Twenty-eight years ago during our first Poetry Festival, Lea Salonga, then a senior in the O.B. Montessori High School, won the gold medal reciting “The Vulture’s Eye.” Mercy Soliven-David, OBMC speech consultant, the teachers and students were mesmerized for a good five minutes when Lea transported them to the crazed world of a murderer. Ever since then, this poem by Edgar Allan Poe has been the toughest test of a declamation contest we hold in our four schools. In 2003, Kristine Pascasio, Grade VI, of our Las Pinas branch got the gold medal for her excellent rendition of the same piece. Her parents, both doctors, Jet and Ida Pascasio, were champion orators in high school.
Training the poetic mind
Poetry is essentially an oral art. Young children are especially responsive to it because they share with the poet a free, vivid imagination and the capacity to enjoy words. For them, the sound and rhythm of poetry are an integral part of its meaning. So the speaking of poetry is not only useful vocal practice, it is a means to poetic appreciation.
Poetry is not only a way of saying. It is a way of seeing – a way of looking at the world, and responding to it. It develops the “third eye.” This ability does not belong exclusively to the poet. Almost every child possesses it. His senses are clear, and he has the poet’s knack of relating one impression to another and expressing his experience in imaginative language. For instance, can you see the “orange tree,” the golden sun shining through a small tree, or taste “a jungle full of juicy animals.”
What kills the natural gift of poetry
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Education today has the tendency to ”divorced the word from the image, and have put it under bondage to reason”. We are trained with an analytical view of the world, and a logical, factual interpretation of it.
If we want children “to enjoy poetry and not merely to learn” about poetry, we have to keep alive and foster in them the imagination. We must believe that a sensitive awareness is no less important than a quick factual memory or the power of accurate calculation, and that it deserves as much care and attention. What’s more, we must learn to cultivate it ourselves, and not allow the mechanics of teaching to kill what was once our natural gift.
During our school days, we sang the National Anthem in English so mechanically, that its poetry was lost: “Land of the morning, child of the sun returning, with fervor burning, thee do our souls adore…“ Even its Filipino version is in lyrical Tagalog “Lupang hinirang, duyan ka ng magiting, sa manglulupig, ‘di ka pasisiil…”
Choose poems which you like yourself – not the ones you think you ought to like, because they have been praised as literature. If we do not enjoy a poem, chances are the class won’t either, however much “expression” we use. With poetry, honesty is definitely the best policy. You’ll surely enjoy God’s Minute, author unknown. “I have only one minute. Sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me; can’t refuse it. But it is up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it. Give account if I abuse it. Just a tiny little minute… Ah! But eternity is in it!”
Where can we purchase poetry books? Mercy David recommends, “I gathered my collection for O.B. Montessori from bookstores in New Jersey like Barnes and Nobles, Borders and B. Dalton’s. I visited the difference city libraries to copy poetry and declamation pieces. I selected from my brother, Max Soliven’s columns and from his book of 108 unpublished personal poems written during his high school days (1941-1948), and from great men of our country grouping these for preschool, grade school and high school. As for elocution pieces, I collected some from Max’s speeches, Jose Rizal’s, William Shakespeare’s and various statesmen here and abroad. Below is one of Max’s poem, The Flag”:
Take it: Caress it! Cover it with tears.
It’s your flag and my flag
that holds all hopes and fears.
It stands for a nation,
my country right or wrong
The flag of my people,
a nation ever strong!…
her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko’s love for poetry
On December 2002, while Mercy David was undergoing neuro-surgery, which she never expected, her main concern was the 40 poems she chose for the Poetry Festival 2003. In her high school and college days, she herself was a consistent gold medalist in oratorical contests in St. Paul and St. Theresa’s College. Later, she assisted Fr. Reuter in the Ateneo Dramatic Guild.
Mercy David who married a Cebuano, Engr. Mariano David, followed her husband who was assigned to the Ambuklao Dam project in Baguio, where two of her nine children were born. Finally, they settled in Maluso, Basilan, where her husband cultivated 80 hectares of rubber trees for the David family farm. When the rubber trees were matured, Martial Law broke out and so their children evacuated to Manila for further studies. Meantime yearly, they would receive gold and silver medals in Ateneo de Zamboanga and Pilar College.
When her only daughter, Marites David-Ramos worked in Tokyo, Mercy David would baby-sit for her first grandchild, then later her second. Nuns at the Sherayuri College for Women (an exclusive Catholic school) in Tokyo would involve Mercy during their poetry festivals where she met then Her Imperial Highness Princess Michiko. Their love for poetry became a strong bond to the extent that Princess Michiko would invite her to Togu Palace during her annual visits to Japan where they recited English poetry together. Later, Mercy was invited to the Imperial Palace when the princess became the Empress.
‘Keep a poem in your pocket’
“Keep a poem in your pocket” is the title of a poem but Mercy David uses it often to remind the parents whose children she coaches for the contest, “Parents of our young ones should absolutely voice record their children’s delivery so that they would hear themselves and improve on their recording. Three copies of the poem or declamation piece should promptly be made – one for the parents, one for pasting on the assignment notebook and one to carry in their shirt pockets. Just remember! Keep a poem in your pocket!”
“Meantime, I make sure the teachers would explain first the meaning of the poem, its message and background. Two weeks are given for students to commit it to memory. If I am here, since I only come from New Jersey from November to the end of January, I personally coach the students, giving one day for Sta. Ana and another for Las Pinas branches during the week. I try to go to Angeles, Pampanga to supervise the poetry and elocution practices.”
What poetry teachers and students should do
even during the first year recitation in 1987, poetry had caught fire with both parents and students. “As their trainor,” Mrs. David emphasizes, “each student must observe six pointers: Doing the curtsy, gracefully or bowing like a gentleman, observing a few seconds of pauses between stanzas and five second pause at the end of the speech before saying ‘I thank you,’ a change of voice when needed and a few unobtrusive steps to the front or side while reciting have become important parts of the graded recitation.”
“Teachers and students should mark out the phrases that need emphasis. The teachers should read aloud the selection showing them how to project their voices. One should consult the dictionary when in doubt about pronunciation. Appropriate gestures should accompany the recitation of the poems and declamations. When talking about something in one direction, one should consistently point to the same direction. Smiling should set you in a pleasant mood. A pause of five seconds should come after saying the title, author and curtsying or bowing. Eye contact with the audience is important to establish rapport – looking at the far end, then right, left and front. Teachers should coach their respective students daily in front of the class, while at home parents and siblings would be the audience.”
Poems can lift a grieving heart
Poems are not always sweet and happy, nor a courageous call to arms. Half of the time, they soothe broken hearts especially those who have lost their loved ones. Here is the poem, ‘God Saw You Were Getting Tired’, which was selected for Engineer Bong Alterado by his brother.
Bong was an O.B. Montessori loyalty student from preschool to high school, who recently passed away at 29 after a painful ailment, which lingered for two weeks. His mother, Nita was a former cook at the school canteen, while his father, Nards looked after the supplies of Ristorante La Dolce Fontana. After graduating from Mapua Institute of Technology and passing the board exams, Bong was hired by Ayala Land as technical assistant for Glorietta 4 and Greenbelt. After almost three years, he worked at Fort Bonifacio Real Estate Corporation as their Building Administrator.
God saw you were getting tired,
And a care was not to be,
And whispered, ‘Come to me.’
With tearful eyes we watched you,
And saw you pass away.
Although we loved you dearly,
We could not make you stay.
A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands at rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us,
That He loves His children best.