My love affair with spoken word
My first encounter with spoken word (outside of YouTube) was a poetry slam in a book shop. I was getting my undergraduate at UP Baguio, and I had attended for bonus points in my literature elective. In the aftermath of it all, gushing and comparing favorites with my friends, I knew I was hooked.
Those who have known of Mt Cloud since its conception can tell you that its original location was at Casa Vallejo (They currently reside on Yangco Road), and many avid readers found a home there – some while browsing books, and others while getting swept away in the excitement of a themed slam or open mic night.
The once-a-month event where anyone and everyone can perform has become a beloved tradition. Before school and work took up the vast majority of my time, I showed up almost every month. Sometimes I would perform a favorite poet’s piece. Sometimes I would perform something I had written. Sometimes I would sing. And sometimes, I would just sit and watch and snap along whenever I heard something that made my heart beat a little bit faster.
In the summer of 2014, I came to watch the slam, and my dear friend Kervin signed me up before I even walked through the door. There were two rounds of us performing our poems, and one nerve-wracking final face-off where the three of us remaining were given a random topic and ten minutes to write something, after which we had to perform it. The judges’ scores were tallied. It was a tie.
We were experiencing terrible weather that evening, so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise when the power went out. But per the old adage, the show must go on. It was between me and Mr. Joey Delos Reyes – a friendly face, and at the same time an intimidating opponent. He was a published author and professor at the University of Santo Tomas. I was a fresh college grad whose published work included exactly two pieces in the university newsletter.
Once again, on the spot, we wrote, and we performed what we wrote. I gave it my best and privately decided that second place was still pretty good, and that I was glad to have joined even though it wasn’t originally in my plan. Then came the announcement. I had won.
Five years later, it’s still a moment I look back on with pride. This achievement barely had anything to do with my college degree, and it was totally unrelated to the career path I’d just begun pursuing. But poetry was (and still is) something close to my heart, and the validation was priceless.
A bittersweet reunion
As the months passed, responsibilities began to pile up, and even on the less busy days, I wasn’t always in my hometown. Now, working and studying in a different city, I keep up with Mt Cloud and its events mainly through social media and stories from friends.
Last year, one of those friends brought up a spoken word event happening in Manila: the third anniversary show of Ampalaya Monologues. We reserved our seats and put it in our calendars. On the day, we received energy drinks and shampoo along with our tickets. Why? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But I’m never one to turn down a gift.
At the risk of sounding dramatic: I didn’t know anyone, but it felt like coming home. By then, I had only gotten on stage once in the past three years, and not specifically for a spoken word event. The internet makes it easy to watch performances anywhere, any time, but watching it live is a unique experience. After photos and congratulations, my friends and I capped off the night with dinner and coffee. This year, we decided to make a tradition of it, and we went again.
Aptly named “Bitter than B4”, their fourth anniversary show took place in the PETA Theater, with two out of the three seat sections completely selling out before the big day. It was a grander production than the previous one, featuring not only monologues by Team Ampalaya but also the musical talents of Troy Alcala and a segment by mentalist Justin Piñon.
The mood was distinct, as well. Our first time watching, it was celebratory but solemn and intimate. This time around, it was a party. Granted, it was a party where you might shed a few tears, but a party nevertheless. We received a warm welcome, Troy Alcala set the mood with his song “Love Galaxy”, and the performances officially began.
The stories put to paper by Mark Ghosn and brought to life by the monologuists are a rollercoaster of emotions. Heartstrings were pulled; laughs were had. Amidst all of this, there were a few particularly powerful moments where the audience fell silent, engrossed in the narrative – willfully joining the performer on a journey.
Over dinner, we discussed a handful of favorites: “Baby, Don’t Be Scared”, performed by Carlo Hornilla, which interwove the mythological monsters of our childhood with the adult fears we face in the current political climate. “Kilig Me Softly”, a tale of magical realism wherein Sonson O. portrays a victim of unrequited love who seeks a potion that will make him more desirable to the object of his affections. “Ikaw at Ako sa Awitin ng Ating Dulo“, which shows Jaypee Ortiz flexing his acting chops and singing pipes all in one go, with a heartbreaking plot twist at the end.
It was difficult to settle on an overall favorite – so we just didn’t. All in all, Team Ampalaya’s fourth birthday celebration packed more punch than before and surfaced many of those old feelings we tend to push down when we need to survive the day-to-day. Not in a brutal way, but in a soft way that allows you to sit with those feelings for a bit and realize that you’re not alone. At least, that’s how it was for me.
I am grateful that I enrolled in that one literature class seven years ago. I am grateful for the friends I found along the way as I embraced the spoken word, and I am even grateful for the friends I lost somewhere on that road. May we all find the voices that guide us through the tough times – whether they come from a stage flooded with light and framed by curtains, or from deep within ourselves.
Learn more about Ampalaya Monologues on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and if you haven’t been to one of their shows, grab your nearest and dearest and go see them when they come to your city.