Author Q & A with Cristina Legarda

This week’s Author Q&A is with Cristina Legarda. Cristina was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her poem “Imelda” appears in our Winter 2022 issue. Read on to find out what Christina shared with us about her poem and her experiences with writing and craft…

Author Q & A with Cristina Legarda

March 16, 2022

This week’s Author Q&A is with Cristina Legarda. Cristina was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in America magazine, The Dewdrop, Plainsongs, FOLIO, HeartWood, Coastal Shelf, and others. Her poem “Imelda” appears in our Winter 2022 issue. 

We asked Cristina to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of her poem.

Her response: “It’s a true story – in more ways than one, as so often happens in poetry. The Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle was literally one quart in size, but there’s truth undergirding the more magical elements too – a kind of mythic truth about the sinister workings of human power over other human beings. I can’t help but think that if I had written this as an adult when and where the events of the poem took place, I could have been jailed or disappeared. I feel very grateful that taking care with my words, at this moment in time, means choosing the best ones I can think of for the sake of craft, rather than making sure I don’t say or write something that might get me killed.”

Her response is both striking and poignant. Poetry uncovers layers of truth as the lines unfold down the page and those deeper layers are where the real magic of poetry reveals itself. We also sometimes take for granted that we can write whatever we want without fear of consequences, and that that isn’t true everywhere. Her comment is a good reminder.

We then asked Cristina to share something she learned about herself or craft through writing and revising this piece. 

Her response: “Craft both fascinates and intimidates me. I remember watching with dismay the scenes in A River Runs Through It in which Tom Skerritt’s character’s recurring feedback for his young son’s writing was to say, “Half as long.” These scenes helped me internalize the fact that I was going to have to cut ruthlessly, even lines I loved if I wanted to be a serious writer. My first draft of “Imelda” was a wordy morass of rambling sentences; I didn’t get to the smell of the corridor till the third of six stanzas. In the final version it’s in the seventh line – an improvement, I think. Writing this poem, I also continued to learn to be more intentional about diction. Where I originally wrote “gigantic” and “expands,” regarding the mosquito net, I now have “gargantuan” and “shrouds.” I needed the hints of monstrosity and dread that the original words couldn’t offer. Poetry really is a quest for the best words we can find.”

This is another perfect reminder that working through every piece is such a process. Again, as with the comments in the first response about “taking care” and “choosing the best words,” no stone goes unturned. It is tough to let go of those really great lines though, even if they don’t fit! This is a good lead-in for our next question which was to tell us what part of the artistic process is the most difficult and why? 

Her response: “I need a lot of internal self-talk to continue to believe in my own work when I feel stuck in the process of trying to get words on the page, and also because frequent rejection is such a normal part of the writing life (for those who want to share their writing publicly). I cope by trying to discipline myself to respond to writing prompts if I’m feeling “uninspired,” and also by accepting the fact that not everything I write will be or has to be publishable.”

Thank you for that Cristina! Anyone who is actively trying to get their work out there can relate to these sentiments. Discipline and persistence become necessary and it is, so much of the time, a solitary endeavor. 

Finally, as we always do, we asked Cristina to share with us what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life.” 

Her response:  “I think of Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, or human flourishing, which immediately calls forth a daydream of being engaged in a writing project at a desk near a sunlit window at a cozy farmhouse while close friends read or relax or chat in the vicinity, a pheasant sits on her eggs in the yard below, bees buzz at a honeysuckle trellis over the back door, and the aroma of puff pastry baking in the oven wafts to my window from the kitchen nearby. Bliss.”

This is such a poetic response in and of itself. Lovely to imagine this kind of “Good Life.” Thank you, Cristina, for participating in our Q&A and being open to sharing more about yourself and your artistic processes. We are grateful that you gave us the opportunity to publish your words!!  

~The Good Life Review Team