an Eastlit interview by Graham Lawrence
Introduction – Cesar Polvorosa Jr.:
Cesar Polvorosa, Jr. is a professor teaching economics and world geography courses at the Humber Business School, Toronto, Canada. He is a published writer in economics, business and literary fields. His poems and/or short stories had been published in Philippine magazines, a Japanese English daily and a Canadian University literary journal. His fiction had been anthologized. He was a Writing Fellow at the University of the Philippines Creative Writers’ Workshop. In Toronto, he was a 2008 Emerging Writer of Diaspora Dialogues and a Board Director of Story Telling Toronto. He had been a scholar in his BA, MA and PhD studies.
Q: What do you do outside of writing?
A: At present, I teach economics, international business and regional geography courses to business students here in Toronto, Canada which is really my day job. I had been with the banking sector in the Philippines in both public and private sectors for several years in corporate planning and economic research. Occasionally, I am a strategic planning facilitator and business plan and socioeconomic research consultant.
Q: How do you find time for your writing?
A: I write in the very early morning, very late evening and the weekends. It’s actually easier said than done. Before I shifted to teaching as my main job I was in banking. Though there’s time available for writing when I get home I felt that I was in a rut aside from being physically exhausted. I went through a bleak and prolonged creative hiatus- though part of my job was to write financial and economic reports and speeches for senior management but it’s not the same at all.
Q: When did you first start writing?
A: During my high school when I was sick in bed and absent from school. That was followed by a burst of creativity. It’s really very juvenile but I felt it was a necessary step in terms of starting and honing my literary craft.
Q: Could you briefly summarize your literary activities and achievements?
A: I became active in writing poems and short stories in my years in university. A memorable experience had been my designation as a Writing Fellow in the University of the Philippines Writers Workshop- which is recognized as the premier writer’s workshop in the Philippines aside from that of Siliman University. That Workshop had been indelibly etched in my memory for I had the chance to interact with the most well respected writers of the Philippines such as Nick Joaquin and Cirilo Bautista and truly encouraged me to be serious about creative writing. Subsequently, I had always been the editor and/or regular contributor of the publications of the different schools, organizations and companies that I had been connected with. I write poetry and short stories but also published economics, features and business articles and essays. My essay entries had been ranked in the top three in at least two national essay writing competitions in the Philippines as well as a finalist in an American university and think tank sponsored writing contest on entrepreneurship and education. A poem and a short story of mine also garnered the first prizes in a contest held by a major organization. My fiction had been anthologized in the prestigious Philippine anthology, ”Likhaan.” Finally, it was also a important validation for me that just a few years after making Canada as the new home of my family I was awarded as an Emerging Writer by a leading Toronto literary organization. I read my work in public at the annual Toronto city wide literary festival. My creative writing atrophied when I was in industry for several years but recently went through a resurgence when I shifted to an academic career- and hopefully, this time it’s for real.
Q: What does being a creative writer mean to you?
A: To live is to experience love, joy, sorrow, the matrix of human relationships, become critically aware of social issues, observe the wonders of nature and to contemplate on God and the essence of the universe. To be human is to live through the full range of emotions and experiences. It is to conquer the angst and transcend the pain but never ever to deny ourselves the experience, the introspection and its expression. Self expression for me such as through creative writing is the ultimate privilege of our humanity. It is the writer’s task to evoke in others empathy and the appreciation of their own humanity through his/her creative work.
Q: What is poetry?
A: For me it’s the use of the inherent rhythms and aesthetic devices of language for composition that conveys the person’s observations, deep reflection and interpretation of life and the human interaction with the world. It’s both universal and individual. It’s universal because the poet as a member of his/her community and broader humanity utilizes and responds to a common or similar interpretation of symbols, experiences and the aesthetics of language because of culture. It’s also deeply personal because each person as an individual has a unique perspective. Both the universal and the individual must commingle in each poem. The universal element is present so that the poem can be critically appreciated by any human being- even if it is translated into another language across different cultures and eras. A perfect example would be the poetry of Pablo Neruda that had been translated into English from the original Spanish. It’s also intensely personal so that the poem becomes a singular or unique accomplishment that reflect the poet’s lens of individuality – and to which readers also respond or appreciate from their own unique lens. It’s the interaction of the universal and the personal that makes the reading and writing of poetry a wondrous human experience.
Q: How would you describe your writing process?
A: It sounds like a cliche but the idea for a poem or a short story usually comes as a flash of inspiration. I know immediately what I want to say. The germ of an idea or a few lines enter my head. Then, the real agony begins. It’s an iterative process. I keep on revising and I need to print out several versions over the course of days or even weeks before I consider them worthy to submit for publication. I let the final version rest for a few days before I revisit them to have a fresh perspective- and most of the time I will find it necessary to still incorporate revisions.
The creative trigger can be immediate such as when my family recently went through a power outage of a few days because of an ice storm- and I wrote a poem on the ice storm a few days after. However, as I know from the accounts of other writers, the germination of an idea can also percolate and bear fruition after the passage of time that can be years. For instance, Robert Wallace wrote ”Swimmer in the Rain” as an adult based on childhood memories. To cite my case, two years of graduate studies in Japan became a mother lode of inspiration. Fragments of thoughts hibernated in my mind for several years never to be written down until some inexplicable trigger will open the floodgates and unleash a torrent of words. The poems I submitted to Eastlit, ”At the Summit of Mt. Fuji” was inspired by my actual climb to the peak of the highest mountain of Japan while ”Zen by a Pond” was prompted by a visit to a Zen garden. My short story that became part of the Likhaan Anthology was sparked by pre departure events in Japan.
Q:Are there any Asian poets, writers, artists among your major influences?
A: Filipino writers Jose Garcia Villa and Nick Joaquin were real masters of their craft and were highly influential. There’s also contemporary poet Cirilo Bautista who was the literary editor of The Philippine Panorama when I submitted a few poems- and I therefore considered it a great honor when these were published. The following are non Asian but I feel I just have to mention them- major non Asian literary influences include Pablo Neruda, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway and Anton Chekhov.
Q:What is your favorite poem? Why?
A: It’s difficult to pin down one truly outstanding poem that have fascinated me above all else because there are so many great poets from different countries in different time periods. It’s more that a few select poems had made a profound impression on me- one thinks of the classics of Robert Frost especially ”Desert Places”. There’s Wallace Stevens’ ”The Idea of Order at Key West” and Pablo Neruda’s love poems and homage to his homeland. I am fascinated by the economy and simplicity of language employed in the best known poems of Frost, the elegant complexity of the philosophical insights of Stevens and the words of passion and ardor of Neruda- for me these are representative of poetic genuises of different styles and perspectives.
Q: What are the Asia-related subjects that have recently engaged your attention?
A: As a relatively new immigrant to Canada themes of the challenges of immigration, alienation and the Filipino diaspora had been my recent focus.
Q: If you hadn’t been a creative writer what would you have been?
A: I would be full time in the corporate sector or in the academe as an economic geographer- as I am also doing now.
Q: How did you find Eastlit and what are your impressions of it?
I discovered Eastlit on the internet when I was looking for a list of on-line literary publications. I was specifically searching for a literary on-line publication that comes out frequently with quality work. In the Digital Age I find it difficult to wait for several months before my poem or two gets published. I believe as I have seen in the different issues of Eastlit that there’s more than enough depth of literary talent in the East and South East Asian region to warrant a sustained publication of quality literary work on a monthly basis. What I have admired is the clear regional focus of the publication on English literature which I felt is an underserved literary niche. As I have also communicated to the editor one prominent feature of the publication is the aesthetics. It’s refined in appearance without being stodgy which I think is in keeping with the spirit of the publication that it is a child of the Digital Age without being faddish or quirky. Eastlit informs the contributors as to the popularity of their pieces – something that to my best knowledge hardly any publication does. In short, Eastlit is the complete package in both content and appearance so kudos to the editor and the staff.
Thanks to Cesar Polvorosa Jr. for taking the time to give us an interview. All of us at Eastlit wish him the best in the future.
The following of Cesar Polvorosa Jr.’s work has featured in Eastlit: