Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Shivangi Chatterji

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Annotation 2019-07-21 212548

Shivangi Chatterji

Focusing on grief poetry, Shivangi’s style wanders from weird, wise to whimsical. Growing up in a quaint suburb of Bombay (now Mumbai), her home overlooked the sea as she wrote and read her poems aloud to the birds on the terrace. Her ancestral home is in the hills, and the silence features in much of her poetry. A professional writer and editor for print and digital media, she is working towards publishing her own book (yet untitled) this year. Meanwhile, she continues to write some thematic poems on Instagram.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

My childhood was divided between the urban and rural – I grew up in Mumbai (then Bombay) and spent summers at my family’s farms in the foothills of the Himalayas. Being introverted, it was the stark contrast between the people and places that made communicating my thoughts all the more complex. I used my little ditties to express my thoughts through writing as a mode of communication with myself and with others.

Today, I mostly focus on grief poetry because of certain incidents in my life. When I tried to find solace through poetry, there weren’t many poets old or contemporary who could soothe a grieving soul. So, I started to write with a theme aside from my usual style.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My grandfather gave the gift of words to my mother. She wrote short stories and rhymes herself, but mostly she got me to read and develop an ear for languages. She believes that listening well is the key to writing well. Most Indians are multilingual, and my family came to acquire diverse cultural influences through marriage and travel. I grew up on a steady diet of poetry in at least 7 languages and a plethora of Indian dialects. Thanks to my mother, I read and listened to verse in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, English, Bengali, Burmese and Nepali. The rhythm and cadence of words is what keeps me looking for new channels for listening and writing.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

The sheer number of poets in the Indian subcontinent is enough to put immense pressure on budding poets! Add to that the fact that my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were greatly influenced by British poetry as the British Raj brought new genres like Anglo-Indian poetry and Foot Soldier poetry to the fore. Classical Celtic/ Irish poets lined the bookshelves in my home as did Resistance poetry in English and Indian languages. Of course, nonsense rhymes by contemporary American poets like Dr. Seuss rivalled British poets’ like Roald Dahl.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It was a choice made 15 years ago, when I started a career in publishing. Writing and editing all day long seemed to be the best thing ever! And, I was thrilled to get to be the first pair of eyes that discover new literature. But, the occupational hazard is that I am too washed out to channel my creativity into my own writing at the end of the day. So, I have no dedicated writing time. I write on Sundays, holidays, on days special to me and most importantly, on days when I am feeling particularly distressed. I have a huge collection of notebooks and pencils that silently say, “Dream me.”

5. What motivates you to write?

Since I write grief poetry, my main motivation is finding a healthy outlet for my feelings. In this modern day and age, expressing ourselves freely is an illusion. Social media psychobabble puts a timer on our feelings, tells us to be soft and uses empty motivation to fuel a cycle of negativity.

In the larger scheme of things, there is no time limit to when our inner child has to grow up or feel a certain way (even those that are perceived as positive… because who is to say that life is fair?). It is best to appreciate what is in the present moment and write about it. We may change tomorrow, we might forget today. The Japanese word ‘Mono-no-aware’ captures this feeling for me; it’s a word that sensitises us to the transience of this world just like a cherry blossom that blooms and withers in springtime. The fact that beauty fades is what motivates me to constantly strive to create it.

6. What is your work ethic?

To me, writing is a form of mindfulness. I let everything extraneous fall away only to singly select those things that remain. Like Michelangelo who saw the Statue of David when it was just a hunk of rock. Fears that bubble to the surface are scary, but I just sit with them and continue till I feel I’ve created something with care and distilled my sensorial experiences for the reader. But I also self-edit mercilessly and try to read from the POV of the reader.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

For the longest time I thought of myself as someone like Alice – here and now, not in Wonderland. I was amazed to discover that writing could be a composition of prose, poetry and pictures. That is something that I carry with me as I illustrate my poems and short prose with inked doodles. They are often floral as the language of flowers is an added layer.

Closer home, I still like the good ole’ stuff – Dom Moraes and Sarojini Naidu. I cannot seem to outgrow them. Kamini Roy is a poetess who was a social activist and champion of women’s rights. I share my birthdate with her – just not the year! Her poetry is probably fiercely feminist and elegantly simple. The sheer research and the vivid historical storytelling in Amitav Ghosh’s works are awe-inspiring. Their style of storytelling is what I hope to emulate.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I was introduced to ‘The Wombwell Rainbow’ by Steve Denehan. A talented poet himself, I responded to his poems on Twitter because his work strikes that fine balance of logic and creative – just extremely honest poetry, no frills attached.

I think I am still lagging behind in discovering new poets that I really admire. I do see a lot of Instapoetry (poetry written on Instagram, often it takes the form of confessional poetry) as I too use Instagram for publishing my own poems at the moment. There are a couple of noteworthy accounts that I read and I’m constantly discovering awesome works on groups like ByMePoetry, EvePoetry and Her Heart Poetry. Personally, I’m honoured to have been a featured poet in these groups. They find some amazing folks 🙂

An unusual poet who inspires me is Korean pop artiste Kim Jonghyun. It is really unfortunate that his book Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free released post-mortem. The book is in Korean and I had to patiently wait for a fellow fan to translate it for international fans. I’ve followed Jonghyun’s career since his debut in 2008 and it really saddened me that his magnum opus released in 2018 would also be his last. His mastery of the craft shines through in his book and accompanying music album.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

The embarrassing reason was that I started to write was because I was painfully introverted and escaping to my study was the easiest form of personal catharsis. But as I shared what I wrote with others, people began to relate and that really makes me happy about it. It’s a fulfilling sense of community that I can do with just my computer or a plain notebook. I make other forms of art and even therapeutic practices but writing offers the most interesting balance of what’s within and without.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Simply by writing. There is no teacher better than practice. Then, start expanding your writing circle to writing groups. Find a mentor or writing buddy. It’s very fluid really, and you do what works best for you. I like to create solitary but definitely like to take feedback from a group. Online groups have helped me find writing buddies and prompts. The goal is just so that you are happy with the output, and the sheer fact that you write keeps you in a state of momentum that’s constantly sparking new ideas.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Currently, there are two personal projects I’m working on:

1) https://www.instagram.com/kelticfae/
This is my Instagram that is a collection of grief poems dedicated to everyday objects, places and faces that remind me of someone who is no longer walking this world with me.

2) This is a WIP manuscript with poems and prose about life and love. Some of the poems were originally written as song lyrics (and I call them sonGEMS = song + poems). This manuscript also contains poetry as artwork. The working title is Madrugada and it’s named after a Norwegian alt-rock band. I hope to have that one out by end of this year.

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