Poetry Grrrowl: Children Shouldn't Use Knives + Shirley Camia

April 19, 2019

Born out of struggle and an obsession with childhood comes Shirley Camia's dark and deeply personal collection  Children Shouldn't Use Knives (At Bay Press). Shirley sits down with us in today's Poetry Grrrowl feature to talk more about how the smallest of observed actions inspires her work and how strength can rise from the ashes of innocence lost.

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Interview with the Poet



All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection.

Shirley Camia:  Children Shouldn’t Use Knives is a mini-collection of poetry, one that explores some of the darker moments of childhood that can puncture holes in one’s innocence, but can also become sources of great strength.

The book was created over the course of a particularly challenging period in my life, when both of my parents were frequently in and out of the hospital. I not only wanted to be a child again, but was desperate to focus on something – anything – other than the inevitable realities that were beginning to unfold. The obsession that I had with childhood during that time manifested into this book, complete with quotes from children’s book authors, as well as illustrations from the enormously talented Cindy Mochizuki.


ALU: What is your process for beginning a poem? Has it changed since you began writing?

SC: The process begins by being observant and being open. A poem is inspired by experience, one that resonates so much that I can’t help but write it down. Sometimes it’s a random line, other times, it’s the essence of a complete poem. What follows are alternating periods of revision and percolation (and frustration).

This process has largely remained unchanged – although since migrating mostly from paper to my computer and phone, I don’t use as many post-its as I used to!


ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

SC: I don’t know if there was ever an initial spark – I’ve always loved the beautiful and multitudinal ways that words can be strung together to evoke emotion and engage the senses. Hearing in particular. As a former radio journalist, I’ve always been drawn to the melodies that words create. My writing has certainly been shaped by how phrases sound when they are read aloud.


ALU: Who are some of your fave women of poetry?

SC: There are many: Hoa Nguyen, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Phoebe Wang, Meghan O’Rourke, Mary Oliver, Marjorie Evasco, Kay Ryan – to name a few.


ALU: What do you find most informs and inspires your writing?

SC: Life – much of it derived from the day-to-day existence of those closest to me, and the small acts of sacrifice and survival I have observed over the years. My work is a way of showing recognition and appreciation.


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A Poem from Children Shouldn't Use Knives





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shirley camia headshot

Shirley Camia is a Filipina-Canadian poet and the author of four collections of poetry, including the award-winning Children Shouldn’t Use Knives (At Bay Press, 2017) and the forthcoming Mercy (Turnstone Press, 2019). Her work has been featured in publications such as The New QuarterlyContemporary Verse 2 and TAYO. She is currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark.






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