I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Corin B. Arenas
is an audiophile and ghostwriter based in the Philippines. Her poems have been published in The Achieve of, The Mastery: Volume II Filipino Verse and Poetry from mid ‘90s-2016 (2018), Tremble: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize Anthology (2016), The Silliman Journal (2013), and The Philippines Graphic Magazine (2010). She released her last chapbook “Out of Time in December 2019.
Corin studied in Miriam College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. She attended the 18th IYAS National Writers Workshop in 2018, and the 52nd Silliman University National Writers Workshop in 2013 as a fellow for poetry. She completed an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
“Mute Ode” on YouTube
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Many things can inspire me to write poetry. These could be anything from a haunting memory, rock music, paintings, and places, all the way to my daily commutes, love (or lack thereof), or my cat. My impulse to write is driven by my desire to write poems that make me (and hopefully, my reader) feel alive. Lots of things can deaden our sense of humanity these days. Poems are a reminder of the best (and worst) aspects of our selves.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Like many people, my first introduction to poetry was in school. However, I don’t think I really learned enough about poetry until I stepped into college. I believe most of us start with the notion that poetry always needs to rhyme and have meter. While learning these formal aspects is a good start (I would argue very essential), the early years of my education hardly taught me anything about the value of poetry.
Basically, back then, reading old poetry seemed like a tedious chore to me. I used to ask myself, why should I read things that sound deep but do not make sense (at least at first)? I did not find it enjoyable. In hindsight, it did not help that I wasn’t such an enthusiastic reader. As embarrassing it is to admit, reading used to bore me. I was more interested in visual art.
I only began to appreciate contemporary free verse poetry in college. A literature professor introduced our class to poems by Mary Oliver, Lisel Mueller, Eric Gamalinda, Robert Hass, and Mark Strand. Since then, I remember constantly seeking to read good poetry.
I guess you could say reading poems made me more receptive to the nuances of the world. It helped me navigate through emotions and ideas that I found too complex to grasp or articulate. It made me pay attention and give things a closer look, withholding judgment. The more I read good poetry, the more I learn about myself (there are many things people would rather not confront directly) and the world beyond me. Inevitably, these experiences encouraged me to study poetry-writing.
3. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I think being new (in any field) makes anyone feel like an outsider. And when you are new, this dominating presence affects how we feel about that field.
Some older poets may exude such dominating presence without even trying. Meanwhile, there are others who really go the extra mile to make their presence felt. In any case, I think the more important question is how this dominating presence can help or impede younger writers and the entire writing community. Ideally, I personally think their presence should inspire the production of good literature.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
To be honest, I do not write poetry daily. I only have several ideas throughout the week that carry the potential to become poems. That said, I am far from prolific.
However, I would like to say work keeps me from completely neglecting writing as a discipline. I write for a living—the daily grind challenges me to confront all sorts of ideas on the page. It’s a world apart from writing literary pieces, but I don’t treat this process any different. We just have different objectives for what we write. Writing is writing, whether it’s a health article, magazine feature, poem, or novel. We must do the work to bring any piece to life.
5. What motivates you to write?
Keeping my inner life alive is a good motivator. Writing poetry allows me to process my thoughts and have satisfying realizations. It’s my way of trying to disconnect from the noise of the modern world.
Writing allows me to escape, have a safe inner space, and let’s me come back a bit more grounded. I believe this offers a kind of therapy from issues I cannot look at directly in the real world.
Through writing, I try to find a poetic voice that captures how I deal with deeply personal concerns, such as loneliness and grief, impermanence, and not having enough time. I am also motivated when I have a deep urgency to communicate an idea that I find almost impossible to explain. I think of it as a tool to keep entropy at bay. I try to write when I feel the need to process things that move or disturb me.
6. What is your work ethic?
I try to do the best I can with the time I have. That said, I usually take a long time to write a poem. Some pieces take years, and I understand I cannot force them to end. I think the writing process bids us to constantly negotiate our formal choices and how language reinforces or obscures meaning. There are times a poem is immediately clear to me. But most of the time, the writing process itself helps me figure out what it is I am giving voice to on the page. I only really write what I know. But I do so with the hope that I will learn more things beyond myself.
I have a lot of work on the drawing board. I try to hold off submitting poems that are not yet close to what I envision. Having a definitive deadline helps, of course. Otherwise, I know I suffer from over-editing, or even the complete opposite of trying to improve. There are no shortcuts.
I draw inspiration from other writers’ creative journey. And like many writers, I’ve fallen into the trap of comparing myself with others. However, at the end of the day, I know I have to be satisfied with my own work. For the most part, I learned that no amount of affirmation from other writers can help me if 1) I do not do proper work, 2) and if I cannot stand by my work.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think most of the writers I read when I was younger (Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, etc.) influenced me to become introspective and to cultivate a world of my own. They taught me to examine my thoughts and take time to ponder emotions and ideas. At the beginning, I think I was merely copying their style or how they wrote. But eventually, I learned to navigate through my own ideas and to develop my own voice without feeling the need to sound like older poets.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
One of the poets I admire is teacher and activist Carolyn Forché. I think I am drawn to her work because they possess a sense of urgency. I also appreciate the fact that she takes years, even decades, to publish a new book. It makes me think she prioritizes living over writing, while actually trying to publish good literature. Another poet I admire is Ilya Kaminsky. Like Forché, he does not rush to publish a new book. When I read his work, I immediately sense his poems speak to the people of the time. I tend to admire writers who produce lived poems.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I write because it is a solitary activity. I take pleasure in my solitude and I like the idea of autonomy. It is an art form that does not need collaboration. Writing only requires your mind, a pen and paper, or your computer. It is inexpensive to create unlike a film or a painting. But as with all art, it is time-consuming.
However, reading to inform your craft can be an expensive habit. If you feel the need to keep on buying books, you should start securing a stable day job. But I bypass this by borrowing books from the library or from friends. There are also ways to obtain book PDFs online which are not as costly.
Finally, I realized I am not as good with visual art. But I guess I can still try.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “how do you become a writer?
I guess I’ll just say read good books and keep on writing. It’s going to take time, so enjoy the ride. If it really matters, nothing will deter you. Just don’t forget to live.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have at the moment.
I released my last chapbook titled “Out of Time” in December 2019. I plan to make it part of a full length poetry collection in the future. My projects explore themes of time, displacement, love, and grief.
Some of my poems come in narrative meditations which are set in post-war Philippines and the present time. I do not know when I can finish this collection, but having this project motivates me to keep going.