I Write, and Then I Take Words Away

Young Woman Writing (1908) by Pierre Bonnard

Young Woman Writing (1908) by Pierre Bonnard

6 November 2013
2:59 AM
Manila

M.–

I wanted to ask you these things, too.

Could you talk about your earliest connections to poetry?

I remember starting out with reading Shel Silverstein and Edgar Allan Poe. I learned to read at a very early age–even before I started going to school formally. My family always tells me about how I used to read everything within reach: dictionaries, storybooks, even the phonebook upside down. There wasn’t a lot of poetry lying around in the house–my father was very much into thriller fiction and chess strategies, my mother was into historical romances and other books where women’s bosoms are heaving on the cover.

When I was in elementary and old enough to check out a book from the library, I started devouring works by Doyle, Twain, Dickens, Vernes, Herge, and more. And then one day I chanced upon A Light in the Attic, as well as The Raven. I could still remember the thrill of my discovery. I was very fascinated with the form–I didn’t know people could write in verse! I mean–I grew up listening to nursery rhymes, but this was different. Very different. So I added poetry to my reading, and for the next few years I also found Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Jose Garcia Villa. As for writing, I probably started when I was in high school. Everybody was busy reading Harry Potter; I was busy writing pathetic and angsty poems in a small notebook, ha. It wasn’t anything serious. (Nevertheless, the title of my column for the school paper was Fire and Ice.)

I was more interested, too, in memorising them. My ‘repertoire’ included If— by Rudyard Kipling, Because I could not stop for Death – by Dickinson, O Captain! My Captain! by Whitman, somewhere i have never travelled by cummings, and my favourite at the time, The Face On The Barroom Floor by Hugh Antoine d’Arcy.

Do you maintain a daily writing schedule?

For now, this is it. This place to write letters in, is where I show up with a regularity that I am still thankful I am able to keep. This, and my poetry blog, which I don’t want to think about right now. I am still working on having a schedule–well, working first to get the bitter taste of that word out of my mouth. I am not particularly fond of it, and the feeling that comes after, after I failed to commit. So I guess you could say that failure is a constant, as if it sits side-by-side with my writing, or not writing.

When I was younger I used to admire people who can churn out poem after poem after poem–until a friend revealed to me her own despair at not being like that. Poems are hard, she told me. And I realised that yes, they absolute are.

Your work, then, is closely linked to your personal life?

I think so. In the sense that I fall in love easily with the little details (and strangers, too). This morning it is half of a collar turned up, the ankle of a Matterhorn boot, and a boiled egg. I carry these images around, and I think about them all the time. Then one day they show up in my work, which surprises me sometimes, because a part of me has forgotten, and another part of me rears its head and says, I remember. I try to weave these with a memory, or a particular event that happened where I was in the periphery of things.

Do you think that your idea of happiness differs from most people’s idea of happiness?

Yes, because most of the time I don’t even know what that is, ha. For most people I know, I think happiness for them is getting what they want and needed, as well as being successful. For me, these days (and I am putting emphasis on these days, because I contradict myself all the time), it is accepting that I would never get everything I want. I’ve never been a particularly happy person anyway, so I haven’t any expectations.

How do the activities of writing poetry and writing prose differ for you?

Someone asked me this once, years ago. I didn’t know I had an answer until I was saying it. Up until then I didn’t know that I had been thinking about it. I said, prose (or fiction) is about stamina, while poetry is about restraint. I still believe this. When I’m writing prose, I have to keep at it, keep it up, I mean. I have things to say, and I need to say them, and say them well. With poetry–I am walking a fine line between precision and abstraction. I write, and then I take words away. I write, and then I take words away.

Goodnight,
T.

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