Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Marjorie Evasco
By Yong Shu Hoong
Filipino poet Marjorie Evasco has had many connections to Singapore. Not only does she have many writer-friends in Singapore, one of her poems was published in QLRS in 2011 and, many moons ago, she was a featured poet at Wordfeast 2004, billed as Singapore's first international poetry festival.
Born in 1953 in Maribojoc, Bohol, in the Philippines, she writes in two languages: English and her mother tongue, Cebuano-Visayan (Boholano variant). In 2010 she received the Southeast Asian Writers Award (S.E.A. Write Award) for poetry. She had also been honoured with the Ani ng Dangal award by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, as well as the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas, a lifetime achievement award given out by the Writers' Union of the Philippines.
She represented her country in the Poetry Parnassus festival in Southbank Centre in London during the 2012 London Olympics. She has also participated in international poetry festivals in Medellín, Columbia, in 2008, and in Granada, Nicaragua, in 2011. Among her writing residency grants were those awarded by the Rockefeller Center for Studies in Bellagio, Italy; the Hawthornden Literary Retreat at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland; and the International Writing Program in the University of Iowa.
Her poems have been translated into many languages and can be found in anthologies like Norton's Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry and The First Five: A New Collection of Southeast Asian Writing.
She is a University Fellow and Professor Emeritus in Literature of De La Salle University, Manila, where she serves as writer-in-residence and continues to teach in the graduate literature programme.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
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?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: front, origin, hyphen.
What use is that hyphen in your family name,
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. In view of events happening in the Philippines and the rest of the world, how has your writing about women's rights evolved over the years?
In 2014, the Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities published a ground-breaking anthology called Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change, and I contributed a narrative poem in my mother tongue. In 2017, the University of Santo Tomas published Sustaining the Archipelago: Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry, edited by Rina Garcia Chua, which had three of my poems. And because the terrible 2013 earthquake shook Bohol, my home island, and destroyed our heritage buildings, I worked for four years with Boholano writers in retrieving our fragile memoirs of growing up on the island, and edited a place and memory anthology titled The Bohol We Love, published by Anvil in 2017.
In September 2019, I was asked to come back from retirement to teach again in graduate school, while also serving De La Salle University (DLSU)'s appointment as writer-in-residence. I designed a course on 'Pathography', which enabled students to write narratives on illness, healing and death.
In early 2020, the pandemic was declared by WHO while I was on my second term of teaching. The university shifted to full online teaching while Manila was put under a harsh lockdown. I then broached to the university's Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center the idea of holding a writing workshop for Filipino doctor-writers, to enable them to write their nonfiction narratives on the pandemic. I designed the prototype workshop and directed it last September 2020 with two doctor-writers as co-panellists. There were only four out of 10 female doctors in the first batch. Among them is gastroenterologist and clinical epidemiologist Dr Elvie Razon-Gonzalez, whose creative nonfiction on the existential challenges of being a frontline female doctor-poet who is also a mother of four, a wife of a surgeon, and a dutiful daughter to elderly parents was presented in the fifth plenary session of the March 2021 DLSU Arts Congress on the theme 'Pandemic, Resilience, and the Arts'.
In March and April 2021, I'm directing the second of the series of Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshops for Doctors, which now has seven female doctors out of 10 workshop fellows.
From time to time, I also write journalistic articles for the Women Writing Women blog managed by former members of the Women's Feature Service collective. And I'm in constant touch with my wish-sisters in writing, namely Susan Lara, Grace Monte de Ramos and Nadine Sarreal, sharing our critique of current events in our society's toxic masculinity in politics, and inspiring each other to resist and endure the general ineptitude of the present administration in handling the pandemic in favour of its preparations for the forthcoming presidential elections in 2022.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone? I'd like the last four lines of my poem 'Is it the Kingfisher' to be engraved on my tombstone: Seawaves sing it, the kingfisher flies in it, this island is rooted in it. Desiring God is transparent blue – the colour which makes our souls visible.QLRS Vol. 20 No. 2 Apr 2021