Regie Cabico offers advice on tackling his craft. “If you don’t know what to write, write a poem,” he says. “Things that you could never tell your mother, things you could never tell your father, and a lot will come out.” Cabico, who calls himself an “accidental poet,” specializes in slam poetry, a genre that requires performers to orate everything from original short stories to raps in just three passion-filled minutes. While Cabico’s performances have earned him awards at national poetry slams and representation in more than 30 anthologies, poetry wasn’t always his obvious calling.
Cabico grew up in a conservative Filipino-American family in Maryland, where his queer identity was rare in a mostly white and African-American neighborhood. Struggling to find a place in his community, he turned to theater as a space where he could explore self-expression. After graduating from NYU with a focus in acting, however, Cabico had difficulty booking roles. Desperation drove him to explore other ways of performing, like open mics or standup comedy, and he eventually stumbled into the emerging scene of poetry slams, a competitive performance where the audience acts as judge and critic.
“A poetry slam becomes poetry for the people decided by the people and so you’re changing your idea of what a poem can be because it’s happening live and it becomes a sport,” says Cabico. “People who find themselves at poetry slams are usually at the end of their rope,” he says. “And then they find a community and so it opens up so many doors.”
Cabico’s poems often address his experiences with racial discrimination or homophobia through subtly devastating lines like “…as a gust of cherry blossoms tumble on my skull.” In 2010, he founded Capturing Fire, a three-day international poetry festival for queer-identifying writers with the goal of encouraging more discussions and awareness about the queer experience.
Regie recently joined the Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast host Lizzie Peabody for an in studio exclusive live performance and even offered some poetic cooking tips from the annals of American history.
This August, he will also be participating in the 2019 Asian American Literature Festival hosted by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. From August 2 through 4, writers will gather to share and expand knowledge about Asian-American literature with events including a queer “literaoke” (a combination of literary readings and karaoke) and readings of lesser-known poets who were influential in building the Asian-American literary culture.
The 2019 Asian American Literature Festival takes place at Eaton DC, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler Galleries August 2 through August 4, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Regie Cabico will be performing at Verbal Fire: an Asian American Spoken Word Showcase on August 2, and at Queer Literaoke on August 3. Cabico will host Queerification: A Capturing Fire Asian American Reading of Queer Writers on August 4, 2019.
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