Writing poetry as a private experience, like praying

Writing poetry as a private experience, like praying

Some poets don’t need to win the major awards to be poets of consistent quality. Without the worship arising from awards-successes, they simply lead us to the joy of poetry one easily connects to. Having published by a wide range of publishers and magazines makes Shanta Acharya our far more successful poet, others can only envy. Only a few of us have smashed through the anglophile firewall since the Seventies. Critically acclaimed, Shanta being far more a constant in this!

Maybe it is her relaxed manner that carries us through in her honest and unpretentious poems. When she reads her poem, in her trademark soothing voice, the sound baptises you with the gentleness of a prayer; well, when they are not political. Politically, she doesn’t hold back her punches.

Shanta Acharya won a scholarship to Oxford, where she was awarded a doctoral degree in English. She was a visiting scholar at Harvard University before joining an American investment bank in London.

A poet, novelist, reviewer, and scholar, her poems have been published internationally. Author of 12 books, her latest poetry collections are ‘What Survives Is The Singing’ (2020) and ‘Imagine: New and Selected Poems’ (2017).

Poet’s helping hand:

We live in a world where individuals believe they are free and have choices. The reality is different – most individuals are enslaved by their job, family, society, government, technology, social media, money, fame – things that ultimately do not add up to much. This poem is about flying out of our cage to discover the world, have the courage to be oneself, of being alive and flowering for our moment part, however fleeting, on this glorious earth.

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Q

Your recent collection of poems has an inspiring title: ‘What Survives Is The Singing’. A volume of your collected poems, Imagine, represents a long journey as a noted poet. Tell us what have you sung about and what you think has survived or will survive?

A

Thank you, Yogesh. Hope you found some of the poems in ‘What Survives Is The Singing’ equally inspiring. Just as every reader is a reader of her/him ‘self’, every poet/writer also writes her/him ‘self’. To explore the ‘Self’ is the quest to know oneself. Everything depends on how you define this ‘self’ – mine is a broadchurch, not-this-not-that Self. The exploration is the joy of discovering oneself, of finding one’s way home.

Other poets have commented far more ably on my writing than I can. Their endorsements appear in Imagine. Collectively, they provide insights which might add value to that of the reader’s own interpretations. As I write for my own entertainment and enlightenment, I don’t think in terms of what will survive simply because one is enriched in the process of writing. As long as I am able to write, it feels like I am doing something right. If anything survives, it will be my legacy to the world. Every time an editor accepts a poem or a reader ‘connects’ with my work that seems reward enough. Will future generations do so? Being human, I hope something will survive as long as Time holds me in her sway.

Q

You are one of our pioneering Indian poets abroad. In the Seventies and Eighties, I remember a firewall against the diversity in UK’s poetry nation! Poets like you and Debjani – and perhaps I – changed the perception. As Indian poets abroad, collectively, we still need to do more. What is your message to the Indian businesses regarding their apathy against supporting our poets? In such an adverse ambience, do you have any guidance for the diaspora poets to make the best of current opportunities, which has improved with the role models like you?

A

I have been writing poetry ever since I remember, it’s a private thing like praying. And, like a genuine prayer, I rarely expect anything in return. Of course, it pleases me if someone appreciates my work.

During the hard times, which were many and frequent in my life, I never got any support from any of the institutions that exist ostensibly to offer support to poets and writers. In hindsight, those rejections were invaluable. I learnt how to stand on my own. It is essential for a writer to be free to stand alone. That is a rare gift.

Businesses do not exist to support poets, though I know many in business who read and enjoy poetry. In my experience, poetry enhances one’s emotional intelligence, the ability to ‘feel’ and ‘see’, make intuitive leaps in our understanding. When I worked in the City, I found these qualities helped me to achieve superior outcomes.

As far as diaspora poets are concerned, my message is: read widely, do not be swayed by passing fads. Live fully and honestly, find your voice, be true to yourself. The world is waiting for your poems, it is far more open now than it ever was.

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Your poems are as personal as they are political. I like your poem ‘Testing The Nation’ in ‘What Survives Is The Singing’. You capture the contradictions through the humdrum disposition of the language; you then give us very endearing lines indicating poverty, illiteracy, and maybe the defiance of an immigrant! How does inventive and sensitive Shanta in you find such linguistic feat or feast or a burst of creativity?

If English muffins are not from England,
nor French fries from France -
then what is rong if r children
cannot reed or rite, lak comun sens,
tink egs do not gro in Grate Britun
and potatos r milkt from caus?

Irrespective of what we think and what we believe we think, everything is personal and deeply subjective. Human beings are complex, we are many things – personal, political, philosophical etc. Yet, we are all different. We are wired the way we are. Inspiration comes flying from diverse sources. In this instance, it was a TV programme.

Every poem demands its own language and form, its personal identity, its individual terms of reference. When a reader gets it, there is an instant connection and the poem acquires a life of its own. As Whitman said, to have great poets there must be great audiences. In fact, it is the reader who recreates the poem. Understanding and representing the ‘Other’ is an essential aspect of being a writer. Humour can be an effective tool in conveying an idea.

I was lucky with this poem, it arrived fully formed – I did not have to work on it for days or years. Such inspired poems are a treat.

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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. Published in numerous journals and anthologies; and with films and LPs under his belt, his collection of poems 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.

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