Poet Shirley Camia dedicates her work “to all those struggling to carve out identities in a new place, but enveloped by the old. Feet on one land, mind on another.”
Although born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, having parents who were first generation Filipino immigrants leaves an indelible mark on Camia’s body of work that clearly reflects the dichotomy between East and West, childhood and aging.
Her latest book, Children Shouldn’t Use Knives, is a dark and edgy examination of pre-adolescent life. Camia recalls to Canadian Filipino Net, “When I was working on this project, I was really drawn to being a child again.” It was a difficult period in Camia’s life. An only child, she had to oversee the care of both her parents as they frequented the hospital. “Because of that, I longed to be a kid, when everything was less complicated. But also because of what I was going through, I viewed life through a dark lens.”
Children Shouldn’t Use Knives (At Bay Press) was launched in November 2017 and was met with critical praise, landing in the top five of bookseller McNally Robinsons’ bestseller list for a few consecutive weeks.
Vancouver-based artist Cindy Mochizuki rendered sketches to accompany the poems. Camia praises Mochizuki, “From the start, Cindy really understood what I was attempting to do. I wanted to play on the idea of a collection that looked like a children’s book, but contained poetry that may be considered more adult in content.” The two met in 2015 at the LiterAsian literary festival,when Camia was a featured guest and did a reading from her second book, The Significance of Moths(Turnstone Press, 2015).
In this collection, Camia reveals the experiences of Filipinos living away from the Philippines and grappling with the notion of “home,” whether it be spiritual, emotional or geographic. “The dual nature of experiencing life in Canada and the Philippines when I was growing up inspired the creation of The Significance of Moths.” In the Philippines, moths play a significant symbolic role in beliefs, mythology and folklore.
Camia enjoys the challenge of writing poetry and credits her previous career as a radio journalist to leading her to this chosen form of writing. “When you write stories for broadcast in five or 10-minute newscasts, you really learn the economy of language.” She continues, “Every word counts. I learned how to tell stories in three sentences.”
Bringing with her the Filipino value of helping others, Camia currently lives in Copenhagen, Denmark where she writes content for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She confesses, “From an early age, I was taught the importance of helping others, especially those who are less fortunate, and writing is the way that I can – and hope to be able to – do that.”