Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr.‘s first full-length collection, Aria and Trumpet Flourish, has a book cover that reflects the words found within it.
Like salt water, certain poems such as Ilo Ilo sting open wounds while others simply slip through my fingers. My emotions murky after reading them and even now, I am still trying to place my finger on why I feel this uncertain. Perhaps it is because I constantly felt like a stranger looking in. I found myself as a reader in such a cruel sense of the word, reading about personal loss and accompanying the writer with such innate helplessness.
All I can do is flip the page and read on, holding onto my own feelings and keep swimming.
About faith, family and loss, the book sweeps you away with its undercurrents of love and the constant questioning about the every day.
Popspoken interviews Rodrigo on this first full-length collection – the play with poetry forms and the themes he chooses to explore in his writing.
Popspoken: Moving from the Philippines to Singapore back in 2011, how has the change in environment and culture influenced your writing?
Rodrigo: It wasn’t actually until I moved to Singapore that I became prolific and productive in my writing. Being away from my country, family and friends whom I grew up with gave me the necessary space and distance to write. It was also here in Singapore where I developed a regular writing practice and thus was able to hone my craft.
PS: Share with us the differences in process of writing this full-length work compared to your previous chapbooks.
R: By their very nature, chapbooks are very focused in terms of subject. On the other hand, writing a full-length collection broadened my canvas and I was able to explore different themes in more depth. In a way, a full-length work is like a marathon: a long process, but the rewards can be immensely satisfying.
PS: In Aria and Trumpet Flourish, your poetry has been sorted into four different chapters. How was the sorting and sequence decided?
R: I organised the sections of the book based on the general subjects of the poems and they were arranged to suggest a sort of narrative. I also had sonatas and symphonies in mind, with each movement conveying a specific tone or emotion. The title of the book mirrors this musical order that I had in mind when I was figuring out how sequence the poems.
PS: You seem to play around with your poetic structure quite a bit. In your opinion, how does the structure affect the readers’ experience?
R: I’m drawn to forms because to me, they act as the vessel for a poem’s idea. I feel that the structure should reflect and reinforce the intention of the poem. I’m hoping that the reader’s enjoyment will be heightened when he/she realises that the form a poem takes has been a conscious and deliberate choice.
PS: Your poetry references and mentions God quite a bit. Share with us your personal journey with religion and spirituality, and how they inspire your writing.
R: When I joined a choir at the Church of St. Mary of the Angels a few years ago, my faith deepened. I was inspired by many of the hymns we sang, with lines from these songs finding their way as jump-off points for some of my poems. Then in 2014, my father died and poetry was my way of dealing with grief and voicing my questions, doubts and exclamations to and about God.
Ultimately, I’m interested in the search for the sublime and the divine by paying close attention to mundane, everyday things.
To purchase the book Aria and Trumpet Flourish and to find out more, look it up here.
BooksActually also has a Shophouse Fund to finally purchase a permanent space to house its books. Read more here.