Sinangån-ta: Our spoken word

Sinangån-ta Poetry Slam traces its beginnings to the collaborative effort of three Chamorros imbued with a burning desire to cultivate spoken word among the island community. With a wish to spit conscious poetry and the realization that a regular venue for poetry slams had yet to be established on Guam, Melvin Won Pat-Borja, Kie Susuico, and Jovan Tamayo set out to create this space, where local lyricists would find recognition and appreciation among a willing audience.

The three consulted with Jay “Sinångan” Pascua and decided that the word sinangån-ta, which organizers translate as “our spoken words,” was a fitting description for the intent of the slams.

The purpose for this monthly event is not simply for show, but to provide the community with a forum for mutual education and free expression, to resurrect the art of poetry and place it into a lively setting. Citing an oral tradition that dates back nearly 5,000 years, Susiuco explained the concept of sinangån-ta as a modern form of storytelling rooted in indigeneity, a link to the customs and beliefs of the first peoples to settle these islands now known as the Marianas.

Susuico has a preference for the conscious pieces, the poems about resistance sovereignty. While storytelling been a part of Chamorro heritage, the Sinangån-ta Poetry Slam is also a way of creating Guam’s history in the now.

The main goal of Sinangån-ta Poetry Slam is to encourage youth participation through writing workshops and the eventual formation of a slam team that will be enabled to compete at the annual U.S. National Poetry Slam Finals.

Since 2007 the Sinangån-ta Poetry Collective has conducted outreach events at John F. Kennedy High School, Southern High School, the University of Guam, the Micronesian Youth Services Network 2008 Conference, and Sanctuary, Inc. helping to develop an island community of conscious writers.

In 2008 Sinangån-ta Poetry Slam was awarded a grant by the Guam Humanities Council to initiate “Spoken Word: the New Generation of Native Tongues”, a free after-school writing program for youth. Though it is but one drop in a spoken word movement that has found popularity worldwide, Sinangån-ta Poetry Slam has managed to blaze a pathway for island poetry enthusiasts seeking a place to practice this unique form of art.

Those attracted to the power of the spoken word are invited to participate, whether they be singers, songwriters, ‘emcees’, dancers, actors, novelists, storytellers.

A slam is an interactive event that showcases poetry and its crucial component, performance. Although a slam may vary from time to time, its basic structure consists of an open mike, guest performers, and a competition.

Poets who want to compete in the slam register on a sign-up sheet and must adhere to a set of rules:

• The poet must perform original writing.
• The poet may not use props, costumes, or musical instruments.
• If the poet exceeds the three minute time limit, points are deducted from his or her score.

Five members from the audience are randomly picked to serve as judges and score each poet on a scale of one to ten. The three highest scoring poets move to a second-round finals to determine who is worthy of being deemed slam champion. Ultimately, it is the content, the style of poetry, and the performances that make or break a slam.

The fact that the audience can be actively involved by making noise if they hear something that they like or dislike evokes the system of call and response that is characteristic of Chamorro oral narration, challenging all participants to listen and to think critically.

By Fanai Castro

Poetry Slam samples

It’s Not Love…

When I was 13 I experienced loss before love
and for that I never stepped up to love’s challenge
since then I have been running from it,
and now I can feel it catching up and
its breath on my neck
but I am too scared to turn around.

Though my back is towards love
my face is facing you and
all I can see are stars around my head
like I have fallen.

All I can feel are butterflies in my tummy,
not like the first day of kinder, but the day before that.
I look at you and I see laughter in my day
even though im being robbed of my roots
by this new way of living.

I cannot breathe when I am with you
I cannot breathe when im without you
it feels as if i have died and gone to heaven
and all the angels want to take my hand
but the only one I want to hold hands with is you
when I am with you, my world stops and turns the
other way making more sense and being senseless
at the same time, if that made any sense at all…

When I talk to you my words are all jumbled inside
me and it is just amazing how you hear it so clearly
when it comes out.

Some would say I am too young to fall in love
but time is running out and the more
I live the shorter life gets and plus,
it does not take a rocket scientist to know you
love someone.

I think its very strange how people ask,
‘How do you know when you’re in love?’
Hello? It’s the same way you know when you need the bathroom
you feel it..

You can say all you want that I don’t
know what I am talking about but remember
not every scientist knows why h2o is water
not every mathmetician knows why pi is 3.14
not every english teacher know why i comes before e
except after c it’s like
what the heck makes all the other letters so special
that c has to be excluded.

Where I am going here is that
not all of us always know what we
are talking about, but that is no reason
to not speak at all.

Maybe I do not understand love but hey
I don’t understand 99 percent of the things
our leaders are doing to us so
what the heck makes love any harder to have in life
but just to shut people up
and get them off my back.

I will not call this love, no..
this is you and I, or me and you
however the heck they fit to see it
all they need to know is that
it is us against them
because I have your back
and you have mine
and even though I have never stepped
up to the challenges of love
all that time I have been running I have seen other relationships
fall and I have learned what not to do to you.

And now it is catching up and
I can feel its breath on my neck
but since I am standing
face to face with you
I don’t have to worry about
turning around……..

By J-Rae Tedtaotao

Mine

He’s thinking I double crossed him, that I went behind his back
But how can he think a sort of thought when I told him straight out like that
I made it a rule to respect every person I came across and we crossed
paths since back in the day

And I’m sorry if my pursuit of happiness ushered a bond to be broken
because this bond was bound to be made
To an extent I’m ashamed
But what people need to realize is that this girl has got me amazed

And I choose not to let this go because it feels too great
I want that chance to see two people look at each other in that certain way
Actors in a comedic romance do on the big screen
I want to take that opportunity that just falls on your lap, wrapped
in red wrap and you got to rip it open because it’s the only way to react

That opening you see but wasn’t trying to see but when it was seen
you had to stick yourself in because if you didn’t,
someone else would have
and you’d be left saying, “that could have been me”

That hand; I’m taking it because I have a reputation,
but not one for the public to see
It’s a private image of myself carefully constructed in my head by me
That image involves me having a big smile on my face, being happy
It involves my heart beating so fast that I can’t feel it beating at all
That image involves me having to carry a burden because I know I’ll
get criticized for being with her, I’ll have my back up against another wall

But I don’t care because she’s worth it.
She’s what I call that breath of fresh air that everybody needs
She’s my light in the dark corners that illuminate my streets
She’s super
And all I have left is one question
But just so you know the purpose of this poem was to get you to listen
And Sim, I hope I’ve got your attention

Would you give me the chance to be your man, to take your hand and
walk with you through a bit of this life
To tame your troubles through turmoil and strife
To make you angry, after you’re done working at ColdStone and smell of
ice cream at the end of the night
To say silly things just so we’d fight?

But don’t worry, because I’ll do more than make you mad
I promise I’ll be the one of the best guys you’ll ever have
I’ll make you happy. You see that smile stretched across your face,
I promise to try and keep it there
I’ll do all the simple and complicated things to show that I care

And I’ll even deal with the pain when you’re in pain from your
menstrual cramps and pounding headaches.
I’ll deal with you falling asleep on me when we’re texting each other
at night because I understand that you’re tired

When you’re sick I’ll drive all the way from Dededo to Tamuning just
to throw some Campbell’s chicken noodle soup into a pot on a fire and
pretend I knew how to cook and got the recipe from a book
I’ll understand that you’re a hard working woman and work demands a
lot and you won’t have all the time in the world for me
It only means I’ll have to be an even harder working man and not be
overly demanding

I can see that you’re this much of a woman, and your family expects
this much from you which means I’ll only be getting this much of you
But I’d rather have that than nothing at all

And I’ll deal with your little self slinging harsh words at me at
times when I don’t even deserve ‘em and at times when I probably do.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I want things official because
when things are official they’re more meaningful, and meaning is what
I see in you.

I’ll come out with it plainly, and I hope I come out with it right
Sim Jeia Rose Bareng Quinzon, what would you say if I asked you to
give me the honor of officially calling you mine?

By J.N. Sarmiento

Poetry Slam (4) Video Samples

“Legend” by Carlos Anderson and John Sarmiento
“Jewelry” by John Sarmiento
“Letter to the President” by Shane Salas and Jrae Tedtaotao
“Catharsis” by Vicente Salas