Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Lawrence Lacambra Ypil
By Yong Shu Hoong
When New York-based independent press, Gaudy Boy, opened its call for submissions to its annual Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize in early 2018, Lawrence Lacambra Ypil responded with his manuscript. In August 2018, Ypil, who is a poet and essayist from Cebu in the Philippines, and American poet Jenifer Park were announced as the co-winners of the prize. His book, tentatively titled THERE, will be published in 2019.
Currently based in Singapore, Ypil teaches at Yale-NUS. A graduate from Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, the Philippines, he received an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Washington University in St Louis on a Fulbright Scholarship, and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa. His first poetry collection, The Highest Hiding Place, clinched the Madrigal Gonzalez Best First Book Award.
1. What are you reading right now?
For the nth time, I am beginning WG Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. He's a writer that I have been trying to love for a very long time now. And by "trying", I mean I have begun his novels and, without fail, given up by the 20th page. Again and again. I have perhaps begun reading him more than any other writer, believing that he has something to tell me that is necessary for me to know, that I have asked him out countless times, but then I find myself not interesting enough for him to stay on. Aren't all true attempts at reading infused by the same kind of desperation? That I am finally past the 20-page mark this time around suggests perhaps that I finally have hope, or that I am patient enough to stay with Sebald's sentences, or – oh dear – that I have finally come into some kind of middle age.
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
I have always dreamed of being Henry in John Berryman's Dream Songs. That bold recklessness eludes me. That vigour.
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
That I have been, for most of my life, a good boy.
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
I guess identification reveals less affinity and more the hopes and dreams of who we wish to become – or who we wished we had become. Hence the poets that first "spoke" to us: in my case, Adrienne Rich, whose sense for the possibilities of identity politics, social justice and the power of poetic form, found a wonderful intersection in her work which has continued to be a model for me of what one could do with a life with poetry. That she passed away on my final year of my MFA in poetry while I was in the US – her photograph, I still remember, on the front page of the New York Times – will forever be in my memory as a kind of emblem of the decision I made to pursue poetry. In this way, she is both dead and forever living to me.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Writer's block, that inability to "hear one's voice", has always seemed, to me, to be a difficulty in figuring out who one is talking to or writing for. Overcoming it has always been a matter of remembering where I write from and towards which direction, real or imagined, that I propel my words.
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
The inability, as is often the case, of taking oneself less seriously.
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
"Either you will go through the door, or you will not go through." This is taken from Adrienne Rich's poem 'Prospective Immigrants Please Note'. I guess it is both a great line of poetry and a beautiful piece of advice.
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
Have begun taking taekwondo classes which I am terrible at, but I am enjoying it in utter shamelessness.
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
A tragedy always. That way, if I find anything worth a laugh, then it will feel like such a surprising revelation.
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
Favourite: Comprehend. Least favourite: Cellulose.
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: province, trade, quake.
In the province, I traded seascape for quake.
I imagined the sea, a tremor that kept me awake.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
I almost always hold a pen, even if I am not writing with it.
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
An hour before sunset. There's nothing like this period of day where one feels that time is slipping away quickly.
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
I would love to have at the same table, Roland Barthes, John Berger and Jose Garcia Villa, just to see if they would prefer rice over bread.
16. Can you tell us more about your forthcoming book, THERE, and how it is different from your first book of poems, The Highest Hiding Place?
THERE draws its inspiration from early 20th century photographs of my hometown, Cebu. One could say it locates its voice in the context of history, photography, urban studies, even anthropology. They are poems about the past life of a place, but they are also about longing. In a way, you could say THERE is the prequel to The Highest Hiding Place.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?
QLRS Vol. 17 No. 4 Oct 2018
Farewell, Goodbye, But Not Really.