There are very few poets in the diaspora who are professional artists enjoying international critical acclaim for their paintings. When one looks at Meena Chopra’s paintings, it is easy to see why. She is based in Canada and is involved with media productions and publications. Instead of getting drawn into any political correctness that prevails around feminism, the artist in Meena has tried a unique approach and opted to celebrate woman as what she creates as SHE. SHE offers a stunning visual encounter in her collection of poems as well.
Donning no activist’s robes, she reveals woman as shapes of energy expressed through a balanced riot of lines, shapes and colours. As with the paintings, her are also a journey of a woman’s inner cosmos. There is a creation of untouched purity and its investigation. It means Meena’s poems honestly follow her heart and imagination, and not much bother about the current trends in poetry. Anyone familiar with the Hindi literature would know when I say here is a form of Chhāyāwād, which, unfortunately, the Anglophile world of English poetry will not understand. They have ignored Indian literature and its trends. In that light, Meena seems courageous, and I am glad she does not surrender to any doctrines.
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Good for us, we have a very original approach to enjoy in her poems and paintings. As it is month and Christmas is approaching, it is appropriate for us to include a couple of her pastels with her poem for you to enjoy.
is a poet and a visual artist who emigrated from India, now lives in Mississauga, Canada. She has authored three poetry collections and co-edited one anthology. She writes both in English and in her native Hindi language. Amongst many accolades and awards, she has been awarded for her distinguished work in literature and art by the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.
You mention in the foreword of your last collection, SHE! The Restless Streak that the universe has a ‘stark female element’. This explosive energy plays out in the strokes of colours in your paintings, taking the sensuous shape of a female body within itself, just as the universe would do! Your poems compliment them. Are they ekphrastic in a proper sense, or are you trying a context to take the meanings further?
Well, not only in Hindu thought and traditions but also in many other ancient traditions, the universe is created and prevails through the play of two ceaseless energies. In tradition, it is Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti, Chinese Yin and Yang. Amongst many other traditions, even Greek and Egyptian mythologies are also full of these metaphors and allegories. As I often feel, unknowingly, the female abstract energy, Shakti to be more appropriate, has been a predominant part of my artistic practice, maybe depicting genesis to its evolution. Not only my figurative works but even my abstract artworks are imbued with a striking movement of female abstract forms. This is not a conscious effort or decision at all. It is very instinctive and comes out right from the heart. Now, when I reflect on my earlier works, I see a gradual progression, unfolding of a storyline. There is a method in it, which is the revelation of my subconscious self surfacing to its conscious level. In a way, I could say, my artworks and poems are a guiding factor to me in my life’s journey.
I would not call my poetic words a narration of my paintings but perhaps as they come out from the same space of mind, they have a similar quality and substance, therefore both artistic mediums complement each other. They are companions. Maybe in places, they fill the gap of expression for each other or as you pointed out, they are trying to take the meaning further. But all this is very effortless.
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Your poems are distilled, very lyrical and defy the narrative demands or a fashion practised in contemporary poetry. Is this a very Hindi literary aspect of writing a poem or a deliberate choice to make your collection work as declared on a cover: Poetry and Art? Isn’t it risking your chances of being a contemporary, acceptable poet?
I have been an artist first, and poetry came to me later. Why it happened, I do not know. But there was a deep urge to write and express myself in words. So, I followed my intuitive demand over the existing narrative demand. But Yogesh, is it not that there is poetry in artistic visuals and visual imagery in poetry? As a poet, you too may be experiencing a lot of poetry in visual art. They go hand in hand.
I feel the finer creative sensibilities of the mind would always be impacted by visuals, words, sounds, touch, etc. Can you separate from images and sound ever? So, where are the risk and dilemmas? Maybe the risk is in the eyes and the mind of the beholder. I started writing seriously at the beginning of the 1990s, whereas; I have been painting since my childhood. It is a hard question to answer, Yogesh. I feel, as you also rightly mentioned, creation of poetic verse does come through distilling the layers of your emotional life to their core, which is very true for anyone who is practising any form of creative pursuits. I do what I enjoy doing for my fulfilment with a full commitment to enhance and improve my arts along with my craft. It is a commitment to the practice of fine arts and poetry and not a commitment to acceptability to the world outside. It is hard to sustain the creative process if you keep on looking for acceptability. I also feel it is not fair to confine the art of poetry writing in the structures of specific languages and styles. It needs to permeate and go beyond many borders and lines. The scope is unlimited. After all, words carry their sounds, music and images within to enhance their distinct meanings further. The crux of it is, even the letters are artistic symbols.
Well, I am not fully aware if there is any literary aspect in my writings. There could be. Also, I would like to mention carefully that not always what is defined by various schools of thought as ‘contemporary’ is ‘universal’. I am not defying anything. I am just following my heart and instinct for my art. Possibly, there could be something which is very ancient and could be equally relevant and contemporary now.
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In your poem, The Fire Burns, you startle us as in many of your poems, with the lines:
She fears/ remaining an outline; This is the way gifted poets make a point with little adage! Though your paintings assume that approach with exquisite beauty, I want to know more about the layers of meaning you offer through this idea of a woman being an outline. How do you think women live under these outlines? What are these blurry lines? As a minimalist, how are you challenging yourself to express this in your art and poetry?
Hmm, “Strangers” from “Ignited Lines”?
I guess, Yogesh, that moment when I must have written it, is past and gone. As a very accomplished poet yourself, you know the process very well. These moments are so very elusive and flimsy. It is not easy to explain. But I guess silhouettes have a very stark outline of mystical darkness within. Perhaps the poet wants to dip into the myth of the mystical darkness of the silhouettes during the play of light and shade to go beyond the contours that are controlling and confining. Perhaps this is the way you start knowing your real self in little bits. A self that is very elusive, beyond the existential life. After all, as voyagers, we are always trying to cross the sea of life in our fragile boats.
And please, we must not forget when we are talking of female abstract , we are not talking of physical gender appearances as we perceive them. There is a man in every woman and a woman in every man to be realized through layers. Life is a parabolic mirror for both. So these blurry layers are not only woman-specific. Generally, all of us live under these outlines.
MBE runs as well as the non-profit Word Masala project to promote South Asian diaspora literature. His collection of poems, has been published in ‘The London Magazine’. By profession, he is a qualified optometrist and an accountant.
In this for ‘iGlobal’, he profiles Global Indian poets from around the world.