Marías at Sampaguitas
Interview with Shirley Camia
Shirley Camia is the author of four collections of poetry: Mercy, (Turnstone Press, 2019), Children Shouldn’t Use Knives (At Bay Press, 2017), The Significance of Moths (Turnstone Press, 2015) and Calliope (Libros Libertad, 2011). Her work has been featured and reviewed in various Canadian publications such as The New Quarterly, the Winnipeg Free Press, Contemporary Verse 2, and Shameless.
Your newest poetry collection Mercy is published by Turnstone Press in May. Are happy with the feedback?
The feedback has been wonderful. I’ve had a number of people share very personal and very touching comments about their own experiences with the deaths of their loved ones. Their stories have felt like a gift. I was focused on my own internal reflections and grief processes when I was writing Mercy, so I am touched that the collection has resonated with people, many from different regions and backgrounds. This to me really speaks to the universal nature of grief.
Mercy is your fourth poetry collection. How did your directions take its right way on your roadmap?
I think of each my books as separate entities, with separate ideas and influences, so there is no roadmap. And given my mother’s sudden illness and death, Mercy was certainly not a book I had been planning to write.
In Mercy, your main themes are deriving between grief and loss and we’re taking a journey with you from a hospital bed to a graveyard. Do you think that writing poetry is a way of surviving from grief? And how was your process of writing nourished from your loss?
I think writing has been a way for me to learn how to live with grief and loss, yes. Grief had a way of muddying my perception of my mother; everything I remembered was so closely linked to her fragility, as a result of her illness, and her death. But writing through my emotions, as well as time, have given me a chance to reflect on my mother and my experiences with her, and to see her again as a whole and complete person, with all her strengths and weaknesses, and the person I had known all my life.
Mercy is my most personal collection to date. It has been the easiest and most difficult collection to write: easy because I know the subject material so intimately, difficult because it was painful to come to terms with my mother’s death. I don’t think that my writing was nourished from the loss of my mother, rather writing about her nourished me and made me feel closer to a person whose physical presence was/is no longer there.
How is your relationship with English, Filipino and other languages when writing? How do you connect the languages or should I ask how do you feel them?
I write mainly in English, but as I also speak Tagalog, and because that is the language in which many of my experiences and memories exist, it naturally appears in my writing.
In your poem “As you wish” we read these lines: “you are still in the philippines/but you’re buried in snow/an ocean away”. When you come back to your Filipino roots, to whom do you relate yourself in writing in Filipino literature?
In Filipino literature, I love the beautiful lyricism of Marjorie Evasco’s poetry. She is so, so talented – I think of myself as admiring and emulating rather than relating! In regards to Mercy, I was influenced by many different writers as immediately after my mother’s death, I searched for books and poems from those who spoke of similar experiences, as a form of communion. Margaret Atwood, Wisława Szymborska, Mary Oliver and Meghan O’Rourke to name a few.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.