Shirley Camia discusses writing with and through grief in this new Quatrain Questions interview.
1. Your poetics reflect a minimalist style, yet the poems in Mercy address the enormity of grief following the loss of your mother. In what ways did the minimalist form lend itself to expressing these difficult emotions?
I think writing in this form really helped me to distil my emotions and understand them more fully. I have always written with a careful and deliberate word selection process in mind, and the removal of extraneous text that does not enhance the writing. I started noticing parallels when working through my emotions, and identifying the essence of what I felt at a particular moment, in the haze of confusion. Aside from that, I had been writing in this style for years, so turning to writing was a great source of comfort; it was like visiting an old friend, who I would spend hours working out my emotions with, and who helped me to truly understand them at the end.
2. This collection reflects an experience that is extremely raw and personal but still followed the regular publication process; what impact (if any) did editing and revising these poems have on your own grieving process?
Mercy went through five iterations before the manuscript felt sound enough to print. The first version was quite emotionally raw – and to be honest, a demanding and exhausting read – and dealt with the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. However, with each version, more time had passed and in that time, I was able to process her death in different ways, with different perspectives. I think writing certainly helped me through grief, but the opposite is also true – my grief, and the processing of it, also informed my writing. I wouldn’t have been able to write the final version of Mercy just after my mother died, and when I look at the first version now, a lot of the poems feel quite distant; I no longer relate to them in the same way as I did when I wrote them.
3. Can you speak a bit about the meaning behind the wrapped candy (a version of which appears on the cover)?
My mother always had candy in her pockets, and if not, she would go out of her way to buy some, just to make sure she had something to give if she ran into relatives or friends with children. She even became known to some of the kids as the lola (grandmother) who “always gave us candy.” So, the candy is representative of my mother, her generosity and her always ready and eager extensions of kindness, which is how she showed her love.
4. What do you see as the next step for your poetry?
Experimenting with different styles and length. My initial challenge in writing had always been to pare down, but now the greater challenge is to scale up.