By AA Patawaran
I was invited to guest in the second episode of poet, spoken word artist, graphic novelist, and radio personality Kooky Tuason’s program “Bigkas Pilipinas” on Jam 88.3 on Independence Day and, readily I accepted the invitation, despite National Artist F. Sionil Jose’s word of advice, as he shared with us on stage when he spoke as guest of honor at the first anniversary of my book Hai[Na]Ku And Other Poems at the S Maison, that “a poet should not read his own poem.”
I am proud of Kooky and her bosses at Jam 88.3 for this bold, noble move of bringing the show “Bigkas Pilipinas” back on radio. I remember listening to it back in the mid-aughties and thinking how refreshing it was to hear words not just sung but also read, said, screamed, whispered, performed on radio. I mean “Bigkas Pilipinas” is a spoken word show, essentially, but it also gives precious airtime to the inner workings of the creative mind, the artistic spirit. It is an art show, a tribute to poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers as well as a gift to those who love them and their work.
As Kooky is an artist herself, there is nothing quite regimented in any of her shows, whether “Bigkas Pilipinas” or her web show “The Thinking Man’s Classroom,” in which I have also had the privilege to guest. In the Independence Day episode of “Bigkas Pilipinas,” her questions jumped from “Are you free?” to “What does a writer do on his off day?” and you’re always caught jumping from one to thought to another that I suppose, as a guest, you must prepare to think on your feet.
Kooky Tuason is so prolific that she is launching one project after another, from a spoken word workshop in Hyderabad in India to a graphic novel to a weekly radio show to, just this weekend, launched last Friday on iTunes and Spotify, the spoken word album Bigkas Pilipinas, with major poets, performance poets, and spoken word artists in the lineup, such as Cesare Syjuco, Lourd de Veyra, Vim Nadera, Wanggo Gallaga, Michael M. Coroza, Joel M. Toledo, Khavn de la Cruz, and myself. But it’s Kooky’s passionate desire to bring people together through art and poetry that impresses me the most. The underlying goal of “Bigkas Pilipinas” return to radio, in fact, is not so much to give artists a medium in which to propagate their work as to forge ties among these artists so that they will work together to promote poetry in general and to make the field one everyone wants to belong to and feel safe in, given that in some sectors of the spoken word industry commerce has begun to sow the seeds of cruel competition and one-upmanship. Writing is a solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be such a selfish exploit, given that it is, in many cases, a brave show of humanity, even vulnerability.
At the June 12 episode of “Bigkas Pilipinas,” I read two poems of mine. One was a poem from Hai[Na]Ku, a clamor for privacy and free space called “DatingMNL.” The other one was something I wrote in response to last week’s tragic loss of great lives, that of accessories designer Kate Spade and beloved, highly evolved chef Anthony Bourdain. I wrote the poem while driving to a birthday dinner the Sunday before Independence Day. The words, a series of questions that Bourdain’s demise sort of unleashed in many of us because his seemed to be such a charmed life, a life that was rooted in excellence, if not even kindness (to strangers, to the service staff, to the “little people,” such as street vendors, small-town cooks, and village entrepreneurs, who make up the food culture of the world), a life that was in fact larger than life, something worthy of emulation.
I would have stopped everything to craft these questions into a little poem, but while the words begged for expression in my head, I was driving my family, my sister Leah, my two nieces Rafa and Georges, and my baby nephew Aldi, to dinner. I ended up dictating the whole thing to my 11-year-old niece Rafa, who wrote every word down on the Notes app of my smartphone.
Thus my poem “The Bourdain Meditations” was written, which I shared with Kooky Tuason’s listeners in “Bigkas Pilipinas” on Jam 88.3 and my co-guests hip hop poet and freelance director Ryan Gonzalez and writer and food journalist Ginny Mata. Let me share it with you here.
“The Bourdain Meditations”
Is it in search of permanent rest?
An escape from a lingering illness?
Is it a spur of the moment?
A kind of atonement?
Is it a grand plan
Or the impulse of a madman?
Are the angels calling,
Is the devil whispering?
Are you struggling toward all that’s bright?
Are you hoping to vanish in the twilight?
Is it the end you are after,
Are you mourning the loss of laughter?
If I could choose the life given you
And the demons that hound you, too
I would choose to still be me.
If you had the choice to live the life that is mine
With all the things for which I pine,
I have no doubt you would prefer the life that is your own,
All the joys and sorrows you have known.
For we both are sailing on the same oceans
Going through the motions
At times lulled by the stillness
At times lost in the tempest.
But I cannot assume I understand why
And maybe that is why I cry.
I looked up to you and wished I could be as brave
I will not look down on your grave.