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Is Poetry a Cathartic Reality? An Interview by Sufia Khatoon

Poetry Has Come As A Cathartic Reality In My Own Life: Says Lopamudra Banerjee, Poet, Author of ‘Let The Night Sing’, ‘Thwarted Escape’

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 It is pretty much an undisputed statement that every creative artist is a product of his/her times. While the space from which the art form, either music, poetry or a painting is born reflects the mental bearing of the artist in close relation to his/her environment, it is also true that the art form, born out of that innermost space, is created with the greater goal, to make it resonate with the universe at large, with its intuitive and evocative reality. It is true of the literary work, including the debut poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’ and the memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ by Dallas, USA-based poet Lopamudra Banerjee. Describing herself proudly as an Indian Diaspora writer and poet with her humble roots in Barrackpore, a small suburban town in the outskirts of Kolkata, India, Lopa has come a long way today, from being a closeted poet way back during her college and university days in Kolkata, to a widely published writer both in India and US, receiving a few awards and considerable critical acclaim on the way.

Sufia Khatoon, poet, artist and co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets, who has created her cover illustration for Lopamudra’s debut poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’, and also launched the book in Kolkata on behalf of Rhythm Divine Poets on July 2017, talks to her about the overarching themes in her poetry, and also discusses how poetry and writing, and also, any form of art, for that matter, becomes instrumental in a writer/poet’s life to attain catharsis, thereby becoming a medium of healing oneself.

Sufia Khatoon: How do you relate life to poetry? How does poetry make you feel about yourself?

Lopamudra: To me, poetry is a celebration of the broken pieces, the splinters and shards of my being, my existence as a Diaspora poet/writer. In each poem that I have been writing these days, my womanhood and my persona has evolved in myriad inexplicable ways and in all of them, my naked emotions come through as a means to attaining catharsis. So you can say poetry is my lover and my home, my hope and my honey, and the brick and wall inside which I breathe, unabashed.

Sufia: In your debut poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’, you have shaped the journey of a woman through five volumes in the book, each has its own yearnings and realizations, how did it all start? Tell us something about the poems in it?

Lopamudra: It all happened as a cumulative journey being a mother, daughter, immigrant from India in the US with a strong and sensitive literary flair, when the happenings around my personal space as well as the happenings around the world and my observations regarding them erupted as volcanic bursts through my pen and quite unknowingly, assumed the shape of poetry. For example, the sudden demise of my mother and the personal crisis that I underwent a couple of years back resulted in a group of poems about death, darkness and the surreal truth of an unspoken after-life.

Again, some startling universal issues around me, like the story of Nirbhaya (Jyothi Singh), the inspiring account of Mala Yusufzai’s life as a crusader of empowerment of girl children, or the story of the sex workers’ children in the Sonagachhi area of Kolkata resulted in a spurt of poems in the collection which was born out of my existential angst as a woman. On the other hand, there are a series of poems depicting the inner sojourns of a woman starting from the time she attains her puberty to the time she blooms as a woman, falls in and out of love with men, where the interpersonal relationship between a man and woman is depicted with an elemental passion and urgency. The inner sojourns of a time traveler in the urban context also forms a significant part of the poetry collection, which is where the inner workings of the mind of a Diaspora woman conjures a feminine voice which I have tried to present as distinctively as I could.

While some of these poems had already appeared in a number of journals, anthologies and e-zines, in this collection, I attempted to compile and collate them all to form a body of poems, long-form and short-form, which talk to both the body and the splinters and shards of my own being as well as to all other readers who would love a poetic celebration of life in its continuum.

Sufia: Poets can deeply observe life but sometimes they have the pain inflicting their very existence. How do you live through the pain and live the life of a poet?

Lopamudra: I strongly believe in my favorite rebel poet of the romantic era, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lines: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not/ Our sincerest laughter/With some pain is fraught; / Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thoughts.”

Poetry, as I have found it, has always come as a cathartic reality in my own life, and I have also seen that when the wounds are raw and deep, poetry begets itself. Most of the poets whose depiction of verses have touched me, whether it is Maya Angelou’s robust feminist poems, Sylvia Plath’s deep, soulful poetic pleas, or Margaret Atwood’s deeply philosophical verses, it is all a celebration of a deep and inimitable pathos which resonates in a surreal, emotional plane. So yes, as a woman poet, carrying the legacy of these torchbearers, I definitely live through the ‘pitch-dark, bottomless pit’ of my everyday world of pain, where poetry spills his juices all over me, and makes me fertile all over again.

Sufia: Is it a mystery to really understand the depths of poetry or after writing for so many years you have really decoded the meaning of each cathartic poem?

Lopamudra: Well, most of it is still a mystery, an enigma to me, and therein lies the beauty and the uniqueness of the entire process of crafting poetry. It is a constant process of exploring your persona, layer after layer, and in the end of it all, it is the quintessential celebration of the diverse trajectories of life in poetry that matters, truly, deeply, sincerely. Decoding the meaning of poetry is something which is open to subjective interpretation and analysis, so there is always something new to explore, in subtle and inexplicable ways.

Sufia: Is writing poems or any piece of fiction and nonfiction a medium of healing oneself?

Lopamudra:  Poetry, obviously, to my understanding, is a vehicle of expressing one’s pathos, one’s existential angst, and in the process, it obviously attains healing. And since a poet can express himself/herself without any restrictions, whatsoever, through the medium of poetry, to me as a poet it is imperative to write and share poetry that sensitize and inspire by raising issues that touch my inner core as a woman, by writing on subjects that are centered on the existential human issues as well as issues that focus on the plight of women in a parochial social world.

Sufia: What kind of response have you received for your poems? Any specific remark that made you write more?

Lopamudra: It is my pleasure to share with you a few very precious words about my collection of poems by Dr. A.V. Koshy, a prolific poet, author, academician and literary critic in his own right. In his blurb of the book, he has written:

“A courageous poet, Lopa Banerjee has a vocabulary worth noting and her poems are a compelling read not only because they are full of intensity and naked emotions, but most of all because they are honest and often painfully vulnerable attempts filled with nostalgia, anger, regrets, sentiments and love, along with a budding exploration of eroticism and sensuality as well as sexuality, all of which keeps us engrossed in her poems. Most noteworthy is her development in them into a powerful feminine voice that can sweep us entirely off our feet at times, a strong and distinctive one, that is what one is left with and one looks forward to hearing more and more.”

In her foreword to my poetry collection, the very prolific author, poet and academician Dr. Santosh Bakaya has introduced my poems thus: “Her poems are sometimes like the soothing breeze, blowing on the smoldering embers of singed dreams, trying to provide breathing space to cinders, sometimes like encapsulated tears, softly making your own tears slip, unnoticed…the melancholic melodies, the angelic sounds, the hushed calf-love songs, the half-finished stories, the jagged edges, and the quicksilver flashes—I heard them all, I touched them all, I saw them all.”

Comments and words of appreciation pouring in from such mighty poets, writers and precious souls truly mean a lot to me, and keep me going. I have also been blessed and privileged to receive the International Reuel prize for poetry in 2017, instituted by The Significant League and Autism for Village Project Trust which I consider a significant milestone for my poetic journey till now, and hope and pray this journey gets more momentum in the days to come.

Q7: What is your remark on the present poetry scene in Kolkata?

Lopamudra: I find it truly encouraging and inspiring, especially while looking at the substantial poetry community work that literary groups like Rhythm Divine and others are doing at the moment in the city. Young, vibrant poetic minds are coming up to share their creations, collaborate on poetry writing and publishing projects, disseminate their views on various social issues through the weapon of poetry. Internet and Facebook have truly effected in a resurgence of poetry, particularly through the various online forums and virtual literary groups, where the young and old are mingling effortlessly, while poetry is bridging the gaps, spatial, temporal and many more. I feel fortunate to think that I am also a part of this milieu in my own small way, since Kolkata is and will remain my home.

Q8: Tell us where in your poems your homecoming is defined?

Lopamudra: Yes, homecoming does have a significant space in my poetry collection, since I consider myself a Diaspora poet. Home, in its physical and esoteric sense, and its essence and impact on my psyche defines quite a few poems in the collection. In the section ‘The Voyage Within’, in my book ‘Let The Night Sing’, there are a few poems which can serve as apt examples.

Like, in the poem, ‘Adieu Kolkata’, I write these following lines:

“A goodbye is the thirsty licking of your lips/When you reach out

To touch the filtered sunshine/amid the honking, hustling cacophony

Of known vehicles/ and let them hide your undulations, your ripples,

Your ardour, gone awry.”

Again, in another poem titled ‘Revisiting An Old Home’, I write:

“ I speak a crisp, powdered language,

My hunger for touch, for a caress

Burns into the skin like forgotten incense.

The waiting mouth of the old home

Sprinkled with the remnants of used up turmeric, cumin,

The rough curls of an unruly childhood bursts wide open….”

Homecoming, in these poems, is more like a refrain which haunts my senses with its nostalgic spurts of inexplicable pain, as well as with its languid wants, which I cannot escape until and unless I let the gushing flow of words bleed profusely inside me. So in a way, the aspect of homecoming is one of the most cathartic and also emotionally draining one, in my poetic journey.

Q9: Any suggestions on how to compile a poetry or fiction manuscript to the readers?

Lopamudra: I do not consider myself important enough to dispense a cartload of writing advice to other aspiring writers/poets. Like many others, whatever I have imbibed or internalized and am utilizing in my own writing journey is like a fistful of water from the vast, magnanimous ocean of literature and art and there is so, so much more left to explore, learn that a lifetime is surely not enough. But having said that, I would like to say that one must trust his/her inner voice while compiling any manuscript, either poetry, or fiction/nonfiction and while drafting it, chisel that inner voice slowly, steadily and rigorously. Also, allow me to say that editing the manuscript to attain perfection is a prerequisite that I see some writers nowadays overlook, which ideally should not happen. The goal, as far as I believe, should be to produce a work of substantive merit and quality which would linger in the minds of the readers long after reading.

Q10: Which poets have inspired and influenced your life? Any tips on how to go about writing a poem?

Lopamudra: There are so many poets and writers of English literature who have inspired me beyond words that it would be very difficult to list all of them in a single interview. From the romantic poets Shelley, Byron and Keats to Victorian poets like Robert Browning to Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath, from Rabindranath Tagore to Sunil Ganguly, Joy Goswami and Mallika Sengupta in Bengali literature, I am steeped in the intoxicating poetic fervour of so many that it is impossible for me to think my life without any of them.

Having said that, let me add this very favorite quote of mine, by none other than Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

For me, all my poems till date have started and ended with this messy, jagged journey, so this would probably be the most honest tip I could share with anybody penning poetry. It is all about the splinters and shards of our own inner beings, and how those form a mosaic of meaning/vision, for today, and for posterity.

 

Bios:

Lopamudra Banerjee is a writer, poet, editor and translator, currently based in Dallas, USA. She is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology on women, ‘Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas’. ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, her debut memoir/nonfiction novel, published by Authorspress, has recently received Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Book Festival 2017. The manuscript has also been a First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC. Her literary works have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, both in India and the US. Recently, she co-edited and co-authored a ghost story anthology titled ‘Darkness There But Something More’ with Dr. Santosh Bakaya.
She has received the Reuel International Award 2016 (category: Translation) for her English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novella Nastanirh (translated as The Broken Home) instituted by The Significant League, a renowned literature group in Facebook. It is now part of the book ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories’ (Authorspress, 2017). She is also a recipient of the International Reuel Prize for Poetry in 2017. ‘Let The Night Sing’ is her debut poetry collection, published by Global Fraternity of Poets.

 

Sufia Khatoon, a social activist, an art curator of Art Fair, Kolkata, an artist and a widely published poet and writer. She is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets, a poetry and creative arts group in Kolkata. She manages Our World Our Initiative, a social and philanthropic initiative to help underprivileged focusing on helping old people, children and orphans who are forced to beg or earn on the Streets. She has been featured in India Positive, CNN IBN, Femina, Telegraph, Times of India, Taaza Tv, various online portals, magazines and websites for her artworks and social works.

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