Why can’t people read more poetry? It conveys a sense of something in the shortest time possible. In this world of instant gratification, nothing gratifies quite as much and quite like poetry,” says 36-year-old Srividya Sivakumar. Her just-published collection of poems, The Blue Note, is a slim volume, gold-embossed, hand-stitched, hand-pasted and hand-bound in bright blue handloom cloth. It is published by the prestigious Writers Workshop of Kolkata, which has also published the works of Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, A.K. Ramanujan and Vikram Seth.
In the foreword to The Blue Note, G.S.P. Rao, the Managing Editor of Muse India (a literary e-journal that showcases Indian writings in English and in English translation to a broad-based global readership), has said her poems are reminiscent of Kamala Das’s. “That is so unreal,” Srividya says. “In fact it is pretty amazing to see my collection published at all.”
She quotes from her poem crystal ball. “‘Someday this world will read these lines that define me/ and remark on my felicity my genius and what made me/ my old haunts and old lives/ will be the stuff of many an unauthorised biography…’” She jokes, “I wrote that to console myself at yet another rejection from yet another publishing house!”
Srividya started writing when she was six or seven years old. “From writing verses about my thin mama to the pain felt by a pin cushion, I found it the simplest way to express myself.” From then to now, Srividya has scribbled verse, maybe 700 poems or more, in times of happiness, sorrow, outrage, indignation, love and disappointment. “I have always written for myself, I suppose any poet will tell you that. The poems are brutal and unforgiving. I write because I feel there should be one part of my life that’s completely devoid of pretensions and politeness.”
Snapshots from life
Snatches of conversation, some lines of a poem, clothes fluttering on a clothesline, movies…anything can trigger the verses. Srividya writes free hand and “anywhere and everywhere”.
Why is the first poem in her anthology on suicide, the second on widowhood and the third on infidelity? Srividya sheepishly answers that there was no profound reason the poems appeared in that order. She just sent 44 of her randomly selected poems to the publishers thinking they would select a few to publish. But all of them made it into the book!
Before this, eight of her poems were featured in an anthology of contemporary Indian poetry called The Peacock’s Cry in 2006. Her poems also find a place in the Kritya Anthology of Poetry in 2007 and in Samyukta – A Journal of Women’s Studies, in the same year.
Srividya started putting her poems out there on her blog, www.rumwrapt.blogspot.com. “Rum wrapt is a word I first used in my poem someday,” she says. The alcohol theme stuck and she started another blog called www.vodkawaltz.blogspot.com for putting up her prose. “I did not expect an audience and I was surprised to see one,” she says. Child abuse, hypocrisy, prejudice, love, lust…anything and everything that strikes a chord with her finds expression in verse.
She surprised herself once again, she says, when she tried to divide her poems into categories. “I found, to my utter astonishment, that they dealt mostly with love and with life from a woman’s perspective. The latter does not surprise me, but the former does. I have always thought of myself as a cynical, jaded soul, and yet, here are my poems, showing a different side of me!”
A love for words
Srividya’s time away from poetry is spent teaching English to management students and editing. In between she has found time to do her PhD on the image of women in Salman Rushdie’s novels. “Maybe all this is because I love words,” she says. “I am fascinated by them. When I read beautiful stuff, I go, ‘Oh I wish I could have said that, I wish those were my words.’ As a teacher, I feel a genuine sense of achievement when a student starts to read or is drawn into the magic of words.” Her poem doodles is about just that. “I put together some of the words I like.”
Srividya prepares to launch her book of poetry this weekend. She wonders out loud whether she should serve tea or coffee to her guests. She says she is nervous about the event, where she will read out a poem or two from the collection. “Poetry has never been about writing for an audience,” says Srividya. “For me, it is catharsis, to just be able to say, utter what can’t be said, for whatever reasons. Perhaps there is a compulsion, I need to get it out there. I write because I have to. My poetry is the most honest part of my life.”