Interview With Pilipino Poet Mykelle Pacquing [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Mykelle Pacquing was born and raised in Toronto and his ancestors are from Maharlika, the traditional name of the Philippines which means, “The Creator’s Land.”  Mykelle works with plants, the animals, his ancestors, and Indigenous folk from all over to work on his path of healing for himself and all his relations.

BCP: Why poetry?

MP: I walked away from my language, Tagalog, when I started elementary school.  I started to relearn it when I got to university and took in Indigenous teachings from my professors in the Aboriginal Studies program.  When I looked at my language with a fresh new perspective, it became clear to me that our modes of communication are rooted in the poetic form—it makes our lives beautiful.

I think the loss of poetry in our everyday language is part of the colonization process—it cuts us off from our spirited voice.  Even English used to be a poetic language when you look at Shakespearean times.  Taking back the beauty that’s built into our Indigenous languages is part of our decolonizing and healing process.

BCP: What is your process?

MP: I believe that poetry/song come to you, not the other way around.  You can always mash words together and play with them, but you won’t really “feel” for those words if they’re not coming from somewhere connected to you or if they simply just don’t want to work with you.  Your intentions shape your poetic voice and so I call out with my intentions and wait for the words to come to me.

BCP: How long have you been writing poetry?

MP: In Grade 7 I was awarded first place with a hundred dollar prize at my local Royal Canadian Legion branch for a Remembrance Day contest.  I’ve never been awarded any money since then and I don’t even have any surviving copies of the poem!  When you’re at that age, I don’t think you realize the immensity of your achievements.

BCP: Who are your influences?

MP: Lee Maracle played a big role in helping me find my voice, that is, my voice that’s me, beneath all that colonization dumped on us.  The only way I could ever honor her is through the beauty and strength of my poetry.

Though once found, my voice is drawn from all my relatives, my ancestors, my teachers—all the good people with whom I share my roots with.

BCP: Your poetry is emotional, honest, and stimulating.  What do you try to convey to your listeners?

MP: What I try to convey in my poetry, in “My Flowering” in particular, is that beauty and strength can be found in our struggles in coming to terms with our place and identity.  I wanted to call out to those who have been displaced mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually, whether in lived or intergenerational/ancestral experience, that they are not alone in their trauma, that we can all come together to a place of healing—no matter which nation you’re from.

BCP: For the last couple of years you have been working closely with Aboriginal writer Lee Maracle.  How has she helped you with your writing?

MP: Lee is a very lovely medicine-lady who really knows how to make you push your emotional limits if you let her.  She knows how to make you feel like she dove her hands into your heart and ripped out the writhing pain and anguish that you’ve been carrying around there your whole life—only to make you realize that she just taught you how to do it yourself.

BCP: Does your spirituality play a part in your writing?

MP: My writing is an expression as well as a negotiation of my spirituality.  It would actually be more accurate to describe my expressive writing as a part of my spirituality, rather than my spirituality as a part of my writing.

BCP: Do you see poetry as a form of ceremony?

MP: I’ve been debating this with myself.  There are definitely poetic forms which are ceremony such as traditional storytelling like the ones found around Turtle Island and the epic songs found from Indigenous folk in Mindanao in the Philippines.  Then there are the Western canons of poetry that don’t have anything to do with ceremony and are more static—like paintings mounted on a wall.  I’m not sure where mine falls!

BCP: The poetry you have shared with me is earth based.  Is a lot of your poetry like that?

MP: The poetry that I have been recently and currently been working on is “earth-based.” This is because I have not been able to find happiness in materialist pursuits.  Studies keep saying that Fortune 500 folks aren’t that much happier than the rest of us.  Why?

Granted, material stuff can be cool and fun, but there is a sharp limit to how that stuff can contribute to your beauty and strength, and once that limit is passed, it can actually take away from your beauty and strength.  I feel that not only has our society breached that limit and has become self-consuming, but that we have ignored our basic relationships that give us our beauty and strength—our relationships to Earth, Water, and Sky.  Not just Earth, Water, and Sky outside of us, but the earth, water and sky within us as it passes through each of our bodies whenever we engage in relationships with each other. My poetry helps me to be as conscious of those relationships as much as possible.

BCP: You used to run a radio show.  Did that help you with your writing or vice versa?

MP: It didn’t necessarily help with my expressive writing but it did play a major role in helping to shape and articulate my physical voice, that is, my voice projection and flow and style, but not my spiritual voice—the voice connected to my spirit.

BCP: Years ago you to attended a writers group.  Why did you stop?  Would you consider starting again?  Would you advise attending writing groups to other writers?

MP: For me, writing has become a very much personal process and the writing group was interfering in this process, albeit, unintentionally; I unconsciously let them interfere in my process—which wasn’t a good thing—and so I left when I felt my writing wasn’t developing.

I think because writing is such a personal and sometimes alienating process, it would make sense to have writing groups to mitigate this isolation.  I now instead try to keep a balanced lifestyle to mitigate the isolation of the writing process, experiencing friends, family, and fun in large quantities so that when I’m alone in my writing process those experiences keep me warm and happy.

I wouldn’t advise for/against writing groups because it was a helpful experience in its own way in refining what does/doesn’t work with my writing process.

BCP: You are currently the personal reader for a student at UofT.  Has reading out loud on a consistent basis helped you with your delivery of poetry and spoken word?

MP: I haven’t done enough spoken word since I became a personal reader to see an effect, but my spoken word experience certainly has provided for more entertaining reading sessions!

BCP: The piece you performed for blackcoffeepoet.com was all from memory.  What is your memorization process?

MP: Embodying my poetry/songs is half the memorization because I really am just expressing who I am, so I’m remembering my identity rather than words on paper.  The other half is articulating how I am translating it into words and making sure I know the process of how I’m going to do that.

BCP: What are you working on now?

MP: I’m working on expanding a short story into a novel.

BCP: When do you expect to have your own collection of poetry or spoken word CD published?

MP: That’s not something that I “aspire” to do in a sense; this is not what my intentions are for my songs/poetry—I’m not going out of my way to have my poetry published, but however I’m not against it either.  My poetry is first for my personal healing and healing for the people I love—not financial gain or maximum exposure.

BCP: What advice do you have for other writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?

MP: Well I’ve only had one short story put in print so I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice on that!  I also will always have difficulty with my writing, but living a balanced life enjoying Creation helps me get energized to write and express myself because ultimately it’s my experiences that give meaning to my writing and so my words draw from those experiences.

To those who are afraid to voice their poetry: if you truly want to be heard, you’ll find a way!  Like everything, it just takes a bit of practice… and cliff jumping!  Once you splash in the water you won’t even remember why you got scared in the first place and you’ll want to do it again!