For Shamayita Sen, writing poems is synonymous with healing. The 31-year-old PhD scholar has been writing for as long as she remembers, but during the lockdown, her works took the concrete form of a book. Her debut collection, for the hope of spring, features themes most of us have been combating in isolation — loss, grief, neglect. All of these emotions are private, but a year such as this cruelly constructed them as a binding factor. Sen’s poems bear this recognition without losing sight of their individualistic nature. The book has been published by Hawakal Publishers.
In a conversation with indianexpress.com, Sen dissects the theme of her poems, the running subjectivity in them, and discusses her future works.
Your poems are personal, but they also bear the subjective ‘I’ rather brazenly. Was that deliberate?
My poems are personal, most of them stem from intimate experiences and felt emotions, but some pieces are also derived from experiences of friends, colleagues, and relatives. The ‘I’ in poems like “Women,” “Is it too Late Already?,” “Breasts,” “Popsicles” and “Barbed-wire” is subjective. It encompasses the universality of female experience. It is a deliberate attempt at giving voices to untold feelings, or unhappy experiences that society considers a taboo for unhinged discussions. However, over this creative phase, I have realised representative poetry to be burdensome and problematic. I’m trying to move out of it.
The overriding theme in the collection is one of loss, grief, even neglect, especially when you are talking about yourself. You shared they were written during the lockdown. Was poetry a refuge for you or a medium of expression?
I’m specifically intrigued by your mention of ‘neglect.’ Nostalgia, loss, grief and healing are essential to this collection. But the neglect I speak of is more political than personal. For instance, “Dream” mentions the fatal train accidents of migrant labours, “Our Times” indicates how the timing and intention of the lockdown were not apt, “Letters not Written” refers to the State’s neglect of children stuck in conflict zones. I’m not quite conscious if I have used ‘neglect’ as a metaphor for my confessional poems. If I am to think closely, I indicate parental neglect in “House-work.”
Writing poetry has often helped me heal. Composing poetry is both – refuge and a mode of expression. In this fast-paced life, we need a moment to pause. Poetry provides me this pause, and placates my inner turmoil. The stagnancy during the lockdown of course helped writing. But I speak from a position of privilege. During the lockdown, I think I was writing with a kind of guilt. While people of my country battled through the pandemic and Amphan, the government tried to shrug responsibility. I felt I needed to write and document as much as possible. But again, not every piece I wrote during that time is a part of this collection. Soon and quite thankfully so, there was a smooth transition into writing about personal issues, thus writing became cathartic.
To what extent, do you think, your gender and experiences have contributed to your poems?
We know that different genders experience the same thing differently, more so because society and family reserve separate approaches. The perspectives we form through such experiences help us understand newer experiences better. Women’s experiences of domestic violence or various nuanced forms of intimate violence in toxic relationships find a voice in my writing. “Women,” “Sometimes I lie down on my stomach,” “Is it too Late Already?” and “Becoming” directly refer to these issues. Harassment in public places adds to the hostile environment in which women regularly struggle to survive.
You will find mention of this in “Phobia” and “To my Dear Girls, With Love.” Another aspect I am particularly interested in is deciphering dream images, our fears, and the subconscious. Some of the traumas we live through our gendered experiences slip into dream images and stay hidden until we pay heed to them. I believe knowing one’s psyche is key to one’s well-being. Poems such as “Therapy,” “Postpartum” and “Phobia” may be seen as the uncanny release of decades of female silence.
You frequently play with forms, sometimes using them as verse themselves. Who all have been your inspiration?
My experimentation with form is resultant of following contemporary writings. Of course, when I began writing poetry in college, Eliot, H.D., Plath have been great influences. But now, I prefer reading my Indian contemporaries, and I keenly follow online literary journals such as Muzzle Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, Poetry Foundation, Rattle and closer home Bombay Literary Magazine, Bombay Review, Muse India and Vayavya.
What are you working on presently?
At present, I’m re-working my old pieces. I also want to curate/edit a poetry anthology, so looking for an opportune moment to float a CFP.
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