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Filipino-Singaporean wins Foyle Young Poets award

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 13, 2023 5:00 am

Tara Tulshyan, a Filipino-Singaporean poet, marked her latest significant accomplishment late last year when a poem of hers was selected among the top 15 winners of the prestigious Foyle Young Poets of the Year award.

The winners’ ceremony was held at the Buffini Chao Deck at the National Theatre in London on Nov. 4, 2022. More than 6,600 11-to-17-year-olds from the United Kingdom and over 100 other countries sent more than 13,500 poems to the annual competition, which was judged by Anthony Anaxagorou and Mona Arshi.

Eighty-five other young writers’ poems were commended for inclusion in a forthcoming online anthology that will showcase their work. The Top 15 winners attended a residential writing course at The Hurst, the Arvon center in Shropshire, while all 100 winners received a year’s youth membership in The Poetry Society and books donated by generous publishers.

Tara’s winning poem is titled Care Package—a single stanza of 18 relatively long lines, with the even-numbered ones consistently indented.

“In my balikbayan box, lola finds dried/ rain and her granddaughter walking/ down a souvenir shop. She remembers/ a series of unborn things: a girl teaching/ herself how to eat American noodles, her stomach over/ sweetening on oil—already double/ boiled from last night when she could hear the moon/ breaking over her roof. Take it as evidence/ that she was born here. This is where she abandons/ her western name and remembers mama’s/ hands, marooned, and still scrubbing the floor tiles,/ knees asleep, almost begging. She wants/ to send Lola the name of the town, where sardines/ are scattered on the road, sharpened by fresh/ water, because a disaster refused to save them./ They are plucked beside the fish, their cheeks still/ bulbous, draining the water with their bellies, before/ they are packaged and shipped to another country.”

Tara was born in 2005 in Bacolod City. Her Filipino mother is from the Araneta family of Negros Occidental, while her father is Singaporean with Indian ancestry. A 9th-generation Araneta on her mother Lorelei’s side, she’s descended from General Juan Araneta, the co-founder of the Republic of Negros.

As an aside, FINEX director and business columnist J. Albert Araneta Gamboa, a third cousin like Mar Roxas and present First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, informs us that General Juan Araneta’s 100th death anniversary in October 2024 will be commemorated through a grand family reunion.

Tara studied in Bacolod up to Grade 3, then International School Manila from Grade 4 to junior high before taking senior high at Sevenoaks School in Kent, England. Having turned 18 and graduating from boarding school this semester, she’s been accepted to the economics program of Columbia University for the coming fall semester. After college, she plans to proceed to law school.

Maturity of voice is evident, as well as effective reliance on imagery to fortify her crafted diction.

Meanwhile, her early passion for poetry and occasional prose continues to manifest itself through frequent acceptance in various publications and online venues, including Gasher Journal, Dialogist Magazine, Chautauqua Magazine, The Rising Phoenix Review, Trouivalle Review, and Altadena Poetry Review, among many others. Some of her titles reflect her Southeast Asian heritage, such as Afternoons Under EDSA Underpass, Mosquitoes, and Moonlight in F(r)iction Magazine, Fermenting Vinegar in Sugar Country in Sublunary Review, Manila’s Daughters in The Augment Review, A Single Mother’s Guide to Cooking Sinigang in Cathartic Lit Magazine, Pasahero (fiction) in K’in Literary Journal, and A kopitiam near Johor Causeway Bridge in Sock Drawer Magazine.

Tara Tulshyan

She was the youngest poet selected for the 2021 Best Asian Poetry anthology by Kitaab, a Singaporean publishing company. Other previous awards for creative writing include being a winner in the Charles Causley Young Writers Competition of the University of Exeter and University of Plymouth in England, and a Top 5 Finalist in the Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Scholarship Competition of the Interlochen Academy of the Arts in Michigan, USA. 

Her constant involvement in creative writing has also led her to initiate related socially-conscious activities. In 2020, she co-founded Woolgathering Review, an online literary magazine for poetry, prose, and art, featuring published writers from around the world. She also co-founded Project Pasayac, a non-profit organization that aims to uplift the livelihoods of indigenous communities in the Philippines, with projects in Aeta communities in Luzon, such as providing clean and accessible water systems. Another org she co-founded is the UNESCO-accredited Hirayas, which conducts arts and creative writing workshops for under-resourced children in the Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom, and Indonesia.

Here’s another poem by Tara that will be included in a collection she’s working on that has been inspired by her native heritage. Similar to her Foyle-winning poem, Inauguration has its even-numbered lines indented.

“In Manila, bodies pile/ where mothers bruised their babies to sleep,/ bodies’ limbs carving open the sidewalks, small/ paths that are now warnings. Sometimes,/ the bodies eat bullets from the roads, mouths open/ waiting for stale water. In their stomachs/ there is a river, washed away by jeepneys and still/ in its place, a heap of red posters. The city wakes/ when rain splits into tin foil houses, unafraid/ of the children who sleep above tombstones/ their skins ripe from rubbing the rosary. Each prayer/ to the red banners came back as peso coins./ A son against a widow whose husband still rests.”

Maturity of voice is evident, as well as effective reliance on imagery to fortify her crafted diction. No wonder this young poet continues to impress with her advanced merits. We should look forward to her debut collection in hard copy. 

Since it began 25 years ago, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is one of the biggest and most established prizes for young people aged 11 to 17. For its next competition, any aspiring writer from anywhere in the world can enter poems on their official website by July 31. Submission is free—of as many poems on any subject and any length. Previous winning poems can be read on the Foyle Young Poets of the Year page.