‘Through poetry, I can express myself without inhibitions’ (IANS Interview)

Her academic training in political science has taught her to be objective and critical in her writings but poetry is the only space through which she can express herself openly without fear of inhibitions, says Massachusetts-based public policy professional Sreya Sarkar, the co-author of ‘The Same Sky’ and whose poems exude optimism and a love of nature.

“I consider myself primarily a prose writer and more recently a writer of short fiction. I have spent more

than 15 years analysing and writing on public policies and politics both in the US and in India. But alongside, I have always nurtured a wish to write fiction. My academic training in political science has taught me to be objective and critical in my approach to writing yet all along at a more personal level I had plenty of observations that were steeped in raw feelings and from time to time I would vent through the short poems I penned for my blog and later for a few literary magazines. I feel that poetry is the only space I can express myself openly without any fear or inhibitions,” Sreya told IANS in an interview of her 22 poems in the book, a collaboration with Kolkata-based writer Sankar Sarkar (no kin).

Sample this stanza from ‘Spring’:

Found back its lost rhythm and pulse, The single sapling becomes ten, then hundred more, The whipping wind has now calmed down to become a gentle caress, The shrill howl of the snow swapped with the tuneful melody of birds, The growing carpet of greenery sprouted a sprinkling of wild flowers, Creatures asleep for long, deep in their resting caves, Peeped out to hear and smell the change in the air, At last, the season has hanged, Spring has arrived!

Given that she also writes non-fiction for some Indian magazines, how does she manage the switch between prose and poetry?

“For me, it’s not that difficult,” Sreya said, adding: “For me, writing can have multiple layers. Though not differentiated consciously when I write, for me it’s about the time of the day and my mood. Early mornings or late at night when I gather myself and my thoughts, I sometimes find my emotions and observations spill over in the form of poetry.”

“Nature touches me, and so do people and their energy and it finds a substantial space in my poetry. What I find interesting is that had I not had a career in interacting with new people constantly when unearthing and covering news stories, I would not have had the fodder I have access to now, to weave my poems with. I approach my non-fiction writing objectively with my mind and skill set of a policy analyst but at times I find the effect of poetry, tinged with the translucent shade of empathy, according to my readers, makes my non-fiction articles for news magazines like The Quint, Scroll, The Wire, and Dainik Bhaskar more relatable and well-rounded,” Sreya explained.

How did the collaboration come about?

Sreya met Sankar on Facebook in 2021 when he introduced himself as a poet and wanted to know more about her work as a journalist and writer.

“He read some of my short stories and was moved by my use of words. Beginning of 2022, he requested me to write an essay or poem for his bi-lingual magazine (English and Bengali), Delta. I submitted a poem and soon after he approached me with the proposal of publishing a poetry book together.

“I was not convinced that I could collaborate on an entire book for my love for poetry and dabbling with it was rather personal and not something I necessarily shared with a larger audience but he convinced me that my writing though personal has a universal ring to it. Sankar Sarkar came up with the theme of ‘The Same Sky’, continents apart, for he is based out of Barasat, West Bengal and I live in Sudbury, Massachusetts, US.

“He felt that the themes he conveyed through his philosophical writings on love, loss, and life, I could translate into everyday life and stories with casual comfort, bringing in a modern touch that felt like a breath of fresh air. My ‘not being tutored in writing poetry’, according to him, made my work original,” Sreya elaborated.

The pandemic also had a role to play in the collaboration.

“For the first time, the physical distance became a big barrier for me, living far away from my elderly parents in Kolkata. I realised that nothing can be taken for granted anymore. The intensification of fear and other instinctive feelings made both me and Sankar Sarkar collaborate on a book that we thought might have the ability to build a bridge between the two continents making us all feel connected at a much deeper level than physical touch,” Sreya said.

According to one critic, “their collaborative work excels in the hackneyed flavour of contemporary literature with unique symphony and cadence”. How does she explain this?

“Sankar Sarkar has written several poetry books, the latest being ‘Handful of Dust’ which got great critical reviews. He has also written ‘A New Philosophical Classic: Theory of Love’, a path-breaking book on philosophy. He is a veteran in the world of English poetry in India and has been looking for contemporary poets who can express themselves beyond the trappings of the grammar of poetry writing.

“He wanted to collaborate with a newcomer who is not convinced that he or she belongs to the community. In his words, he was looking for ‘a reluctant poet who sought to express herself without any pretense’. His body of work that is deeply philosophical sought a link with the real world through its everyday occurrences. My poems are mostly about our present times, and their challenges. I also discuss the impact of the pandemic on our bodies and souls in some of my poems in keeping with the times,” Sreya added.

What next? Is another collaboration on the cards?

“We do plan to collaborate on another poetry book sometime in the future, the theme of which might be even more philosophical and abstract than the present collaboration. We are also considering working on a collection of short stories,” Sreya concluded.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

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