Featured Poet: Narisma
Issue 15’s featured poet is Narisma, whose pieces “My Cousin’s Wake” and “My Journalism Professor Says the Two Things People Care Most About Are Fear and Sex” transport us to someplace else. Join us as we discuss connection, language, and becoming a vessel for the end of the world.
Randi Clemens: These poems feel very personal, yet I could imagine myself in the scenes they created. Is there anything about your writing process or style that you think helps you achieve connection with your readers?
N: I’m so glad these poems had that effect on you. Connecting with readers has always been important to me and one way I believe I’m able to achieve that is through my willingness to discuss taboo topics such as death, sex, and family dysfunctionality. Although these matters are often stigmatized, it is crucial to share about them because these are things we all go through.
RC: In "My Cousin's Wake," you seamlessly incorporate Tagalog language. Why was it important for you to include it in this particular poem?
N: This poem is based on the actual death of my cousin, which occurred while I was still living in the Philippines. It felt necessary to include Tagalog in this piece because the funeral wake in question was largely conducted in Tagalog and attended by those who spoke the language. The first Tagalog line in the poem – wala na ang mama ko – were actual words spoken by my cousin’s child, who greeted us upon arriving at the service, which was held in a ‘squatter area’ (informal settlement).
Being Filipino is an integral part of my identity and is something I continually explore in my work. The use of Tagalog in my poems allows me to depict the experience of everyday Filipinos more authentically, even if they're dead. Although death is a universal human experience, "My Cousin's Wake" addresses the many ways we distinguish the dead via language, socioeconomic status, and race.
RC: The last lines of "My Journalism Professor..." create an emotionally powerful ending. What advice would you give on closing a poem?
N: Truthfully, I rarely begin writing my poems with a specific ending in mind. Most of them usually complete themselves. That being said, I consider the final line of a poem just as, if not more, powerful than the opening. My advice for closing a poem is to leave the reader with a specific image in mind. This image may either subvert the poem’s themes or further reinforce its message. Poems move people not because they tell them how to feel, but because they paint a vivid picture in their heads that remains even after they walk away.
In this case, the speaker, through their desperation, becomes a vessel for the end of the world. The poem ends by likening the primal qualities of both fear and sex to a black hole.
RC: Are you reading or working on anything exciting?
N: My current, very eclectic, reading list includes Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans, Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire.
I’ve also been working on a poetry manuscript that, like many of its predecessors, may never see the light of day.
RC: What’s your favorite bone?
N: The clavicle. Specifically, my right one. I fractured it in tenth grade and suspect it never healed correctly.