Rati Saxena, the Indian poet, in interview with Amadé Esperer, the German poet
Amadé Esperer.: Dear Rati Saxena, today it is my great pleasure to have you as an interview partner who is going to give us some insights into her poetry. So, let me get straight to the point and ask you, why do you write poetry at all? What is (are) your motivation(s)?
Rati Saxena.: Dear Amadé Esperer, writing poetry is an organic expression for me, I don’t belong to any poet’s or writer’s family, I never studied Hindi literature, in which I write. But I studied the ancient Sanskrit, and Sanskrit has a beautiful poetry.
Sometimes I feel that I wanted to communicate with myself, I wanted to know or search in my inner soul, and the poetry was my dialogue to myself. The poetry is a journey inwards, to ask question to yourself, and to find reply in inner world. In reality, when I wrote my first poem in my teens, I was not aware that it was a poem. In due time, I could learn to use images in proper words. One more thing – I am the forth daughter in my family, in my country the daughters are always considered a burden. So I was quite an outsider in my own family, at the same time I was very popular in my school and College, and University. I was very out spoken, very talkative. So poetry could make a balance in my inner mind.
My life had many high and low patches, so I needed a spiritual communication with my own self, and the language of that was poetry.
A.E: In which languages do you compose your poems?
R.S.: I compose in Hindi, one of the 28 official language of India, but I write most of the research-oriented books in English.
I compose my poetry in Hindi and, in daily life, speak English, Hindi and Malayalam
A.E.: What is your mother tongue?
R.S.: My mother tongue is Hindi
A.E.: How many languages do you speak?
R.S.: I have to speak three languages in my daily life, English, Hindi and Malayalam, the language of Kerala, where I live.
A.E.: Why do you deem it important, as a poet, to speak more than just one language?
R.S.: A language is not a subject to learnt, like science or mathematics. .A Language is like a river, which carries history, culture, and knowledge. So knowing more languages are like traveling in the world without visa, one can read and learnt a lot from all the languages.
In Sanskrit literature, the kavi, means a poet who is considered as most knowledgeable person, that is why I feel learning more languages always helps.
In India, everyone is writing poetry
A.E.: What is the status of poetry in India?
R.S.: In India, everyone is writing poetry. But how much poetry is there in those „poetries“ is difficult to say. The problem is that everyone is writing to read themselves. Still no body buys poetry book, and nobody reads, so writing poetry without money is common thing here. The sad thing is that language study is becoming unpopular, so we find better poetry in English than other Indian languages.
AE.: Is poetry part of the curriculum in Indian High Schools?
R.S.: Yes, but it is a part of language, modern parents are interested in sending their children to USA or London as IT workers so, children never study, more over we don’t have good teachers who know, how to teach poetry. I talked to many students, they just hate poetry, as they have to learn by heart, without feeling it. While I see that my grandchildren are studding poetry better way in western world. Still I saw a few, who left their high job and came to writing, just now , while working for kritya festival, I could see the bio note of two women poets. Moreover, poetry is not paying you anything, so no one survives on it, so poetry is always a part-time hobby or time past for most of the people.
A.E.: Is lyrical poetry valued more than prose?
R.S.: It depends, if you’re talking about some serious thoughts, or disturbing thoughts, lyrical poetry will not work, for examle. when this pandemic started in this world, I could not write a single poem, as this needs different emotions, but I keept writing many articles, which could be useful for society. But after three months, when I accepted the situation, I could come back to poetry.
So, we cannot keep poetry in a cage, let it fly, let it sing, but it should cry also and also shout loudly.
Unfortunately, the modernity in poetry has destroyed lyrical poetry. Both have some good and some bad qualities. In fact, poetry has an inner rhythm, which is most important.
You are right, I am student of ancient language called Sanskrit, most traditional and love poetry were popular this days, and sometimes I got disturbed by their images, as I felt that they were too much catteries.
Nature has made women close to poetry …
A.E.: Are women in India more interested in poetry than men?
R.S.: Yes, this is true, and social media has a big role in it. As everyone can get published. And sometimes, women get liked because of their appearance on the photo, not for their poetry. Thus, it gives them satisfaction, sometimes, I feel that social media has destroyed by slander the poetry.
Nature has made women close to poetry, because she is quite close to emotions. But in Indian literature, still man are dominating in every field,
A.E.: Which themes do you deem important a poet should deal with in her poems?
… but, in Indian literature, man are still dominating every field
R.S.: I don’t select a theme, it should come from your inner soul, but anything artificial will not impress one. Sometimes poets react emotions without absorbing them, which makes their poetry artificial.
I think, that the theme depends on the time and space, some themes are important in one place, and others are in other, in some countries hunger, poverty, and social problems are important, and in some countries, they need more spiritual development. For eg. The hijab is a problem in the country like Iran, the women want to get rid of it, but in France, the hijab becomes the symbol of self-respect. I saw beautiful nature poems in Norway. this is a rich country. But in India, we need nature, but in a different manner, not as beauty but as necessity. Moreover, hunger and poverty are most important here.
In the same way, poetry also talks in different ways to each reader in different manner, that is one kind poetry is not possible. Otherwise there will be false feminism, false realism or false naturalism will take place
A.E.: Can you tell us a little about the influences on your poetry? Which poets, which lyrical traditions are you drawing on?
R.S.: Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t have any impact from the Hindi writing poets, I also live in the south, where Hindi is not spoken, so I live in a place, where nobody is there to read my poetry. At the same time, my readers are not seeing me. That gives me a space, where I create my own way. But I have translated almost 20 books, so indirectly I learnt from every poet, but not from the poets of my own language .
A.E.: Are there specific poets, who influenced your writing? Can you name a few?
R.S.: Yes, but in a different way, In my early days of writing, when I was asked to translate Malayalam ( south Indian ) poetry in to Hindi ( North Indian Language) I got the first project as the poetry of Ayyappa Paniker ( a great Malayalam Poet) his poetry was very different and I was almost astonished to see that he creates a new poetics for himself, after that I translated a woman poet, Balamonyamma , and I was again astonished to see her approach to poetry, she was not school educated, but she belonged to a creative family, and learnt the old style of poetry. She was applying tradition poetics in modern thoughts as well new interpretations to ancient mythology. These poets impressed me a lot to understand that in contemporary poetry, one should always go for experiments, and try to take new subjects.
But as I said earlier, since I did not read European poetry, my studie refers to Sanskrit poetry only, so I don’t say that I follow any other poet.
But one thing I must agree that my poems related to my body pains are unknowingly learnt from Atharvaveda, in which the seers are praying to pains and. Sorrow.
So we keep learning from many places, but poetry should be always an own creation and express own ideas.
A.E.: Do you read European poems? If so, are modern (1945-1970) poems and / or contemporary poems (since 2000) among them?
R.S.: Unfortunately, not much, as I studied the Hindi language, it was a problem of language. Later I was able to study European poetry. But I am very organic or you can say raw in poetry, without any kind of background. Still I have translated a European poets, so I can say that I read them, among them two Norwegian poets, one Welsh and one Estonian and one from Serbia and another from Vietnam. To run the Kritya Journal, I have to read poems to be published, so I am aware of contemporary European poetry.
A.E.: Do you translate other poets’ poems? (Please give the poets’ names, if applicable)
R.S.: Yes, I have translated a lot, in starting I translated from Malayalam poetry in to Hindi, almost 15 books, and I enjoyed a lot, both languages are very different from each other. Therefore, it was difficult, but it was a good experience. And then I translated international poets, but always with English translations. That is why, I always needed communication with the poets – Helge from Norway and Menna Elfin from Welsh, Doris Kareva from Estonia are some important names.
A.E.: Are you interested in women’s’ poetry, such as the poetry of Sylvia Plath?
R.S.: You mean, Feminist Poetry. In reality, I don’t follow that line. I know, women suffer a lot, in India, they suffer a lot, but European kind of feminist talk is about body freedom, not about social freedom. And Indian feminist writers are just talking about body, nothing else, I want women to be intellectual.
Being a student of Sanskrit, I know that women is suffering many ways, but the woman freedom depends upon the time and space, different place have different way of feminism, and that is most important to go ahead with this ideology.
A.E.: Do you write your poetry by hand or do you use a computer? I am asking this, because neuroscientists have found out that hand writing is more specifically associated with an activation of the right cerebral hemisphere, which controls creativity. I noticed for myself a significant influence of the hand writing and am much more creative when composing my poems by hand.
R.S.: I was writing by hand for long time, I am a very slow writer, and a bit dyslexic, so when computers came in, it was helpful, I still make many mistakes while writing, so the computer helps me to make it better.
A poet should see, what others don’t see, and he should feel what others don’t feel
A.E.: What is your opinion regarding “Politically Correct” Poetry? Do you feel that “political correctness” compromises your poems in the sense that you might be tempted to avoid specific words (that are believed to be offensive)?
R.S.: A poet should see, what others don’t see, and he should feel what others don’t feel. And some time, we have to avoid some words, which can humiliate others. In Indian languages also we have such words and images. But in India, we have some very strong Dalit poetry, (poetry by or for the deprived people, mostly cast related) we also have transgender poetry where such political words are very strong, So in Indian language the poetry has more freedom, and I have seen that in contemporary Dalit poetry, many words or images are there .
In my kind of poetry, I don’t care for political correct images, but I try my best not to use the words, which can create a kind of disturbance. But I use strong images in place of words to show my political ideology.
A.E.: Do you think that poetry can change the way people think about specific problems that are moving a society? Problems, such as women’s liberation, or homosexuality?
R.S: poetry is always changing from very starting time to time. The human problems also change with the time that is why poetry also should change in style and expressions. Sometime language changed a lot. For eg, in Indian poetry a few years back a classical language was used, and images were also very soft, but in modernity the language is completely changes. The young generation loves Rap poetry also, so we have to except the young generation’s ideas.
Women’s liberation, or homosexuality are more of a Western problem, in my country, women are still fighting for small freedom, for example to marry a boy of her choice, or to get rid of a dowry, or save herself from rapists. Still I feel sorry that in modern days, poetry is not reaching out to common people the way Bollywood films do.
My poems have an inner rhyme
A.E.: Now some technical questions? Do you use rhyme in your poems? (Please explain why / why not.)
R.S.: No, I don’t rhyme. Why? Possibly poetry was for me an expression to take out from my heart, poetry was always expressing my mind, my sorrow, my pain and my suffering. Poetry some time was a deep love, but was never just a joy or a devotion.
But my poems have an inner rhyme. Means when I read them, they have a kind of music. I don’t read my poetry as prose.
So rhyme can be there, but no need of converting poetry in to song poetry. One problem in rhyme poetry is that when a poet try to count the rhythm, his emotions could be neglected.
I feel that harshness in life can be expressed in harsh words only, in my personal life also, I am a very strong and strait forward person. So, my personality reflects on my poetry.
A.E.: Interesting. I had the impression, from your poems I know that they are not so harsh, but rather sensitive and gentle. No?
R.S.: Yes, you are right, in fact I some time feel that I have two personality, may be all writers /artist have double personality. I remember in my childhood, I was very much talkative and energetic in the school, but was very quiet at home. The cause was that I was like a free bird in the school, but at home, I was feeling outsider, as my early childhood was in my uncle’s home, where I was given most importance.
A.E.: Do you prefer writing in classical forms, such as sonnets or do you prefer traditional Indian forms?
R.S.: In Hindi, classical form is not accepted in modern days. There was a time, when people liked that style, I could also tried, if accepted in my language.
A.E.: Contemporary Western poetry is marked by a very liberal use of line length (verse length). How do you determine the line lengths in your poems?
R.S. I don’t like, if someone says, write a poem in eight lines, I will not, unless it is a haiku.
A.E.: Yes. And what about the length of the single verses? How do you determine the length of a verse? William Carlos Williams for example has used breath as a delimiter of verse length, you know. How many words he could speak without running out of air
R.S.: See, for me poetry comes very naturally, I don’t write, unless it is cooked well in my mind. For me writing poetry and cooking for my children are the same things. I feel that your cooking can be testy, unless you cook with heart. And your poetry can be heart touching only if write with your heart. And mostly, every poem comes with its own shape, my some of early poems are in very short forms, but they come in a series, and many small poems together make collage. But there is one thing in poetry that they always have an inner rhythm. So I give importance to a natural or organic rhythm in the poetry.
A.E.: Do you consider meter (such as iambic pentameter) an important device? If so, which meters do you prefer and why?
R.S.: Yes, I studied Sanskrit, which follows meter very strongly, but I don’t follow, as I believe in thought, and meter makes them soft. So, in my own writing I don’t follow meter, but ancient poetry was strong because of meter, as meter make you learn easily. That art we are missing right now. What we say- the life is so harsh or without rhythm. That is why we forget rhyme and meter in our poetry also.
Poetry does not follow any boundary of cast creed or religion
A.E.: Do you think that poetry is able to bridge cultural gaps, to bring people of different cultures closer to each other? I mean cultures that are significantly different from one another, such as Hinduism and Islam or Hinduism and Christendom?
R.S.: this is very interesting question, yes this is true. You will astonished to know that the most of the musicians in the temples were Muslims in our famous temples. The famous Shahnai Ustad (master) was playing his instrument in the temples. Our many saint poets, who wrote poetry for the Indian Gods like Krishna were Muslims, like Raskhan and Rahim. This was called Ganga – Tahajeeb and means a culture which is like Ganga and Jamuna (rivers), I have seen many Muslim scholars who studied Vedas. Poetry is an emotion, which does not follow any boundary of cast creed or religion. More over poetry in religion is to create love and humanity, not for making boundary wall around the faith. My recent book, a fist which opens, a poetry therapy from distant past to present future. Talks about the religion and poetry therapy in one whole chapter.
But sometimes politics and religious politics use poetry for their purpose, thought that is not honest poetry. Poetry has free soul, which does not like to sit on one branch.
A.E.: Dear Rati, now that we come to an end, I would like to ask you about your current projects? Is there a new poetry book to be expected soon? If so, what will it be about?
R.S.: From the starting from the year 2020 I was finalizing and proof reading my recent book, The fist which opens, a poetry therapy from distant past to present future.
At the same time, I started several projects. The first one was sort of well, a kind of autobiography. The Second project was the recreation of the stories of Upanishad and understanding the cultural and historical situation from the point of view of women in the society. And my third project was to translate a few international poets. I was also working for a story book for children.
But when corona started, I was completely absorbed by the social political situation of my country, trying to understand and watch my country from a new perspective. And I started writing small articles for the newspapers and Facebook. I was almost behaving as a senior person of the family and discussing different aspect of life to my readers. This was not bad, as I could talk on many topics. so I almost forgot about poetry, but I started a virtual poetry festival for ten days, and later on I started the “Kritya Talk”. The poetry festival that could bring poets around the world to my audience, and in the “Kritya Talk”, we started every topic around the world, from social reforms, transgender problems, Dalit problems and classical Indian music etc. “Kritya Talk” is still ongoing. In “Kritya Talk”, we invite writers, poets, artist and musicians, but talk about social cultural aspects, as I feel that this is the high time, literature should become the part of common society.
I could write very little poetry during this time, but I Still feel that poet belongs to society, so it is poetry’s duty to communicate to society directly.
I hope to come back to my projects, which have remained unfinished till now.
Let me admit, that I enjoyed this interview very much, as your questions are very important. so thanks a lot for giving me this opportunity to express myself. I’ve been to Germany for three months, for a residency program, and I made many wonderful friends. I love this country very much, so I am thankful to you for such a wonderful interview.
A.E.: Dear Rati, thank you very much for the many valuable insights into your poetry and the Indian background you shared with us.