14 March 2009

Manila Times column for 15 March 2009: ‘Berso sa Metro’ and the poetic commute

original post here.

By Libay Linsangan Cantor
‘Berso sa Metro’ and the poetic commute

The new project of Instituto Cervantes called “Berso sa Metro” is an interesting way of bringing poetry closer to a lot of people via the train transit stations in the Metro.

The Spanish cultural center thought of selecting a number of Spanish poems and translating them into Filipino. Both the Spanish and Filipino versions are then printed side by side and placed inside the EDSA-traversing trains, atop the display area where commercial ads are usually placed. The poetry displays are jazzed up by nice photographs and cool graphics that catch the attention of commuters. It’s an interesting way of spreading literature on a daily basis, reminding people of the beauty of words as they speed to their destinations. Imagine being inspired in between stations by poets such as Pablo Neruda or Luis Cernuda. Our very own Filipino writers who wrote in Spanish are also featured such as Jose Rizal and Claro M. Recto.

This is not the first time poetry came in contact with commuters. Last year, the National Book Development Board launched the “Tulaan sa Tren” project that displayed Filipino poetry at the LRT line 2, the one that ran the Aurora Boulevard route. There was also an audio component to it, as celebrities recorded poetry readings and these were played back over the speakers inside the train.

But before these efforts, I think I first saw this kind of “poetic commute” in a simpler form—inside a jeepney. A few years back, I remember riding the UP Diliman Ikot jeeps where I noticed a short bond-sized paper covered in plastic and hung at the inner end of the jeepney, at the back area of the driver. The paper had a simple printout of a poem, and the name of the poet was printed below it as well, together with the organization that sponsored the project. It was just that simple, but it was also effective, as people became curious enough to read the poem. I guess that is what the “Berso sa Metro” and “Tulaan sa Tren” projects hoped to achieve as well—to get people to read poetry.

It’s great that many institutions are now spreading poetry via public transportation displays. The average Filipino spends a lot of time traveling, commuting from their place of work to their homes. Efforts such as these are a welcome diversion, not to mention a way for people to appreciate literature more, appreciate poems better, and appreciate literary writers as well. I hope we see more of these kinds of projects in the future.

Comments? Suggestions? E-mail libay.scribevibe@gmail.com.

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