1. You are a poetry editor for HaluHalo Journal and a graduate of literature from the University of Santo Tomas. How has writing played a role in your life? What initially drew you to poetry?
When I was an undergrad in literature, I came from a background primarily founded on fiction. Going into the academe, I had initially thought I would formulate my bachelor’s dissertation on fiction, too. It wasn’t until I met my friend Eli, who at the time empathized with my reservations with poetry and its many forms, introduced me to poetry written by Filipinos. They sent me a list of readings containing, mostly, a poem or two per writer. Because I loved Eli, I read all of them, and I encountered and experienced the poems the way one might peel open and eat fruit. It turns out I really loved poetry, and to echo something John Green said in the debut video of Ours Poetica, many of us have loved poetry for a long time, we just didn’t know it yet.
Poetry, fiction, and the literary essay all share the same literary tools, and the deeper you are in reading the more you realize the boundaries between them are thin. It was poetry that moved me the most because of the bizarre and sometimes obscure forms you find them in. My first encounter with poetry is through the form of exam sheets and prayers, poems with lines that reappear and disappear. I’m always excited about poetry because of how deeply it can be contained within itself: the pronouns shift metaphysically, you can put yourself in the footprint of the persona and the apostrophe, often the addressee or the “you”, can be anyone you want it to be.
2. How has your relationship with writing evolved over the years?
It was mostly a journey of scribbling prose on the back of notebooks and word files until I made a decision to take poetry seriously in university. I used to not make such a big deal of writing, and in most cases I think this relationship of neutrality with writing is echoed with everyone else. When I was in undergrad I realized how deeply underread I was, and in an attempt to remedy this I read insatiably. I wasn’t thinking about writing at all, but I kept bouncing between books and, later on, would start repeating phrases or sentences I made in my head. In a way I think this is also writing. So I was writing while washing dishes or cleaning or running. In front of the screen, that’s when I started laying out the words in my head. I think writing is a response to the different literatures you’ve encountered, and I think it’s healthy to read more than to write.
1. You are a prose writer for HaluHalo Journal. How has writing played a role in your life? Why prose writing?
Like most writers, I began as a reader. I particularly loved Dork Diaries as a child, which would inspire me to begin writing through my own journals. As a scholar of creative writing at the Philippine High School for the Arts, writing and literature are a staple not just of my hobbies, but also my responsibilities as a student. Four out of seven days of the week, we write, read, and workshop with both fellow teens and writing mentors from all over the country. I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say writing is intertwined with my life.
Though I’ve dabbled in songwriting and poetry before, prose writing remains the companion I return to over and over again. Maybe it’s the way I was raised to view the former two, but prose has always been less intimidating for me. Writing prose didn’t require as much scrutiny of form or rhyme. Prose left me free to explore without the pressures of conforming to what I’d been taught it should be because prose, as a whole, is so broad. Though she was referring to nonfiction, this quote from Annie Dillard sums it up best: “prose can also carry meaning in its structures and, like poetry, can tolerate all sorts of figurative language, as well as alliteration and even rhyme...it can handle discursive ideas and plain information as well as character and story. It can do everything.”
Regardless of where we end up, we need to start somewhere. For most, that will be prose. And whether or not we stay with prose, its variety is what has always made it welcoming to anyone and everyone to me, wherever they may be in their writing.
2. You are a queer teenage writer living in the Philippines. Does your identity affect your work? If so, how?
I feel like it would be disingenuous to say it didn’t. Even if I tried my best to divorce my identity from my writing—which I have no interest in doing—it is inevitable that it will be read through a socio-political context. As a writer from the Philippines, the fact that I write is already something that spotlights my identity. In a society and literary canon which has silenced queer, Filipina voices, to speak is itself an act of resistance.
Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge how identity has shaped my ability to write in the first place. In the Philippines, fluency is a luxury, and as an English-language writer, I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for the economic privilege that enabled me to pursue writing. My privilege has influenced my work as much as my marginalization has. Whether it’s bigotry from fellow Filipinos when I write about queerness, or being heralded as the be-all, end-all perspective on Philippine society by foreign readers, a marginalized identity forces me to confront a myriad of challenges beyond the page. However, writing openly has also helped me find a community of writers and readers who appreciate the joy of creation despite our struggles. I wouldn't have it any other way.