Merlinda Bobis’ process

Poetry – “Most of the time, it’s an accident of composition.”

Hello poets and readers,

We’re delighted to be able to bring you an interview with Filipino-Australian poet Merlinda Bobis. Bobis’ assertion that the writing of poetry is accidental is reflected in the title of her most recent collection Accidents of Composition (2017). Her poetry is characterised by a sense of universal connection with the natural world, reflected in the use of other voices and points of view, including the fishes and birds of the air. Writing is part of that whole, with art as natural an act as the world spinning (2017a, 65).

Bobis’ writing is extremely embodied; lines like “always flesh / never relic” (2017a, 50) reflect this orientation, even where acts of remembrance concern the dead – in another poem, the dead breathe as the living do (2017a, 100). Remembering is an important function of literature, and contemplation of the victims of war and colonialism and refugees are found both in Accidents of Composition, as well as in earlier works, such as the epic poem ‘Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon’ (from Summer was a Fast Train without Terminals, 1998), and ‘Detainee’ (originally published in Rituals, 1990).

Her writing also contains multilingual elements, used in original ways, for example in her poem ‘Siesta’ (from Summer was a Fast Train’), the footnotes give a translation of Filipino phrases but also add new lines which offer challenging cultural insights – Bobis calls this a ‘footnote poem’ (2017b, 24).

She is also a novelist and playwright and the different genres have obviously informed each other. For example, the structure of Accidents of Composition can make it seem like a verse novel, with its recurrent themes and references to cycles and arcs, and a sense of poems speaking to each other, almost like cinematic scenes. Back we come, then, to connections.


Merlinda Bobis, Accidents of Composition: . . . There could be Accidents of Kindness Here (Spinifex, 2017a)

Merlinda Bobis, ‘Subversive Translation and Lexical Empathy: Pedagogies of Cortesia and Transnational Multilingual Poetics’, in Narratives of Difference in Globalised Cultures, eds. B Martin-Lucas & A. Ruthven (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017b, 13-35)

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