I am Poetry’s Victim!
Vinita Agrawal is a Mumbai-based writer and poet. Her poems have been published in Asiancha, Raedleaf Poetry , Wordweavers, OpenRoad Review, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Spark, The Taj Mahal Review, CLRI, SAARC Anthologies, Kritya.org, Touch- The Journal of healing, Museindia, Everydaypoets.com, Mahmag World Literature, The Criterion, The Brown Critique, Twenty20journal.com, Sketchbook, Poetry 24, Mandala and others which include several international anthologies. Her poem was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards 2011 by CLRI. She received a prize from MuseIndia in 2010. Her debut collection of poems titled Words Not Spoken published by Sampark/Brown Critique was released in November 2013. Her poem was awarded a prize in the Wordweavers contest 2013.
When did you write your first poem? What was it about?
I wrote my first poem when I was five. It was, predictably, on my doll. I still remember it clearly :
I have a doll
My doll has a ball
The ball is round
My doll weighs seven pounds
Your website says that you are a poet at heart. What makes you gravitate towards poetry?
For me poetry is a form of expression of deepest emotions and thoughts. What’s not on the surface is inside my poetry. What’s not spoken is worded on paper. What’s not captured in the fast and fleeting pace of life is eternally canned in my poems because they are born out of internal reflections and sensitive perspectives.
As a literary form, what do you think sets poetry apart from other forms of expression?
Writing is a very distinct art amongst all other forms of creative expressions. For example, in sculpting, you can physically feel the dimensions of the structure, in painting you can visually enjoy the colours and shapes, in music you can hear symphonies and rhythms… so basically you are using tangible senses like skin, eyes and ears to enjoy these art forms but writing is a form that needs to be absorbed directly by the mind. Words are meaningless squiggles unless processed by an intellect. And within writing, poetry is a genre apart – poetry is something that is open to interpretation, it is fluid yet concise, soft yet hard hitting and sparse yet rich in content. Poetry can wind around your heart and ensnare you forever. I am its victim!
Tell us a bit about the process of writing a poem from the birth of an idea to the final piece.
You know RUMI wrote about love in a million different ways.. Jayanta Mahapatra has written about the land of Orissa in myriad styles, Jane Hirshfield expresses human emotions in countless designs…so writing poetry is really about making an entity of the state of your mind. You may be writing about the same thing but how you do it is what sets one poem apart from another.
So, writing poetry is a dynamic process! I write a poem in one go, mostly, and make some edits after re-reading what I have written. As for choosing a subject to write on, well the inspiration varies. Nature, emotions, burning issues, a good read somewhere all motivate me to write. The weird thing is that I write more when I’m pressed for time or in the rush of things and less when I have all the time in the world! That’s really funny!
I can’t define exactly how long it takes to write a piece; it all depends on how inspired you are, how motivated. Sometimes you can churn out three poems in an hour, sometimes it takes days for the right line to be born.
Do you believe that your perception of poetry has changed over the years? If yes, how?
Well in a way, yes. When I was in school, I began by reading classic poets like Tennyson, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth etc. and I used to love them. Then I chose the poets I wanted to read; new age poets, mostly like Jayanta Mahapatra, Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel and international poets like Pablo Neruda, RUMI, Virginia Woolf etc. I discovered the beauty of free verse through reading the work of these great masters.
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.
RUMI, Translator: Coleman Barks
It dawned on my tender mind that poetry need not always rhyme. That it need not always have fancy words or be compulsively rhythmic and determinedly, vociferously inspiring. Rather some of the best poems are those that are quiet…they just percolate into your heart and sit there for a long time to come.
Another change in perception occurred when I read contemporary poetry. It taught me that poetry can also be about really simple things like a snowflake or an old engine or a passport photo but if written maturely and artistically it can be elevating to read such poems and marvel at the ability of a creative mind to create beauty out of nothing. I learnt that poetry need not always be triggered off from a devastating event in your life like losing a parent or the birth of a child. Given the right perspectives, almost everything is poetry.
Prose poetry too is a very interesting tangent. I haven’t explored it much but I do find it fascinating.
If I were to ask for a defining trait of poems authored by you, what would that be?
My poems are about almost unfailingly metaphoric. They rely heavily on imagery. A poet friend once said to me that I take the reader on a journey by writing about the simplest of things and arriving at unexpected places not thought of before. I’m not sure how true that is! But yes I do write in simple words and my poems are never long winded. In terms of what I write on,well just everything under the sun! Just so long as the reader can find his own space dawning in it. That is important.
Is poetry always about spontaneity? Or do you feel that sometimes deliberate thought should go into it? When do you believe that the outcome is better?
Spontaneous poems will almost invariably have a few vital elements missing from it. Such poetry belongs to fun and games and light hearted banter. It’s a special talent and has its worth in a way.
But there is no match for deliberate thought going into poetry. Unless you really ponder over and go into the depth of what you want to communicate, how will you create something of lasting value? How else will it continue to leave its mark on people’s hearts across generations, across time?
A quick verse is like water vapour – it disappears in seconds whereas a well-deliberated poem is like a river flowing thickly, manoeuvring every bend of life, merging peacefully into the sea of your heart.
What are the themes close to your heart – ones that you try to address through your poetry?
In order to answer this, I urge the readers to read the preface of my book Words Not Spoken. There I have discussed in great honesty the purpose behind my poetry.
I would like to quote a few sentences from the preface exclusively for Spark readers –
“Over the years I have discovered that pain has a penumbra of numbness attached to it. And that sooner or later, we choose this numbness to the acuteness. It is this invisible fine shift towards a state of stillness that inspires me to write. Endurance, in any form, is at the core of my writing.
I hope these poems will strike a chord inside every reader in a way that will forge a new bond between us. Through my written words I hope to strike with the readers a connection more real than artificial, more deep than shallow and more at the level of heart than at the mind. I entrust these verses the task of carrying the readers to the edge of life and beyond because that is where our truest experiences bear meaning. That is where it all happens.”
Readers can also read the full text at www.vinitawords.com/journal
How did ‘Words Not Spoken’ come about? Is there a recurrent theme running through the poems in the collection?
Words Not Spoken is an anthology of poems that I have written over a very long period in time. That’s because it’s my first anthology. I did not want to miss out on the old poems which I had written when I was a ‘closet poet’. Some poems in the book have been published in journals before (duly acknowledged in the book) and there are a few which are almost 17 years old! Most of them however are new – perhaps a couple of years old.
Compiling them all into one anthology has been very meaningful for me. Now I have two more manuscripts ready and publishers who are graciously willing to look at them.
Readers will find a variety of poems in the book with topics ranging from women to love to pain to nature to refugees, to partition etc.
Lastly, what do you believe is the purpose of your poetry?
If I my poem can touch its reader’s heart, then it has fulfilled its purpose. If it can create a clear reflection of similar emotions in their own minds then the intention of writing it is realised and if it can nudge a dormant corner of their spirit to life then the objective of the poem is well and truly accomplished.
“Air is incense when you are around
You peel away the damp
Make embers glow from dying fires
Carve pathways, lay them out like lives
How long have I really known you?
Let answers walk to me on their feet
Let them flutter on the wings of Peepul leaves
Let the threads in temples be untied
I have so many questions to ask today”
Extracted from Ruminations by Vinita Agrawal