November 24, 2015 – Shirley is thrilled at yet another beautiful review, this one courtesy of Stephen Hong Sohn. You can find his review here or below.
… most readers will find The Significance of Moths to exist in that rare intersection of sophistication and accessibility that so many poetry collections cannot sustain.
I’ve been a little remiss in the reviewing of poetry, and I can see my general oversight is much cause for concern, as I relished the understated lyricism of Shirley Camia’s The Significance of Moths. Camia is intent to employ a minimalist form of poetry that evokes concrete images often at the expense of a specific sense of time and place and more narratively grounded lyrics. In this sense, these poems certainly derive some inspiration from modernist aesthetics. At the same time, Camia’s collection derives a general coherence over a trajectory that seems to operate from the perspective of migration. Camia’s collection is no doubt influenced by an autobiographical impulse, registering the lush, tropical landscape of the Philippines against the displacement the newly arrived migrant feels in another country. Much of the collection deals with these conceptions of loss, especially in the form of the death of loved ones or the desperate desire to recover a sense of home. These desertions, absences, and unrequited yearnings are perceived even in later generations, among the children of these migrants, even if the routes of intergenerational communication do not always seem open. The most compelling aspect of this collection appears when Camia is able to call on ethnopoetics, a term coined by Shirley Geok-lin Lim, in order to provide the basis for the melancholia that inhabits all of the lyric personages. Figures and images such as carabao and duwendes are deployed not as markers of ethnic authenticity or what Frank Chin has occasionally called a form of ethnic pornography but as a way into the complicated (yet beautiful) landscape of the Philippines that haunts migrants after their arrival. If there is a critique to be made of this taut and precise set of poems, it might appear in the more abstracted nature of the new world so to speak. While the Philippines resonates ever ephemerally and effervescently for the collection, as it well should given its primacy as the site of a post-lapserian poetic psyche, a spatial concrete-ness of this new (more barren) world drops out of the picture that would further generate a stronger dissonance that Camia is so elegantly constructing. To be sure, Camia’s lyrics are attentive to certain contexts that make migration and transnational movement so difficult. Indeed, the set of poems focusing on women’s labor, domestic service, and the physical exhaustion so apparent in caring for others is certainly some of the strongest in the entire collection. And most readers will find The Significance of Moths to exist in that rare intersection of sophistication and accessibility that so many poetry collections cannot sustain. Additionally, Camia is part of a notable set of Filipino North American poets who have been producing amazing work. The Significance of Moths would be wonderful to teach alongside other new publications such as Aimee Suzara’s Souvenir, Kristina Naca’s Bird Eating Bird, Barbara Jane Reyes’s poeta en San Francisco, and Luisa A. Igloria’s Juan Luna’s Revolver.