Q&A with Lawdenmarc Decamora

Lawdenmarc Decamora is an Anglophone poet and academic writer based in the Philippines. He is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Lady Pat’s Chapbook of Manicured Eyebrows for Post-Fordist Vending Machines (Newcomer Press, 2023). He was a semifinalist in the 2023 Tomaž Šalamun Prize, the Poet of the Year in the Ukiyoto Literary Awards 2022, and longlisted for The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2021. His work appeared in Griffith Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Common, Pleiades, The Best Asian Poetry 2021–22, Contemporary Surrealist, and Magical Realist Poetry: An International Anthology, among many others.

Our Associate Editor Sarah Stivens talks to Lawdenmarc about his poem, ‘The Last Kiss’, published in #30: SPICE.

‘The Last Kiss’ is such a rich and evocative poem—I loved the interplay between a quite filmic experience and the realities of the body (my stomach sags with old food in this long day trip). Where did you find inspiration for this piece?

The scenic irritants of symbolic time, direction, and velocity, whether spatial or grammatical, become for me a poetic road leading one to (explore) a destination. I evoke the challenge in writing and reading literary text as having some ‘scenic irritants’, enthused by the emergent situation playing out at the moment. I love scenes in poetry and poetry in scenes—whatever the image conjures, the story will somehow get my readers stuck into a traffic of emotions that they are once and for all free to confront. Writing poetry is like a ride taking me to places that paint the scenes I want to witness. Whenever I write, I encounter a lot of scenic irritants, as it were, from the last song I heard or film I watched to the speed of the car running on a freeway Sunday. If novelist Philip Roth has had a long-term fascination with his ‘amiable irritants’, mine would have been a refuelling of the imagination that is almost always narrating or writing the scene. Moreover, my way of treating scenic irritants, to paint the picture in my readers’ mind, after all, has to have an affinity with memory objects—books, basketball trading cards, vinyl records, even road signs. Every object tells a scene, bringing forth numbers and words and flowers in the garden of our minds.

What about the ‘scene’ in ‘The Last Kiss’? Its depicted scene, familiar to bibliophiles and cinephiles alike, births from my passion of watching Michel Gondry films. When I was in college, I was a cinephile myself and Gondry’s Surrealist oeuvre had a great impact on why I became besottedly in love with Surrealist and Magical Realist art. This ignited my penchant for scenes, beautiful or sublime. I allow them to be mapped out in my poems, so I will be able to discover new things along the way, hear new melodies, meet ideas morphing into creatures in lesser lit worlds, say a tunnel, from point A to point B, within a very critical hour (like 4 a.m) before dawn. In short, I am simply referring to that 2013 Michel Gondry film called Mood Indigo. I would say a cut-out scene was dominant in ‘The Last Kiss’ but other scenic irritants were likewise infused, say the news coverage of the war in Ukraine, my parents’ memory of Frank Sinatra, my love for driving and entering mountain tunnels, as well as the ambient sound of indie bands which ultimately conditions me to write.

I’ll carry the line ‘Remember the first time your little bones cried for milk?’  with me for a very long time. Can you tell us a little about your creative process? Do these lines arrive unannounced, or do you search for them?

I neither construct any plot nor carry an idea in my poetry. It’s the scene that I ponder on with enough intimacy. I say this again because the scene in ‘The Last Kiss’ invites serious readers to take part in the journey of the speaker and subject locked (or should I say ‘trapped’) in temporal spatiality, often impacted by scenic irritants—the tunnel, spices, lights—and their depiction of love and emergency. When all this coalesces, one is definitely rewarded with a filmic experience. The tunnel-scene also shares the drama with readers, how the human body is semiotically explored, continuing and fainting, and continuing again. Like a journey with endless stops. Like a market of signs and anonymities. Like a sketchy road map, I am not worried about ending the poem to begin it. John Irving is in the house here, I believe. Why not?

I just know how to recall or imagine a scene. And from there poetry will have its own destination. More than a manicured noun, the scene is a verb.

Aside from having work published all over the world (incredible!), you’re also a teacher of literature. How does teaching influence your writing practice?  

Teaching, for me, radiates no other light but ‘focus’. My writing is not overwhelmed with the current literary trend or style as what can be observed in circles or publications. Nor do manifold literary approaches tether my writing to their discourses. I have a focus when it comes to writing poetry, and that is to master the best genre from which I can accidentally discover realities through a well-defined technique. I love Surrealist poetry so much, and I still read the books of Eluard, Tzara, Vallejo, and Celan. There is no escaping the masters. I read them alongside contemporary titans like Tomaž Šalamun, Dean Young, and of course Chales Simic who died only recently. I guess teaching gifted me with focus, the discipline I find very helpful in crafting poetry.