A love for exploration into poetical form is crucial to poetic process for Karthika Nair.

She is a dance and theatre producer in France and currently working with the British-Bangladeshi choreographer Akram Khan, writing his next piece. She says poetry was a way of getting back in touch with herself, with language. Excerpts from an interview...

How has your experience been? Do you think festivals like these help remove that aura of exclusivity that persists around poetry? That it encourages a culture of conversations around poetry?

I think so, yes. Reading is one intimate experience between the page and the reader and I love that. But I have also seen poems in completely different ways when I have heard the poet themselves or someone else read them. It becomes a tangible experience, suddenly it makes sense, the melodies, the rhythms, it all explodes in your head. Mushairas and readings have always been a part of our culture but may be we've lost it with alternative forms of entertainment, but it is so ingrained, we are such an oral society...

I read at a college here and it was a fabulous experience and quite honestly the students had more interesting and incisive questions to ask than the ones we got at Alchemy in London. The diversity of the questions, the structure-based issues that they had was far more interesting to me. Of course since in London it was an Asian festival, we kept getting asked questions about identity but it was really about the writing here.

You have said elsewhere that your introduction to poetry was 'neither discreet nor gentle'. Could you elaborate on how and when you become aware of the possibilities of poetry?

The advantage in India is we are still surrounded by poetry even though we don't necessarily recognise it as poetry. Music is still lyrics-driven whether it's popular or film music. But we had great poets who were also lyricists like Shahir Ludhianwi who were also freedom fighters and socially conscious and there's so much of that they passed on in their lyrics in the then popular/populist music and I was fascinated by that even as a child, even without consciously recognising the divide there was between what is sometimes very mediocre cinema and the quality of that music and specifically the lyrics...

And also because a lot of my reading was outside school and I had no norms, probably reading was the only activity I could do without harming myself, I never had any strictures like 'you are not at the age for this'...I read The Golden Gate very early. It was quite an experience...

Where would you place your poetry within this popular/academic grid as it were?

I don't place it. I think I draw inspiration from all over so I don't have a hierarchy about what is high and what is low poetry and I think that is a big luxury that today we have, having access to all these different kinds and we live in a world where slam is getting very much recognised as poetry... so I don't think I position myself, the only thing I would say is that I love exploring, I do dig into and delve into forms and try and discover as much as I can and that's the delight, to be able to try and see what different forms can bring to what you are trying to say... So yeah, I think I have been blessed because I came across so many forms and they enrich the way you look at language...

Is language a problem for you? Do you write poetry in French?

I don't write poetry in French. I write air-tight contracts in French. My day job has a lot of legalese involved so the French I do is very formal. A French poet friend of mine said I should give it a try but I think I don't give myself the liberty to write in French. Because I can allow myself that liberty to break the rules in English but I haven't yet got the confidence yet to break the rules in French...

You have talked of Bearings as a book where you were trying to 'stay connected to a language that felt most intimately my own, and yet did not figure in my landscape anymore'....

People always talk of homesickness in terms of food or sounds. But with me there was a definite sense of being homesick with language. And also not just one specific language because as a poet I write in English but besides English there was Hindi, Malayalam, the experience of listening to other languages. France in that sense is a little monolithic, French is spoken all over. It's also the great strength of the country that there is just one language but sometimes it is a loss because you lose the flavour of multilingualism. Especially in everyday life and art.. . and in that environment, in order to speak to myself, I needed to write and that's actually how I started writing... I needed to talk to myself and for some reason it seems to happen only on paper...

What are your conscious concerns as a poet?

It is very variable...I usually have something that absolutely haunts me and I need to get it down on paper. That's how most of Bearings happened. With the second book, while I know exactly what the scene is and what I need to do and the obsession is just as much, may be it is a little more structured in my head. Bearings was very random. Without realising it was going to be a book, after having written about half of it that I realised how it was going to be structured. This time there's more of a blueprint in my head...

Could you tell us about that blueprint...

It is a little too early to talk about it. I am revisiting the Mahabharata in verse, reworking the myths. It's 18 days of war seen through the eyes of 18 female characters...

I haven't started it yet, I am still researching it.

How familiar are you with contemporary Indian poetry?

Anindita Sengupta is a poet I find very interesting. I found certain poems from Meena Kandasamy's Ms. Militancy very striking... I like Jeet Thayil and Vikram Seth because of their felicity in using forms, not rejecting it but at the same time being absolutely brilliant with free verse...their mastery of craft and very unique way of looking at things...

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