Literary Readings on a Chilly Wednesday Eve

Literary Readings on a Chilly Wednesday Eve 
By Walter Ang
February 10, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

On a chilly Wednesday evening last week, a friend and I trundled over to Cafe Caribana in Malate to catch a poetry reading session. After climbing up a winding staircase, we settled ourselves in a table near the performance area. (We knew it was the performance area because there was a large radio casette player sitting ceremoniously on top of a stool.)

We got there a tad early so we passed some time by drinking in the mustard yellow walls, warmly cast in the glow of several bamboo lighting fixtures. We proceeded to trace out the map design on the floor. I spied the names Cuba and Haiti and wondered what country our table was situated on top of.

Short Poems
When the second floor finally seemed to settle in with its fill of people, the session kicked off with lifestyle columnist and television personality Karen Kunawicz. Striding up to the stool in an all black outfit, she promptly shared several short poems she'd composed. I especially liked one very short poem that went, "Oh Jimmy Hendrix/Let me be your guitar."

She went on to read a poem which I thought very apt since Valentine's Day was coming up. The poem she read was included in her book "On the Verge" and it listed down answers to the question: What is the sound of one heart breaking? I found myself wanting to find out the answer to that question much the same way I wanted to find out the answer to a question I gleaned from the Disney movie Pocahontas: What is the color of the wind?

In the open forum that followed, she discussed, among other things, her background as a writer and what inspires her to write (a list that included the tombs found in the San Agustin Church). She acknowledged that her passion for writing is ultimately what drives her to keep at it.

Required Reading
When the next reader was introduced, the host referred to him as "Frankie". Who would've thought that the Frankie who stood up from his unassuming corner turned out to be the F. Sionil Jose most students know, if not for anything else, because of required reading in school. Students are also probably taught that he's the most internationally known and translated Filipino author, with a series of novels and short fiction collections.

He proceeded to relate an incident where he witnessed another author read his own works, but unfortunately, not with successful results. He's vowed since then never to read his works in public and so passed the job on to the host.

After a spirited reading of an excerpt from his book, "Three Filipino Women," questions from the audience were gamely answered. He shared his past, recounting many events that were serious, like cheating death during the second World War, and some that were downright funny like his futile search for an opium pipe in Chinatown. Finally, he challenged the audience, especially aspiring writers, to amass for themselves a wealth of experiences as he had done.

More Sessions
Before the event wrapped up, we found out that there would be more poetry reading sessions in the coming weeks. Succeeding sessions would also pair a poet with a fictionist. This particular session was part of a series sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in cooperation with the Philippine Literary Arts Council.

The setting was intimate enough to keep everyone focused on the reading but relaxed enough so that no one would have traumatic flashbacks of horribly boring classroom discussions about dead poets. One of the good (or bad) things about the whole event was that if it had gotten boring at anytime, you could've ordered something to inebriate yourself, then the evening wouldn't have been a total waste.

The two authors who were featured for the evening were held in very high esteem. When they were introduced, flashbulbs popped all over the place. Some people were even lining up to have their photo ops with them. It felt like watching teenyboppers drool over a hot rock band, only this time, the rock stars wielded pens instead of guitars.