PLUMA: Young Fil-Can writers celebrate

Community News & Features Dec 8, 2017 at 6:35 pm
Shirley Camia, author of Calliope, The Significance of Moths, and Children Shouldn’t Use Knives.

Shirley Camia, author of Calliope, The Significance of Moths, and Children Shouldn’t Use Knives.

By Rachel Evangeline Chiong

“It’s called Pluma, because you know,” Jennilee Austria, YA novelist and host of the night, stroked her fingertips in the air, “the tips of the feather are a plume and that’s what writers used.”

On November 23rd, a small room tucked into a corner of the University of Toronto’s campus was so packed the foldable seats became a hot commodity. In two atomically-condensed hours, Pluma, a collective of Filipino-Canadian writers, squeezed their talent behind a tiny podium, resulting into a show-and-tell, where the object in question was sometimes a well-loved paperback or a poem tucked into the cyber folders of a MacBook.

To set the stage, Diana Biacora, who had instigated Pluma’s conception, and Mia Herrera read from their respective bookmarked publications. Herrera strategically picked an engrossing scene from her book, Shade, that had the audience clucking at the main character’s spineless boyfriend.

Diana Biacora reading from ‘Inang’

Diana Biacora reading from ‘Inang’

Patty Rivera, a poet herself, read from her daughter, Rani Rivera’s, posthumous collection, All Violet. While she joked about the font in the book being too small, her hands shook when she took out her glasses, as she explained to a hushed audience that the poems were found on her daughter’s computer after her death and the one she would be reading that night was titled “Revised Suicide Note”.

The somber atmosphere warmed up, when Jennilee Austria captivated us with her childhood encounters at Bathurst and Wilson. Then Yves Lamson’s audio-book pristine narration transformed the words on his tablet into the world of his manuscript Bodies of Water. Ysh Cabana, stirred the audience with unapologetic poetry and had laughed when I bombarded him afterwards with, “Ysh! I didn’t know you wrote SPOKEN-WORD!”, admitting to me that he had wanted to try out it’s lyrical style.

The performances kept coming in complementary pairs. John Smith, co-director of 187 Augusta, read his poetry with a tenderness usually reserved for star-gazing, and Pamela Dungao, author from The White Wall Review, wasted no time cutting corners with her intimate, yet confident verses.

Eric Tigley reading from Round Brown Blues.

Eric Tigley reading from Round Brown Blues.

Eric Tigley, whose art brightened the washed-out walls of the room, read to us library-style from his children’s book, Round Brown Blues, making a show of turning the pages.  He coyly stopped short of the cliff-hanger. “You’ll find out the rest when you buy the book,” he said, as he started to close it shut. But amid the protest and Jennilee’s strong, 10-out-of-10 recommendation to “Finish it!”, he continued the story, whose details I’ll keep privy. You’d have to buy the book to find out.

But that night was also a celebration of Shirley Camia’s third publication Children Shouldn’t Play with Knives. In her distinct style of disciplined word-economy, Camia layered every word with intense intentionality. During the silences between each poem, the audience sank in a pool of emotions unbeknownst to Camia, who had grit her teeth apologetically saying, “It’s a bit dark”, as she thumbed through the hardcover. “Oh, Pam should have read last, mine are so serious.”

In the end, it is difficult to encapsulate that evening, without being aware that every description of every piece by every performer would only be a hollow summary of the magic of that night. But if the writers of Pluma taught us anything, it is that stitching these second-hand memories together is another story worth telling.

So as they gain momentum in the coming new year, seeking new faces for their next reading, be assured that we have only touched on the first chapter of Pluma’s ground-shaking epic.

 

Group photo (left to right): Yves Lamson, Mia Herrera, Diana Biacora, Jennilee Austria, Pamela Dungao, Patty Rivera, Shirley Camia, Ysh Cabana, Eric Tigley, and John Smith

Group photo (left to right): Yves Lamson, Mia Herrera, Diana Biacora, Jennilee Austria, Pamela Dungao, Patty Rivera, Shirley Camia, Ysh Cabana, Eric Tigley, and John Smith