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You can’t really say Spoken Word is new in the Philippines. It evolved from poetry readings, which have always had its niche in quiet Metro Manila corners, fanned to flame by dedicated audiences.

Sometime in the turn of the century, Radioactive Sago Project entered the mainstream with “Baboy” and suddenly, poetry reading wasn’t just about reading verses anymore.

It became Spoken Word, an art form people in the scene or ehem, poets, like to describe as “the lovechild of poetry and theater.” The two are needed for a performance to take on maximum effect.

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Upper row photo courtesy of Nelle Fernandez. Lower row photo courtesy of White Wall Poetry.

Though for sure there were gigs earlier, November 2013 is a good starting point for the vibrant Spoken Word community in Metro Manila, when the now defunct Sev’s Cafe started hosting open mic nights that gave way to aspiring poets; performers didn’t need a degree in literature or creative writing to participate and perform.

Soon, Sev’s Cafe established itself as a breeding ground for writers and poets. It served as the community’s home base before closing down in December 2015. But it closed not without birthing Words Anonymous and White Wall Poetry, igniters of the second wave of Spoken Word poetry in Manila.

“I’ve been looking for spoken word events but it wasn’t until 2013 when I found out about this hiphop event called Wordplay,” Slac Cayamanda, founder of White Wall, tells MB Life. “It allowed rappers to spit out their rhymes a capella style or recite poetry with a lot of swag. I found another place, a tiny cafe in the heart of Malate hosting its first Slam poetry contest too. But it wasn’t until I went to Sev’s Cafe on its second month of hosting an open mic night that I really started with it.”

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Slac Cayamanda. Photo courtesy of Lora Cerdan

On that fateful night of December 4, 2013, Slac “won” second place, an award that wasn’t real, but one Sev’s doled out to Slac to encourage him to continue with spoken word. “I haven’t stopped since then,” he says.

Slac likes to write about socially-relevant issues: anti-discrimination, LGBTQIA issues, gender equality, transgenderism, political, and humanitarian issues. He also writes about finding self-worth, dreaming, and of course, love. Influenced by the film Slam, Slac says he’s always been into poetry since he was 9 years old, but only started performing in December 2013 at Sev’s.

He soon got in touch with spoken word collectives in the region, performing at an event in Malaysia. “I asked permission from IWCT spoken word organization in Malaysia if I could perform at their event, not as a contestant but as just a guest performer. They allowed me, which paved way for me to perform in Singapore. For the first time, I felt that I could do something bigger and I could make people listen to me.”

Photo courtesy of White Wall poetry
Photo courtesy of White Wall Poetry

Jonel Revistual was watching 22 Jump Street when he had an epiphany. “There was a scene where Jonah Hill did a spoken word poetry performance to impress the girl he likes. I’ve already written page poetry back then so I was amazed to discover that you can also read it out loud in front of an interested crowd,” he shares. Quickly, he googled “spoken word poetry in Manila” and soon found himself in the middle of a growing scene.

In 2014, Jonel sent a poem to The Polaris Project, “an art collective that aims to breathe life into the cultural scene of Metro Manila.” He was picked to share and perform at “Atlas,” an event that took place in the roof of PETA in New Manila. “I remembered, I only had one friend who went to support me there. But I was so overwhelmed by the experience that I wanted to do it again ASAP,” he shares.

“Months later, another friend invited me to perform for a fund-raising event at Sev’s Cafe in Malate, Manila. I met a bunch of real potatoes called Words Anonymous in the said event. After that, I started attending their open mic nights every third Saturday of the month, not knowing that I will be a part of their family a year later,” Jonel, who completes the 13-man collective that Words Anonymous is, says.

Jonel Revistual. Photo courtesy of Anna Patricia Sevilla
Jonel Revistual. Photo courtesy of Anna Patricia Sevilla

Though Sev’s Cafe is dead, Spoken Word Poetry is just beginning. Santika Naturals, located on Kamagong Street in Makati, have open mic nights every Friday, while Splice Resto Bar, located in Greenfield District in Mandaluyong, has become something of a adoptive home for White Wall Poetry and Words Anonymous. The groups host events here usually every month.

Gig places like Route 196 in Katipunan, saGuijo Bar and Cafe, B-Side and Aloha Bar have become go-to places when it comes to spoken word events.

“Write about what you love,” Jonel advises aspiring spoken word poets, “but also dedicate a piece of your creativity to our country. Just keep writing and never ever stop believing in the truth. Laban!” he added.

Slac, on the other hand says that working hard to your craft is the key. “Keep on learning. Elevate the art form. Respect it. Respect yourselves and others. Respect other people’s craft. Share the stage with others. Be humble. Love what you do. Enjoy.”

Illustration by: Madel Crudo

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