Ever since declaring myself a writer, a poet, a literary artist, I’ve been on a search for Filipino art that’s being showcased in a foreign setting, preferably in English setting.
The West End was once the home of Eva Noblezada, Jon Jon Briones and Rachelle Ann Go for Miss Saigon’s 2014 production. When it comes to literature, I’ve been lucky to have read such works like Manila Noir by Jessica Hagedorn and other Filipino writers and In The Country by Mia Alvar, a very, very, VERY, good book if you want to know more about Filipino diaspora. Lucky can not be the word that I can use to describe getting to meet, work and learn from R.A. Villanueva. Reading his debut collection Reliquaria, hearing him speak, teach us about writing and challenging sonnets and being able to message him about poetry anytime makes me beyond lucky to have forged such a friendship.
What sets Batangas-born and Wolverhampton carved poet Romalyn Ante apart, though, is that her work specifically speaks of a Filipino voice set in British land. Just finding the inside joke in the title Rice & Rain is good enough evidence that this book will resonate.
I first found myself reading a poem by Romalyn Ante through EastLit. After scouring through the archives I come across her work, and falling in love with it. Her poetry brings in a certain delicate nature, one that’s, while soft and almost ethereal, remains potent with imagery, charged with story and nostalgia that keeps you reeled in, reminding you that you, too, have experienced such emotions. Comparing people flocking to a relief good truck like mariposas or butterflies is both beautiful and empathetic in poem “Day 6” from EasLlit.
Rice & Rain is Romalyn Ante’s first ever poetry pamphlet, published by V. Press this August 2017, and I had the privilege to speak to Romalyn about the creative process she took for this project as well as her musings on writing and being a poet.
1. Poetry has been said to be therapy for some, a calling for others. What role has poetry played in your life?
I think poetry has played many roles at different stages in my life. There was a time when writing and reading poetry was simply a hobby. At one point it was a mirror that reflected how I viewed myself and the world. Undoubtedly, I know I have always been inclined to it. When I was a high school student in the Philippines I used to write both English and Tagalog poems and post them on the bulletin board in our main classroom. We used to switch rooms with other students and I remember that whenever other students came to our room, there would always be one or two who would read the poems I posted. They would tell me how much they liked my poems when I bumped into them on the corridor. I guess that’s the reason why poetry has also been a massive part of my identity. It’s not only a way of expressing who I am but also my way of relating to others. At the moment I feel that poetry is a part of my being. It just doesn’t play a role in my life, instead we play a role in this world, together.
2. How has process of creating this book from thought to physicality been like for you?
It’s been such an interesting, exhausting, and fulfilling journey. I learned a lot about myself as person and as a writer. I got to work with such good editor, Sarah, and such talented illustrator, Ruth.
I don’t think there’s an exact ‘beginning’ in this process. That’s because the poems in this pamphlet were written and developed over the years. Having said that, as someone who grew up in the Philippines (and as a nurse in the UK) I know I have always wanted identity, migration and human connections to be the incorporating themes of my pamphlet. When I submitted the manuscript to V. Press’ poetry pamphlet competition in 2016, I amalgamated those themes to be the core of my pamphlet. Then I received a grant from Arvon Foundation which enabled me to attend an Arvon course in 2016; this also helped me create more poems for the pamphlet.
I guess the hardest part of the process was the editing and the “letting go” part. This happened earlier this year when I started to extremely criticize my own work for improvements. There was a point when I looked at a couple of poems in Rice & Rain and thought, They’re so bad! I was always seeing flaws in a poem. But then, when is a poem ‘finished’? And is there really such a thing as a ‘perfect’ poem? Even Li-Young Lee (my hero) was noted to say “There are great poems that have flaws. There are failures of perception, failures of understanding, but those flaws become a part of the poem’s integrity.”
3. I’m enjoying the imagery the title Rice & Rain offers. Being part of the Filipino diaspora as well, I find the humour and home in it. How has being a Filipina living in England helped develop the voice and perspective that’s present in this pamphlet?
Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate the title.
Let’s face it, Filipinos in the UK have a reputation of being hospital/healthcare workers. I came to the UK as a teenager (I was in a country where any dream is plausible!) and still, I grew up to be a nurse (Hahaha). But I don’t look at this part of my identity as a mundane, typical reflection of being a Filipino in the UK. I attempt to use this part of my identity to give not only a snippet of the Filipino culture but also a reflection of a life exposed to the brevity of other lives. Hence, you will find a few poems in this pamphlet written from my ‘nursing perspective’ such as Handover Notes, Last Offices, The Mechanic, etc.
4. Your writing style is very potent in imagery but remains to stay gentle in voice, something that I personally resonated with. Which poets have inspired you through your own journey as a poet?
Thank you. Li-Young Lee is my ultimate hero when it comes to modern poetry. His poems are full of honesty and extremely resonating. I also admire Zeina Hashem Beck’s confidence in her poems. I also adore the works of Emily Dickinson and Vera Brittain.
Nowadays, and being a Jerwood/Arvon mentee under Pascale Petit, I read a lot of her work. I also read more modern poets like Ocean Vuong, R. A. Villanueva, and Tishani Doshi. Poet Elisabeth Sennit Clough also introduced me to the works of Aimee Nezhukumatathil who is half Filipino! (Thank you, Elisabeth!)
5. What would you like readers to take away from reading Rice & Rain?
I wish they find the poems exotic yet very relatable. I want to impress poetry readers and fellow poets but most importantly, I want to make an impact to someone who doesn’t normally read poetry. I want them to feel comfortable with poetry as humans are innately comfortable with water and air.
6. And lastly, can you offer a line from a poem or song that best captured your morning?
And I know that it’s early and it’s too hard to think and the broken empty bottles, a reminder in the sink – from the song When We Die by Bowling for Soup!
You can order a copy of Rice & Rain through this link! Let her know what you think of the book by contacting her below!
Personal blog: Ripples of the River