by KB Meniado
I met Richsean Jeff Dy at the Booklatan session led by the National Book Development Board last November 9 in Toril, Davao City. His table displayed a copy of his zine, sa ikapito, ako dapat ang maglaho, a collection of poems about how it means to love and to hurt, to let go and to grow.
“It’s my first time to take part in something like this” was what Sean told me as I leafed through the pages. He said he’d always been hesitant to sell his zines—self-doubt, fear of rejection, lack of overall support, financial constraints… we all know about these. But that day was obviously not like the others because finally, he decided to put his work out into the world.
On my end, I thought it was a little bit of kismet. I went into that event with the hope of not only meeting more local creators but actually finding an opportunity to help them out in my own way—and I did. Sean’s experience moved me, and I thought fellow creators, even those not based in Davao, could learn a thing or two from him.
Hi, Sean! Thanks for accepting this interview. I’m in awe of your courage to push to write and create still in spite of the struggles. Do you still remember the first piece you ever wrote, go back to it and reflect how far you’ve come?
The first piece I wrote was when I was 13: “The Similes of Salt and Light.” It was a piece about finding the self and adding flavor to your life and work. It was a time I discovered the habit of reading, and [I remember the book I read at the time was] Paulo Coelho’s Brida which had themes about spirituality and witchcraft, and finding who you truly are. [Writing creatively] was a little difficult then because the only thing I had that time was the equal knowledge of the things that I read. Our school [in Mati, Davao Oriental] didn’t really support literature so I had to advocate for myself. I still have the copy of the piece and I can still remember some of the lines from it. But if I were to compare the themes and structure I used then and now, I believe my writing has become quite technical and thought-out, and there is an actual flow and theme in the way I make my collections.
Who were the other voices you listened to growing up? Who continues to inspire your writing?
I was exposed to the works of William Cullen Bryant, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe. They mostly taught me about how to be confessional in writing and how being so can continuously draw out honest emotions from certain experiences.
Bryant was pretty much direct about the realities and intricacies of human existence such as “Thanatopsis.” Plath was the relatable teenage dilemma of the olden times but her approach became her niche. E.A Poe was the gruesome storyteller that put kids to full attention at night. It is likely their work that has influenced my present content, [which can read vividly dark at times].
“Shriveled as your moisture left my skin
Withered by promises, unable to bloom
A molten residue of the mess you brought
I am a grassland parched by the sun”
I also learned that the human dilemma continues to journey when I ‘met’ Rupi Kaur, Charissa Ong Ty (C.oty), David Sedaris and Stephen King. These four amazing authors (novelist, essayist and poets) molded me throughout my artistic drought in 2016. Kaur’s viewpoints about femininity and abuse had me woke; C.oty taught me the importance of short stories, flash fiction and the never-ending urge to find a personal creative process; Sedaris educated me about the sharpness and edge of formulating a keen understanding of the things that surround; and King, who showed me how to [inject] a shocking realization at the end of each chapter.
One of the local Mindanao writers I look up to and recommend is Nina Maria Matalam Alvarez, who has a psychedelic way of stringing words together and transporting you to another world.
You took the leap to make zines—what is your favorite thing about the process, and what has been the most challenging for you?
I attempted to create a zine in 2017, but I surrendered because the process of printing and arranging [pages] frustrated me. This year, I had the urge to formulate a zine one more time, hence the birth of sa ikapito, ako dapat ang maglaho, which uses a confessional approach of my experiences about love, fading and loss.
My favorite part is the intensifying emotions I build in the collection, while the most challenging part is [still] the arrangement. [Those last] few pages left are the struggle. I do believe that even if it is a poetry collection, I should still create a binding story for my reader. One has to create an avenue of exposure or exploration, and at the end, there should either be revelations or resolutions.
“when his spine cracked
right after he locked the gate
and tripped on an uneven bump
he fought hard
to make amends for the times
that he was carried,
I saw tears in his eyes
saying, he does not want to live
he was tired”
Putting yourself out there as a creator can be quite daunting. While you’ve said that you always try to educate yourself, do you have people you turn to for support and/or mentorship? Or are you more of a lone creative?
When I have the moral and artistic fear of being a creator, I go to my mother, my best mentor. She is actually the tree that bore fruit and I was the only lucky enough to have been able to pick one.
I’d like to think I am a lone creative, but with people who believe in me.
Pros [of being one], you have the time for your self, you are not pressured to mesh with anyone, you can think of the words you want without anybody trying to correct you. In short, it’s freedom.
Cons, when you temporarily lose the urge to be creative in a certain span of time, you do not really have any easy access to inspiration and you just wait for it to return (the fear of not being able to write again due to no validation).
But even for me as a lone creative, I learn to find essence in things that don’t make sense. You just have to study and read again.
Read and read and read, that’s always the way to go 🙂 Last but certainly the most special, what does it mean for you to be a Filipino creator?
To be a writer in Mindanao is empowering for me. I had the courage to take a step forward and it also taught me to persevere in spite of the challenges, be that in communities or in society. It gives me an opportunity to ‘infiltrate’ the minds of other people, and I hope that [my work gives them the courage] to face a fear—confessions. I believe I create things most would not initially read, but I know there are more and more that appreciate the different forms and expression of art and stories. I always tell those writers younger than me to just continuously write, because someday you’ll be reading your works as if you never knew the writer. ☁️