Earlier last year, heartbreak compelled Charissa Ong to write a short story every week, only crafting poetry as a break between stories. This writing exercise, however, became time-consuming. “I decided to shift to poetry because I still wanted discipline. It was a way to cope with my stress.” It was only after her Instagram poetry got a huge following that she considered publishing her work. After a string of rejections—they all told her she was too young, or that she doesn’t have enough credentials—she created her own company, Penwings Publishing, which she manages with her mother.
Kota Yamada, on the other hand, has always been fascinated with art. “I used to play with Legos or Zoids. I made sketches. I want to make something from my own two hands.” The CEO of Yamada Publishing grew up watching Disney movies, fuelling his love for deconstructing narratives to the last detail. “I started with novel writing,” he says. “I used to write in WattPad. It was just a testing ground.” After discovering Christopher Poindexter’s Instagram poetry, he got inspired to create his own works.
In writing a piece, Charissa usually begins with key words, jotting them down and refining them later. Kota starts off with honest emotions, making sure that each piece exhibits brevity and lyricism. Moreover, it has to make people feel something. “If it doesn’t do anything, what’s the purpose? You write because you want to convey an idea, arranged in such a way that it makes people feel something,” he says.
They may be self-made, but Charissa and Kota are selfless writers who keep healthy relationships with their readers. Through social media, the Malaysian writer has consoled people going through tough times. Charissa makes sure that she posts uplifting poems on her Instagram account. “If you have this kind of following, you have that responsibility for people’s mental health.” Charissa also enjoys sharing calligraphy and fan art inspired by her work.
In contrast, Kota encourages his readers to confront negative emotions, like sadness or pain. “Those are part of who you are, what makes you happy, what makes you successful.” The Cebuano poet wants to provide a safe space for self-reflection and honesty, for understanding love and melancholy. “If I meet a fan, and if he talks about his life, I would listen to him the whole day. I’m that connected to them. I don’t want them to feel that nobody is listening.”
Charissa’s advice to aspiring writers? “Read a lot. And don’t be afraid to ask even dumb questions, because those will lead to intelligent questions. Practice daily.”
And Kota? “Never write for vanity. Never write for fame. Do it for the sole purpose of passion.”
Art by Pia Samson
CHARISSA ONG TSE YING IS ON INSTAGRAM AT @COTYPOEMS WHILE KOTA YAMADA IS AT @KOTAYOMADAPH.