Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

Fresh DNA for poetry

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 08, 2024 5:00 am

Young poet Jam Pascual had a handwritten dedication in his recent gift of a debut collection: “I still remember the night when you were over at Sev’s Cafe and I was still getting my start in Spoken Word poetry. It meant a lot to me, that you were there during my early formation as a writer. I hope you enjoy the book. Cheers!”

Published by Everything’s Fine, the book is titled Nail Down the Sky, with 41 poems divided into three sections.

His reference to Sev’s Cafe recalls a decade ago when young crowds flocked to that resto-bar at the basement of Legaspi Tower in Malate, Manila, the residential building right across the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where Ipat Luna and Howie Severino resided with their family. They managed to lease the space for a good number of years, but had to close early. in 2016. A pity. Much to the delight of a cultural community, it offered “Food & Ideas: a feast for locavores, poetry, art, music, meeting people who like books, cinema, environment, journalism, generally working for the better.”

Came a time when its popularity drew mainly from the Spoken Word phenomenon by way of poetry slam and open mic treats. These included competitions in Filipino and English performative poetry. Together with some old friends, I shared the privilege of serving as a judge in such rousing contests that packed the place.

If memory serves right, it preceded and actually ushered in Performatura 2017: Performance Literature Festival at the CCP. Sev’s Café is still remembered not just for “the space but the WORDS,” among which some became a legacy, such as “Sino ba naman yung taong magmamahal pero naka-schedule yung katapusan?” by Henri Igna.

Jam Pascual participated as a poet in English, having been a writing fellow at both the Iyas and Silliman University National Writers Workshops. He might have also been a student of mine at an Ateneo poetry class. Another subsequent affiliation was his long stint as an editor and contributor to The Philippine STAR’s Youth section. 

Receiving his book, I was initially curious as to how his Spoken Word experience may have evolved or transformed to page poetry in his first book.

The title poem starts: “Site of rupture. Been watching too many serial killer docs./ Been nursing this bourbon ditch like a crow getting the hang of/ small stones. A couple of weeks ago I went through my father’s old/ book collection to sort them in cardboard boxes for donation,/ found the copy of ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nihisi/ Coates I bought for him for Christmas, and put it back on my/ shelf, next to paperbacks on marketing trends and leadership/ virtues…”

It goes on for several more lengthy lines until these last four that provided closure to the single stanza: “… Your cobra hood philosophy. Angels fly with two wings/ and cover themselves with four. Ghosts walk through walls/ because they follow the house’s previous architecture. I ought to/ nail down the sky, it keeps getting away from me.”

While any exact memory of Jam’s exercises in Spoken Word escapes me now, the narrative mode in this title poem suggests precedent poetics. The sharp lines are also marked by some arresting imagery, and lend themselves to the familiar style of contemporary poetry that employs jolts and leaps in focus or motifs, in favor of any tight logic of continuity.

Other poems in the collection command attention with their titles: “Tom Araya of Slayer Says We Should Respect the President of the United States”; “Sugar Dadaist (after Gertrude Stein)”; “The Author of the Anarchist Cookbook Renounces His Work”; “Top Five Places in Manila to Check Out While the City Swallows Us Whole”; “Last Will and Testament of An Influencer” …

This last ends thus: “… To everyone/ who has encountered an idea of me, I leave an idea of me./ A posy of plastic flowers, in a designer vase, sits in real water./ The word you’re looking for is ‘beauty.’ Here lies love.”

Practically all the poems use the first person. But it’s often an engagement between the probing I and a loose assembly of ideas, or what may be said to be a matrix of found or uncovered notions, concepts, memes, and present-day allusions, illusions, irreverences.

Emotions are almost dutifully absent. The closest to it would be the mention of a “you and I” not quite as a couple, but an inadvertent pairing sourced to anime and fandom. These lines make up “Sousuke Considers Telling Rin Everything”—which I like best, because of the protean way it starts with the image of water, moves on prosaically to geometry, then gravity, and a “Holding pattern.” All done with full intent.

Here’s the rest of the one-stanza poem: “I’ve been holding it together like a sinew,/ my fanged keeper. It’s all I could do to not/ tear us apart with my production, cables/ whipping in a storm. Our track suit collars/ are already holding up to so much abuse, so go/ ahead, back me up against what you think you/ know because all that means is I’m not slipping/ out of your hands, and I won’t make you promise/ to designate me the only black-haired boy who/ flicks the switch of your throttle, who sharpens/ your bite. The cost of yearning: implacable ache.”

Shall we say that it’s unmistakably the poetry of Generation Y? The features are all there: a paucity of abstractions, hopping from prose to startling imagery, referencing what’s esoteric on the surface as cheat codes of privacy. Startling in its own right, it does freshen up poetry of an older DNA.

The book is available from