Erasing lines in the sand – Pluma highlights migration narratives through poetry chapbook
For migrants far from the comforts of home in a foreign land, sometimes the only recourse to release pent-up feelings is through the pen. The Kuwait-based Pluma Migrant Writers Guild is a group of individuals focusing on contemporary migration literature, who got together in Sept 2013. Members find ways to challenge socio-cultural divides, with the writers serving as the mouthpieces. The guild holds cross-cultural discussions and presentations on various migration topics in the Gulf and across the globe. The writers pen down what they learned through poetry, prose and other literary genres and publish works in different languages through various media. The name pluma is derived from Tagalog for plume (quill) or pen (writing tool). Kuwait Times spoke with Pluma spokesperson and Kuwait Times contributing writer Armineonila M (Armie) to find out more about their activities.
Kuwait Times: What is the goal of Pluma?
Armie: Pluma is a group of writers who highlight migration narratives and underscore the diachronic atmosphere of migration literature, with the principal goal of “closing the gaps between cultural societies”. We write about themes that highlight cultural diversity and cross-cultural relationships. We wish to underline the significance of literature as a way of bridging cultural boundaries and encouraging cross-cultural dialogue through poetry reading, forums and creative writing activities by tackling subjects and issues prevalent in a multicultural platform, like racism, human rights, workers’ rights, integration, political movements, border conflicts and various influences in migration writings.
KT: How does the group work? Do you have open membership? How many members?
Armie: Pluma does not follow any organizational structure, is open to individuals who are interested in migration narratives, whether they are citizens or migrants, living in Kuwait or abroad. Interested individuals may contact us anytime. We communicate and share readings through digital platforms and meet-ups. Our current members are Nabeel Philip Mohan, Alliah “Lenzkie” Tabaya, GAP Gutierrez, Wilfred Waters, Mujel Hasan, Tammy Sulit, Rahani Mohan, Moiz Dahodwala, Gina Testigo, Mona Kareem and Armineonila M. In the future, we may accept open submissions of literary writings for collaborative or individual projects centered on migration topics.
KT: How often do you meet? What are the requirements? Are your members all foreigners or do they include locals too?
Armie: We meet as often as our schedules permit, and our sole requirement is an interest in migration literature, regardless of nationality, age, gender, etc. On the other hand, integration has always been difficult, but we hope to incorporate local writers into our projects. We are aware this will take a tremendous amount of understanding and a willingness to be open to everything as well as peaceably working through issues between the cultures – as each member almost serves as a delegate of their nation and the last thing that we want for members of Pluma is to be unable to air their grievances in front of a member of the host culture. Locals, of course, must also be able to air their grievances, but as migrants have a more difficult time doing this through official channels, this is more important.
KT: Tell us about the book, No Return Address. Where did the idea come from?
Armie: ‘No Return Address: A collection of poems’ is a chapbook containing epistles or letter poems addressed to recipients who share meaningful relationships with the senders. Each letter is a depiction of individuals who wish to privately voice their experiences, even long-held secrets, while living abroad. The writers, although having full or partial knowledge of the lives of the letter senders they are representing and may represent anybody in the same situation, serve as the “messengers”. The book includes letters from a migrant to his ambassador, a tenant to a haris, a household worker to the kafeel, a beneficiary to a wasta, a neighbor to a neighbor, a household worker to a coworker, an organization member to a leader, a critic to a social worker, a passerby to a construction worker, a medical worker to a patient, an interracial couple to the wedding guests, a child to migrant parents, a sibling to a second generation migrant, and a migrant to the homeland. The idea is for the sender to try to connect with the recipient, in the hopes of understanding the realities that engulf each. The concept materialized while reflecting on the significance of the so-called “long-distance” communication, viewed as an instrument in “keeping people together”, either through snail mail, SMS or email, although “distance” as we know it seems immeasurable. The theme outlines the dynamics of letter sending, which is synonymous to migrating, as well as the anonymity of both sender and recipient, which exhibits the arbitrariness of identity and experiences. Hence the title “No Return Address”. We are working on a possible chapbook carrying the responses of the recipients in this chapbook.
KT: Why poetry? Why not short stories?
Armie: While conceptualizing an idea that may best illustrate the migration experience, we thought of choosing epistles or letter poems to capture the gist of migration themes, as mentioned earlier. As this project is a chapbook, meaning the book from cover to cover, as a whole, is a concept and indivisible, epistolary poems blend well with the idea of a mailbox, and therefore, blends well with the idea of overseas correspondence. The poems were also carefully arranged in chronological order, in terms of both theme and form. On the other hand, we are working on prose as well, which is due for future publications. And as we go along, we are also keen on conceptualizing fresh literary ideas in the future.
KT: How has it been received? Do you find a strong readership for poetry in Kuwait among migrant workers?
Armie: Both Pluma and the chapbook have been received with great interest. As for Pluma, the guild was invited for interviews overseas, as with migrant-rights.org last July. We are also scheduled to be interviewed by an international radio network in France. The guild also collaborated with local groups like the Human Rights Mapping Meetup which organized a map of abused household workers through video conferencing with a crowdmap creator overseas in May 2014 at the TIES Center. The En.v Initiative also acknowledged the guild on its website. We have also been featured in The Filipino Panorama, The Filipino Magazine in Kuwait (TFM) and Pag-usapan Po Natin of the Kuwait-Philippines Cultural Center (KPCC).
On the other hand, the chapbook, although it was published in August, was only delivered to local bookshops in the second week of December, and we are currently working to promote and answer inquiries. The chapbook is now available at Better Books and CafÈ in Salmiya and Jarir Bookstore in Hawally, and it is waiting to enter other local bookstores as well. It will also soon be available in a print-on-demand format as well as in e-book format from online retailers such as Lulu.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.
KT: What was the most challenging aspect of the creation of the book and what did you learn from it?
The publishing procedure here in Kuwait is somewhat different compared to other countries. Usually, an ISBN is not required when publishing chapbooks abroad, which we found was not the case in Kuwait. As we are self-publishing writers, we also experienced the same challenges other self-published authors go through, doing all the stuff on their own. But one of the most challenging obstacles was obtaining a permit from the ministry for the chapbook to be distributed locally. Even though it passed the censorship board, as migrants who independently work on a book such as this one, we were open to the possibility that airing our thoughts might make or break the group’s future while anxious about our members’ residency status in the country.
KT: What do you hope readers will take away from this collection of poetry about migrants’ lives in Kuwait?
We hope that this chapbook will mark the beginning of a relationship where both the migrant community and the local population could work out an environment for open communication to settle differences. This is only possible if both sides work together to see past these differences and treat migrants not merely as guest workers but as humans. We hope that the local population will realize that there is a great divide between their experience of their country and many migrants’ experiences.
Armineonila M. (Armie)
Armineonila M. (Armie) is the founder of Pluma Migrant Writers Guild. Born and raised in the Philippines, she studied Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines. Her poems and short stories were published in Kuwait Philippines Cultural Centre (KPCC) Pag-usapan Po Natin Magazine, The Filipino Magazine in Kuwait (TFM), OFWorld Magazine, and Best Poems Encyclopedia. Her articles appeared in The Filipino Panorama, Kuwait Times, and Friday Times. She is now working on a poetry book, a collection of satirical essays, and a cookbook.
Source: Kuwait Times