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.
Bhupender K Bhardwaj
is a poet and essayist from Mumbai, India. He cleared the Indian Civil Services Examination in 2013 and has worked as a senior bureaucrat with the Ministry of Railways, Government of India. His poems have been published by The Honest Ulsterman, Squawk Back, Mad Swirl, Indian Review, The Galway Review among others. His first poetry book ‘Ebullience and Other Poems’ published by Kelsay Books, US was released in March 2019. He has been longlisted for The Ginkgo Prize for Ecopoetry 2019 and was shortlisted for The All India Poetry Prize 2016.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I came to Poetry through a variety of channels in a manner which was not deliberate. What was present throughout my childhood and what persists even today is an unconditional love of books and all things related to them. When I was nine years of age, the desire came to me to be a writer. Reading about one book a day for two months of the summer vacation courtesy my father who funded my access to a nearby library, I was able to cultivate a knack for understanding the world through the lenses of many writers embedded in multivariable disciplines. This kind of intellectual environment made a normal boy like me starry-eyed who felt that later than sooner he too would write a book.
Another equally solid inspiration came from the physical environment I was fortunate to be placed in. About the time I write of – the year 1997: we shifted from South Mumbai to a relatively calmer suburb of Thane. Now, this was tremendous. Where once I was confronted by lots of noise so characteristic of a metropolis, now placed at just twenty miles from that zone, I was dazzled by the rolling hills which framed my living room’s balcony and which were part of the adjacent national park. In simultaneity, I had started to fall in love with the poetry component of my school level English textbook. These events gave me a conception of what I retrospectively call the Poetic Weltanschauung. The first poem that drew me in and astounded me was Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin which was part of our primary school syllabus..
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I can’t point out to any one person who specifically introduced me to poetry. Initially, it was the coterie of teachers, lecturers and parents but this acclimatization to poetry happened in a strictly academic sense. My broad-based introduction to poetry was self-driven and happened primarily in the libraries of the various schools and colleges I frequented in Mumbai.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I was in my late teens and only recently had begun to write poetry, the older poets whom I admired served as lighthouses in the ocean of various poetic forms I was navigating my course through. Being largely a self-trained practitioner of poetry and being engrossed in gargantuan studies for becoming a civil servant meant I could not get benefitted from participation in literary workshops and seminars. So, I resorted to reading as much poetry as I could in an effort to find my grasp on the half a millennium old literary tradition of British poetry. I realized the fact that if I were to be a poet on the smallest scale I would need to absorb as much of this and other kinds of poetry commensurately spanning many cultures. I always found the presence of older poets as manifested from the page comforting because each one of them was communicating and transferring down to me the essence of the ages.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Poets and novelists are diametrically opposite creatures in the sense that the former will read substantially more material than write and vice-versa. As such, I don’t operate with a strict schedule as that would be constricting. In fact, in one sense I am always writing. This writing happens in my head. I am always attempting to write the world into words via the sensory perceptions that get registered on my consciousness.
Also, I feel blessed that any poem I undertake to compose gets done in one sitting itself. I have never maintained any notes or diary which implies I have little faith that jottings can convert themselves into meaningful wholes on the page. For many others, this latter methodology might work just fine as well.
I regard writing blocks to be valuable because they serve as periods of gestation functioning as harbingers of an upcoming spate of creativity.
5. What motivates you to write?
I feel poetry in whatever form it is encountered is a natural drug akin to dopamine and adrenaline. It makes the recipient necessarily elevated and wise even when the poem deals with environmental or human conflict. In my own case, it gives me what one in slang utters a ‘kick’! This kick is what motivates me to write always.
Also, writing poetry for me is a supreme means to understand nature and the world and our unique place in it. The laterality of perspective is the greatest gift of poetry to mankind.
6. What is your work ethic?
The work ethic I have developed over many years owes much to my having aimed to crack the civil services exam for entry into general administrative departments of the Government of India, immediately after my graduation. I count myself lucky to have cracked this competition in 2013 and be among the 0.1 pc of the total aspirants who become top bureaucrats of this vast nation and idea called India. Now, this habit of reading and absorbing thousands of pages spread across all disciplines including technology and current affairs has held me in good stead. I have transferred this skill to my dealings with poetry. The result is continual enlightenment and a library that presents spill-over effects.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The writers that I read then and the writers I read now virtually remain the same except for a few illustrious additions. I regard Derek Walcott, Czeslaw Milosz and Seamus Heaney as my masters. Their works operate at full force, at what Foucault defines as the ‘limit’; their works represent the highest and grandest and most-grounded efforts to capture human experience in all its roundedness, in short infinity. The changing parameter has been my level of understanding and engagement with the texts of these masters.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I am really enthusiastic about such writers who push the limits of language and expression and in turn push the boundaries of poetry itself. Each of their books builds on their earlier works and pushes the collective conscience further. Contemporary writers whom I admire are Richard Georges for the extraordinary ways in which he juxtaposes the natural beauty of the Caribbean with the harsh aspects of colonialism; his lines shot through with a lyrical beauty glazed with a detached spirituality, Adam Zagajewski for the reach of his poetic vision marked by metaphysical knowledge and Charles Simic for the surprising depiction of realities of everyday life by combining elements of tragedy and comedy.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I write because I am obsessed with all the aspects of writing and literature. It is the most powerful means for me to record for example the sunlight filtering through the leaves of a loved tree and then analyze in parallel if that leads to some kind of commentary on the degradation brought about by colonialism or deforestation. Poetry thus becomes an act of analysis, criticism and celebration which ultimately ends on a note of hope and exhilaration opening up newer possibilities.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
By a series of funny coincidences. Initially, it was an interest in the ways the words sounded and made sense. Then, the image of the writer as being some kind of an extraordinary being appealed to me. When it came down to the actual process of writing, I immediately realized it was slippery ground. In order to become a writer, in order to write down a single poem or a single page, it was necessary to have gone through a hundred pages of authentic work. Apart from this one must develop ways of looking at our surroundings. Travelling or movement of any sort, on any scale is equally important to become a writer. It opens up newer areas of perception and experience.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I am currently in the process of editing and a finding a publisher for my second book of poems. This collection would incorporate about fifty poems composed in the last year and a half. At the same time, I have been writing essays on poetics and poets whose works have impacted me.