Blogging is a wonderful way to meet and connect with poets (and their works) I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. Today I feature one such poet I met on the blogs, and whose poetry makes me sit up and listen, Rajani Radhakrishnan.
Rajani is a poet and ghostwriter based in Bengaluru, India. Her poems have appeared in several international journals. And chapbooks, On Turning Fifty, An Unbeliever’s Handbook and On the Rough Road on her blog, THOTPURGE, where you can also connect with her. She can also be found on Instagram/ Twitter @TP_Poetry.
In this conversation, Rajani shares her thoughts and process behind her recently published book of poetry, Water to Water, available on Amazon, the poem And, I unbeliever and more.
Khaya Ronkainen: The Unlikely Poet! That’s a very interesting way of describing yourself. Please tell us what do you mean by “unlikely”?
Rajani Radhakrishnan: Well, to me it’s a bit surreal. I didn’t study poetry and I still know very few people in real life who write poetry, and even read poetry. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I would still have a poetry blog. A year ago, I would have laughed at the possibility of a book or a conversation about it with a fellow poet from Finland! So, things have evolved in unexpected ways.
KR: I hear you. It’s surreal for me too, to be having this conversation with you. Because I’ve been a follower and a secret admirer of your work since I found your blog. So, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to pick your brains.
Let’s explore Water to Water ‘the secret inside every raindrop’ a bit. The phrase makes me think of a tiny drop but also a massive monsoon, which is impactful and can be devastating at times. What made you choose to focus inside a raindrop?
RR: Both the title of the book and the poem suggest the cycle of life. Rain is a manifestation of that endless regeneration. Where I come from, ashes are offered to the water, after cremation. So, it is about beginnings and endings, birth and death and all that lies in between. There’s a bit of an explanation in the introduction to the book as well.
KR: And it’s a fitting introduction, at that! A prelude to a deep and meditative yet melodic invention, even sombre poems read like a romantic song about lost love. There’s certainly a gentle rhythm that moves like waves of an ocean, in almost every poem. Was this rhythm intentional?
RR: I think, even in free verse, as a poem is written, it develops a certain rhythm and harmony- but that is not consciously crafted. There are times I know where the poem is going, mostly, I am hoping the poem has it all figured out. So the cadence, the structure and the words all come from the poem and I just follow its lead.
KR: You have followed the lead with other literary devices too. The poems are dense with metaphor, which I’ve enjoyed peeling, finding elements of similarity and the implied idea. I think this an effective way to convey personal feelings or express speaker’s thoughts. Who is your target reader? And what do you hope they take away from this book?
RR: When I’m writing there is no target reader. Not even a target poem. I just write words that come to me. But once the poems are out there – on my blog or now in the book, it is comforting to know that, occasionally, a reader will befriend the poem and travel with it back to the point from which it emerged. Sometimes a reader’s comment reveals things about the poem that were not apparent to me while writing it. But the reader applies their own reality to it and different stories come out.
KR: That’s true, a poem meets us as readers where we are. That said, each poem in the collection holds a mystery. And there are so many poems I’d like to talk about but I had to choose one; And, I unbeliever. I am mightily impressed by the flow, especially, when I read the poem aloud. Words and emotion produce an intense engagement that immerses the reader into a mystic union with the ‘god beyond telling’ Let’s take a look at the poem, in question.
What about the ocean reminds me of god? Not the god I was
told I should know, the one beyond telling. At the edge of
the sea, I am mighty, the water comes to me over and over again
like a wish. A seeker, trapped by the angst of the moon. And yet,
today, as I stand at odds with the far horizon, it washes through
me, the light draped over its back, swallowing my insides, claiming
the last of my footprints, leaving me with the after-wave of its
hubris, with the salty crust of invented time, with a hollowness
filled with answers. And I, unbeliever, I, who waited at the temple
gate, I, the irregular piece of a puzzle gathered at bedtime into an
old plastic bag, I find myself solved, rebuilt, as if I have become
the sea and the sea has become my maker, as if I birthed a
mermaid while the sea was my lover, as if I am the blue sky and
the sea is always the question I don’t have the courage to ask.
– Rajani Radhakrishnan
The connection between the poem and the place, whether fictional or not, is strong. What is the poet’s preoccupation with this place?
RR: I spent a chunk of my growing-up years by the sea. To me, it is both a potent force and gentle friend, putting everything into perspective. We seek answers in different ways. Sometimes, we find those answers in the least expected places. So, perhaps, that’s what this poem is about. Though it is incredibly hard to know what exactly triggers a poem – usually something quite innocuous that finds no place in the finished verse!
KR: Vivid images, intense engagement and flow; the poem almost leaves me in a trance. Was this a gifted poem or did you labour over it?
RR: Every poem is a gift! I don’t remember how this poem came about but generally poems carry scars if they’ve been chopped and changed too much or written over an extended period of time. You can tell, right?
KR: I certainly can tell. Now, looking at the collection as a whole, there are many references to “I” the poet, becoming a poet or the poet as a poem. Is this an autobiographical collection? Yes or No.
RR: No. Though every poem is coloured by ideas and impressions and life experiences. So, I dare say there are some personal emotions, fears, convictions buried in those pages – but no, not autobiographical.
KR: I agree, every writer draws from life experiences. It can be difficult though for the reader to tell autobiographical work apart.
But still this line, and a closing of another poem, “You tell yourself you will become a poet tomorrow” intrigues me. Why? Because an editor of some literary magazine (I’ve conveniently forgotten the name) once mentioned that writers today are quick to call themselves poets. In your opinion, what makes a poet? Is it inheritance, education, experience or writing itself?
RR: That’s hard to say. In the digital world, poetry has taken on a much wider, looser definition. What has happened is that readers have a choice now of what they want to make part of their poetry experience. And poets have a choice of medium, of platform – to effectively share their work, if they choose to – so maybe it’s all good, one thing will stimulate the other. Irrespective of where it appears – Instagram or You Tube or in print through a seasoned publisher – a poem that is honest, that has depth and texture and skill will eventually resonate with a reader. Or two.
KR: You mention something important – honesty. A poetic truth, if you will, we experience it in our daily lives. It speaks to the heart.
Talking about daily life, how does poetry feature in your everyday life? How does it help brighten your days or cope with challenges?
RR: You know, when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he supposedly said, “Because it’s there.” An answer that is beautifully simple and wretchedly complex at the same time. Also, when you think about it, the only possible answer to that question. I’d say that’s how poetry becomes a part of a poet’s life. It is not an option, not a choice. It’s just what you do. You can’t separate it from everyday life.
KR: Well said, and I certainly cannot argue with that.
What’s the best gift you’d love to receive as a poet?
RR: Writing a poem that I know is the best I possibly can. That would be something!
KR: Lastly, have you read any book of poetry lately that made you think differently about poetry? What and why?
RR: Yes, I read Journeys: A Poet’s Diary, which is a compilation of thoughts and poems from the personal journals of the poet A.K. Ramanujan. The insight into his mind, his creative process and of course, his fabulous work inspired me to write the small collection, On Turning Fifty. The way he looks at ordinary things, the self-deprecation, the honesty, the cultural connection and the seemingly effortless poetry – there’s so much to learn.
Thank you Rajani, it’s been a pleasure chatting to you.
p.s. All excerpts and images used with author’s permission.
Over to you, poetry lovers. If you have a comment or question for the poet, feel free to continue the conversation below. Thank you for reading!