Continuing the theme of reading something a bit different, I read a bilingual poetry collection called Cajoncito (little drawer in Spanish) by Elizabeth M Castillo. It's a powerful mix of loss, love and the trappings of everyday life. Her words evoke extremes of emotion – joy and suffering communicated in a beautiful, lyrical style that sings its way off the page. Each poem is reflected by its counterpart in Spanish. And some combine the two – a glorious mixture of sounds and rhythms that enhance the fierce emotions they communicate.
I talked to Elizabeth about her road to publication, her inspiration and her writing process.
There was something visceral about these poems. They contain such raw and powerful emotions. How do they come about and what is the process of writing them like for you? Oh thank you, what a delightful thing to say about my poetry! I must confess some, if not most of them were a bit like unbuttoning my chest and bleeding onto the page. I didn’t expect that would come across so clearly in the writing though, so it’s been interesting to hear people’s feedback along the same lines. Most surprising of all is how many people seem to relate to the emotions expressed in this collection.
As for how they come about, they just do. These are mostly poems that fell out of me, some were a bit like an illness that needed to be “let” like they did in Victorian times when they let the blood out of a patient in the hope that it would cure them. Some were my way of expressing things that I didn’t have the opportunity or permission to in real life, about my own personal situations and others. Some poems sprung from a single sentence I wish I had had the chance to say to someone, you know that thing where you think of the perfect response after the fact? Others were written on my phone during a bout of insomnia. And others were written years ago, dug out from my archives and polished up to make them more presentable.
You can order this gorgeous collection here
Writing this collection has been incredibly cathartic. I have inhabited each one of these poems in a way I haven’t necessarily with my other work, which could have been written observing from a safe distance, if that makes sense? Each poem is a very intimate part of me, so it’s incredibly nerve-wracking to have put them all out there for general consumption if I’m completely honest! It was beautiful to see the interplaying of language in your poems. Do some poems 'arrive' in Spanish and some in English? Are there particular topics or emotions that come more easily in the different languages? Exactly as you put it – some arrive in Spanish, others in English. Some jump between both. Spanish is my fourth language, so it is quite odd that my muse keeps insisting I write in that language – but there are some feelings and subjects that English, or French for that matter, are not equipped to accommodate. Some emotions that a better felt in one language over another. For example, in my case, I love in Spanish, but I grieve in English. Not entirely sure why that is...
Many of your poems are based on ideas of love and loss. Why do you think loss is something you've been drawn to writing about? I came to writing after a series of personal losses. I lost three close family members and a baby within the space of 18 months – that’s a lot of grief to deal with all of a sudden. I then lost someone very dear to me, a friend, through a situation that, like death, was completely out of my hands, and that proved to be the drop that broke the dam, and the poetry just came gushing out of me.
I think it’s something we often do as women – carry things without even realising. But there comes a point where something’s got to give, and in my case poetry and other writing was my own personal form of therapy. In writing about the loss I knew I was grieving, I discovered how many other heavy things I was still carrying, and so writing them out of my system became a necessity more than a choice.
The flipside of this is love, but love in all its forms. Romantic love, yes, but love for friends, for family members, for the golden ones who cross my path and become “my people.” Love for my children that spurs me on to push through the grief and suffering. Love for love itself, for creativity, for art, and artists. I have found that the heart is elastic, and its first function is to love.
How did you go about publishing your poetry collection? What useful lessons have you learnt? I chose to self-publish for two main reasons: firstly, I relished the challenge, which I underestimated if I’m entirely honest! The second is that the publishing houses that expressed interest wanted to change too many things. These poems are so personal, so very close to me that I couldn’t stand the idea of them being tampered with at all! I also felt strongly the collection should be completely bilingual, so one publisher’s suggestion that I reduce the number of Spanish poems in the book was a deal-breaker for me. What advice would you give to emerging writers? I’m not exactly sure what an “emerging” writer is…I suspect I might be one myself! But general writing advice that will never fail is – show up and do the work, no matter how you’re feeling. I mean this in the sense of inspiration, not mental health, because writer burnout is real, especially amongst us indie women writers who are wearing so many hats. Sometimes, oftentimes, you won’t be able to count on moments of transcendental inspiration to fuel your writing. Sometimes you just have to sit down and plough through. That, and “be kind.” Seems elementary, but you’d be surprised how much unkindness there is out there in the writing community, especially online.
Elizabeth M Castillo is a British-Mauritian poet, writer and language teacher, as well as a pilot's wife, and homeschooling mother of two young children. She writes about both the mundane and the magical that make up her everyday life.
EMC's writing explores the themes of race & ethnicity, motherhood, womanhood, marriage, love, loss, grief and language. She also lives with anxiety and depression, so there's probably quite a bit of that in there too, as well a a touch of self-deprecation and humour.
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