Welcome to the first Author Interview of 2020.
As a Poet , I decided to be a bit partial by beginning our author interviews this year with a fellow Poet and new friend. Last year, I read and reviewed his Chapbook of Poetry, “The Voice Under Silence” and was greatly inspired by it (Click on “Poetry” on the menu of my homepage to view my review of this book).
ABHIJIT SARMAH is a writer, poet and screenwriter from the North-east Indian state of Assam. He has one collection of poetry, Dying With a Little Patience (2020), and a chapbook of poetry, The Voice Under Silence (2016), to his credit. He has contributed to various print and online journals, including South 85 Journal, Salmon Creek Journal, Not Very Quiet and others.
Abhijit has given us an opportunity to learn a little more about his life as a published author and Poet by answering the 9 questions below.
1. How did you get started as a Poet?
I began writing poetry about the age of seventeen, under the influence of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. In those initial years, I was fascinated by Ginsberg’s uninhibited expressions and Berryman’s unusual use of syntax and language. I was also reading a lot of Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams and all. Now, I am critical of most of them. But, if you read my first collection of poetry, The Voice Under Silence, which I wrote at the age of nineteen, I think their influence is very much apparent.
2. What tactics do you have when writing? (For example: outline or just write)
I don’t have tactics. I know most of the readers will be interested in hearing stuff like I plan things out in advance and that I spend hours and hours in rewriting my poems, cherry-picking words and all. Perhaps some poets do that. But, that’s not how I work. I read and listen to poems throughout the day, in one way or the other. Oftentimes, when I am on my way home from university, picking up lunch or sharing a drink with a friend or two, a phrase or a line suddenly occurs to me and if it feels strong enough, I jot it down and later when I am at my desk, I work on it and try to come up with a good next line and so on. But, I do not force the process and I am really slow when it comes to editing my poems. Thus, I end up publishing a very small amount of what I write every year.
3. How do your poems develop? Please guide us through the stages of a poem?
For me, writing poems is somewhat of a spiritual exercise. So, I cannot start writing until I am in that flow state or what you may call ‘the zone’. As I have mentioned already, I wait for the first line to arrive. I treat it like a cue to start the process of creating a poem, like a poetic occasion of sorts. I don’t move on to write another line until I am fully satisfied with the previous one. And, once I have completed writing the poem, I don’t read it for at least a week. Then, a week or so later, I try to read it through the lens of a critical reader and ask myself ‘is it properly baked?’ If the answer is yes, then I submit it to magazines and if it’s a no (which is often the case), I edit it and that takes me months.
4. Which poets or books have fortified you as a poet?
That’s really a very hard question to answer. But, I think the works of T.S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, Wallace Stevens, Mahmoud Darwish, Agha Shahid Ali and Arthur Rimbaud have helped me immensely in becoming the poet I am today. The reason I am specifically mentioning them is because I have closely studied their work and I believe it’s important for any aspiring poet to do that. It taught me a lot about the art of writing poetry and I continue to study works of other poets.
5. How did you first get published?
Even though I had been publishing my poems in magazines and journals since the age of nine, my first collection of poems The Voice Under Silence was published in the year 2016, that is, the final year of college. It is, like my latest collection “Dying With a Little Patience”, a crowd-funded project. I am blessed with an extremely supportive set of readers and patrons who make sure my work remains independent and, thus, bold and honest.
6. Have you written any other books that are yet to be published?
Yes. Two novels. I am currently rewriting one of them. Even though I am primarily a poet, I don’t confine myself to writing poetry. I also write screenplays and dramas.
7. What are your thoughts on “Spoken Word” Poetry?
I am a huge fan of spoken word poetry. I love spoken word poems by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Sarah Kay, Taz, Bianca Phipps, Sabrina Benaim and others. They are bold and unapologetic. They give us the courage to accept ourselves with all our disorders, weirdness and flaws. I have also tried to perform a few of my spoken word poems. They are up on YouTube for people to watch. I would love to perform more of them and get better at it.
8. What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?
There are many of them. Nearly a year ago, I wrote a poem titled ‘On Those Who Live by the River in Houses Made of Plastic Wrappers’ and posted it on various social media platforms I am active on. It was about the poor people who live on the banks of the river Brahmaputra. A few months later, a reader, who read the poem on Facebook, told me that the last time she was at the riverbank and saw the poor people living on it, she was reminded of a few lines from the poem and that they drove her to tears. The poem is now a part of my new collection of poem Dying With A Little Patience.
9. Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish poetry?
If you aren’t doing it already, read and write a lot of poems. Experiment with forms and try to develop your own voice. Make friends with other poets. It is always great to have a few fellow poets who would be eager to read your poems and provide critical insights. And, most importantly, don’t take rejections from magazines, journals and publishers too seriously. Enjoy writing poems. Like May Sarton once wrote, “The only reason for writing poetry is because you have to, because it is what gives you joy.”
** Special thanks to the author for honoring this interview. His Chapbook of Poetry “The Voice Under Silence” is available on http://www.amazon.com. You can also connect with him on Instagram @abhijitsarmahwritespoetry.