By Deb A.
Astrolabes & Constellations is poet, writer, and artist Cristina Querrer's first full-length collection of poems. Published as part of the Agave Press Manuscript and Portfolio Series, the volume brings together questions of self, identity, travel, nostalgia, loss, and forgiveness, and examines what it is to be the product of circumstance. We spoke to Cristina about growing up in the Philippines, creative expression, and the meaning of home.
AGAVE: Navigation is a recurrent theme in the collection, and you say of yourself that you've "taken the scenic route in life": You were born and raised in the Philippines as an American military child, and you're a U.S. Army veteran with an MFA and an arsenal of tech skills. How do your poems support you in finding your path? How do they reflect that navigation?
CRISTINA QUERRER: Navigation and nautical imagery have been my recurring themes. Firstly, I come from a fisherman family in the Philippines, so water has been in my blood, so to speak. As far as nautical imagery, it mostly comes from my constant traveling since childhood as a U.S. military child and into adulthood. It’s about my seemingly “meandering” migration pattern and the need to map and document the routes and experiences that appear in my poetry. It reflects back life’s circumstances, all of what is within and beyond my reach.
What does the Philippines mean to you?
The Philippines is my starting point. It’s my birthplace. I explore identity, and I find that being of mixed race, I was blessed to have a fixed Filipino identity, thanks to my mother and her relatives for their inclusion, acceptance, and love.
While you're a writer and poet first, you seem to want to delve into as many creative avenues as possible: You're also an artist and a blogger, and you've recently started podcasting; you've got your eye on songwriting as well. What motivates you to explore so many ways of expressing yourself?
What motivates me to explore various ways of expression is the discovery process. I like to explore other possibilities because I find the many modes of expression are interconnected and quite possibly feeds each other. Just as a visual artist can switch and work on several pieces of paintings, is how I approach the many creative avenues. Right now, building my podcast channel is on my radar, but I have other projects I’d like to return to, like my visual art, my next poetry collection, and finishing up my novel, to name a few.
You mentioned on your first podcast that you wanted to investigate what creativity means to you. What have you discovered so far?
Since my interviewing other writers and poets about their creative process on my podcast, I find that mine is not that different from theirs. Staying creative means staying open to ideas, to explore the possibilities. In my podcast, the writers and poets are doing this, no matter what projects they have done or plan on doing. Continuing to be creative to me is more about mapping and planning as well as being open and being spontaneous.
What do you hope readers of By Astrolabes & Constellations will experience through your poems?
I hope my readers can feel a sense of travel through my collection because it is a result of some of my travels: from the Philippines, the U.S. (Connecticut/New Mexico/Florida), to the Federated of Micronesia, where I have lived and worked briefly, and back. My opening poem talks about a paper boat that traveled the world and came “back to this island.” “This island” can represent the Philippines or something as ubiquitous and essential as feeling home with oneself.
Cristina's podcast can be found at yourartsygirlpodcast.com.
By Deb A.
The world's richest short story competition—this year's winner of the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award will take home around $38,000—closed for entries this past week. While writers around the world cross their fingers, British public radio has an incentive for the next generation of authors to start typing.
BBC Radio 2's 500 Words is the world's biggest short story competition for young people. Open only to UK residents aged 5–13, it nevertheless attracted nearly 135,000 entries last year, and more than 800,000 stories altogether since its inception in 2011. The rules are simple: Children can submit one original story that is no longer than 500 words. And mixing up your and you're is no tragedy: Spelling, grammar, and punctuation don't count. Originality, plot, characterisation, language, and enjoyment do.
Created to foster a love for reading and writing at an early age, the competition offers some fantastic prizes for the winners of each age group (5–9 and 10–13). Gold Award winners will receive a stack of books as tall as the competition's chair, former Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans (that's 1.88m); 500 books for their school library; and a tour of a BBC children's TV show. Silver Award winners will take home the Honourary Judge's height in books; a quick search for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's height yields 1.73m. Entrants should make sure to eat their vegetables, as a Bronze Award will earn them their own height in books. All six winners will also receive an illustration of their story by an acclaimed children's illustrator.
Every entry has been sent to the Oxford University Press since 2012, creating a corpus of 328 million words and counting. An analysis of the data showed that last year, the environment, gaming, women in history, and unicorns were all popular themes. Plastic, used to indicate pollution, was the word of the year.
The 2019 submission deadline is March 7; aspiring authors can find learning resources as well as inspiration (for instance, David Walliams's enthusiastic reading of last year's Gold Award winner for ages 5–9, Evan Boxall's The Poo Fairy) on the 500 Words website.
For slightly older short story enthusiasts, 500 Words is also looking for UK teachers and librarians to act as volunteer judges and whittle down the entries to a long list.
By Deb A.
Is it time to get away? For the days when picking up a book isn't quite enough to truly transport you to another world, here are some places that might help.
Book and Bed, Tokyo & Kyoto, Japan
Book lovers on a budget might enjoy Japan's Book and Bed hostels, which are centred on the concept of "Accommodation Bookstore." Shelves upon shelves of books surround the curtained-off rooms so that when you're done reading, you can just drift off to sleep.
Boutique Hotel + Spa, Zurich, Switzerland
Food and drink are generally frowned upon in libraries, but the Wine Library, which was once a brewery, offers small plates and wine around the clock in case you need sustenance while reading one of the library's 33,000 titles.
Gladstone's Library, Flintshire, Wales
Technically, this is not a hotel; rather, it is a residential library with nearly 150,000 printed items... and 26 boutique bedrooms. Guests have extended use of the Reading Rooms and may bring library books back to their rooms. There are also books in all public rooms
Heathman Hotel, Portland, U.S.A.
The two-storey Heathman Hotel Library houses over 3,000 books signed by their authors, who include Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, and former U.S. Presidents. It is a rare beast: a catalogued lending hotel library.
Juffing Hotel & Spa, Tyrol, Austria
It is clear as soon as you enter the Juffing Hotel & Spa that this will be a thinking person's retreat: Quotes from famous authors line the hallways, there are two libraries (one in the lobby and one in the spa) and each guest room is dedicated to a particular author or topic. You can also borrow iPods with audio books. If you don't manage to finish your paperback before you leave, you can arrange to take it with you and send it back when you're done.
The Library, Koh Samui, Thailand
The Library's library, The Lib, is a minimalist white room with a curated collection of over 1,400 books. It overlooks the sea, but guests will probably prefer to read by the hotel's Red Pool or nearby Chaweng Beach.
Library Hotel, New York City, U.S.A.
New York City's Library Hotel organises its more than 6,000 books by the Dewey Decimal System, just like your local library. One of the Dewey Decimal System's 10 categories provides the theme for each floor of the hotel, and every guest room features 50-150 books on a particular topic.
âSchloss Elmau, Elmau, Germany
The site of the 2015 G7 summit offers the Silentium Library for "reading, thinking & dreaming," but if you need to roll up your sleeves, head to the Wetterstein Library ("for working") instead. If you're not adverse to a chat and a drink while you try to finish the last pages of your paperback, try the Library Lounge at the Retreat. There's also a bookstore that holds book presentations and talks with authors.
Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, India
The Palace Library is billed as one the grandest of the hotel's already quite grand rooms. Amongst its 5,900 books is a rare book collection for you to peruse under the ornate teak ceilings.
By Deb A.
There is something slightly different about the coverage of the 2019 winner of one of Australia's most prestigious literary prizes; it is as though there are too many angles to address at once. The Victorian Prize for Literature honours the best in Australian writing, but the winning book was not written by an Australian citizen or permanent resident. It did not take shape in a traditional way: It was neither scribbled into a notebook nor typed into a laptop. No; the winning author, Behrouz Boochani, is a Kurdish-Iranian refugee living in detention on Manus Island. He wrote his non-fiction book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, in Farsi and primarily on WhatsApp, sending his work message by message directly to his translator to ensure it would not be destroyed.
The Wheeler Centre, which organises the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, called No Friend But the Mountains "a voice of witness, an act of survival, a first-hand account, a cry of resistance, a vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile," It made an exception to its rules on the recommendation of its judges so that Mr. Boochani could enter the competition, noting that the story of asylum seekers on Manus Island is an Australian story and therefore including No Friend But the Mountains for consideration was in the spirit of the awards' intention. The Australian government did not make an exception to its rules, however; Mr. Boochani was not allowed to accept his prize in person in Melbourne. Instead, his translator, Omid Tofighian was there in person, watching the author deliver his speech via video link.
"This award is a victory," Mr. Boochani told the audience. "A victory for human beings, for human dignity, A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers."
Mr. Boochani is a journalist who fled Iran after several of his colleagues were imprisoned. He has chronicled life in detainment for The Guardian and filmed and codirected a documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, on his phone. The centre where he was originally detained was closed in 2017; since then, he has lived in facilities that Amnesty International described as "moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another." Upon receiving the Victorian Prize for Literature, he told The Guardian that his "main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years."
Follow Behrouz Boochani on Twitter: @BehrouzBoochani
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