Poetry does wonders to those who hear it.
In the olden days, men and women were chosen to read passages to their visitors as a form of entertainment. I’d like to think I have always been partial to spoken performances of things that I’d rather prefer are written. But I know it ain’t so. Exceptions and extraordinary experiences come my way and I get hooked – line and sinker, too. As a child, I was taught poems by my mother orally before I learned to write.
I was taught proper English first before I knew how to properly converse in Tagalog. I learned pronunciation before I could write ‘apple’ on my paper. I recited poems before knowing how to write my name legibly as a kindergarten student. And so, one can say my love for rhymes started so early. The oldest poem I can remember that my mom taught me is about a cat showing off her ‘meowing’ skills. I would recite it to mom whenever she’d come home from work along with other poems involving other animals like fireflies and dragonflies. At an early age, even when I only knew the words by sound, I fell in love with the way my voice would echo the walls of our tiny apartment. I loved speaking the words I didn’t even know how to write yet. Then I grew up and preferred the spine of the book. I grew up and loved the silence I hear when inside the library reading my Harry Potter books. I tried reading chapters of my stories aloud in my room, my voice trying to mimic how the characters would sound like but I found them tiring. A chapter. 7 pages. 600 pages per page. That’s a lot of salivae. I grew up and loved the feeling of my music in my ear as I read my books in my dimly lit room. I loved the solitude of not being able to hear the words – my words – my voice. I grew tired of my voice echoing the walls of my apartment and instead longed for the silent conversation between me and the author unseen beyond the pages. The first time I was brave enough to watch a poetry jam on my own was not too long ago. It was 4/5 years, I think? I had only finished watching Dead Poets Society and looked for poetry organizations that host poetry nights and found one on Facebook. I went there after school and listened. It was like being transported back in time. I felt their words like I felt the poems I recited all those years ago. The audience sits, the poet stands. Immediate reactions and responses from the listener to the speaker. A conversation that lasts no more than 10 minutes and everyone is participating. The poet finishes his piece and the audience claps, amazed at the rhymes and the metaphors they had just listened to. Sarah Kaye, Phil Kay, Olivia Gatwood are some of the spoken word artists abroad that I admire. Locally? A whole awful lot. And every month they never disappoint. Every month, an established nonprofit organization hosts poetry nights that showcase world-class talents that sprung from nowhere else but our very own province, Northern Mindanao. The Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC) is a young artist collective of new-wave poets, essayists, fictionists, and playwrights which aims to provide a platform for local writers, artists, and musicians to showcase their talents to an audience. A growing community of amazingly talented people, they hold poetry nights in different venues in my city and I make it a point not to miss any. Not only because of the pieces but because of the feeling one gets after every poet is done. That sudden rush of excitement and joy. The feeling of being able to understand and respond to the poet’s poem and them seeing/hearing it.
Last Saturday, another poetry jam happened and I was there.
The theme was ‘Starving’.
A lot of poets had performed. A lot of people watched and listened. Laughter filled the garden (venue) and the audience enjoyed every piece. The way things go in these events is that for the first part, senior fellows or members of the organization perform their piece; of course, in accordance to the theme and then afterward, open mic happens. Brave souls that have poems to recite go onstage and read their piece. Every poetry night. Nothing changes. Always the same pattern. The only things that change are the venue and theme. Saturday was a great night for poetry. A lot of people were in the area. A lot of open mic participants too.
Everyone was starving for their chance at the microphone and spotlight. Everyone wanting to get things off their chests.
I watched and listened to everything. Stayed until the event finished. I watched, listened, cheered from the sidelines for them as each of them stood on stage, holding their papers/books/phones and read poems to me. Listened to various kinds of poets. Watched and listened to poets explain their piece before actually reciting it. A brief description before a swirl of rhymes, puns and flamboyant words congregate and reach your ears.
Personally, I adored two poems – one was a sociopolitical piece where the author perfectly captured an ordinary worker’s starvation for hope after every workday as he passes by eateries on his way home. The other was how cooking reminded him of home – how food reminds us of memories, good or bad. I listened to a collection of metaphors on food and sex jokes in between. Starving. That was the theme.
We’re all starving. Starving for someone – someone to love, a crush, an ex. Starving for something – career, attention, hope, failed relationships.
Poems. Symbolisms. Analogies. Stanzas were read. Writing this now and trying to remember how every poet sounded as they delivered, I don’t think I sounded any different. They sounded normal. Calm. Fast-paced. Words were clearly spoken. (Edit: I sound shitty, after recording myself). Everything coming back down to that one word – starving. How are you when you starve? What does starving for someone’s affection feel like? How do you quench your thirst for someone’s love? We’re all starving. We all want the same thing. To be relieved of the hunger. We’re all starving. Not all of us are brave enough to admit it. Starving. A song. “I didn’t know that I was starving ‘til I tasted you.” Sex, maybe. But in reference to another song, “one taste, and I want the whole thing~” A lot of things can be said about the word. A lot of poems can be made in association with the term. We’re all starving.
I look across,
at an empty chair.
It’s where I’d put my bag,
my purse near me – so is my phone.
I look across,
my menu in hand.
The waiter’s ready to take my order.
I browse for a bit,
He gets off and I am alone, again.
I look across and see nothing,
feel nothing too.
I have grown too accustomed –
too accustomed to being by myself,
this has become normal.
The chair in front of me,
still unoccupied after years.
Orders, upon orders.
Chair still empty after many years.
Sometimes, I imagine you’re there.
You sit across me and we eat.
We’d eat and drink and laugh.
Sometimes, I imagine you’re there
my bag no longer staring at me
but a pair of beautiful eyes, talking.
Sometimes, on good days, I do.
On bad days, I see sorrow.
Wonder why I have to constantly stare at emptiness while others happily eat their meals.
On bad days, I wonder,
am I the reason you’re not sitting across me?
When you come, would you even stay?
Will you stay until the lights are out and walk me home?
I wonder. These are the things I think about, on sorrowful days.
Doubting myself. When a promise of you ever coming becomes an if. If you would even come at all.
Most days though, I feel proud.
Like how I am now. Most days, I don’t bother with the wondering.
Most days, I don’t ask myself if you’re out there. Where you are.
I don’t imagine you arriving and sitting across me too.
Most days, I go in, sit.
Order. And wait.
I am here, waiting for my steak
looking across an empty chair.
I am not afraid to eat alone,
I know what I bring to the table.
Just recently, I have had the most amazing time finally getting to hear the voice of someone I’ve known only through blogs, IG posts, tweets, and photos. In spite of all our communication technology, no invention is as effective as the sound of the human voice.
Nothing is as up close and personal as a conversation. We all want to share our ideas – we’re wired that way. We want to be heard, be part of something – a community. It’s why we send and wait for messages; hoping for a response. Hoping for connection.
When we hear a human voice, we instinctively want to listen, in the hopes of understanding it. Even when the speaker is searching for the right words to say.
Yep. We’re all starving.