Marjorie Evasco joins the Olympics of poetry

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2012 - 12:00am


STAR: What poetry works of yours will you be bringing? Any particular message that you intend to put across in your talks and in your choice of works to be presented?

MARJORIE EVASCO: I will be reading new poems in Cebuano and English, as well as poems in the books which will be available in the festival. As I mentioned in the interview with Steven Fowler, I would like to impress upon the audience that Philippine literature has a rich and varied poetry tradition, ranging from the living oral poetry tradition in the ethnic communities, to the contemporary tradition of writing poetry in the major languages of the archipelago, including English. 

What other international poetry events or festivals have you been part of in recent years, and what was your experience in each one?

The first festival I attended was in 1997 in Vancouver. This was followed by Wordfeast of Poetry in Singapore in 2004, the Hong Kong Literary Festival of 2006, the 2008 Medellin Festival Internacional de Poesia in Colombia, the Sydney Writers Festival in 2009, the 2010 Granada Festival Internacional de Poesia in Nicaragua, the 2010 Ubud Literary Festival in Bali, Indonesia, and the 2012 Vietnam International Poetry Festival in Ha Long and Hanoi. All these festivals actively encouraged the pursuit of the pleasure of the art of reading and listening to poetry. I read new poems to test the way they sound to live audiences. I also read poems which are already in my books that the festival makes available to readers interested to get their own copies. If some members of the audience come to me after the reading to talk about their interest in Philippine Literature, then my message would have reached them clearly and successfully.   

 Could you describe the effect such participation has had on you as a Filipino writer?

These festivals have a way of emphasizing a poet’s constant dialogue with the world and its writers and thinkers. When a poet meets her contemporary in, say, Chile or Vietnam, the dialogue becomes engaged in a very personal way. And with our present means of communication, it is possible for me to discuss matters of consequence and common interest even after the festival is over. We also actively exchange new work, which to me is a wondrous thing.    

 Before the Parnassus, what would you consider as the most interesting, challenging, inspiring poetry festival you have been to?

The poets who have been to the Medellin Festival Internacional de Poesía would agree with me that it is special because of its audiences. The big opening and closing poetry readings can gather as many as 5,000 to 8,000 people. And all of them have strong listening skills. When some of them come to you to speak to you or ask you to sign their Memorias, they’d say a line or two from your poem which they liked! It was heartwarming experience. I wanted to bring these audiences back home. Also, they had kids in the readings! I met a little boy who came up to me and asked if we could have a photo taken. His Mom, who took the photo said that the boy loves poetry! We need to develop such audiences for poetry here. 

 In your own words: “The solitary aspect of writing poetry is still central to my process, but the journey beyond home and nation to experience other cultures and share my work with (other) audiences…is part of the reward of writing.” Would you then encourage Filipino writers to aspire to join more poetry festivals, conferences and writing programs abroad?

Poets of the world: Marjorie Evasco (second from left) at the Poets’ Festival Village, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, with Nguyen Bao Chan (Vietnam), Alvin Pang (Singapore) and TJ Dema (Botswana)

It is good to practice one’s art not only in the context of the local, but also in the context of the world. And festivals are meeting points, charged venues and times, where the best poems can be exchanged and appreciated. Festivals are about diverse styles and cultural tonalities. There is no danger here of homogenizing the different ways of writing, with one dominant group dictating how poetry should be written, or what styles should be encouraged. The openness in the festivals is certainly something that a writer can experience and put in place as a healthy attitude for one’s growth in the art. And an appreciation of differences in writing styles is a basic attitude of respect one writer can give to another. 

 Apart from the official literary events related to the Parnassus, do you have other commitments to do other public readings in the UK lined up?

All my events will be held at the Southbank Centre. But there are other activities that I hope to participate in which will bring poetry to public parks, schools, village corners, and other places. After the festival, my daughter Mary Ann and I will take a pilgrimage to Canterbury, in honor of Geoffrey Chaucer and Christopher Marlowe.

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