Review of BE
“Filipino-Canadian poet Patria Rivera of Toronto is a late bloomer: she did not write poetry until the early 1990s, after she was done parenting her brood of four girls — Rani, Kim, Isobel and Jenny. Rivera — Patty to family and friends — just published BE, her third volume of poetry.
A mass communications graduate of the University of the Philippines, Patty and her family immigrated to Canada in 1986 in search of the proverbial greener pasture. “Migrating to Canada was a hard decision for us, knowing that it would take us out of our comfort zone,” said Rivera, who left a fairly secure and established job as director for information of the National Economic and Development Authority. “It was fuelled by a romantic notion that we could achieve happiness in careers that back in Manila we had aspired to but could only dream about.”
Well, she found the hard way that the transition was not quite easy as she and her husband Joe, a vice president for human resources development of Ford Philippines, had “to start at the bottom” to gain local experience. By dint of perseverance and hard work, the family slowly but surely achieved their dream of professional growth and relative financial freedom.
Patty has worked as a writer and editor while pursuing her passion for poetry. She is currently editor of Catholic Missions in Canada magazine. Her husband Joe, a UP public administration graduate, went back to school to study and later practice law. He retired from being a barrister last year but continues to provide free legal services to Filipino immigrants.
Patty started writing short stories in English and in Pilipino in her youth, but motherhood and full-time work kept her from pursuing her literary interests.“It was only when my four daughters were grown that I began to commit myself to writing poems that are more true mirrors of what I feel and imagine about the world at large,” she told FilAm Star by email. Apart from writing poetry, Patty also writes magazine articles and book reviews. “I have a long prose project that I have been working to complete for almost a year now and hope to finish before the end of the year,” she said.
Excerpts of the interview:
FILAM STAR: Tell us about this collection. How is it different from your previous books?
PATRIA RIVERA: BE, my third poetry collection, I like to believe, represents my coming to maturation as a poet. The BE poems aim to seek out the human in an increasingly inhumane world. It uses micropoetic narratives to explore the insular and peculiar ways that language and emotion scour the surfaces of unknown depths. Puti/White, my first book, published by Frontenac House in 2005, dwelt on life before we came to Canada. It was a way to honor my past, that is, my Filipino heritage and roots, particularly memories of the people and of the small communities and towns I grew up in, as well as to look into the country that my family had migrated to, Canada. My second collection, The Bride Anthology, also with Frontenac House, was published in 2007. It is a trenchant look at the possible future of my daughters as they take on their love relationships and familial obligations.
FAS: You pursued your passion for poetry after your family moved to Toronto in 1986, if I’m not mistaken. Was there any particular reason for this?
PR: It was in the early 1990s that I had a serendipitous break in my writing career. I received a fellowship to attend the Writers of Color Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, organized by Writers’ Union of Canada to help aspiring writers from various ethnic groups to learn their craft in intensive workshops with more experienced writers.
The fellowship also allowed me to be mentored by Gerry Shikatani, an accomplished poet, as I went through my first year of writing real poetry, not the juvenilia of my early writing years. Later, I found another great teacher, Helen Humphreys, a poet and now also a successful novelist.
FAS: Tell me a bit about the award/s you have received and how it has helped in your creative pursuits.
PR: While Puti/White was named a finalist for the 2006 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and a co-winner of the 2007 Global Filipino Award for Poetry, as a beginning poet I didn’t have any expectation of winning awards. The process of writing a good poem was award enough to keep me writing. This continues to be true. Another fine teacher, Don Domanski, taught us that all we needed to do was write the first word. The poem will find its own way. So if I ever have writer’s block, I just think of his advice: write the first word—on paper or on your computer screen—and the words will begin to flow.
FAS: We know for a fact that poets are a “lonely and starving” breed in the Philippines due to the seeming lack of a viable market. How is the environment in Canada different from that in the Philippines?
PR: Yes, it is still a lonely and hand-to-mouth life for most poets even here in this land of plenty. To keep on writing poetry, one has to have another job to pay the rent, to pay the bills. However, there are still some writing grants available here in Canada from all levels of government.. But one cannot depend on these grants alone because they are limited and, some would say, dwindling or on the verge of disappearing.
FAS: Who are your favorite Filipino and non-Filipino poets and writers?
PR: Among the Filipino prose writers, Manuel E. Arguilla, N.V.M. Gonzales, Nick Joaquin, Francisco Arcellana and Estrella D. Alfon, and among the Filipino poets, Angela Manalang-Gloria, Amado V. Hernandez and Emmanuel F. Lacaba. I am sure that there are a number of young and established Filipino writers out there that I haven’t read yet. Among those currently writing, I have great admiration for the works of Pete Lacaba, Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., Edel Garcellano, Ricky Lee, Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Reuel Aguila, Fanny Garcia and Merlie Alunan. We have great literature being born in our home country every day, not only in English and Pilipino, but also in our regional languages and dialects.
FAS: Is there any particular author who has had a strong influence in your poetry?
PR: In my youth, it was all the writers in Pilipino and English that we studied in high school. Then in my first year at the University of the Philippines, William Carlos Williams, because he was the most accessible poet for me at the time. Since then, and in my more mature years, I have gravitated towards Pablo Neruda, Anna Akhmatova, Wis?awa Szymborska, Miroslav Holub and, lately, Tomas Tranströmer and Paul Celan.
FAS: What advice would you give to aspiring poets and creative writers?
PR: There is no better time to begin your writing career than now. It doesn’t matter what stage in life one is in, what matters is the commitment to write every day for the rest of your life. It is not a life sentence. How can it be, when the more one writes, the more one discovers new and better ways of crafting a phrase or a line or putting thoughts on the page. A beautiful line can make you soar. To write truly one has to make a deep commitment to one’s craft and to the rigorous attention it demands.”
More Reviews of this title
“Two new bright literary lights.... The other bright light in the expat literary firmament is Patria C. Rivera, or “Patty” when she was our colleague at the Economic Information Staff of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) ages ago. Patty moved with her husband Joe and their four daughters to Canada in 1987 and have lived in Toronto since. While we knew her to be an outstanding journalist (Joe now a retired lawyer was also talented playwright), no one knew, maybe not even Patty herself, that she was nursing a fine, keen poet within her, although she was already literarily inclined. She started as a junior reporter with Toronto’s Catholic newspaper and rose up the ranks to become news editor. She now edits a magazine for the Canadian missions.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to come here was to follow and track Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, two of the world’s greatest story writers,” she says. “I used to read their stories from The New Yorker way back when we were still living in Quezon City. Had an inkling they were Canadian but didn’t know for sure until we arrived here. I’ve never met them in person yet but hope to someday.”
She reports that “The Toronto publishing industry is thriving, with titles appearing both in print and digitally. There is a hunger for good content, and readers are a mixed breed, because the city is very multicultural with more than 100 languages spoken, heard, and read.”
Today, Patria Rivera has two very well-received collections of poetry behind her. Her first, Puti/White, published by Frontenac House, was shortlisted for the 2006 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and was a co-winner of the 2007 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry. She has also published The Bride Anthology, also by Frontenac House, and co-authored Weathering: An Exchange of Poems. Her poetry is featured in Oxford University Press’s Perspectives in Ideology, and in Elana Wolff’s Implicate me: short essays on reading contemporary poems. She has received fellowships from the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the Hawthornden Castle Writers’ Retreat Centre in Scotland.
Her third collection, Be, was launched last May 2 in Toronto. “It aims,” she says, “to seek out the human in an increasingly inhumane world, using micropoetic narratives to explore the insular and peculiar ways that language and emotion scour the surfaces of unknown depths. The mode could be tragic or comic, but my goal was to stretch the context of the most ordinary things into new shapes and meanings.”
Mabuhay kayo, Patty!”