The Poetry and Performance of Riley Palanca

rileypalancaRiley Palanca is a dramatic force of nature.

Over the last year or so, I’ve taken to organizing monthly poetry open mics for an organization called Spoken Word St. John’s and Riley’s performances have routinely been among the highlights of these events. We wanted to share this experience with you all so Secret East teamed up with the poetry group to make it happen.

Secret East TV Presents: Spoken Word at the Log Cabin with Riley Palanca

His performances speak for themselves but after the reading, we decided to sit down with Riley talk poems. It was a lengthy one (in the good way).“I would like to talk a bit about the concept of poetic fathers,” he opened. I had just asked him broadly about poetic inspirations. “Everyone has one. Whether or not people believe in them; whether people shun them, everyone has a poetic father.

“I’m reading a book right now; it’s one of the best poetic anthologies I own. It’s called Poems that make grown men cry. The editors contacted 100 men around the world whether they be directors or writers or whatever; … they contacted 100 men and asked for poems that made them cry. They arranged it in chronological order and right in the middle are Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.”

Riley explained that these two poets are the common ancestors of most modern English poetry. He, of course, has a poetic father and family tree.

“There wouldn’t be modern poetry in English without these two, and in every poet after them, you can see the influence of one or the other or sometimes both,” he said. “You can say that Alan Ginsberg, for example, is obviously drawn from Walt Whitman while someone like Sylvia Plath comes from Emily Dickinson.“My poetic father is Alan Ginsberg as narcissistic as that would sound.”Our discussion then turned from sources and similarities to innovations. What sets each new poet apart from their favourite classics, and where do these mutations come from? Riley explained that his poems after having been introduced to Ginsberg were more clones than children.

“Obviously, the first poems I wrote after that were pretty much almost line by line Howlish: in their meters, with how long the lines were, with the sound patterns,” he said. “Of course, the problem there is that if you get stuck on one poet and if you get too obsessed with one poet, why would anyone want to read you?

“Why would someone want to read you when they could just read Ginsberg? My poems are both a way for me to show my influences and show myself trying to get away from Ginsberg. … I’m trying to see levels of how far I can do beat poetry: spoken word poetry that is in his style but as far away as possible from what he’s talking about.”

What Riley talks about is a long-haul away from the topics of Ginsberg and he outlined some artistic priorities.

“A lot of things have moved me recently. I would like to first confront the idea that poetry is very personal. This is something that I’ve personally have been struggling against: the idea that you write poems and then you leave them in your house,” he said. “ It’s very Emily Dickinsonish: the idea that poems are something you hide; poems are personal; poems are nothing but ‘I love you, I love you; I hate you, I hate you’ but that’s not necessarily true.

“Poetry as an art form is probably more powerful than fiction, more powerful than drama – which is hard for me to say, being primarily a playwright – but the idea that even lyric poetry can be political and that it can talk about social ills and still talk about love can even grow out of a paradigm that is, forgive me for saying, masturbatory and amazing.”

“I will always, personally, salute social poems over the personal ones but, again, that’s just me.”

This is about as good a time as any to talk about Amerika Dos (featured as audio). The poem revolves around horrors plucked form the American news cycle and it struck me at that point in the reading that a lot of his work was depending on dark and grimy imagery (as non-concrete as that is – check it out for yourself, you’ll see what I mean). Our focus shifts, though, to Malate.

Watch Malate in the Secret East TV Session embedded at the top of the article, or click here.

“Between Malate and Amerika Dos, they are both anaphoras to a places.

“I wrote Malate in my first night that I went there.”

Malate is a district of Manila known for its gay bars.

“It was crowded; it was smokey. Perhaps the most memorable of the lines is: ‘Peeing with each other, peeing on each other, peeing on the supernatal, superfabulous exorcised reduction of my existence.’ That was about this cute little thing. In the bathroom at that gay bar, the urinals were facing each other and there was glass wall between them,” he said. “It’s just cool – you have to be able to notice small and stupid things.”

He has another poem (not featured here) in which a friend’s house has two broken driers. “Small and stupid things,” he says.

Riley also has a blog. Check out It has a bunch of stuff on it including a free e-book called A Foolish Journey.

Watch Secret East TV’s Spoken Word at the Log Cabin with Riley Palanca here
Check out the Spoken Word at the Log Cabin audio performances here

2 thoughts on “The Poetry and Performance of Riley Palanca”

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