my favourite poems) of the evening, “Skin” by Redj Francisco

A lot of them memorised their piece, as well, and that’s something I cannot do.

But there were tons of great pieces and performances and I’m proud of my work and I think my work is good and so I felt that I belonged with them, really, and that I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.

What was important was that I had to be honest.

I can be honest. That, at least, I’m sure.

I was second to be called for the third set and by this time, it was past midnight and quite a bit had left but a lot had still stayed to listen but this made me relax a bit more. I felt it was easier to connect with fewer people than I would with a whole room — very opposite to how I felt when I was hosting Rockeoke, when I preferred a packed house because the energy, like electricity, would just jump from one person to the next in a continuous stream — and this got me to relax. All of a sudden, I remembered that I had been telling stories for the past five years, telling my story in my advocacy to absolutely strangers. I’ve hosted Rockeoke before.

The moment I adjusted the microphone, I felt just a bit more comfortable and started talking and everything just sort of happened. The video of me, reading my poem Primitive (or Love in the Time of Mobile Internet and Grindr), can be found here.

When I got down, I was shaking. Not for anything, but I wanted to go back up again and recite In Love Like a Fish. I don’t know. It felt good. And people were very receptive.

I needed this. I needed to feel like an artist again — like I was sharing what I do with the world. I got so inspired to continue writing, to attend more readings, to get better at this. I needed this. I was navigating These Spaces and found myself home.

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