There is just this periodic itch to come out and read aloud. Perhaps it is due to the solitary nature of writing. One day you will find yourself ready to explode with poems and with the desire to do it in a crowded place. And so it was one night in March 2011 when I found myself a little bit bored with pragmatic existence and wanted a poetic breather.

Wharf Galley Rock Café was just then some walking distance away from my Naga City apartment. Managed by Virgie Sorita and James Estrada, it was then the only venue which catered to the rock n roll lifestyle of Bicol. The region is one of the first that responded to the rock band revolution of the ‘90s started by the Eraserheads, The Youth, The Wuds, The Teeth, Philippine Violators, Yano, Tropical Depression, Wolfang, Siakol, The Weed etc. And perhaps it is not a coincidence that Ely Buendia is actually from Naga. With only a few chairs and tables, intimate enough to capture creative convergence from people coming from the same era, Wharf Galley was in that psyche. And I was thinking of the Bikol “Sompongan” during the 1940’s and the Dredd Poet’s Society led by Karen Kunawicz during the 90’s. My mind also traveled to Malate and re-joined the Spoken Word group at Survival Café headed by Triccia David. And of course, Al Purdy’s “At the Quinte Hotel” also came to mind.

It turned out that the “Backyard Poets” of Sta. Cruz was never really forgotten by Wharf’s rock technician Jonjie San Vicente. True enough, he once visited my apartment where together with Ateneo de Naga based writers, we used to hold poetry sessions at my backyard, complete with guitars, beer, peanuts, mosquitoes and katol. It took only one cigarette break’s worth of mind-picking, and the WG (Writers’ Gig) was conceived. It was to be a monthly event, just an hour of open-mic poetry. The emphasis was and still is the open-mic. Poetic short films would be projected, and then poems would be read or recited from memory, or from the smoke-thick ether.

Then one beery night with guitar master Don Alanis and writer Kevin de Quiroz led us to the former’s unassuming but compleat music studio at Jacob Extension. There we traded riffs and beats until poetry just had to come out through the microphone. Rock music and poetry—our band was born. But it was not until the very first gig on March 5, 2011, when we were having a hang-over breakfast at my place, when the name The Super Poet Genome Project was coined by Bikol Komikero Yatoy Carretas. I was then talking about some literary mentors who would train young writers to become their suicide bombers, their intricately crafted poems as magic spells and bombs, when Yatoy innocently and elegantly blurted: “The Super Poet Genome Project!” And the word was made flesh, and in our minds Jason Faktor, the comics character who could save the world with his poems, was born.

Jason Faktor could win a poetry contest without even joining. He would whisper a haiku to a butterfly and it will come back with a tsunami. He wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. They actually plagiarized the Holy Bible because he actually wrote it. The entire Philippine Constitution was inspired by a comma in one of Jason Faktor’s bad poems. The list goes on.

The Super Poet Genome Project ended up as a performance poetry rock band taking its cue from the likes of Radioactive Sago Project, Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine and Tony Pigott. The band would open up the show right after the film viewing. Earlier gigs saw screenings of locally and internationally produced short poetic films. Without formally starting the show, said films would be projected on-screen just to prepare the minds of the audience to a more poetic mood.

The SPGP then had Don Alanis and Don Sarte as sessionists for the bass guitar and Kevin de Quiroz on drums until classical guitarist Peter Orata bought a Washburn bass guitar and joined the band. I, for one, as the band’s guitarist and voice also use a Washburn, and occasionally, an Ibanez to effect our breed of metal and shred with some touch of acid rock and blues. And so far our repertoire includes my poem “Bakwet,” our bluesy rendition of “Alak” by Mike Coroza, the heavy metal “Uniberso” and our version of Rivermaya’s “Ipoipo” with my poem “Dumaraan” integrated with the song. We also play guitar-driven instrumental songs such as the “Top Gun” theme and the bass-driven “Peter’s Groove,” an original.

The gig is primordially an open-mic event where walk-ins are welcome to participate. However, we earlier featured as main writers the likes of Ricardo Lee, Frank Penones and Vic Nierva. We also did a fund raising campaign for cancer patient Jo Bisuna, and when she finally succumbed to said illness, we organized a tribute gig. Our gigs for her were the most attended, leaving the venue swarming with writers, poets, artists, musicians, dancers, intellectuals and activists.

The WG regular poets and readers are Kevin de Quiroz, Jerome Hipolito, Jusan Misolas, Ronel Astor, Ronel Amata, Buboy Aguay, Issa Redburn, Jay Salvosa, Elbert Baeta, Johner Caneba, John Pazcoguin, Fer Basbas, and Irvin Sto. Tomas. Poems in English, Filipino and in any of the Bikol languages are read. Bikol poetic forms such as the tigsik are also highlighted, along with rawitdawit and the emerging tuyaw. The tigsik is an indigenous poetic form done during drinking sprees. Oftentimes with rhyme and meter, its participants would tigsik or “drink to” a particular topic, each paratigsik taking turns answering each other just before gulping a drink thereby creating a flow of alcohol-induced sharp and exciting poetic discourse. The rawitdawit now stands for the word poetry, and the tuyaw is a poetic theater act where the poet would go onstage and start a conversation with a person in the audience. At times, they would discuss matters not previously rehearsed making the performance spontaneous and interesting. Truly, spontaneity is what makes the WG, and this is carried off until the after-party when we indulge in more beer and literary discussions.

Aside from film and performance poetry also features other art forms such as music and dance. Books by Bikol writers are also sold. The Fire n Ice Dancers are regular performers during the monthly gigs. Singer Julie General once rendered her version of the Les Miserables piece “On My Own”. Events organizer Sheila Basbas rendered the sexiest song number ever for her hubby, Fer. Poet and musician Jaime Jesus Borlagdan once dropped by to sing some of his original Bikol songs.

Since Wharf Galley’s goodbye kiss last February, the event has been dubbed as VerSosimo: Writers’ Gig at Sosimo Bar after moving to Sosimo Resto Bar at Magsaysay Avenue. Sponsored by the Atty. Francis Papica Foundation, we had our anniversary gig last March 4, 2012. Video clips can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/user/hagbayon

The creative writer has always been quite an odd entity in the Philippine setting. More so if he writes in one of the ‘strange’ regional languages. There must be a way for the local writers to be visible—and in a relaxed atmosphere. A way for them to show especially to the younglings that poetry rocks and writers are cool—and that reading is hip. Multimedia is the way to go. Poetry is now cinema, is now music, is now performance, and not only a thing for pagination. Hence the WG.

VerSosimo! (WG Videos)

April 6, 2012

With this gig, we finally capped the WG-year which started March 5, 2011. We now have had twelve (12) gigs.This happened here in the Philippines, province of Camarines Sur, Naga City at Sosimo Bar. Please check the video. Enjoy!

This next video is from our Anniversary Gig. Still have to upload the rest of the video. Thanks to Pen for this.

This video is from our emergency gig when screenwriter and novelist Ricardo Lee came to visit Naga City.

I also was invited to read a poem during the Fire n Ice Dance Concert. Here’s the video.

And this one is from Su’Pay 2012 at Aquinas University.

Bicol-based writer Jose Jason L. Chancoco is once again in the Talaang Ginto: Gawad KWF sa Tula. Now in its 5th decade, the annual contest seeks to have a “Golden List” for the year’s top poets writing in Filipino. Six poets are usually chosen and the first in rank is dubbed as ‘Makata ng Taon” (Poet of the Year). It is awarded during the Araw ni Balagtas on April 2, celebrated by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 964 Series of 1997. Lucena-based poet Alvin Capili Ursua is the Makata ng Taon for 2012. Along with the Talaang Ginto, the KWF also conferred the Gawad Francisco Balagtas to poet, journalist, screenwriter and translator Jose Maria F. Lacaba or Pete Lacaba. Chancoco’s entry for this year, “Sa Naninibago” won Karangalang-Banggit (Honorable Mention). In 2004, his entry, “Uniberso” won Pangalawang Gantimpala (Second Prize). In 2007 his entry “Hagbayon” also won Karangalang-Banggit, and his poem, “Supermaids” won the Gawad Soc Rodrigo, a special award for poets who write in the fashion of the late Senator-Poet Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo. Writing in English, Tagalog/Filipino, Bikol-Naga and Iriganon, Chancoco is also the author of “Pagsasatubuanan: Poetikang Bikolnon,” a prize-winning book on Bikol poetics published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). He is also the lead organizer of VerSosimo: Writers’ Gig at Sosimo Bar, a monthly poetry show at Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City. Led by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino Punong Komisyoner (Chief Commissioner) Jose Laderas Santos, this year’s awarding was held 8:30AM at the Cherry Blossoms Hotel in Ermita Manila.

(Fourth from left: poet Jose Jason Chancoco recieving his prize, Extreme right: KWF Punong Komisyoner Jose Laderas Santos)