It’s not everyday that you get to talk to a totally creative person. Today an interview with Abha Iyengar, a poet, social activist and dreamer @ http://www.abhaiyengar.com/.
Tell us about your poetic journey.
I began to write as a teenager. My first poem was called ‘A Wilted Rose’, a poem I had forgotten but was recently reminded of by an old friend! In the 1990s, I was introduced to ‘haiku’ by a friend, who pointed out a competition in a magazine. I sent in three ‘haikus’ and won two beautiful Japanese paper fans as a prize. Some of my poems were also published in a magazine called ‘Femina’ around that time, selected by the famous Kamala Das, who was the poetry editor. I continued writing poems after this, but made no attempt to get them published.
It was in September 2001 that my real tryst with writing began. In 2002, I sent some poems at the last minute to an anthology competition in the US, and won. I was quite overwhelmed. I have the internet and foreign publishers to thank for all the initial encouragement I received. The fact that I was net savvy helped me.
You have donned so many roles- poet, screenplay writer and artist. How do you think blogging has contributed to your exploration of so many art forms?
I don’t think that my blogging has helped me explore any art form. Those explorations are just born out of my basic nature, which is adventurous. However, blogging has helped me put my work and my thoughts out there, and share them in an open way.
Blogging is just another platform available for expression. And it helps get that much needed audience, the lovers of your work.
Which poets do you read and admire?
There are the obvious ones like Neruda, Rilke and Rumi. I love the poetry of Kim Adonizzio, K.Satchidanandan, Kamala Das, Mathew Dickman, Yahia Lababidi, Chris Abani, John Siddique, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Nida Fazli. My taste is eclectic. I have read some old Tamil poetry (translated) and it is difficult to describe their romance and beauty.
How did your book of flash fiction ‘Flashbites’ come about?
Flash fiction is the term for stories less than a 1000 words. Micro fiction becomes an even shorter form, a story less than 500 words. I love writing flash fiction and my work has been published widely since the last several years. So the collection, “Flash Bites”, was a natural follow through. Just like a collection of my short stories, which is to happen soon. I think I am among the very few contemporary Indian writers of flash. In India, it is still a new form.
What do you advise poets to take heed of when they disseminate their work online?
In the past I have been pretty generous in posting my poems online, but don’t do that much now. A number of my friends have had bad experiences of their work being plagiarized. So I think it is good to be careful, not post stuff unless you have already published it someplace, so that you can claim it to be yours. However, there is only so much you can do. Creative expression is difficult to keep behind bars, or to track.
What inspired you to create your poem movie ‘Parwaaz’?
This is one of those things which just happened. The film director approached me for the making of a poem-film, I didn’t know then what the term meant. Initially, the poem was written by me in English- the writing was pretty quick and instinctive. But the words in English did not work with the images once the film was ready. So I rewrote the poem in Urdu, trying to find the right words to express what the film was all about. It was quite magical how it finally worked out.
What kind of opportunities do you think writers in the sub-continent have today that they didn’t have maybe ten years ago?
Let me tell you the 10 ways, in no particular order, that the subcontinent loves the writer now:
1. Many online and offline Indian magazines have been born. They encourage new, emerging works in poetry and other genres.
2. New Indian publishers have mushroomed, ready to take on the works of budding writers.
3. Traditional publishers welcome unknown submissions in the hope of finding the next big thing ranging from an Arundhati Roy to Chetan Bhagat to Ravinder Singh to…
4. Social networking sites like Facebook make connecting and interacting easy.
5. Internet in India has exploded.
6. Foreign publishers are looking at the Indian market and Indian writers with love.
7. Self-publishing, e- books, POD, and all kinds of alternatives to traditional publishing are now available for the writer with the entrepreneurial spirit.
8. Literary agents are there in India to connect the writer to the right publisher. The writer can now just write.
9. Literary festivals are taking place all over the sub-continent. You can start with Jaipur, land up in Hyderabad, end in Bengaluru, then proceed to Bhutan. Or Trivandrum. Be discovered or feted or just hope for either.
10. The 10th point is that…ah, um, the 10th point…10 years ago you did not have all this. Oh yes, there are now creative writing workshops like the ones I conduct. Fledgling writers can get mentored.
Made it! Phew!
Bob Dylan said, “ Times, they are a-changin’,” and I’ll say that it’s all in favour of the writers of today. If many clamber on, the more the merrier. Just shows us how much talent there is in the sub-continent.
What keeps you going?
When you find your place, you just have to race. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but that is total Abhaspeak.:) It explains things pretty well if you care to understand.
Thank you, Neelima.
And thank you Abha for your take on poetry and all things writing in the sub-continent. Was a pleasure doing this interview!