Tristram Fane Saunders, the poetry editor at ‘The Telegraph’, has self-deprecating humour when he tells us about the weird process of writing. Here is one gem: “I don’t write poems. I write them down.” Poetry is often playful in this way, just like toddlers. As soon as you put them down, they run away to explore every corner, trying to break everything you have neatly arranged! Your job will be to keep up with them.
In Anita’s collection, poems don’t follow a particular theme — though you cannot escape some familiar experiences. If you have a range of set ideas about the ideal world, she will help you break them like toys, as she does here, in the poem featured. Who needs a comedy of error when the way of the world has its list of quirks!
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Anita Nahal, PhD, CDP, is a professor credited with three books of poetry, a collection of flash fiction, four books for children, and four anthologies edited by her. Her second and third books of poetry, Hey, Spilt milk is spilt, nothing else, and What’s wrong with us Kali women? have been made compulsory reading at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Anita’s poems are also housed at Stanford University’s Digital Humanities Initiative. The daughter of Sahitya Akademi award-winning Indian novelist Chaman Nahal and educationist Sudarshna Nahal, Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC.
This poem, and many poems in my other poetry books, What’s wrong with us Kali women (Kelsay Books, 2021), Initiations (Pitamber, 1988), or in the forthcoming, Kisses at the espresso bar (Kelsay books, 2022), speak to injustices abounding in the only home we know: Earth. My poems are implorations, treaties, like those by numerous writers/artists, about the helplessness, frustration, claustrophobia, and fear that all species on our planet feel/sense due to biases, condemnation, abuse, violence, conflict, and war. ‘No such thing as an ideal world’ ends with a twist on Shakespeare’s comedy of errors literary technique, hoping to shake people to ponder and have an aha moment.
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A preface to your collection, ‘Hey…’, declares: ‘Most creative work is a product of the amalgam of the personal and the public.’ Tell us how you have achieved it.
I’m not sure I have achieved it; however, I endeavour to employ the writing medium to convey my personal life and the one I see around myself. My poetry is partly confessional and partly observational, thereby attempting an amalgamation of emotions and actions that arise in personal and public spaces leaving the reader to examine and have an immersive, universalised experience, if possible.
I want readers to feel what I or others have gone through and to transport themselves into my poetry because readers must sense their presence right there, in the scene-kind of like a three-dimensional impression.
Anais Nin once said, “If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write. Because our culture has no use for it.” Or like Hemingway said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people, people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” I want those things from and for my poetry. It is what my poetry aspires to. It is left to the readers to decide if I have been able to achieve this.
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I enjoyed your short poem, Stacking: A few boxes,/ Over half a century, three continents, and/ Many home bases. Stacking these can be/ Challenging at times; verbs, nouns, and qualifiers/ Keep pushing the scotch tape open. The play of language in the transnational space is challenging. Tell us more about your experiences and challenges that go with this poem.
As you know, it’s not easy to immigrate, even when the move is by choice. Not all choices are prompted by financial or professional advancement. My decision to move from India with a young son, in mid-life, mid-career, resigning from a tenured professorship, and start anew in another country was motivated by a deep, burning desire to rid myself and my son of an abusive domestic situation. So, we left with the little that two suitcases could hold, leaving clothes still hanging in cupboards in our house in India, and with our first possessions in the US being second hand.
While I wholeheartedly inhale what Nigerian writer Ijeoma Umebinyuo says in her book, Questions for Ada, “So, here you are/ too foreign for home/too foreign for here/never enough for both,” I ascribe more to surviving and thriving positively wherever we go if our loved ones, and us, are healthy and well.
Ultimately, as we keep moving our material possessions keep decreasing, dictated by what we want, desire, or need. And that tangible process of movement across spaces reveals even more vividly and poignantly the value of life and relationships. It’s that visceral yet abstruse element which I try to simply place in boxes, or in my heart and soul, and take along with us, wherever we go.
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Have you found your distinct voice in poetry? What is it? Please tell us how and why it works.
I feel the most distinct voice one can have as a writer is of legitimacy towards one’s emotions, feelings, and situations about oneself and others. One must tell one’s own story, in the form in which one is most comfortable. I find I convey my best in prose poetry, free verse, or single line, monoku poems. More than the form, it is the content, that to me is finding or revealing one’s distinct voice. I wish my voice to be clear, cuddled with reiterations, and thumping like a drum, relentless, like in a spoken word.
Also, I believe readers can tell us more about our distinct voices than we might realize. Guyanese Canadian Indian novelist and poet, Cyril Dabydeen in his nomination of my third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women? as the best poetry book, 2021, for Ars Notoria, said, “The rhythms of prose poems are with their own orthodoxy—Nahal’s forte–without her sounding too preachy or didactic.”
Basudhara Roy, an Indian poet and professor said at an event recently that my voice is not Indian, nor hyphenated Indian American, that I don’t sink into overt nostalgia, that I have created my own American/universal voice of a woman, single mother, and immigrant. I agree with them, for as readers they can dispassionately comprehend my voice better.
Yogesh Patel MBE runs Skylark Publications UK as well as the non-profit Word Masala project to promote South Asian diaspora literature. Also honoured with the Freedom of the City of London, he is a recipient of many awards and has read his work at important venues like the House of Lords and the National Poetry Library. His work has recently appeared at The Royal Society of Literature and Stanford University and the Writers Mosaic of The Royal Literary Fund. Published in numerous journals and anthologies; and with films and LPs under his belt, his collection of poems, The Rapids, is just published by The London Magazine. By profession, he is a qualified optometrist and an accountant.
In this regular series for ‘iGlobal’, he profiles Global Indian poets from around the world.
*Info: Anita Nahal