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On the table

Kaya Ortiz

"I had all these poems about racial and cultural identity, diaspora and the struggle to belong. The sort of thing I’ve been writing about for a couple of years now. But I’d felt this urge for a while to move beyond that, or to expand on those themes in a different way."

On The Table is an interview series with emerging writers from the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship. Here, writers reflect on their Hot Desk experience, the changes to their practice, and the connections they made.

Kaya Ortiz Lattimore is Filipinx, mixed race, an immigrant, queer, a writer and poet, among other things. Kaya grew up in the Philippines and Hobart, and as of 2019 moved to and now lives in Perth.

Can you tell us about your writing practice?

At the moment I write mostly poetry, and I’ve started dabbling a bit in nonfiction. In my writing, I’ve been obsessed with migration narratives, family history, language and identity. But lately I’m more interested in the intersections of queer and cultural identity, eco-poetics and writing from joy instead of trauma.

I’m not very good at following a self-determined writing routine. Maybe it’s because I’m a poet, and I can generally finish a draft of a poem in one sitting. I tend to write when I have an idea I’m really excited about, or if I’m really bored. It probably doesn’t help that my writing often happens in bursts. Like, I’ll have a week or two where I’m churning out poems, followed by a couple of dry weeks. While I do still try to write during dry weeks, it can be a bit like drawing blood from a stone. I have a few techniques that help me get started, like free writing, or starting with a single word, line, thought or quote. But I do have to be a bit easier on myself when I feel like I’m not being productive enough, or that everything I’m writing is terrible. I try to remember that all writing is good because it all contributes to the practice.

Where did you start at the beginning of the Hot Desk Fellowship? What changed in your work and what did the Fellowship allow you to do?

When I started, I had all these poems about racial and cultural identity, diaspora and the struggle to belong. The sort of thing I’ve been writing about for a couple of years now. But I’d felt this urge for a while to move beyond that, or to expand on those themes in a different way. Applying for the Fellowship was what really got me thinking specifically about how I wanted to do that, especially with a poetry collection in mind. When I got accepted for the Fellowship I was excited to get started. It was so motivating to have actual goals in mind and a dedicated space where I could sit down and get to work, rather than drifting about aimlessly as I tend to do. I haven’t achieved everything I wanted to do but I’ve written several new poems that I’m really proud of. Being involved with the Centre also gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I had the chance to work with Liminal Magazine to interview local Perth artists, and submitted work to the Tiger Moth Review and Singapore Review of Books. Finally, I used some of my Hot Desk time to work on my first short non-fiction piece, which was accepted for publication.

A photogrpah of Kaya standing by a bright orange wall. They have a checkered shirt on and they are looking directly at the camera.

Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?

As I mentioned before, I was able to sit down and write with intention, which was really helpful for my practice. The space and the other writers also gave me a sense of accountability that I don’t have at home. It meant that even when I wasn’t writing, I was still doing work like reading, editing, researching, answering emails or submitting. I definitely still got distracted, but it was much easier to get back on track and to stay focused. This experience has taught me how to better manage myself as a writer. Setting goals and making a dedicated writing space is something that I’ll definitely continue doing after the Fellowship.

How did you find the culture of the Centre for Stories? 

I found the Centre to be open and inclusive. The atmosphere is laid-back and everyone is very friendly. It really feels like a community. I love the work they do to share the stories of people from all different backgrounds, and to encourage and support local writers and other creatives. This work is so important, and it’s been a privilege to be in this space for the last ten weeks and meet others who are involved with the Centre.

What relationships have you developed from your Hot Desk Fellowship?

Everyone I’ve met is really cool and talented, and I’ve gained some new acquaintances and friends. I’m looking forward to reading all the work that they come out with, and hope to be able to collaborate with some of them in the future. It’s been great to meet other writers and write alongside them, and so important to have a community.

Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk, where will you take your writing? 

I’ve done a bit of submitting just in the last couple of weeks. I’m slowly working towards a full length poetry collection manuscript, but all that means right now is that I’m compiling and writing poems. I’m not in a hurry, but it will mean less submitting to journals for a while. I mentioned I’ve been dabbling in nonfiction, and I plan to keep doing that and seeing where it goes. I’ll also be at uni studying creative writing next year, which I’m really excited about.

Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?

During the Fellowship, my goal was to write poems that dealt with themes of identity and belonging in a different way than I’ve written about previously. I wrote ‘ritual’, which went through a number of drafts, to explore the relationship between my religious upbringing and my queer identity. ‘Undercut Season’ is basically the opposite of ‘ritual’ in form, theme and language. It uses more everyday language and includes some pop culture references, as well as indirectly referencing poems by Ross Gay and Gwendolyn Brooks. The poem was also partly inspired by all the jacaranda I’ve been seeing around Perth (we don’t get them in Hobart!). I also worked on a couple of eco-poems, and the one I’ve submitted here is ‘(earth is) another word for prayer’. This poem was inspired by a couple of lines by Brenna Twohy in her poem ‘& I’m Sorry’, which is a break-up poem. ‘(earth is) another word for prayer’ is about taking responsibility for environmental damage and climate change.

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