Meet the author: Didem Caia
The poem is written from a child’s perspective. Could you describe your motivation for writing from this perspective? Was it difficult to access or remain within this particular point of view?
Honestly, I didn’t realise I was writing specifically from a child's perspective. I sensed I was writing from an adult's perspective, oscillating between memories and developmental stages. However, when I thought about this further - the desire to contact the child's perspective probably comes from my obsession with the inability to remember feelings for that stage of life. This is not uncommon for many people. I have thought about this set of memories in the poem many times, so it wasnt difficult to access this state, but it was difficult to find a way to present the information in a series of moments that essentially convey meaning around isolation, finding words, lack of access to communication tools, and the communication of adults being too advanced for the child - but that's all they have access to.
The poem paints a vivid picture of the dense sociality and intimacy of family life. Could you tell us a bit more about what it was like to write through your personal memories?
Writing the personal is a fascinating proposition for me. I am interested in this because I'm a schematic thinker, I love patterns, connections and I am very attuned to repetition. Family or the domestic domain is a very potent area where I learned how to notice patterns of behaviour. This would occur through the way people used their bodies, voices, the ways they self-soothed and how these techniques are passed on and why. To capture a single moment and stretch it out across time is what I aimed to do with this poem. The question I worked with for this poem was How does the body reveal meaning and story? And the reason for this was because my inability to use words early on meant I needed an alternative tool. This is something people tend to learn later on in life, ie; the text of the body, but I wanted to grant the child more agency and furthermore bring value to the way we communicate feeling through action. I don't know if my poem did this, but that was my aim.
The tactility of hands in the poem stands in contrast to the child-speaker’s retreat into the world of words. What is the relationship between the body and the mind, the sensorial and the metaphorical in your work?
I love this question because it illuminates something to me that I didn't realise I was doing. I have done a lot of my PhD research and research for my counselling and facilitation practices around how the body reveals story. This is probably also linked to me being a performer from a young age and understanding how to use my body in the world and how to modulate my voice or self to attune to others and circumstances. In the case of this poem, I think I was obsessed with how the child learns these things. I have been watching children for around 17 years now - probably beginning with my sister who is twelve years younger. I think children are highly sensitive and open and they can be harmed immeasurably if they are in an unpredictable environment where words don't always match actions. So there are always layers of communication happening in our environments, but because it's not always common to contemplate this moment to moment but to say things like 'oh that felt weird but I'm not sure why in the poem the child/speaker is watching and trying to understand why words are even important when the sensory unfolding in front of them is already telling such a story. The child then inadvertently realises that words are a tool to combat loneliness and isolation. Speaking hides/reveals and words become a distraction to the pain of the things they notice in their family members.
You are also a playwright. Could you tell us more about your work across genres and forms? What does poetry open up or offer you that is distinct from other modalities?
Plays are fascinating to me. Growing up with difficulty with words and understanding the mathematics of sentence structure was difficult in the school system. I was able to counter this through being highly creative and abstract with my ideas and bringing perspective to my written analysis that took away from the fact that my spelling and paragraph structure and flow was jumbled! To this day I'm a much better speaker than a writer. I am currently completing a PhD and the thesis component of my creative practice research has triggered many latent memories of not being able to communicate in a way that is valued in the arena of academia. This brings me to plays. Plays are so beautiful on the page, they oscillate between the rational and irrational, the secrets are all embedded in the dialogue and movement on the page. Reading a play has always been easier for me because of the way the sections build on each other, whereas novels are always blurred for me. Poetry does this too, there is so much scope for building on the page using margins and demarcations and blocks. I also write my plays through speaking. I use my body, walk around a space and find voice and language through speaking into a recorder and then transcribing this to find a story in the speech. It is only at the very end of a process that I will sit for the required time and 'write' the play - but I tend to avoid this stage for as long as I can!
Poetry is both similar and different from a play. Poetry offers me so much. It has enhanced my other writing forms. Poetry isn't objective to me. It isn't blunt or obvious. Poetry as a form is distinct because there is so much unsaid/unwritten, and this matches my own sensibilities of how I see the world. I believe there is so much that isn't obvious, and we exist in the middle space always trying to reach a side because we think we can contact meaning this way. Poetry taught me that every single atom of a moment carries a nuance and a blending of meanings.
How does your piece speak to the possibilities of the “otherwise?”
I love the term 'other'. I know it's so over-used. And I love the word wise! But also, I have had many experiences of the otherwise through understanding how to be a writer, when I have trouble with words. For my family, how do they exist in a country with a history of rejecting the 'other' and how did 'not' learning English obstruct them? For me, it's the opposite. I had a desperation to learn the language so I could participate in society, otherwise I wouldn't be able to pursue these highly creative and connection-based experiences that have enhanced my life so much.
Didem Caia is a writer, speaker and theatre maker from Naarm, Melbourne. She is currently completing her phd in creative practice at RMIT University. Didem has received the prestigious Melbourne Fringe Festival New Voices commission in 2022, has been honored as the RMIT Global Voices Scholar, and is working on her first documentary in collaboration with Vicscreen Australia.
This interview was curated and edited by Otherwisemag poetry editor Grace Zhou