Rise of the written word performed

IT WAS perhaps Arian  Tejano’s poem, ‘When a ladyboy loves a foreign man,’ that best illustrated the project of Metamorphosix, the sixth installment of the annual LitOrgy held at Cork and Barrel in Obrero last February 18.

In the poem, the persona describes in sensual and subtle detail a long-distance relationship between a transgender woman and a foreigner.

“When he says he’ll keep in touch, he is in Brazil, / in a little town called Goais, and she is in Surigao. / Or he is in Toronto, driving downtown to attend a book launch, / and she is in Nabunturan wearing an apron and listening to Ella Fitzgerald  / while preparing lunch for her father’s guests…”

What, indeed, was an event about transformation and all its variations without an LGBT poem, Tejano asked the audience before reading her piece.

What happens during poetry/literary events such as LitOrgy?

Beyond literary genres

Despite its literary/artistic nature, the event is barely academic. A crowd of strangers gather inside a small room, a bar perhaps, and read and listen to poems and excerpts from short stories and other forms of literature, everyone intent on seeing words from the page given life by the readers who wrote the pieces themselves.

What we did for LitOrgy in all its incarnations was to expand beyond the literary genres. Performance pieces were not limited to the written word, with dance or music always part of the menu. For Metamorphosix, we had a lot of help from the Davao Music Nation (hats off).

For each performance the host, nursing a bottle or so drinks in between sets, calls out a reader from a prepared list of names. Bottles and glasses clink in between laughters. Friends of the performer cheer on. Fans of the poets wait, excited to hear new material or, in the case of works they’ve already read, listen as the words are given life.

Each LitOrgy is part spoken word, part performance art, and, in the case of the authors with their works preceding them, a chance to interact with the existing and emerging rock stars of various literary genres.

What used to be relegated inside academic circles or the ‘exclusive’ territory of the elite who’s who of the literary world mainstreamed into the city’s consciousness.

As Davao Writers Guild president and UP Professor Jhoanna Cruz would have it, this was the first time she experienced reading a poem in a room packed with paying customers.

Other readers include LitOrgy mainstays Viv Salve, Ria Valdez, Nina Maria Alvarez, Karla Stefan Singson, John Bengan, Iyyah Sinarimbo and Darylle Rubino, as well as readers from the Ateneo de Davao University, the University of Southeastern Philippines and other schools.

Truth be told, the first time LitOrgy was held the organizers had no idea it would be as successful as it has become six years later.

Thirst for art

Back then, a small band of young artists gathered together to give birth to an annual literary event, what would become LitOrgy, our jab to the spiritual high we get from writing, listening to, or reading literature. And of course, there was a thirst for art.

As Angely Chi would have it in the preface to ‘The Best of LitOrgy’ zine, which sold out at the Better Living through Xeroxography event held earlier this year, we were all there for a common purpose, and for this one it was the love of words.

We were thirsty to create, and LitOrgy was the catalyst for all that. And so, the first LitOrgy was held, darkness be damned.

We emerged from an artistic darkness, quite literally, when we first had a bunch of writers perform in the dark stage of the Durian Bar in 2009.

It was March 28, Chi said, and happened to be Earth Hour. The ‘darkness’ we spoke of was the outdated limited relegation of literary events to the academe.

Those of us who forged the first event remember quite vividly how in the darkness of that night, the city’s lights dimmed or unlit, we stood in front of a small bar, read stories and poems, sang songs, played music, danced and created for ourselves something we could look forward to every year.

All we had was a stage, a few microphones and musical instruments, and a small platoon of talent, with an LCD projector serving as our only source of light.

Six years and six incarnations later, the word LitOrgy eventually became talk of the town, as far as independent artists are concerned, with news of the recently held LitOrgy 6: Metamorphosix passed on as word of mouth, a Facebook wall post to another.

To think it started as a working title for the event, as goes events during the organizing phase when everything is settled except for the title that would package the experience.

We had no words then, when we first conceptualized an art event when we were first handed the reins to what used to be two incarnations of Poetry Night. It was our turn to hold the event, with the Davao Writers Guild marshaling in a small group of budding wordsmiths called the Young Davao Writers.

The ragtag group is more barkada than literary org, sticking with the ‘Young Davao Writers’ in absence of a formal name.

And here we are, ink marking a bright canvass of otherwise empty space, the words illuminated into existence page after every page, words given a life of their own.

The Young Davao Writers and Pulong (an association of literary organizations from different schools)  like to thank the following sponsors who helped made this year’s litorgy a big success: Primo Cafe and Grill, the Image Guys Davao, Coffee for Peace, Balud Books, Alleycat Tea House, Studio Bugsy, Club Echelon, Davao Music Nation and Cork and Barrel.

Photos are by Lee Paz and Doit Cudis.