What advice would you give to a poet who wants to join your collective or start one of their own?
Minal: I think it’s really important for writers and especially poets to find ways to seize the reins and this is one way. Becoming an editor or a publisher is much better than constantly complaining about or worrying about the gatekeepers in some perceived literary ‘establishment.’ I’m definitely in favour of everybody starting their own thing with a team of like-minded people and whatever resources you can scrounge together. It doesn’t take a lot, except time and passion and commitment and one or two great collaborators. So my advice is know what you want from it, dream big, seek advice, and go for it.
You’re about to give a nuts & bolts workshop is Bangalore. In a country that has no formal writing program, what are the basics an emerging poet should know? How does one deepen their craft without easy access to mentors and books on craft that are specific to the region?
Ellen: We are teaching about line breaks and the choices we as poets make about them (how long to make each line — is there a benefit to a particular poem for having lines of roughly the same length or what happens if we vary line length? What are the benefits of ending a line on a particular word and how does it strengthen or weaken a line to end it differently?), rhythm (including a boot camp on scansion and meter), syntax and the limitless possibilities poets have with our palettes of words, and some common figurative language elements and how they relate to the sound of a poem. We also pay particular attention to how to place the poem on the page, including the use of white space.
To deepen one’s craft, it’s so essential to read great poetry. Part of this workshop is not only how to write and use these tools effectively, but also how to read a poem with a trained eye and really take away from the reading some of the elements the poet has used to great effect.
There are some wonderful anthologies of contemporary Indian poets that should be on every emerging poet’s bookshelf. It’s also part of the work of this Collective to bring these poems into the world in an easily accessible way. We have recently launched inPoetry, an app available on Android, which brings a new poem to your phone every week. This same content is also available on our brand new website. Over time, this searchable database will begin to house hundreds of poems and poets from India and the diaspora and will become a virtual archive on Indian poetry. In other words, we as a Collective, aim to make Indian poetry easily accessible to the masses. It’s my firm belief that the more great writing is out there, the more it will generate and inspire emerging poets to their finest potential.
Minal: Just tonight, Ellen and I met with an American poet who is here in India to study the way poetry is taught here, and one thing she has uncovered in her school visits is that schoolteachers in India often use English-language poetry to have students memorize, recite, and practice English pronunciation. This was fascinating to me since it’s so different from my public school education in the United States, where we rarely studied poetry formally, and certainly never recited it. One of the poems we’re teaching in the Poet’s Toolkit workshop is Ravi Shankar’s ‘Pankti’, where he adapts a Vedic form to give structure to very contemporary material. As an American poet in India, I feel like there’s so much for me to learn, not only to teach. So I approach the teaching as a collaborative adventure where we may be able to teach about iambs and anapaests, and in return we can learn about concepts to which there is no English equivalent, like the navarasa. Opening the literary theory stream to flow both ways is one of the most exciting things about creating a Collective learning environment around poetry here.