What’s Your Talent: Rice & Rain by Romalyn Ante

Ever since declaring myself a writer, a poet, a literary artist, I’ve been on a search for Filipino art that’s being showcased in a foreign setting, preferably in English setting.

The West End was once the home of Eva Noblezada, Jon Jon Briones and Rachelle Ann Go for Miss Saigon’s 2014 production. When it comes to literature, I’ve been lucky to have read such works like Manila Noir by Jessica Hagedorn and other Filipino writers and In The Country by Mia Alvar, a very, very, VERY, good book if you want to know more about Filipino diaspora. Lucky can not be the word that I can use to describe getting to meet, work and learn from R.A. Villanueva. Reading his debut collection Reliquaria, hearing him speak, teach us about writing and challenging sonnets and being able to message him about poetry anytime makes me beyond lucky to have forged such a friendship.

What sets Batangas-born and Wolverhampton carved poet Romalyn Ante apart, though, is that her work specifically speaks of a Filipino voice set in British land. Just finding the inside joke in the title Rice & Rain is good enough evidence that this book will resonate.

I first found myself reading a poem by Romalyn Ante through EastLit. After scouring through the archives I come across her work, and falling in love with it. Her poetry brings in a certain delicate nature, one that’s, while soft and almost ethereal, remains potent with imagery, charged with story and nostalgia that keeps you reeled in, reminding you that you, too, have experienced such emotions. Comparing people flocking to a relief good truck like mariposas or butterflies is both beautiful and empathetic in poem “Day 6” from EasLlit.

Rice & Rain is Romalyn Ante’s first ever poetry pamphlet, published by V. Press this August 2017, and I had the privilege to speak to Romalyn about the creative process she took for this project as well as her musings on writing and being a poet.

1. Poetry has been said to be therapy for some, a calling for others. What role has poetry played in your life?

I think poetry has played many roles at different stages in my life. There was a time when writing and reading poetry was simply a hobby. At one point it was a mirror that reflected how I viewed myself and the world. Undoubtedly, I know I have always been inclined to it. When I was a high school student in the Philippines I used to write both English and Tagalog poems and post them on the bulletin board in our main classroom. We used to switch rooms with other students and I remember that whenever other students came to our room, there would always be one or two who would read the poems I posted. They would tell me how much they liked my poems when I bumped into them on the corridor. I guess that’s the reason why poetry has also been a massive part of my identity. It’s not only a way of expressing who I am but also my way of relating to others. At the moment I feel that poetry is a part of my being. It just doesn’t play a role in my life, instead we play a role in this world, together.

2. How has process of creating this book from thought to physicality been like for you?

It’s been such an interesting, exhausting, and fulfilling journey. I learned a lot about myself as person and as a writer. I got to work with such good editor, Sarah, and such talented illustrator, Ruth.

I don’t think there’s an exact ‘beginning’ in this process. That’s because the poems in this pamphlet were written and developed over the years. Having said that, as someone who grew up in the Philippines (and as a nurse in the UK) I know I have always wanted identity, migration and human connections to be the incorporating themes of my pamphlet. When I submitted the manuscript to V. Press’ poetry pamphlet competition in 2016, I amalgamated those themes to be the core of my pamphlet. Then I received a grant from Arvon Foundation which enabled me to attend an Arvon course in 2016; this also helped me create more poems for the pamphlet.

I guess the hardest part of the process was the editing and the “letting go” part. This happened earlier this year when I started to extremely criticize my own work for improvements. There was a point when I looked at a couple of poems in Rice & Rain and thought, They’re so bad! I was always seeing flaws in a poem. But then, when is a poem ‘finished’? And is there really such a thing as a ‘perfect’ poem? Even Li-Young Lee (my hero) was noted to say “There are great poems that have flaws. There are failures of perception, failures of understanding, but those flaws become a part of the poem’s integrity.”

3. I’m enjoying the imagery the title Rice & Rain offers. Being part of the Filipino diaspora as well, I find the humour and home in it. How has being a Filipina living in England helped develop the voice and perspective that’s present in this pamphlet?

Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate the title.

Let’s face it, Filipinos in the UK have a reputation of being hospital/healthcare workers. I came to the UK as a teenager (I was in a country where any dream is plausible!) and still, I grew up to be a nurse (Hahaha). But I don’t look at this part of my identity as a mundane, typical reflection of being a Filipino in the UK. I attempt to use this part of my identity to give not only a snippet of the Filipino culture but also a reflection of a life exposed to the brevity of other lives. Hence, you will find a few poems in this pamphlet written from my ‘nursing perspective’ such as Handover Notes, Last Offices, The Mechanic, etc.

4. Your writing style is very potent in imagery but remains to stay gentle in voice, something that I personally resonated with. Which poets have inspired you through your own journey as a poet?

Thank you. Li-Young Lee is my ultimate hero when it comes to modern poetry. His poems are full of honesty and extremely resonating. I also admire Zeina Hashem Beck’s confidence in her poems.  I also adore the works of Emily Dickinson and Vera Brittain.

Nowadays, and being a Jerwood/Arvon mentee under Pascale Petit, I read a lot of her work. I also read more modern poets like Ocean Vuong, R. A. Villanueva, and Tishani Doshi. Poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough also introduced me to the works of Aimee Nezhukumatathil who is half Filipino! (Thank you, Elisabeth!)

5. What would you like readers to take away from reading Rice & Rain?

I wish they find the poems exotic yet very relatable. I want to impress poetry readers and fellow poets but most importantly, I want to make an impact to someone who doesn’t normally read poetry. I want them to feel comfortable with poetry as humans are innately comfortable with water and air.

6. And lastly, can you offer a line from a poem or song that best captured your morning?

And I know that it’s early and it’s too hard to think and the broken empty bottles, a reminder in the sink – from the song When We Die by Bowling for Soup!

You can order a copy of Rice & Rain through this link! Let her know what you think of the book by contacting her below!

Web Map:

Personal blog: Ripples of the River

Twitter: @RomalynAnte

Instagram: @love_rome

– Troy

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What’s Your Talent: @BYPoets with Jacob Sam-La Rose and Rachel Long

I remember the first time I heard of the Barbican Young Poets.

It was summer of 2014 and it’s been three years since I signed up for the mailing list for the Young Poets Network. Had I not scrolled down to the very bottom of the July 2014 email I might have never seen the submissions call for this poetry workshop taking place in the Barbican Centre aptly called the Barbican Young Poets.

Never really been someone who learnt creative writing in a workshop before, I applied, one curious eyebrow raised up. By September I got my first letter confirming I wasn’t successful to the next part of the application process. And I was okay with that. There was always next year. Or rather, the year after that when I actually got in, when my work as a writer and my work as a person needed structure and discipline the most.

Fast forward to October of 2016, and I became part of the 2016-2017 roster of the Barbican Young Poets led by Jacob Sam-La Rose and Rachel Long. Being in a place where I was 110% ready and hungry to be there was very helpful because that meant I was awake, absorbing every single thing that was happening, and I think Jacob planned all of this because he’s the type of person that knows what’s best for you and acts on that. Also because he’s psychic.

Scroll down to read more about their perspective on the programme and how they themselves have grown from being a part of it.

What first inspired you to take part in BYP?

Jacob: I set up Barbican Young Poets in 2009. I had spent the three years prior to that setting up the Roundhouse Poetry program, and it felt like a good time to do something else. I wanted to continue to deliver a long term engagement for young and emerging poets, and I wanted that to be the foundation for a larger, long running community. I also wanted to continue to support an engagement with a broad range of poetics, without any exclusive focus on spoken word or “page” poetry.

Rachel: The BYP programme was close-enough legend to me, way before I was part of this here poetry ‘scene’/family/community, when I was a not-so-fresh-out-of-uni Lit. grad. trying her hand at scriptwriting (far too elaborate stage directions), I’d heard about it through theatre friends who were friends of poets on the programme. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for – if only I knew then that it was poetry that I was writing (albeit badly) in those stage directions. It wasn’t until I met Jacob some years later, when he was running a poetry workshop for Apples and Snakes, and he invited me to join Burn After Reading (BAR) that I learnt more fully what Barbican Young Poets was, how deeply it affected, stimulated and nurtured young poets in a similar way to what I was experiencing through BAR.

When Jacob, a few more years later, invited me to be Assistant Tutor on the programme, I was honoured. I am still – each session, with every new cohort. I said yes, immediately, to the offer because of him – Jacob is a source of inspiration to me – poetically and pedagogically. I said yes because I hadn’t met a young person who hadn’t become a better poet through the course of the programme, I said yes because it would be an opportunity for me to become a better facilitator, to learn more about how to support a poet’s journey.

What impact do you think collectives such as BYP, Octavia and Roundhouse have on modern poetry and people’s perception of it?

Jacob: Slight tangent: I think of Barbican Young Poets as a community rather than a collective. We take on up to 25 poets each year, through an application and shortlisting process, and when you become a Barbican Young Poet, you become a member of the community of poets who’ve passed through the programme over the eight years the programme has thus far been operating. Part of the joy of that community is the way different members can manifest completely different poetics but still come together through a set of core values and principles that foster mutual appreciation and learning.

I think there’s something incredibly powerful about the way that groups of poets collectively or communally make work happen and manifest their visions of what might be possible for that work. Not to discount the power of the individual artist, but at their best, collectives and communities amplify the agency of the artists that they consist of. The fellowship that communities and collectives provide can catalyse creative and professional development. When artists come together in fellowship with a focus on the work they’re respectively doing, progress happens.

Barbican Young Poets, the Roundhouse programmes and collectives, Slambassadors, Six Weeks, Burn After Reading, Spit the Atom, Poets’ Platform, Octavia and all of the other communities and collectives at work across London and up and down the country— they’ve all pushed the way that people have thought about what’s possible with contemporary poetry, and they’ve validated different ways of working. Many of them have challenged commonly held notions of poetry and the traditional mechanisms for bringing poetry to the people. It’s not unusual for the work of young poets or poets of particular backgrounds or orientations to be undervalued, but through these communities and collectives, a lot of effort has been invested in challenging people to pay proper attention.

Rachel: I’m not sure whether all of these would identify as collectives, some moreso as communities or programmes with scope for graduates/alumni to create their own collectives/communities thereafter… But I think that there are certainly crossovers in terms of purpose, ethos, goals. For example, they are all spaces created for young poets to come together to read, write, share, perform, and as a result grow as artists. They each combine the power of community with the power of Art, and they embody the necessity of Art within the community. Their impact ranges from giving confidence to a young writer to pick up a pen again after a year of not writing right through to redefining the image of poetry culturally.

I feel that it is sometimes difficult to measure macro impact from within the space and time of ‘the happening’, I am interested in how collectives/communities/programmes such as these and others have on the next generation of poetry, and how what we are doing here and now informs the future.

On that note, what is one thing BYP has that other collectives don’t in your opinion?

Jacob: What I know is that I’m concerned with creating a space where people can practice craft (paying attention to the finer points of craft in writing and performance) and care (caring enough about the work to commit to continued learning and innovation, caring enough about themselves to commit in sustainable ways, and caring enough about their community to be present and proactive). I’m also keenly invested in creating a space where all poets feel welcome— an ethos that’s manifested in part through the showcase and the anthology we produce each season. If any one of those considerations is unique to BYP, that’s great, but I think many of the programs that operate in similar ways celebrate similar ideals.

Rachel: Each poetry programme/collective/community works differently and that, I believe, should be embraced. It is these differences that make our wider poetry community exciting, nuanced, fresh. I only have intimate knowledge on how the Barbican Young Poets programme and Octavia Collective work, so I’ll only make comment on these. Case in point, there are multiple differences between BYP and Octavia, but I don’t think that this means that one ‘has’ something that the other does not, simply that they do things differently. Octavia, for example, is exclusively for women of colour poets, membership is by invitation only, we do not operate in terms. BYP is for all poets under 26, it is publicly advertised, each new yearly cohort is selected by application, an anthology is produced. What we each cover in-session may have crossovers – we may read the same poems, poets, learn from similar guest facilitators. All I can say is that BYP is unique, that it is a very special programme (but that is not to say the others aren’t also). I would be tempted to say that what BYP has that the others do not is Jacob, but this also is not strictly true, so generous is he with his time and resources that poets who have never been part of the BYP programme can also benefit from the opportunities and initiatives he creates, the resources he shares – widely, the work he does in and outside of the programme.

What are some traits you look for or you expect new members of BYP to have (if you can share!)?

Jacob: In new members, I’m looking for people who are hungry to learn, willing to push themselves and be pushed (in the best possible sense), and keen to commit to the work and the community. People who arrive with questions about their creative practice and aren’t afraid of engaging with unexpected sources to find answers. It doesn’t matter whether they’re the most accomplished poets of their generation. It doesn’t even matter whether they think of themselves as poets or not, or whether they aspire to being professional poets for the rest of their lives. As long as they take the work we do in the room seriously, and find a way to make it relate to whatever they do beyond the bounds of each workshop or project.

Rachel: I have not been part of the BYP application process as of yet. I will be this year, I’m very much looking forward to it. But I would guess that the main criteria for Jacob and Lauren when looking through all the BYP applications is: commitment to the programme, a willingness to learn and grow, evidence to suggest that the applicant would likely work well and be active within the BYP community. I imagine that they look for ‘spark’ in the poems submitted, not that they must all be perfect poems (whatever they are), but that there is something exciting and true about the work, that perhaps they just might need a programme like BYP to make them them reach further, hit harder, dare more.

And lastly, what was one thing that you have taken away from being a part of BYP this year?

Jacob: Having led the programme for so long, I love the fact that each year is an opportunity to challenge not just the people I work with, but also myself and my own practice. Each year brings a different configuration of concerns, queries and needs. What I take away from this year and every year is the joy of having worked with a group of young poets who’ve discovered new things about themselves and each other, and the joy of knowing that the challenge is different every time.

Rachel: Hope and excitement for the future of Poetry.

Can I have just one more? – I feel that I become a better facilitator each year by being part of the programme, learning from Jacob and also from the poets.

Web Map:

Jacob Sam-La Rose:

Website – www.jsamlarose.com

Twitter: @jsamlarose

Instagram: @jsamlarose

Rachel Long:

Website: www.writesrachell.com

Twitter: @rachelnalong

– Troy

Photos courtesy of Dan Hipkin of TEA Films, Barbican 2017.

What’s Your Talent: Poetic Impact

There is always something beautiful in a group of artists collaborating to create something that not only showcases their talent but also works to support one another in growth in a fun and memorable way.

Spearheaded by Theresa Lake, Furquan Soomro and fellow @BYPoets Celestina Rowaiye, Poetic Impact is a YouTube channel aiming to create solid material outwards, to help promote modern poets and the variety of voices that exists in the London scene while aiming to engage audiences to this art form, one that’s growing to be more modern and relevant than most people think.

Already featuring many awesome voices such as Ruth Sutoyé, Malakaï Sargeant (I’m not just saying this because I know them lol) and MOAK, Poetic Impact aims to reach out to more voices out there and are currently looking to set more sessions up with poets from across the city.

Roll call:

And so many other great poets coming soon! Believe me, I was there with them! Check out their YouTube and Instagram accounts every Monday to stay tuned. Head shots courtesy of Luke aka @laterrelonge

The video above is me! I remember doing the piece twice because the first time we ran through the poem with the music the song blasted through the earphones like crazy and I couldn’t hear my voice, and I thought that’s how professionals did it. Thankfully we were able to do it a second time! Shout outs to Justin de Guzman of Deeper Manila fame for letting me use his song from Bandcamp! #nowplaying Adobo from Archive of Randoms.

I got to ask those behind this awesome project a few questions about Poetic Impact through their perspective, and these are the answers I got back.

What first inspired you to create Poetic Impact? What qualities does this project have that you think other projects don’t in terms of showcasing poets and the wide spectrum of poetry that exists today?

Poetic Impact was created because of the love of poetry, expressing the self, giving people an opportunity to promote themselves, create and engage with poetry.

We realised there were many online platforms in the UK for music and not as much for poetry/spoken word. There are lots of amazing open mic nights and live poetry showcases in the UK and we wanted Poetic Impact to bring this element into the online world via Poetry Booth sessions. Poetry is not just pen and paper today, there are elements of cross arts collaboration and we wanted to promote this which is why we permit poets to accompany their poems with music.

As far as we know, there isn’t a platform that showcases poets in a studio environment and that’s what makes poetry booth sessions so unique. Offering poets a free recording of their poem and having access to the YouTube video is also important, as that is something that is useful for applications for competitions etc. Although Poetry booth sessions is our main project at the moment, we are planning on running workshops and live events as well as selling poetry related merchandise, all in due time.

When I came in to do my recording I felt a huge sense of love for poetry and photography within the community that really helped me focus and be myself. What would you like those who take part in this project both in front and behind the camera to take away from Poetic Impact?

We want every single person that steps into the Poetry Booth to feel like they are in a comfortable and intimate space where they can showcase their best creative self. We would also like poets to use Poetry Booth Sessions as an opportunity to experiment with their delivery. Physically, they get to take away an audio and visual recording they can use for their personal/professional use. Every one on the Poetic impact team are either poets, photographers/filmmakers or all of the above so we are all invested in the project and growing together with every session we run. As well as taking away an experience of sharing poetry and networking, we would love for artists partaking in poetry booth sessions to feel a sense of community and great vibes.

Studio3Arts is set in such a tranquil area of East London. Can you tell us what made you choose them as the place to execute the project?

We all grew up in Barking, where Studio3Arts is based. They run various arts based programmes for young people which some of us have been involved in the past. They bring creative people together and empower people using the arts. It just made sense for them to be our first port of call for something like that and we were so happy they agreed. Studio KM, the recording studio we use at Studio3arts is very special to us as it named in memory of a local talented musician and friend. He spent a lot of time in that studio chasing his artistic dreams and encouraging other artists. We are now doing the same and honouring him with that act.

What has been one favourite memory so far during recording?

F: My personal favourite memory was when the three of us went to Nando’s after our first Poetry Booth sessions. We were so stressed out about it because we started a little later than planned but after everyone finished recording, we just went and ate chicken. We talked about how fun it was and how easy everything was in terms of setting up. That was my big worry and I’m glad everything went well.

C: Our first ever session. It was a mixture of joy and anxiety. We started later than planned; our fairy lights died and we had last minute cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances. But we had amazing poets with good vibes and had a cheeky celebratory meal after.

T: My favourite memory is of our first ever session, so much nervousness but along with laughter and good vibes! It was the most happiest I have felt on a Saturday morning. Doing something I love!

If you’d like to get involved with Poetic Impact, you can contact them through

Youtube: Poetic Impact

Facebook: Poetic Impact

Twitter: @poetic_impact

Instagram: @poetic_impact

What’s Your Talent: Healing crystals with @TessHeaven

One of the many fun things crystal healing gets to do for me is to introduce me to like-minded people, people who I get to share the good vibes with and learn more positive things about the world from them, even if this means just talking online and over emails, like Etsy shop owner Tessa Heaven.

For the longest time I’ve been looking for the perfect necklace to wear on an everyday basis, a thirst that normal high street chains and websites have seemed to quench. I tried wearing peace signs, crosses and even faces of Christ despite my initial reluctance to do so due to personal beliefs (hypocrisy, what a concept). It wasn’t until I found myself perusing around this new territory called Etsy where my half-hearted desire to wear the mass-produced and easily-tainted were replaced by the hand-crafted and one-of-a-kinds, feeling the love and individual energies of each piece I wore.

After finding a long Labradorite pendant from Tessa Heaven and leaving it in my Favourites page for a few days, I ended up buying it, especially since I’m aware of the disadvantages of shopping for hand-crafted items; once someone else buys it before you, there’s a high chance you’ll never get to see another one like it again. You could ask the seller to make an exact same one, but it’s never really the same, especially with crystal healing.

I found the Labradorite helpful when around huge crowds of people, travelling great distances and around those who tend to absorb emotions from me, as well. It’s managed to give me protection against psychic attacks and a chance to grow and enhance my mental and concentration abilities. The pendant, alongside Labradorite in general, quickly became a staple tool in my crystal arsenal, always helping me in times most suitable and teaching me lessons in times most needed.

After cementing her love for crystals during her travels around Asia and South America and the many marketplaces there, she got inspired to further this hobby into a business for herself, using macrame knotting techniques to combine both raw and tumbled crystals with repurposed materials to make unique jewelelry that is individualistic as it is healing for the one person it was made to be for.

1. Walk us through your first ever memory working with a crystal?

I had a small crystal collection as a child, which I kept in a little box of treasures along with other special things I had collected. I didn’t open this box for many years, and it was only after I had an epiphany while wearing a jasper necklace I had made that I became enchanted with crystals again. I was feeling very emotionally open and sensitive at the time, and the necklace was resting on my heart. I could literally feel the crystal resonating with my heart chakra. I had always been incredibly skeptical about things like crystal healing, but in that moment I knew that there was something to it!

So over the next few weeks I began exploring what I could feel with other crystals. The first one I ever worked with intentionally was a piece of pyrite that I had in my box of treasures. I remembered that when I’d been able to feel the energy of the jasper I’d been very open, so I let go of any doubt and opened my heart to the possibility of connecting with the crystal. The feeling from the pyrite was very different from the jasper. Rather than the intense sensation at my heart, I felt it through my whole body. It was like a rush of confidence and well-being flowing through me. My rational mind was still skeptical, but I decided it didn’t matter whether what I had experienced was ‘real’ or my imagination, because the feeling had definitely been real, and that was what mattered.

2. What are your top three crystals to recommend for a friend who’s starting out with crystal healing?

I am by no means an expert on the properties of crystals, but there is a lot of information to be found on the subject online. I started out with rose quartz, amethyst and pyrite because those were the ones I’d had since I was a child, so I figured that was the perfect place to start! I would definitely recommend all three of those, or whatever your intuition tells you. Clear quartz is also great. More important than the crystals you choose is your openness nd desire to connect with them. It’s about the feeling you get from them when your mind is quiet.

3. Where did the idea of opening a shop and creating your own jewellery come from?

I initially began making jewellery for myself just for fun, and then friends started paying me to make them things, so the idea for a shop grew from there. I have also always loved to travel, and I wanted to develop sklls that I could use wherever I was in the world to earn money. I’m going to Costa Rica in November, and I hope that I can continue to grow my business online while I am away, as long as I don’t get too distracted by all the beautiful beaches and monkeys!

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4. How do you think social media has helped your business grow? Do you think the good outweighs the bad aspects of it?

I get a lot of my sales as a result of exposure gained through social media. I didn’t expect to have to spend more time marketing than actually making jewellery, but that’s the way it’s turned out! I love creating beautiful images and posts though, it’s an art in itself! I spend far too much time comparing myself to other people and worrying about how many likes and followers I’m getting, but that’s the crazy world we live in. It’s kind of fun if you don’t take it too seriously. The freedom it gives me to earn money doing something I love far outweighs the bad.

5. What advice can you offer burgeoning businesspeople when venturing on their own startup?

I don’t feel like I am in any position to offer advice to people starting a business! I’m still very much in the process of building mine up. I have learned that a lot of it is about mindset though. Sometimes we can block ourselves from what we want because we have some false beliefs about what it will be like. For example, recently I realised I wasn’t putting myself and my brand out there because in my head all I was seeing were the potential negative consequences. I imagined I would constantly be working too hard, and would be stressed out and bored of making jewellery etc. But then I spent some time visualising the opposite. I imagined the feeling of being connected with a large number of people who want what I offer. Sales would flow easily, and work would be a joy. This REALLY helped me. I have to regularly remind myself to fix my mindset though, as it’s very very easy to slip back into negative unhelpful thinking.

6. A lot of people I’ve spoken to about crystal healing has had at least one staple crystal that they consider to be their partner, their soul mate, the one stone that they vibe with the most. Which crystal is that for you?

I don’t have one crystal that I connect with the most. What I love about crystals is that they all have something different and unique to offer. Connecting with a crystal always feels magical, but each in a totally different way!

Web Map:

Etsy: TessHeaven

Instagram: @tessheaven 

Facebook: Tess Heaven

Personal blog: tessheaven.com

PS: If you’re around Bristol area and are looking for holistic and spiritually cleansing massages, hit the link above to check out Tessa and her massage services!

What’s Your Talent: Bukambibig by Alton Melvar Madrid Dapanas

The present has never been a better time to be a Filipino writer, what with many talented and dedicated names working and writing hard to make sure they produce work that not only best express themselves but also represent the Filipino name in a very good light. There’s Reme Grefalda from LA-based zine Our Own Voice, Mia Alvar with her debut short story collection In The Country, even more mainstream slam poet Juan Miguel Severo, whose saccharine and often gritty words have helped the less inclined grow more comfortable with the written art and maybe dip their toes in the waters. But if you’d like to find where most of the gems are, I suggest you surf through the net and into literary magazines and websites, where I found poet and columnist Alton Melvar Madrid Dapanas.

I first got to know Alton when four of my poems were published in Eastlit’s March 2016 issue, where four of his own poems were featured, too. After we friended each other on Facebook, I found out his work was also featured on We Are Website, where mine was, too. In a way it’s relaxing to know that your work’s getting published along fellow Filipinos; you get the feeling that you’re not doing all of this alone.

Speaking to Alton has made me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing with poetry, who always spoke to me with so much passion and urge to better myself as a creative wordsmith in all forms possible. He brings forth this sense of energy that seems to be so present within the literary and artistic circles in the Philippines, and the same kind of energy that seems to be lacking here in London, which inspires me. So when I found on Facebook that he was a part of a new Filipino poetry folio called Bukambibig, my smile stretched from one ear all the way to another.

Bukambibig is a Philippines-based poetry folio created to provide a venue for spoken word artists to showcase their work meant for performance. It welcomes poems in English and/or Filipino that questions and traverses poetic boundaries as contributions and it is open to all Filipino spoken word artists who reside in the Philippines or abroad.

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It is so exciting to know that there’s going to be an independent literary entity out there that’s focused on purely Filipino writers and Filipino work. It’s high time our hard work and individual stories be heard loud and clear. It’s also imperative that through this folio we all get together and inform Filipino writers all around the world that we, too, exist, and by merging all of our stories together we can create something that can start something that’ll help propel our reputation up there alongside the best of the best. I hope you can hear the giddiness in my tone as I’m writing this article.

As with any WYT entry, I managed to get Alton to answer a few questions about things like being an editor, the birth of Bukambibig and just other writer-ly things, and the answers I got were nothing short of genius.

Alton Melvar M Dapanas is a queer-polytheist poet-memoirist. His poems, nonfiction memoirs, and critical essays in English and in Binisaya are published or are forthcoming in local and international literary publications such as the Philippines Graphic, Manila Bulletin’s Bisaya Magasin, Dagmay Literary Journal, Kabisdak Cebuano Literary Lighthouse, We Are A Website, Eastlit, small po[r]tions, SAND, In-Flight, Into the Void, Open Road Review, Kitaab Asia, Prisma–Zeitblatt für Text & Sprache, and Bateau Ivre Journal of Performance, Literature, and Art.

He is also affiliated with Bathalad Mindanao and the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators. Some of his recent works will also be anthologized in Sakayang Papel: Anthology of Bisaya Poetry, Lagusnilad: Antolohiya ng mga Akdang Maynila, and in a creative writing textbook project developed by the University of San Carlos Press. Over a Cup of Coffee, a bi-annual forum with regional poets, essayists, fictionists, and playwrights, is his brainchild.

He is the operations director of the Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC), a young artists collective of new-wave writers from Northern Mindanao.

What pushed you into creating Bukambibig

I did not create Bukambibig—let me be clear about that. It was a collaboration with other poetry enthusiasts who I met through a Facebook group. It all started with one post inquiring if there were poetry folios exclusively for spoken word pieces. (Of course, there were. But the folios were published by spoken word collectives and featured poems written by members of that collective.) The online conversation progressed. An initial team (most of them compose the folio’s operations teams on marketing, events, design, finance, etc.) was gathered for the brainstorming of the folio’s concept. The bravest among us—Chesca Hurtado from UP Diliman, now the project lead—was the most eager. I was just the supportive one.

Who and what were your influences when conceptualising this folio?
Bukambibig was born out of the yearning for inclusivity. Art, after all, is and should be inclusive. We wanted to open the folio to all Filipinos—spoken word artists or not—who write poems meant for performance. We don’t want to be confined with labels—sometimes determined by the artists collective you’re part of, events you’ve performed, and/or number of followers and likers your Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have. (And because we’re inclusive, the second issue coming out this November will hopefully feature spoken word pieces written in the major Philippine languages, aside from Tagalog and English.)

How has being an editor, being on the other side of the submissions spectrum, help you improve and grow as a writer yourself?
I never imagined that I would be an editor, although my day job (working for a media conglomerate) demands that I proofread and edit a lot but that’s an entirely different story. I have a feeling that I make a bad editor of my own works. But now that this has happened, it feels like a living dual lives—the creative and the critical, in one.

What qualities should a piece of writing have for it to leave your mouth agape, quick to accept it for Bukambibig?
One characteristic I would always look for in the first reading is Shklovsky’s concept of defamiliarization, or in the words of Cesar A Cruz, it should “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted.”

How do you think social media has affected writers, performance poets and the independent publishing world?
The platform has offered a lot of possibilities for publishing, especially for those in the indie scene. Zines, journals, chapbooks, and other forms of literary publications can now be accessed by a wider audience. Authors—both budding and established—can now (self)publish their works with or without the so-called vanguards of mainstream publishing. Videos and audios of poets reading (or performing) their works are available. These were not possible before. Poet-critic Adam David claimed that the future of literature in this country is in the independent publishing. And that includes both print and online.

If there is one stereotype that you wish to be removed from the concept of poetry, what would that be?
#Hugot. God, make it stop. Wala bang social relevance at kamalayan diyan?

What’s one line or phrase from a poem that best described your morning?
Mark Anthony R Cayanan’s ‘On Involvement’ comes to mind: “Always there are no words.”

Who do you read?
A lot and mostly contemporary Filipino writers: Chingbee Cruz, Mark Anthony Cayanan, Glenn Diaz, Martin Villanueva, and Carlomar Daona from Manila; Mel Turao from Iloilo; Shane Carreon from Cebu, Merlie Alunan from Tacloban; Kristine Ong Muslim from Cotabato; and Jhoanna Lynn Cruz and John Bengan from Davao. My hometown, Cagayan de Oro, has a lot to offer, too—Arlene J Yandug, Elena L Paulma, Roger Garcia, Zola Gonzalez-Macarambon, Raul G Moldez, Jack Alvarez, and Denver Torres.

And if you happen to be in Mandaluyong, Manila on the 20th of August and would like something fun to do come evening time, check out Bukambibig‘s official launch Dibdiban at Siksikan, which will be held at Splice Resto Bar. Featured performers include Mark Ghosn, Rod Marmol, Rian Magtaan and Valene Lagunzad.

Web Map:

Facebook: Bukambibig PH

Twitter: @BukambibigPh

What’s Your Talent: Anomaly Lit by @lorcanblack

2016 has been quite a fruitful year for me, poetry-wise.

To date, I’ve had eleven poems published in six different journals and websites. And it’s not even half the year yet! As in the words of Josh Radnor’s 2010 film, happy, thank you, more, please.

One of my 2016 publications include a spot on the second issue of Anomaly Literary Journal, which featured a poem which I never thought would be put up for consideration, let alone be chosen. But, as the universe keeps on reminding me, we can’t predict everything. So in March of 2016, the second issue of Anomaly has been released with “Cover Down/Strip Up” as one of the poems.

It was fun being able to be a part of their podcast for the second issue, too! Hearing my voice on playback after they posted it was all sorts of things, but ultimately it’s nice to be able to talk about the craft and be able to hear other people’s perspective on it, too. Our podcasts are titled “Anomaly Issue 2 Part 1” and “Anomaly Issue 2 Part 2”, respectively.

During their submissions call for their third issue, I managed to snag a few minutes to ask questions for Lorcán Black, writer and editor from Ireland, currently residing in London. His previous poetry publications include Boyne Berries, Worldegs, Breath & Shadow among others. He’s also got some new stuff coming up in a few weeks through Assaracus, Blue Lyra Review, Opiate Magazine and Chiron Review so watch out for that!

Alongisde Oli Tatler, Roseanna Free and Joseph Birdsey, he is also one of the staff of Anomaly and all around fun person to talk to.

Read on below to know to read about life as an editor, his honest and refreshing advice on beginning writers and how writing a poem usually goes for him.

1. How does a usual writing process go for you? Who inspires your writing style?

Coffee. It will always start with a cup of coffee and reading. I probably read for about hour before I even think to start writing. I’ll read through whatever latest editions of literary journals or magazines are out at the moment or I’ll read through some of my favourite poetry books and generally just soak it in. It helps switch my brain into that particular state where the words, phrases or images start coming more fluidly. Mostly a poem, for me, begins with a phrase- often out of nowhere and I build on it from there. Then I’ll set the poem aside for a day and come back to it, edit it again, revise it or add to it for a couple of weeks afterward, depending. If I’m having trouble, I’ll take a fifteen minute break, make some tea and sit in the garden before I get back into it. Being outside helps clear my mind a bit.

I’m influenced by a lot of very different poets, I feel. There are collections I come back to again and again like an addict – my nightstand currently has Wislawa Szymborska’s collection Here which I’m really enjoying, Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade, Anna Akhmatova’s Selected Poems, Sylvia Plath, Vona Groarke, Anne Sexton, Yehuda Amichai, Jack Underwood and a couple of collections by Blas Falconer. I’ve started reading Elizabeth Bishop, which I haven’t read much of before. It’s getting really crowded!

2. Where do you stand on the whole social media divide between writers? Do you think it plays an important part in a writer’s paraphernalia or is it just an elaborate diversion from precious work time?

I think it can be either. We’re in a generation where it has got to be utilised. There is an element of it that I think is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it’s a great tool for self-promotion and especially with Anomaly, we wouldn’t have survived at all without it. It continues to be our life-line.

There is an element of green-eye with social media, though, you see a writer you know is doing really well and you tend to think “God, I wish I was that prolific” or “I wish I was doing that well”, but it’s up to you at the end of the day. I can’t complain, I’ve had a productive year. Thirteen poems coming out in eight journals so far, I feel like that’s a good amount and they’re all journals I admire, which is important. You just have to keep it going, refuse to have writer’s block and just push through it. There are so many resources available to writers online now that I just don’t understand how you’d gain any traction without it – but then I’m an 80s baby so to me it’s magical and amazing. I couldn’t go back to the days before the Internet, I’m glad I remember what life was like before it. Sure, there’s an element of nostalgia about it yet at the same time I’m glad I can have that nostalgia and then tweet about it!

3. How does being an editor for your own journal help your being a writer and vice versa? Has it made you love the craft even more?

It has most definitely made me appreciate some of the really wonderful work going around out there. There are some poets in particular who sent us their work who I just admire immensely, people like Scherezade Siobhán, Jack Warren, Zelda Chappel, Ace Boggess- there’s a whole list of writers who are just wonderful crafters and to be honest, make me a little jealous.

And I love it when another writer makes me jealous because it just encourages me to push myself but it also tells me that they’ve done something I really like. I think it also shows you different ways of doing things, whether it be structure or a use of imagery or a word you hadn’t thought o use in a certain way. The best part of it is the exposure to completely different styles of work and through that, to entire different cultures.

4. What sort of work do you look for for Anomaly? What sort of vibe are you hoping to catch for this next issue?

It has to be good- that’s pretty much it! Talent and skill are pretty much the most important factors. The work has to have skill and a talent for language. Not everyone has it and past a certain point, it can’t be learnt either. Writing is like any art form, you can learn it to a degree but I think the level to which you can improve will hit a ceiling, you know? Not everyone can be da Vinci.

You can tell immediately when you read lazy work or when a writer has no real interest in challenging themselves or improving their work at all.

There are a lot of people for whom writing is a hobby but it’s always obvious when the work is more of a compulsion, it’s something they must do because there’s always, always a superior level of craftsmanship and skill involved and when you read it, it just floors you. So, we don’t really go in for themes, we never gather work with a theme in mind because it’s too limiting.

As the website has gained more and more traffic we’re gaining more submissions and as a result, Issue 3 is expanding quite a bit and it’ll be interesting to see how much we can pack in. We don’t have a set page limit- it’s just the best of what comes in by deadline time, which is August 20th for this issue. We’ve had a lot of compliments on our choices for the artwork and photography, which is wonderful. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the artists who’ve given us our work so far, David Reali and Erik Brede, Gabrielle Montesanti and of course Sofia Monika Swatek. This time round we have a major name attached and we are very, very excited to host his work. It’s incredibly beautiful, so I hope everyone enjoys the artwork as well as the writing this time round- which we have also been delighted with, there are some exquisite things coming- we’re very excited!

Maybe that was the theme all along- exquisite things? I hope everyone agrees.

5. What advice can you impart to budding writers that you wish you received when you started writing?

For the love of God, don’t publish a poem before it’s ready. And learn to be more discerning about where you publish. I definitely did both of those things when I was younger, and now some of those poems still fish up from the inky depths of the Internet every so often.

I’ve definitely learnt that it’s more important to get your poems into journals and magazines that matter rather than just whoever will take them. If you can learn to be careful about where you send your work, you’ll be thankful later. It really is quality over quantity that matters most.

If you can get your work into ‘important’ journals and magazines, it’s better than having them in fifty dozen shit-rags no-one’s ever heard of and no-one reads and who publish whatever’s given to them. Be critical and careful. The Internet will be throwing it back in your face for the rest of your goddamned life – do you really want to be seeing those poems you wrote fifteen years ago, forever? No. You don’t, you really don’t.

That and read everything you can. Devour it. Learn poetic forms and structure, learn how to write a good villanelle or cinquain and do that for a couple of years. Then stop doing it and read everything you can. Throw the rule book out the window and find your own voice.

And when you’ve done that, if you were anything like me, stop being so depressed and weird and hang out with your friends more often. And go to the gym- you’re too bloody skinny!

6. And lastly, what’s one line or phrase from a poem that best described your morning? 

Probably Anna Akhmatova-

‘I’ve a lot of feeling for you. You’re kind.

We’ll kiss, grow old, walk around.

Light months will fly over us

Like snowy stars.’

Only because I was reading it this morning, hungover, and Oli brought me coffee in bed. I’m a very simple man really!

Anomaly Lit’s submissions call for Issue 3 is still ongoing and will last until the end of summer. Hit the link to find out how and what you can send their way. Send your best work and best of luck!!!

Web Map:

Lorcán Black:

Twitter: @LorcanBlack

Instagram: @lorcanblack

Anomaly Literary Journal:

Website: Anomaly

Twitter: @anomalylit

What’s Your Talent: Miss Saigon with @EvaNoblezada

I’m glad that in the future I get to say that I watched the West End revival of Miss Saigon three times after spending the first year of its existence in 2014 wanting and finding people to watch it with.

Prior to Miss Saigon and listening to the 2012 Broadway recording of Once, I’m pretty much a theatre newbie, what with my BTEC PerfPhoto 13-01-2016-2orming Arts fatefully swerving me closer to becoming a writer. If it weren’t for the scriptwriting part of the course I would have ended up going on auditions and taking me wherever the wind decided to take me!

“The calm before the storm”:

It was August of 2015 when those fantasies of becoming a performer resurfaced when my aunt took me, my sister and cousin to one of the evening performances of Miss Saigon‘s new home in the Prince Edward Theatre, a factor that probably helped make my experience watching the show ten times more fun.

The paintings and figures around the theatre that whispered the building’s history are so cool; I can’t wait to see Miss Saigon’s memento in the theatre (my friends and I are thinking to watch either Les Mis or The Lion King next).

The stage, however, was gritty and sharp with accents of bamboo, a sign that explicitly says KISS ME and a curtain that mimic bags sewn together, it almost becomes a juxtaposition when compared to the more refined look of its casing. I wondered what the actors behind the curtain were doing before showtime!

Photo 10-11-2015

My favourite part? The very beginning.

The thunderous sound of the helicopter looming over the audience is not only a taster of what’s to come, but it also tells the more fidgety members to turn their phone off and look at the girl in the white dress standing centre stage, head covered by a conical hat, in a lone spotlight.

Back and forth:

There is a complexity to the characters in this show that not only translates to good writing but also mirrors the faces of the war; whichever side you’re looking the different colours. Just when you thought you know who the real hero and villains are, you end up digging some more and see layers uncover and the same characters change.

Gigi (Natalie Mendoza/Marsha Songcome) turns from hardened and cold to vulnerable, John (Hugh Maynard) from immoral to someone righting the wrongs, The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones) from seedy to simply one of the victims and Ellen (Carolyn Maitland/Siobhan Dillon) becomes the most polarising character of the second act. But my favourite supporting character is Thuy (Sangwoong Jo). You could see all he wanted was to take care of Kim and follow tradition, a trait more empathised with if his temper and his army men didn’t get in the way.

The chemistry between lovers Chris (Chris Peluso) and Kim (Eva Noblezada) is a candle flame that never died. I listened to their cast recording prior to watching and was used to Alistair Brammer’s take, more confused and poetic, but eventually grew to enjoy Peluso’s take on the G.I., who leaned more towards emotionally closed and physically shaken.

So many people still compare Eva Noblezada to Lea Salonga and to be honest, both roles were good and to compare would be an invalid debate. Watching her 2000 Manila performance, Salonga’s Kim is more operatic and always in perfect pitch. Noblezada, on the other hand, manages to jump from a howl of anger and horror to a silky coo with ease. The scenes may take only a few minutes but Noblezada is able to draw you in so close they feel like hours, as if they were real situations and were happening right in front of you.

The girl who smells of orange trees:

After my third time watching their evening performance, I managed to meet Eva Noblezada at stage door and asked whether she could answer some questions for this segment regarding the show and her character, to which she said yes!

miss-saigon3_2900882b

1. What has the two years playing Kim taught you about being a performer and as a person?

I’ve been able to grow as a young woman in life as well as an actress. And playing Kim has taught me many things about maturity, patience and handling anything you can with grace. Because I hadn’t trained professionally, two years of being on the West End have really changed my perspective on EVERYTHING when it comes to performing. Training at its best!

2. You have mentioned in a previous interview that Kim goes through a sort of white swan-black swan transition in the show. How do you manage playing a character that goes through such dark and trying events six shows a week without accidentally taking some of that energy home?

Being an actor is exhausting, especially in this particular show. I do on rare occasion take the emotional baggage home, but my home is quite comfy lol. I tend to have a few minutes in bed, maybe breathing and closing my eyes to relieve myself of all of that energy. Two years has made it much easier.

3. To me, Miss Saigon leaves a lasting message about the many types of love that there is and the trials we must endure when holding onto these, which can eventually make or break us. What message did you get from your first encounter of the show?

Anyone watching Miss Saigon will leave the theatre with specific personal feelings or nostalgic thoughts! Maybe feeling inspired or in love. I was only seventeen when I first read through the script and music. The words that stuck with me were passion and inner truth.

4. Allegience, which is currently playing in Broadway starring George Takei and Lea Salonga, has been somewhat a positive catalyst for Asian performers; do you think the same is happening here in the West End for performers of colour?

Oh yes! I’m so excited for theatre at the moment! So much diversity and dare I say it, change! There are a lot of shows like Memphis and Motown that are giving the West End an edgy feel. Miss Saigon preceded Here Lies Love! Two amazing shows for Asian actors. I didn’t think I’d EVER get a chance to play Eponine, but here I am! Very lucky indeed!

5. And lastly, before you reprise your role as Kim on Broadway (Congratulations!), you’ll be performing as Eponine here in the West End production of Les Mis this coming April. What will you be looking forward to the most on your break before taking on the role?

I am over the moon to be playing Eponine! But before rehearsals start I’ll be in Morocco for eight days at a yoga, spa and surf resort! 🙂 Trying to balance my levels and detox my mind and body. Allowing me a clean slate before taking on a show/role that’s a completely different colour than Miss Saigon!

Web Map:

Eva Noblezada (Twitter): @EvaNoblezada

Miss Saigon: West End website

Miss Saigon (Twitter): @MissSaigonUK

Miss Saigon: The Definitive Live Recording: iTunes UK

Miss Saigon will continue to play in the Prince Edward Theatre until the 27th of February 2016 (27/02/16). Book your tickets on their website here. To get a glimpse of the view from your chosen seat, click on the interactive view on the same page. Happy watching!

– Troy