Tuesday, March 06, 2007


[First published in Philippine Star, Manila, Feb. 26, 2007]

Mouthing the word

The milestone of an integrated literary and visual arts exhibit, Chromatext Reloaded, which has been on display at the CCP's Main Gallery since its ebullient opening on January 25, comes to a rip-roaring close tomorrow night with a session of performed poetry billed as "Word of Mouth."

Sponsored by the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) and organized by exhibit co-curator Jean Marie Syjuco, the closing event starts at 6:30 p.m. It will consist of readings and performances by PLAC &Friends, the same spontaneously combusting association that put together the well-received Chromatext edition.

"Word of Mouth" features a sterling assembly of seasoned literary performance artists, poets and musicians led by PLAC members Jimmy Abad, Cesare A.X. Syjuco, RayVi Sunico, Marne Kilates, and yours truly. Joining us are fellow poets and writer-painters Gilda Cordero Fernando, Marivic Rufino, Joel Toledo, Carlomar Arcangel Daoana and Angelo Suarez, along with a dynamic mix of multi-media artists, young musicians and Spoken Word ensembles.

The performers include the prizewinning playwright and theater artist Frank Rivera, painters Rock Drilon, Alan Rivera and Danny Sillada, singer-composer Nityalila Sauro, conceptual and installation arrtist Raul Funilas, and Spoken Word / Slam Jam performers G.P. Abrajano, Siege Malvar, Trix Syjuco, Jevijoe Vitug, Yanna Verbo Acosta, Lorina Javier and Ria Munoz.

Performing coteries count the fast-rising underground hip-hop collective AMPON (which released a bestselling CD album late last year, Dekoding Rhythm); Vim Nadera &Friends; Maxine Syjuco &Utakan; When Wor(l)ds Collide (with Twinkle, Gino, Otto, and Happy Ferraren); Controlled Chaos (with Ronaldo Ruiz &The Tupada Core); Lirio Salvador &Elemento; Ida, Kookie &Viva; and Mitch Garcia &Ian Madrigal.

Guests are enjoined to come early to appreciate the exhibit a first or second/last time. Chromatext Reloaded includes works by over 80 poets, writers and visual artists, including National Artists Napoleon Abueva, Edith L. Tiempo, Virgilio S. Almario, and Benedicto Cabrera or Bencab.

We've been congratulating triumphant poets almost every week now. Prizes galore have been a boon for numerous Filipino poets in English, just as much as they've been for Fil-Am poets.

Our latest poetry contest winner is Jean Vengua, per an announcement posted late last week by Meritage Press of San Francisco. She's received the Filamore Tabios, Sr. Memorial Poetry Prize for her manuscript titled "Prau." A $1,000 prize accompanies the award, and the winning work is due for publication by Meritage Press ( by autumn this year.

Instituted by Meritage Press and poet-editor Eileen R. Tabios in honor of her late father, the prize is being awarded for the first time. Submissions were reportedly screened by Ms. Tabios herself, and the finalists were passed on to her mother, Beatriz Tabios. All entries were reviewed on an anonymous basis to ensure that the shortlist selection and final judging would be based solely on the merits of the poems.

Eileen writes: "We are pleased to present some samples from Jean Vengua's winning manuscript 'Prau,' and hope you will remember her entire book — as it turns out, her debut poetry book — when it is released later in 2007. (If formats get lost by e-mail, you can see her poems at babaylan/)

"We would like to thank the poets who participated in this contest. We read many wonderful poems by other participants. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the finalist and Second Place winner Edgar B. Maranan (Quezon City) for the lovely lyricism and imagery displayed in his manuscript, "Star Maps &Other Poems." (N.B. Our friend Ed Maranan is currently back in London, packing up his stuff for the final time before he returns to MetroManila and his Baguio hometown.)

Jean Vengua lives in Santa Cruz, California. She~teaches at Gavilan College and also works as a content editor for McGraw-Hill Publishing. Her poetry has gained inclusion in numerous print and online journals and anthologies, including Going Home to a Landscape, Babaylan, Proliferation, Returning a Borrowed Tongue, Moria and Otoliths. Her essays, articles and reviews on literature and music~have been published in Jouvert, Geopolitics of the Visual (from Ateneo de Manila University Press), Pinoy Poetics, the e-zine Our Own Voice, and

Checking out the sampler of five brief poems sent along by Eileen, I see how Vengua's poetry made a distinct impression. Three of them are prose poems, one of which I must share for your delectation.

Note how even the matter of applying italics can heighten a poem, especially one that is hard-edged and which takes abrupt, surprising turns of thought and imagery. I like it so much that I intend to read it at the "Word of Mouth" affair at CCP tomorrow. It's somewhat appropriate for the start of another zany election campaign season, since it's titled "Turncoat."

"position the bird in a side pocket or put it to sleep in poetry. step
right up to the shining path. a broken column is pinned to the collar
bone, pillar to support her head. she paints a portrait, enlarges upon
puddles hidden behind creative writing, drips tears onto a palette, rips
open her camisa de dormir. there are two fine breasts cleaved up the
middle, and crowning the brow a hairy sliver of moon. the bees are joined
in marriage behind literature, european. i kiss your hand, madelaine. i
eat your cookies. she unstraps her camisa de fuerza. el corazon beats
between science and the mystery of moths and myths. there is cooking for
my mother's rosary, juvenile for our apocalypse. choose your color,
advance one square, retreat six. cambiarse la camisa is to change
categories. in fiction, one must cross two rivers, being careful to avoid
the black holes, center stage. fall forever into universe, tell a story,
make place."

Bravo, Jean Vengua.


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