by Laurence Marvin Castillo
The Kulturang Ugnayan ng Kabataan Alay sa Bayan (KULAYAN-UPLB), the newly-formed alliance of cultural organizations in UP Los Banos, organized the Poetry Slam last 16 March at the Entablado Café, Los Banos, Laguna. This poetry event was held as part of the 58th UP National Writers Workshop organized annually by the UP Likhaan: Institute of Creative Writing (ICW). Award-winning fictionist, essayist and playwright, Prof. Vladimeir B. Gonzales served as this year’s workshop director.
For two consecutive years, Los Banos has played host to this gathering of selected mid-career writers who are given the opportunity to have their creative works subjected to rigorous assessment and critical interventions via a weeklong interface with a panel composed of established creative writers and literary scholars from the UP ICW. The workshop takes on special significance for the “Special Science and Nature City of the Philippines” in 2000, whose national and international reputation rests primarily on its elevation as an important site of scientific learning that houses a number of institutions for research like the UP Los Banos, and the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCCARD). While the small town has figured prominently in the folkloric imagination, and has even been rendered in various literary incarnations as the mystical haunt of the enchantress Maria Makiling, what remains somehow obscured – partly due to the largely metropolitan orientation of artistic, specifically literary, practice in the country today – is the presence of a vibrant artistic community that is seemingly sustained by the poetic energies that the legendary mountain muse unceasingly releases.
The Poetry Slam served as an opportunity for workshop fellows and panelists to interact with budding writers who hail from the predominantly science-oriented campus of UP Los Banos. These writers, whose organize themselves in various cultural formations that thrive on aspirations of autonomy from institutional control, constantly struggle to clear a space for artistic practice within an environment largely blanketed by a pervading sense of scientism that enables the preponderance of an almost parochial view and treatment of the arts.
The poetry competition, in which workshop fellows – Rogene Gonzales, Karren Sena, Christa dela Cruz, Zeno Denolo, Charisse-Fuschia Paderna, Alvin Ursua, Arnie Mejia, and Rowena Festin – and writers from UP Los Banos – Lineil Manzares, Fiat Oliva and Shalimae Colobong – participated, consisted of three rounds. The first round required the contestants to recite their poems without any thematic restrictions. In the second round, the contestants were asked to write poems that made use of a pair of concrete words that they picked up at random. Out of seemingly pedestrian words like toothpick, nailcutter, and chicharon, the poets rendered evocations that deal with issues such as womanhood, oligarchic violence, and rurality.
The final round required each contestant to deliver a piece on the trending topic “ka-DDS.” The three remaining contenders channeled the popular sense of dread over the contemporary socio-political dispensation with their equally haunting delivery of poetic meditations on the enduring violence of the drug war and the dangers of political fanaticism.
The jury, composed of UP ICW fellows National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, Dr. Gemino Abad, Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Dr. Luna Sicat Cleto, and filmmaker Mr. Arnel Mardoquio, adjudged fellows Arnie Mejia and Alvin Ursua as co-winners. All the contestants took home books written by ICW panelists as their prizes.
The evening ended in an atmosphere suffused with shared solidarities that affirm the value of community formation as an important condition that enables the enduring possibilities of literary practice to thrive against and within the troubles of the contemporary moment.
Laurence Marvin S. Castillo teaches at the Department of Humanities, UP Los Banos.