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.

Local languages in the regions are also official languages as per the 1987 Constitution. For the purposes of instruction and communication, the official languages of the country are Filipino, and until otherwise provided by law, English. And for the same purposes, local languages shall serve as auxiliary medium (Art. 14 Sec. 6-7 of the 1987 Constitution).

Yes, auxiliary medium, but only for the purposes of instruction and communication, particularly in the academe and government subdivisions. However, as literary medium our local languages may also be construed as occupying the privileged space of being official. Likewise, literary culture is part of custom which is deemed to be not contrary to morals, law and public policy, hence countenanced by the Courts when proven as fact (Arts. 11-12 RA 386). Our country also has a prevailing policy in support of ethnicity for the framework of national unity (Art. 2 Sec. 21 of the 1987 Constitution).

Perhaps the above provisions are only in recognition of the country’s being multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Literary pursuits in the regions involving ethnicity as in the search for local aesthetics is very much lawful. In fact, when in contact with foreign states our policy shall always be for the right to self-determination (Art. 2 Sec. 7 of the 1987 Constitution). What more when we deal with fellow Filipinos under the context of nationhood?

Tomorrow, we shall be awarding prizes to some Bikolnon writers during the Bikolinismo and Premio Tomas Arejola. The more exciting part of the event is not really the awards night itself, but the opportunity of Bikol writers to gather right after the awards rites and exchange thoughts about the state of Bikol literature and its direction. And this writer is lucky enough to be part of the awards night as the book “Pagsasatubuanan: Poetikang Bikolnon” will be conferred this year’s Premio Bibiano Sabino para sa Librong Bikolnon.

The people must know that our pursuits are official in nature, and not mere auxiliary or hobby. Publishing our works and giving them prizes are just some of the ways to assert this fact. This is a happy realization for this blogger as I dig out the writer’s place under the province of our fundamental law and statutes. Literary culture is a sound custom and countenanced by law. Culture is law, as the latter is supposed to be shaped, if not influenced by the former.

Our poets are legislators too. Younger poets invoke the elder ones. Poetics is law, and if in the proper context, poems can articulate culture and native wisdom which in turn are very much suited to be a rich source of legislation and law.

Naga City—August 15, 2009 will be a date to remember in Bicol’s literary history as Bikol writers release five books and a literary magazine. Dubbed as “An Pagbungsod” it will be held 6PM at the alfresco area of the Avenue Square in Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City.

The grand launch will feature “Yudi Man: Mga Osipon para ki Nunuy asin ki Nini,” a collection of short-stories for children by Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon winners as edited by Carlos A. Arejola and Lorna A. Billanes, and illustrated by Boyet Abrenica; “Pagsasatubuanan: Poetikang Bikolnon,” a book of literary criticism on Bikol poetics by Jose Jason L. Chancoco; “Tigsik,” a compilation of tigsik(s), a Bikol ethnic poetic form by Aida B. Cirujales; “Sayod Kong Tataramon/Tuwiran Kong Sasabihin,” a collection of stage and screenplays by Carlos A. Arejola; “Bagyo sa Oktubre,” a collection poems in Filipino by Honesto M. Pesimo, Jr.; and “Bangraw kan Arte, Literatura asin Kultura,” a Bikol literary magazine edited by Estelito Jacob, Jun Pesimo and Marissa R. Casillan with Manny Salak as lay-out artist.  All of the titles are published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and printed by the Goldprint Publishing House.

Carlos A. Arejola has been called the poster boy of Bikol Lit. in lecture circuits. He convenes an annual Bikol writers’ workshop, chairs a region-wide literary competition, and has, along with other stout-hearted Bikol artists, initiated other projects to win wider adherence for Bikol writings. His drama and poetry have won the Palanca Awards and other national literary prizes. He works for the Camarines Sur Provincial Capitol.

Lorna A. Billanes edits, translates, and teaches language and literature at Miriam College in Quezon City. Her fiction has won prizes from the Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Awards and the PBBY Salanga Wrters’ Prize. She holds an M.A. degree in Creative Writing from UP Diliman where she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English Studies. She co-edits Yudi Man Mga Osipon para ki Nunuy asin ki Nini with Carlos Arejola.

Jose Jason L. Chancoco has won national awards and fellowships for his poetry, essay and fiction in English, Filipino, Bikol Naga and Iriganon. He won two gold medallions in a single year (2005,for stories for children and 1-act play for children categories) in the Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon, a feat so far unduplicated. He is currently pursuing a law degree.

Tigsik Queen Aida B. Cirujales teaches at the Gainza Central School and was a finalist in the rawitdawit (poetry) category of the Premio Arejola in 2007.

Honesto M. Pesimo, Jr. has won national awards for his poetry and was cited in the rawitdawit category of the Premio Arejola in 2004 and 2007. He teaches at the Concepcion Pequeña High School and Mariners’ Polytechnic College.

Estelito Jacob, Jun Pesimo and Marissa Reorizo-Casillan co-edits Bangraw kan Arte, Literatura asin Kultura. Issa Casillan was the gold medallion winner of the osipon (fiction) category of the Premio Arejola in 2007. Esting Jacob is an award-winning poet and fictionist and is an avid painter.  Apart from his poetry prizes, Jun Pesimo is an award-winning photographer.

Boyet Abrenica is one of the region’s most notable young visual artists today. He has designed literary titles and books of history and is the art director of Biggs Food Corporation.

Manny Salak is a senior graphic designer of Goldprint Publishing House. He was a finalist in the 25th National Shell Painting Competition.

The grand launch is in coordination with the Development Institute of Bicolano Artists Foundation, Inc., Premio Tomas para sa Literaturang Bikolnon, Kabulig-Bikol and the Avenue Plaza Hotel. The Naga College Foundation Cultural Arts Center will render performances during the launch. Noted Bikol writer and scholar H. Francisco V. Penones will be the keynote speaker.

As per Resolution No. 52/23 (November 27, 1997) of the United Nations General Assembly, there is a prevailing policy on Multilingualism recalling the earlier Resolution No. 50/11 (November 2, 1995). It requests the Secretary General to submit during the 54th session a comprehensive report on the implementation of Resolution No 50/11. And likewise, it also includes Multilingualism as part of the General Assembly’s agenda for the session.

The implementation of UN’s Multilingualism policy is still binding up to now. This can be observed during its Plenary Sessions and General Assemblies wherein delegates are encouraged to express themselves using their native tongue. Clearly, this policy shows that the UN sees cultural and linguistic diversity not as a threat to diplomacy and understanding, but rather as human rights that must be respected in order for nations to bridge themselves towards spiritual unity as members of the human race. This also avoids the prevalence of a dominant language or culture base which more often than not, leads to hegemony and cultural oppression which in turn leads to misunderstanding. Besides, a good number of languages die everyday in the name of linguistic uniformity. There is then a need to reverse this phenomenon.

Even if language is said to be arbitrary, the legislature is still a powerful state apparatus that could greatly influence and spell either the death or survival of the various languages. The UN seems to be on the right track in this regard just by crafting Multilingualism as a policy. In fact, UNESCO declared this year to be the International Year of Languages with the slogan: “Languages Matter!”

Although UNESCO cannot fund all of the pro-linguistic diversity projects being implemented around the globe, it encourages local initiatives. It also has a listing of some of the most important cultural and linguistic enterprises. The list includes Dalityapi Unpoemed’s Makata, a multilingual poetry site; and this blogger’s ‘Pagsasatubuanan Modernistang Poetikang Bikolnon’, a work on Bikolnon poetics written in the Bikol-Naga language.

It is a ray of hope to see Philippine based projects making it in UNESCO’s IYL list. It is a known fact that the country’s Constitution deems the other Philippine languages as mere auxiliaries to English and Tagalog/Filipino. And the prevailing policy on language in the academe is that of “Bilingualism” and not “Multilingualism”. Even with the CHED Memorandum Order No. 44 there is yet a dearth of regional literature in classroom and campus discourses. The way to go it seems is by local and individual/group initiatives from the private sector.

The Dalityapi Unpoemed has sponsored poetry readings in Manila campuses and continues to accept poetry contributions written in the various Philippine languages. While this blogger’s work on Bikolnon poetics, as it is written in a regional language, hopes to fill the scarcity of materials written in the Bikol-Naga language. Not to mention the need for more works under the genre of literary criticism to provide critical perspectives with regard Bikolnon literary aesthetics.

Just came from ‘Rock to School’, a gig right there at the Kambingan in Magsaysay Road, Naga City. Sponsored by the Beat FM, San Miguel Beer and Pulp Magazine, the concert manifested that the rock scene here in Bicol is alive in kicking. Our local bands are just as cool as the Manila-based ones. And they are of diverse influences, from metal to ska to pop. We all should attend their gigs.

Now I should better promote my home-made poetry podcast again. I do the music bed for my entries, I am also a guitarist. So please check http://www.gcast.com/u/hagbayon/

I also attended a forum on the proposed new orthography by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino last Tuesday, July 10 at the RELC-DepEd in Rawis, Legaspi City. Dr. Elvira B. Estravo and Dr. Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco led the lectures. With the help of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Department of Education (DepEd), it was well-attended by academicians coming from different parts of the region from Camarines Norte to Sorsogon.

The proposal was open for suggestions and revisions from the forum. In the main, they introduced a new local version of the alphabet, subscribing to the phonetics of English, Spanish and the various Philippine languages. They espouse that we use linguistic symbols for the stress and glottal sounds in spelling our words. And that we should be careful in re-spelling English lexicons. When in doubt, do not re-spell, lest you might add up to the atrocities committed by Filipinos on English graphemes. As for the words borrowed from Spanish, it is okay to re-spell, anyway we do not have much Spanish-speaking groups in our population.

My concern was on how the new orthography can benefit the various Bikol languages. We all know that the KWF had its eyes focused on the National Language as based on Tagalog and so the local languages from the regions were not included in standardization with respect to orthography. After much perusal, I think we can gain wisdom from the proposal. Using the various linguistic symbols for the stress and glottal stops will give non-Bikol speaking regions an idea on how to enounce and articulate our words.

But then there is the need to re-orient people on how to use the aforementioned linguistic symbols specially the items on stresses and glottal stops. There is also the need to introduce the proposed orthography to the writers, the Bicol-based ones.