intern@Kapisanan: Tanaga, the Filipino Haiku

By CitizenMars, Events Planning Intern Len Cervantes at this year's PSL

Poetry, written poetry, is in our blood. The first recorded piece of literature found in the Philippines was in the mid 1500s by Spanish friars, documenting their observations on life and culture amongst the tribal Filipinos. To put it into a more macroscopic perspective, that was only the first recorded discovery of Filipino poetry. That means our (Filipino) ancestors were poets long before that! And not just through word of mouth either. It was all written in an old and ancient script called alibata.

PSL workshop attendees.

This was the opener for PSL 2010, Poetry is Our Second Language, facilitated by none other than Len Cervantes, a true modern-day poet, well-versed in history and rhyme. Len’s class was not just a workshop. It was a journey of self discovery of both one's (my) self and through my (Filipino) cultural roots and heritage. It was a great way to teach poetry to a beginner. He first presented the history of our (Filipino) poetry, helped us discover the poet inside of us, then guided us through inspiration and example on how to put our blood into words, metaphorically speaking of course.

“The best way to keep an art form alive is to practice it,” Len said.

Lining up to present their poems.

And this is what PSL is all about. It opens up the hearts and minds of those willing to participate and curious enough to learn, and fosters a spirit of experience sharing and wordplay through an ancient art form, poetry; more specifically, Tanaga, the Filipino Haiku.

Four lines. Seven syllables per line. Each verse expressing a thought or feeling in an AAAA rhyme scheme. It’s actually more difficult than it sounds. It’s a beautiful structural paradigm of complexity through simplicity, how a mere 4 lines can invoke such powerful energy of thought and emotion. That was our practical session of the workshop, to compose a Tanaga. And through this immersion into poetry, one couldn’t help but respect and admire the Tanaga, and the poets who composed them.

Workshop attendees presenting their Tanagas

During this practical portion, we were tasked to create a Tanaga using a specific theme (the appreciation of nature). After we had composed the Tanaga, Len had us recite them to each other, putting us in an order that made all the Tanagas flow as if it were one piece. Each of us became a verse to a whole.

It was no easy task, and at the end, like all art forms, it takes lots of practice to even come close to perfection. But overall it was an enjoyable experience, and Len’s class definitely made you hungry for more.

Join us this week for the next session of PSL where Len will be introducing the topic of epic poetry, with a guest speaker Word Mason.