Poet Theresa Muñoz was born in Vancouver, where she took a B.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She left at the age of 22 “to see the world” and do a Ph.D. in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow. Before that, she’d not travelled much, not even to Scotland. Her first impression of Glasgow? “For weeks I found walking in the rain to be quite uplifting, as it was so much like the weather I grew up with.” Was it the similar weather that drew her to Glasgow? Not at all. She was inspired by the authors she met as a student volunteer:
“While doing my undergraduate degree, I used to volunteer each October at the Vancouver International Writers Festival, which was then run by Alma Lee, originally from Edinburgh. Volunteering in the authors’ hospitality suite, I met Scottish writers such as A.L. Kennedy and Janice Galloway. I read their books and felt very curious and inspired.”
She now works as a university tutor and researcher. But as so many authors doubling as academics have experienced, the path to that small but steady income was not exactly straight: “I have also worked as a classical music events administrator, book seller and for one glorious August, I reviewed children’s shows for The Guardian Festival Guide.” Muñoz also reviews books and writes features for the Scottish Review of Books and Scotland’s The Herald.
Today Muñoz lives in Edinburgh, more specifically, in Newington, on the South side of Edinburgh, in what used to be a mapmaker’s cottage. Of the view from her bedroom window she says, “I can see the Crags and Arthur’s Seat, an old volcano which has lain dormant in Edinburgh. People often climb Arthur’s Seat for the beautiful view – sometimes I can see tiny figures at the summit in the distance.”
Tiny figures in the distance. That must be what her family back in B.C. seem like. How does it feel, being a Canadian of Filipino descent in Scotland? In the first half of her recently published collection of poetry, Settle (Glasgow: Vagabond Voices 2016), she writes about her parents: how they met, the beginning of their working lives in Canada, and then of her own experiences as an immigrant. In the poem “Twenty-two” she draws the parallels between her immigration experience and her mother’s: that they each left home for an unknown city at 22 (her mother from Manila to Toronto, she from Vancouver to Glasgow), experienced the “same church-like shuffle/down the jetway,/same keyhole window seeping light.” (p. 3)
On the other hand, the poems “Ashton Lane” and “Skin” highlight the difference between her mother’s Canadian experiences and the racism experienced by Theresa in the public places of Glasgow and Edinburgh. As Munoz says, “Some of my poems touch upon my Filipino ethnicity, which, coming from a very multicultural country, I never thought about until I came here and encountered the odd comment on my appearance.”
Like Isabel Huggan’s book Belonging, Muñoz’s Settle probes questions of identity and culture, issues that seem more acute when one is an expatriate. I asked if living abroad affects her work. Theresa Muñoz : “Living abroad completely changes my writing. Many of my poems discuss how it feels to be on the outside of an established culture, such as my poem “For me,” which talks about a particular Scottish phrase I hear often but rarely use. Although I’ll probably never take a stab at writing in Scottish dialect, the urban landscapes of Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow – the pubs, streets, libraries – all live in my poems.”
Does a dual citizen — with a home in Scotland, with friends who are writers, artists, journalists, musicians, with the many cultural opportunities on offer in Edinburgh (the Wigtown Book Festival, Aye Write Festival, Shore Poets, Rally and Broad) — still feel Canadian?
“I am still very much Canadian – it comes out in my accent, my affection towards maple syrup and apparently, my supposed optimism! I visit Vancouver at least every year, to see my family whom I miss very much. I also read the book reviews in the Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail every week. I read the winners of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize winner every year. And when the Canadian authors come to the Edinburgh Book Festival, I’m there in the audience!”
Is there a phrase or word that she has picked up that we don’t use in Canada?
“I like the word ‘shoogly’, which is another word for wobbly. My favourite word is ‘chuffed’ though – it means to be pleased and proud.”
And well she should be.
Theresa Muñoz’s work has appeared in several journals in both Canada and the United Kingdom, including Canadian Literature, The Poetry Review, Scottish Review of Books and Best Scottish Poems. Her debut collection of poems, Settle (Glasgow: Vagabond Voices 2016, 62pp.), was shortlisted for the Melita Hume Prize.
- Five Poets in their Own Words, The Herald.
- Theresa Muñoz on immigrating and poetry in The National.
- Scottish Review of Books.
Theresa Muñoz at the launch of Settle.