The Poetics & Physics of Hugot, with Juan Miguel Severo

Book Reviews

Hugot — a word that has reached critical mass, a Filipino word that connotes emotional vulnerability, a word that directly translates “to pull out” or “to draw out.”

Hugot is undeniable in a culture that upholds the harmony of a group foremost, as opposed to speaking out on things that troubles one’s self. It thrives in societies where it is more acceptable to keep it all in, to hold all of it in — whether it is pain, loss, disappointment or heartache — because to create a ripple on the surface is more embarrassing.

It is drawn deep from the emotional ground of the self, where it is carefully kept, nurtured well by similar experiences. It takes root in the heart, plants itself in the mind, until it becomes one with the body. The body holds it closely.

And then it comes out — in the most inopportune times: while watching a movie, after seeing a happy couple at a park, in the middle of a poem.

It bears the undeniable mark of hurt, usually masked with a joke. With a tinge of nostalgia, or bitterness.

This is where Juan Miguel Severo comes in, touted as the “Hugot Boy” or “Hugot King.” My first introduction to Severo like many, was through a video that went viral: 

This video of Severo performing a spoken word piece in Tagalog is electric. It is fire. It is the first of its kind that I’ve ever seen, as a lover of poetry and an avid fan of spoken word poets like Saul Williams, Aja Monet and Kai Davis.

It is also undoubtedly rife with hugot (hugot lines as many would claim) to which I declare: Wrap me up in all of it, please. I am that tender-hearted Pinay who feels safest/happiest in places where emotions are deep, raw and unbridled.

In his debut collection of poetry Habang Wala Pa Sila: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig, I reveled in the intimacy and vulnerability of poems. The book was a pasalubong (along with other books) from my parents after a trip to the Philippines over the summer.

And it wasn’t until my trip to Puerto Rico on the last week of August that I was finally able to immerse myself in it — at Culebra nonetheless, an island off of the main island of Puerto Rico 17 miles away:

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Playa Flamenco (Culebra, Puerto Rico)

It’s been awhile since I read Filipino literature, and there are only a few poems in Tagalog that I remember clearly: Maria Lorena Barros’s and from a collection of political poems called Poetika/Politika.