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Cheryl Salvador is a spoken word artist from Laguna and a member of the spoken word poetry group White Wall Poetry. Here, she tells MB Life how she made it happen, the experience, and her learnings along the way.  

Is being a spoken word poet always been your goal? Was it something you consciously tried to achieve? 

Not really. I’ve loved writing since I was young but I had (still have) extreme stage fright. I couldn’t speak in front of a lot of people, so I really didn’t imagine myself performing before a crowd. I also kinda stayed away from poetry because I thought poems always have to have meters and rhymes, and that was really difficult for me. I wasn’t familiar yet with spoken word, so I didn’t know that I could fuse storytelling and poetry in a more free verse kind of way.

But then I stumbled upon a video of Sarah Kay doing a Ted Talk and performing her poem “B.” That’s when I discovered spoken word poetry, and I fell in love with it. I searched for other international spoken word artists and I got addicted to their craft. I was so inspired that I looked for similar events here in the Philippines and I found Sev’s Cafe, which became a home to local spoken word artists. I used to go there just to watch because I really couldn’t bring myself to the stage but I started writing spoken word pieces.

Then, the group Speak Philippines held a workshop and I immediately joined. The pull of this artform was so strong to me, and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get it out my mind until I actually try it out myself. After the workshop, I joined a slam. My knees and my voice were shaking, but I knew I had to do it. Otherwise, I will never be able to forgive myself for not trying.

It was one of the best experiences of my life. That’s where it all started and the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to go for it?

I treated it as a hobby back then. Something I can do during my free time, but there’s a strong desire for me to pursue it. To actually focus and devote time to my writing. However, work always got in the way until I got so frustrated and depressed. The 9-5 job wasn’t for me. I felt like a zombie going in and out of prison everyday. I was dying in the corporate world because I knew there’s something else I’d love to spend my time and energy on. All I could think about in my cubicle was the time I was wasting not improving my writing skills. I wanted to grow as a writer, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the time for it. I tried juggling it but it wasn’t enough for me.

So after working in a corporate setting for 6 years, I quit my job to give time for my passion. It was scary and it sounded stupid and impractical to a lot of people, but I had to scratch the itch. I went to poetry gigs after poetry gigs, met a lot of artists, joined groups. It was great. I was actually happy. Then I started working as a freelancer. That way, I can still work according to my own schedule.

It hasn’t been easy. But if time would go back, I would still make the same decision. It’s probably the bravest thing I had done so far for myself and my passion.

Who are your influences when it comes to spoken word poetry? 

Shane Koyczan. He’s a Canadian spoken word artist who has a moving voice and a unique way of storytelling. When I listen to him, I feel like I can achieve big things. 

The same goes with Andrea Gibson and Warsan Shire. Their poetry inspires me to write with rawness and honesty.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Tank and the Bangas. They combine upbeat music and poetry and it’s just mind-blowing. It’s as if they’re making you celebrate your pain.

These artists make my heart do some cartwheels. They make me want to scream and curse and throw my phone against the wall because they’re so brilliant in weaving simple words into something that is even more than poetry for me. They make me want to live. And I want to have even the slighest bit of the same impact someday.

And of course, my spoken word artist friends, especially those in my group White Wall Poetry. Without them, I wouldn’t even have the confidence to go on stage or produce something even if I don’t feel like producing.

What keeps you inspired? 

All sorts of experiences and stories. Good or bad. Things I don’t understand yet. Poetry helps me make sense of them. It helps me dig deeper and explore topics I am both attached to and detached from.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I listen to music and spoken word pieces and read. I walk without a destination or sit on the sidewalk. I drink beer with a few friends or strangers and just talk to them until the wee hours of the morning because most of the time, a weird idea or a good line would come up during conversations. I sleep and hope I’d wake up inspired. Haha. Someone once told me to stop writing, that I should live first than to take it too seriously. I got mad at first, but I think I get her point now. It’s quite impossible to write if we don’t expose ourselves to the world, if we don’t let ourselves feel everything there is to feel.

Was there anything that almost broke you and made you reconsider your plans to become a spoken word artist? 

One is being broke. Literally. There’s not much money here. I can’t make it my main source of living now. I used to go to events with money just enough for transpo. Sometimes I think of just working my ass off and forgetting about writing, but then I couldn’t.

Another is tremendous self-doubt. There’s always that thought that this might not be for me. That I’m just squeezing myself into a field that I don’t have the knack for. That I really don’t have the talent for it, especially performance wise. I probably do have the heart but skill is necessary, too. I think this is actually one of the major causes of writer’s block. I can’t write when I feel like I’m only adding to the noise and that I’m not really saying anything new or relevant. It’s better to just shut up, I say to myself.

What makes it worth it? 

The relief I feel whenever I’m able to release anything that’s brewing inside me through words that people can relate to as well. It’s like breathing. I am an anxious and restless person, but writing calms me down. It helps me understand myself and my surroundings.

Also, when someone, even a stranger, suddenly messages or tells me that they got inspired or that they felt better after reading my work, it makes dealing with empty pockets and soul-crushing self-doubt worth it.

Advice for people who dream of doing the same? 

Do something about it. Take a step. Little by little. Start by putting everything out onto the paper and going to events until you gather the courage to take the stage. There’s always a safe space for you out there. You don’t have to call yourself a poet or call what you write a poem to feel that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Your truth and your honesty is your own poetry. I know it’s easier said than done but keep trying. We’re all just trying.

Illustration by Madel Crudo

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