I started writing poetry in English seriously around 2012, about the same time I became a nurse. When I had a place on the Jerwood/Arvon programme in 2017, I began hearing of the term 'poetic voice.' I'd hear comments from my mentors such as Pascale Petit and others about the importance of this seemingly difficult to define, difficult to establish and quite elusive talisman.
I would write down comments or tips from every person who made a comment about this voice and reflect (during the quieter minutes of my day-to-day job) on how this voice and I could work together.
When we had an industry talk from Nine Arches Press' editor, Jane Commane (who has become a friend/advisor to me), I noted down an important tip:
"Give yourself permission to write in your voice. Trust your voice to be the strongest (trust how you phrase things)."
This has been vital for me as I started writing Antiemetic for Homesickness in mid-2017.
In 2018, after I received the Poetry London Clore Prize for my poem, 'Names', I also got to work with Poetry London's then editor, Ahren Warner. He became my mentor not through this prize but through my earlier Creative Future Literary Award (in partnership with The Literary Consultancy).
Once, he commented (I still have this comment because we had our mentoring sessions via email):
"It feels to me like you are making really rather rapid progress in the consistency of your writing and in establishing and developing your own particular voice."
That time, even though I still couldn't define what this voice was, I was satisfied to know that others were seeing my voice's development. A thought: perhaps if I could focus on the how of my writing rather than the what, then I could develop this talisman.
Eventually, I got to know it quite well. My earlier influences had been planted in me way before I migrated to the UK. My poetic voice began during the formative years of my life in the Philippines, and now, I'd really love you to meet the voices that influenced Antiemetic for Homesickness:
1st voice: The Barbero (The Barber)
My grandfather was a barber during the day, but by night, he became a story-teller. He'd gather us on the terrace and tell myths, folktales and legends, and, from time to time, the neighbourhood tsismis (gossip). His wrist flickered in the candlelight as he gesticulated endless fables. Ironically in the Philippines, we also have the term kwentong barbero or 'the barber's story' which is a term given to a person's exaggerated tale. In order for me to develop Antiemetic for Homesickness, I learned that I must not only rely on the heart of my own experiences, but I also had to give imaginative energy of my poems. This led me to the poems' truest core. A poem does not need to be an autobiography, but the heart of it must be true. It is dangerous to think that the poems in the book came only from my 'experiences' as a nurse and as a migrant. Who knows? I might be doing a kwentong barbero to you *wink*.
To get to know the Barbero in Antiemetic for Homesickness, read my poems: Lanzones, ᜄᜓᜈᜒᜆ, Eponym, Only Distance, The Wait, Kayumanggi, and more.
2nd voice: The Nurse-Mother
My mother is a nurse, I am a nurse (you know the story, LOL) and nursing experiences appear throughout the collection. Nursing is generally a Bachelor of Science degree, but for me, Nursing can also be a Bachelor of Arts. To be a nurse is to pay attention — to every important detail, to the things that are handed over or said, and most especially, to the things that are not said. Isn't that what we do as poets? We pay attention. Our poems reveal both something that is written with words and those that are hidden in the silence. I decided to write in a welcoming manner, but in Antiemetic for Homesickness, the literal and medical also become metaphorical. The line breaks, emphatic rhymes, and fractured rhythm are there to reveal something.
To get to know my Nurse-Mother voice, read my poems: Half-empty, Names, Notes Inside a Balikbayan Box, #family, Anagolay,
['''''''''''''''''], and more.
3rd voice: The Lasinggero (The Romantic and Visionary Drunkards)
Whether it was early in the morning or late at night, my uncles and their friends would gather at our front yard, under the canopy of lanzones and makopa trees. See the window on the top left corner of this picture? That's the window of my grandad's room where I used to take afternoon naps (whilst he worked at the barber shop in the market).
I heard their gitara and songs undulating through that window. The man in the bottom right corner (in a red cap, playing a gitara) is my uncle Tito Jun, the musician. The man with a full-beam smile in the top left, bottom picture, is my other uncle Tito Rene, the joker. They are what I call the Lasinggero or The Romantic and Visionary Drunkards. In Antiemetic for Homesickness, each turn of phrase and break in cadences was influenced by their tipsy songs, each insight by their cognitive flight.
To meet The Lasinggero, read my poems: Tagay! [Drinking Lambanog with my Filipino Colleagues, Mateo, relearning, Repairing English, Mastering English, Ode to a Pot Noodle, and more.
For me, the way in which the poems were written (the voices and forms, and the speaker's relationship to rhythm and cadence, and punctuation and syntax) shows what the book is really about, more than what others says it is about.
Li Young-Lee once said that poetry is like 'a score for the human voice'. Antiemetic for Homesickness attempts to paint human voices, portraits of the community that I've loved and honoured, and I hope the readers will remember them too.