Tishani Doshi to Aspiring Poets, “Read widely, be patient, listen.”
In the time of viral internet poets, some of whose poems barely tantamount to a few lines and words, I found Tishani Doshi’s new book of poetry Girls are Coming out of the Woods, raw and evocative. The visual imagery making you reminiscence your childhood and the bumpy way to adulthood, the smell of where you grew up, the bodies whose touch you’ll never forget. And the titular poems is a poignant point of rebellion –
“Girls are coming out of the woods, clearing the ground to scatter their stories. Even those girls found naked in ditches and wells, those forgotten in neglected attics, and buried in river beds like sediments from a different century.”
Tishani says that the poems came to her as they always do, individually, so there was no sense of a larger idea of a book until much later. She writes about coastal life, gender violence, the idea of happiness, what the point of poetry might be – “I suppose there is a backdrop hum of the sea in many of the poems, so the Bay of Bengal can be seen as some kind of pivot, a place of return, and therefore, a kind of home,” she adds.
“I see the overarching theme of the book as resisting fragility in a way, and perhaps that can be confused with nostalgia because we often look at the past as being a more solid place.”
The poet says there’s a quality of yearning in this book, and there’s looking back to the past but always as an attempt to understand the present, “I see the overarching theme of the book as resisting fragility in a way, and perhaps that can be confused with nostalgia because we often look at the past as being a more solid place,” she elucidates.
As she writes both poetry and prose, when an idea strikes, how does she decide on which medium to pursue?
“I’m either writing poetry or I’m writing prose. Never both at the same time. So, ideas get manipulated into whatever form I happen to be working with. Rarely, an idea can be saved and used differently in both genres. The thing about ideas is that they often strike at inopportune moments and there’s no way of recording them, so they vanish. I used to think ideas that didn’t stay weren’t worth remembering, but at my rate of forgetting, I feel heartbroken about all those lost possibilities.”
“I think we’ve created larger audiences for poetry now, but the money is still crap.”
Tishani, who has been writing poetry for over a decade feels that it has definitely become popular now. She recounts how Jeet Thayil was telling her recently how way back when at an A.K. Ramanujan reading there were only sixteen people in the audience…. and that was considered a great turnout. She says frankly, “I think we’ve created larger audiences for poetry now, but the money is still crap.”
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With spoken word poetry gaining great popularity and momentum across the country and the world, how does she think it affects poetry as a movement and an art form?
“Spoken word adds to the many layers of poetry that already exist and is very much in keeping with poetry’s oral tradition. But personally, my most powerful moments with poetry have been in private, with the page. That’s a communion I still hold most sacred.”
“Reading ensures that the relationship with language remains unbroken.”
Tishani admits that she frequently falls off the writing wagon because she’s travelling or just living in the world, but she don’t see it as a crisis as long as she’s still reading. “Reading ensures that the relationship with language remains unbroken. As long as that continues I know that everything else, the living and the conversations will feed into the writing when I’m back at my desk. Long breaks don’t worry me,” she adds.
On that note, she informs that she has just submitted the first draft of a novel and is working on a book of author interviews – “Future plans include improving my Italian and honing my languidity skills.”
Her advice to an aspiring poet?
“Read widely, be patient, listen.”
Feature image credit: Carlo Pizzati