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Volume 1 | Issue 1 | March 2006 | 

Meena Kandasamy

1.How and when did it first dawn upon you that you have a poet in you? Could you remember your first ever poem? What makes you write poetry? Life or beauty of life?
Well, I have been asked this question very often and my answers have again been as varied as my poetic themes. I have blushed when I have won appreciation and arrogantly asked ‘Why Not’ when I have been suggested to change track. Unlike most others, the first poems I wrote were not love poems, they were what could be called (to use a very out of fashion word) radical. Or militant. My poems don’t rhyme and I don’t really have ‘influences’ –like reading a great work and then wanting to write something like that. I write poetry out of my helplessness and my vulnerability. If there is anything else I can do, I would have rather done that. I was young, and a woman, and pretty much ‘highly sensitive’, so you know, I wrote poetry. It was the least I could do about things. Frenzied anger and long nights of anguish have crept in. Some times, like ravishing monsoons, I have written a bit of love poetry too. A little of my poetry can be categorized as blatant-feminist, and that grows out of my own experience, of how my gender has made me the woman I am. But my early poems were not autobiographical, strangely. The passion of writing about my experiences came as I grow older, and I felt that one has to have a certain amount of guts to put their feelings to words. I now think I want to be totally bare and intensely exposed to the world through my writings. I want it to be my rebellion against the world. Other times, I think every poem is just something so personal that I would never have the courage to actually ‘say’ it to my lover. I wrote my first poem Mascara on the pongal day of 2002, and oddly (even to me, even now) it was about temple prostitutes. I just don’t know what came over me. A prostitute points out to Kali that even she lines her eyes with kohl. I was totally devastated that people in service of God had their whole karmas twisted inside out! That there is no true consolation a violated victim can ever find. And that beauty is patriarchy’s most successful weapon against women, although the whole idea of cosmetics grew out of war paints! Looking back, this had nothing to do with me.


2. What is your perspective of beauty?
Perspectives are always tied up with politics—at the diverse ways of looking at the world. So, sometimes I might scream that all talk of beauty is bourgeois and at other times, I might believe something else. I think love magically transforms everything into something of beauty, so what is more essential than beauty, is understanding. John Keats and his ‘truth-beauty’ statements have been twisted too much out of context for any of us to address beauty without sounding too philosophical, or to counter it without sounding too philistine. It depends on how people define beauty. Imagine the purists for whom only the ancient is beautiful. There are people who retch at vers libre. I think beauty lies as much in dull gray skies as in the proverbial sunrise that paints wonders. That is again perspective.


3. Does any incident provoke you to poetry?
Yes, but never immediately. If any incident is capable of affecting me, then I live with that. I think over it, keep chewing on it, allow it to make me distracted, let it ruin my life for days on end, take it to bed and see it in my nightmares or wish-fulfilling dreams, talk about it to anyone who cares to listen, and someday, sometime, when I am sitting down, I have written a poem. Poetry should capture the heat of the moment, but there is no necessity that you write it like an instant transcription. It doesn’t suit me at all.


4. How do you treat the things happening around us? War, terror, colonization, genocide, homicide and what not?
Yes, I do naturally react. Being a poet, necessarily requires a certain level of politics—not just Left or Right or whatever, but at least distinguishing between the oppressor and the oppressed… Moreover, since history takes up chronicling the stories of those in power, I guess it up to poetry to take up the chronicles of victimhood. But I am against the institutionalization of poetry per se. For some people, poetry just becomes a vehicle of protest. It should not be so. Poetry must retain its all encompassing nature. Pure love poems aren’t dead just because so much else goes on in the world.


5. What will happen to your poetry if the concept of love would be lost once and for all?
If I cease to love, I would cease to live. Or write, for that matter. And I don’t think even the radical, angry poems of mine would survive. Only people who know how to love boundlessly get angry at society—only they become its revolutionaries, its leaders, its heroes. Even to empathize with the rawness of rebellion, you need to love. It’s the only spontaneous thing, like breathing, but even better.









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