Posted on March 01 2019
Crispin Rodrigues is the author of two poetry collections, Pantomime and The Nomad Principle, both published by Math Paper Press. He is currently co-editing an anthology of poems by youth poets as well as an online anthology of poems and flash fiction about Yishun. I interviewed him to learn a little more about his inspirations, his process and his hopes for the future.
Tell us a little about yourself, what have you been up to lately?
Hi, I’m Crispin Rodrigues, I’m a poet, and I’m trying to write short stories. I am working on an anthology, a youth anthology with another author Andrea Yew, called Crazy Little Pyromaniacs and that’s due in November. I’m currently also working on a third collection of poetry.
I understand that you also write prose, what made you decide to publish books of poetry?
Good question! I’m actually not very confident with my prose at least not yet, but I am trying to work on a novel. I’ve storyboarded but because of time I haven’t completely worked it out. I haven’t started writing but the storyboard is there, I’ll probably get back to you when I’m done with my third collection. Until then I want to focus on poetry for a while.
So you would say you’re more confident in your poetry?
Slightly more !
Would you say that poetry is your first literary love?
Actually Interesting story, I didn’t start with poetry a long time ago. When I was studying at university I started out with playwriting. What happened was I managed to stage some of my plays at school at the university campus. And then one day I just started to write poetry to get away from plays and I’ve never turned back since. I might go back to playwriting one of these days but until then I don’t think so. Poetry was a way to escape, because it’s so brief. Poetry is such a short span of time and it’s so focused and dense that you don’t really have to think about plot, characters, setting or building to a certain climax as much as playwriting.
This is your second book what were some of the challenges you faced the second time around? Do you find there is a certain pressure with a second publication?
I think you face the same problem with any sequel, you always expect the sequel to do as well or even better than the first book. But with this second book, it came from a very personal space and it was a style that I wasn’t very comfortable in writing. So I really worked very hard in a style that I was really uncomfortable in and I wasn’t really sure whether it would do well. With my first collection I was sort of thinking, okay I’m putting myself out into the world. With my second one I was trying to say okay this is my style, this is what I’m comfortable with, this is what I learnt from my first collection, really putting my heart and soul into it.
Did you feel like you got any sort of catharsis from putting yourself out there?
Well it came from a very personal space and I think the thing about coming from a very personal space is that you’re never really sure if this should be released out into the world. Somehow I managed to resolve that problem within myself in the sense that I felt very comfortable at the end of writing and especially when I brought it to my editor. He took a look at it and said “I can identify with some of these poems” and “they speak out to me”, and when I sent some of these poems out to readers they came back and said they felt that way too or “If I was in this circumstance I would do that exact same thing” and that suddenly made me think that the poetry was originally born because of those shared experiences that we all have. I guess that provided me catharsis.
Some of your poems are noted to be “after” a certain artist such as Monet or VanGogh, do you find that writing and visual arts go hand in hand?
When I write poems I think of the page as a canvas, the poet functions a lot like an artist painting the scenery or painting a particular subject. I don’t see the process of painting or making music differently from writing a poem. In fact that’s what I normally do, I cross over, I get inspired by paintings and music. I feel that because I am not a fantastic painter, in fact that’s one of my great limitations! I never learned to paint well, so the only tool I had was words. I really appreciate the fact that I can use words to respond to paintings in the same way as one artist would respond to another artist, that’s how it works for me.
Would you say that your process of writing is image driven ? Do you have a mental image that you are trying to get to?
Sometimes I look at a painting and I imagine what has led up to this moment or what would happen after or what’s the core emotional value that I get from this painting? And often it reverberates very well with what I want to do. I particularly love impressionist paintings because they sort of always work on the surface, it’s always about light and shadow and how sunlight looks on the water. So I always think, okay that’s where the painting ends and that’s where the story begins, why are people sitting on the jetty? Why is someone painting a sunset? That’s where it resonates with me because that’s when I become the detective trying to uncover what is happening underneath the surface.
On the other hand many of your poems seem to recall your childhood, what are some of the difficulties of writing from memories and childhood experiences?
So, my childhood was really difficult actually, I spent a lot of time growing up in environments that were completely strange and alien to me. I was bullied a lot at school, that actually comes up in quite a number of poems. But the thing is I grew up in a number of environments where I felt tremendously uncomfortable and I think that discomfort allowed me try and negotiate what my identity was. I studied in a Chinese primary school and the medium of instruction was mostly Chinese and I felt so uncomfortable there. I though if I’m going to construct all of this I’m going to have to deconstruct the discomfort that I felt, all of this was stitched together in what I would call literary shrapnel. These were events where I felt a lot of intense emotion and it hurt me so I tried just putting it together and and tried to find something that I could learn from it. I realised that sometimes the best part of learning from memories is asking why you put them away in the first place.
Through your poems you write a lot about identity and feeling like an outsider, do you think that this feeling which is quite prevalent in artists and writers leads to great work?
You know there’s always this myth of the artist as an outsider but I don’t think they choose to go into art because they are outsiders but I think it’s because they are outsiders they have some sort of unique perspective of the world. I like to think that being mainstream is still okay, but when you look at identity politics it’s always a very specific space that you’re coming from. It’s not just about being a minority, it’s also about being a minority and not always being accepted even in the minority that you are in, or having a different set of beliefs from the religion you practice. I think that specificity that comes from being marginalised even in a marginalised group that is what gives a very unique perspective to the outsider. Because you do genuinely sometimes feel like you are standing alone.
So It’s those small contradictions that make up your identity?
In both Pantomime and The Nomad Principal you touch on social issues, do you find that authors and artists have a moral responsibility to confront these themes in their work?
I remember a Singapore poet, I don’t know who, said that all poetry is political. I think that when you engage with issues of identity and marginalisation you are immediately engaging with the political. I remember I was reading this interview about Pantomime and somebody said that I was a very angry young man, the whole image on ‘One Fierce Hour’ popped into my head. I guess that you can see that yeah, maybe I did have some issues, I used to deal with social issues. But I think with regards to the second collection, a lot of these issues, I am dealing with them but not overtly as much as it is looking back and feeling these emotions and feeling something other than anger and maybe coming from a more mature perspective. The thing with my poetry is I don’t think it’s as political as it was but I definitely deal with some politics. The first collection was just much more overt. I have learned to ween off the stuff that makes me angry, and I’m dealing more with issues that I have to deal with but also at the same time that I feel very passionate about. It’s a matter of just growing up and learning to deal with yourself as a human being
Interviewed by : Andrea Pozo, February 2019