Gin, Poetry, and Slaying the Devil: Joel M Toledo Interviews Lourd De Veyra

By | 1 October 2020

JMT: Your new book’s title Marka Demonyo does have an ominous ring to it. What made you decide on the title?

LdV: I was originally thinking of something else, but Lang Leav beat me to Memories. Kidding. Marka Demonyo is the street name of the most popular cheap gin in the country. It’s because of that famous artwork by Philippine National Artist Fernando Amorsolo of St Michael slaying the devil. For less than a dollar you can buy a bottle and get extremely shit-faced, once upon a time the drink of choice among inner-slum communities. The gin (Ginebra is its proper brand name) is a most-popular light-brandy that’s infernal in its sweetness.

JMT: We sure could use a strong drink these days.

LdV: Of course, in a larger context, with the government’s drug war, it seems an apt metaphor for the season. You see corpses of ‘junkies’ and ‘pushers’ with all sorts of scary prison-grade tattoos on their scrawny arms and chests. The government had declared that drugs are the enemy that must be destroyed at all cost, and Duterte’s scorched earth policy starting 2016 razed nightly through mostly squatter communities. Now, bullet-ridden corpses and bodies wrapped in tape bearing signs of torture fished out of dirty canals have been a regular sight for little children.

JMT: How many poems make up the collection and is there an overarching theme?

LdV: Originally there were 50-plus pieces, but at the last minute I felt some were overestimations of my poetic skills so we’re down to a sorry 46. If you notice the size, it’s meant to feel like a prayer book, a delightfully sick suggestion by Andrea Pasion-Flores, my publisher.

Theme? All the jolly ones, I guess – the prehensile atmosphere of death, faith, etc. Here are also attempts at metaphysical digressions.

You’ll find the majority deals with the bloody absurdity of the drug war, the imagery set in the claustrophobic darkness of slum interiors, the point of view of the meth-head’, the mind on amphetamines. I tried imagining in stark, surreal black and white and I guess Eric Roca’s illustrations capture the essence. A lot of the themes explore disturbing narratives regularly seen on primetime news. For instance, the first poem ‘Lard’, addresses the concept of desperate parents in the provinces who are apparently forcing their prepubescent daughters into doing online pornography.

JMT: This is your first book of poems since 2011. What prompted this return to verse?

LdV: Hey, that one you got right. It’s been a while since my last book of poems. Anyway, the newsroom isn’t exactly the kind of ecosphere that would inspire Mary Oliver. For the past nine years, I was living a professional life whose manifold aspects conspire to bludgeon my brain into absolute oatmeal. But I never stopped writing verse, actually; at least I had managed to delude myself that I was not completely ‘whore-servicing’ the God of Filthy Lucre. I’m not that kind of writer who’d systematically compile pieces for publishing. I would not, in fact, haul ass if nobody slapped a deadline. For some strange reason, now that I’m older, I seem to have developed a terrible inferiority complex with my writing. Opening your freshly published book for the first time is one of the most truly terrifying things – catching a potential error here and there.

JMT: How long did it take you to write them? Or is this book spanning the last nine years of compiled work and realised drafts?

LdV: I’ve written more, actually, but I thought most of them suck, or were begging to be included in another volume. The majority of the work here was written in the past three to four years. Damn that Facebook.

JMT: Talk about the process of writing them. Is there a particular ambiance you need, or perhaps a ritual that you follow when contemplating poetry?

LdV: I keep a fairly messy notebook that I dip into when in need of images, phrases. In addition, the iPhone Notes app has been a trusted tool (reporters and TV production people have mastered the art of writing entire scripts on ‘smart phones’). I also have this weird practice of bringing to the office poetry books that I hope would have a stylistic effect on what I’m writing. A talisman of sorts. For instance, If I’m attempting short pieces, I’d carry a volume by Charles Simic, but then I’d be too carried away, so I end up reflecting on my misguided ambition and getting bludgeoned by self-doubt.

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