Poetry, says Kanimozhi, whose latest book was released recently, is about inner equilibriums. Excerpts from a conversation...

Never was out of love

And never continued to be in love,

Not with the same

Neither the loved one remained

The same

Nor it is possible

To live without love

Seemingly simple yet very dense and layered, Kanimozhi’s poetry connects to a reader with an immediacy in its striking elegance. Even as one had read many of the poems as and when they were published, appearing together and in juxtaposition to other poems in a collection, they bring out the richness and diversity of her canvas. Apart from reflecting on life experiences and voicing concerns on issues ranging from ecology to child abuse, there are poems where she overtly touches upon the dominant imagery and values of the political milieu and sails through them, even as she is very strongly anchored within the poetic realm. As one goes through the poems, poetry seems to be a process of recovery and constant realignment for her…

What is poetry for you?

Poetry is a continuous dialogue with my own self. People find themselves in so many ways. It’s kind of discovering myself…a conversation with myself. Getting published is very secondary; my process ends when I have put it into paper. I won’t say that it doesn’t make a difference at all, it does bring in the factor of ‘a reader’. But it’s over when I am convinced that I have said what I needed to say in the manner in which it sounds right to oneself…

Agreed that the process of creation is a continuous one despite the surface noise; nevertheless, for the actual moment of writing you do need a certain silence and are you able to find it?

Silence inside, yes, to find it, you should be there in the centre of that quietness. You can write in the midst of much. You should be able to feel silent; sometimes you never find that inside and it takes a very long time to find that absolute quietness inside for the flow of creativity. Physical silence is never a problem; sometimes you take the channel of another form to reach your inner silence, sometimes watching a film, sometimes when listening to music, or even reading another book.

In comparison to your first collection, you seem to be much freer now…

Maybe I have come to know to write better…

Art/artist is naturally and permanently posited in a contradicting space than that of the establishment and you being part of the establishment, how do you deal with it?

There are frustrations sometimes. You also come to accept that aspirations and reality do not walk the same speed. Of course you can be part of the establishment, whatever you call here as establishment and yet you can still want things to be better. So why should I deny myself something just because I am part of the ‘establishment’?

Chasing our dreams as if

Chasing butterflies

Like winged rainbows they fly

Beyond our reach….

The ‘face’ of a political persona is carefully guarded and guided as against the ever transparent and illuminated voice of the artist; how do you walk these roads?

These norms are not going to kill you/make you into somebody else. There are certain changes in one’s personal life when one becomes part of a larger institution. It demands a certain discipline according to its own tradition. That very same institution keeps moving and changing and you yourself desire some changes in it and at best, as a sensitive person you can strive to create that space for change. Just because you want things to be in another way, you have no right to bring it down. It is worthwhile to remember that the goals of an institution are larger than the ambitions of an individual when you set out to undo or do something.

Unsupported and unheard goes

His scream

Spreads his refuge seeking plea

To frontiers that keep silent

Throwing off some

Words of solace

We rush back

To the Ring of Safety

Even as our Artillery and Armaments

Are auctioneered by Death merchants

Quiet unknowingly

You speak passionately on the Sri Lankan issue and some other social issues in your poetry. The inevitable compulsion on you would be to answer the question, what have you done for any of these issues in your enabled position.

Much before I came into politics I have been part of pressure groups on the Sri Lankan issue; in fact it was us, a group of writers and artists who first broke the silence a few years ago on this issue. I have been consistently participating in all the discourse on this.

I have always been connected to the differently-abled, transgenders, women’s issues and education and as a Parliamentarian I have voiced my concerns on these and many such issues. Whenever there is an opportunity to turn the focus of the decision making powers to the core issues, one is alive to that and I sincerely believe that I am doing my best.

Sweaty grime

On the back

On each of the wipe

The handkerchief

Peeled my face

From the Mosque and the Church

Screamed out Prayer Calls

In stiff contest, the female Goddess

Gets evoked at a high decibal

Actors, politicians

Religious leaders

Rose to demonic proportions in cutouts….

City is a recurrent motif in your poems here…

One thing is, I am very much a city person. Somehow often the city is vilified, painted like an uncaring monster and village as a space of all goodness and virtue; even in many of our films you come across this sometimes; honestly you feel very defensive and maybe I want to say I am a city person. Apparently the caste differences are much less, played down in a city and you are not scrutinised about your caste. Acceptance of a person as a person is much more easier in a city and to that extent social norms are broken…

…when she was told that it’s a baby girl

To an astounded assembly of the near and dear ones

She broke into a huge sob…

… those slippery fingers

And their slime

To prevent them from touching

Her daughter

One after the other she is severing those fingers

Throwing them away

The poem on child abuse really jolted me. And it is striking that you are not just addressing the abused child but go forward till she becomes a mother…

You need time to write about something that keeps working inside you. Poetry is not an emotional response like we would like to believe it. We need distance. The issue has its own politics. I just didn’t want to leave it. It’s not a temporary thing a child goes through like an injury or something. I have tried to understand why…its much more. I have seen women who have undergone this, who just block it out of them and it comes back to haunt them in many forms. I did not want to stop it with addressing the child. Your interpersonal relationships, your trust towards the world changes radically for somebody who is abused as a child. A mother who has been abused as a child is never able to trust anybody with her child. Why, I have heard about a boy who had undergone abuse, he couldn’t even hold his own daughter in his hands. Imagine not being able to trust your own self. There seems to be a taboo to even speak or write about this.

The very guardian angels*

Are destroying

The Armour of the Guards

The bells of Justice are molten**

To make the killing sword

(*Sathukka Bhootham is supposed to be the Guardian of the City, a term from the Tamil Epic poem silappadhikaram. **Aaraichi Mani is a bell hung outside the palace walls of Chola kings where a common man can go and get the audition of the king by striking the bell. The legend goes that a cow which had lost the calf to the wheels of the prince did that and got justice.)

The reference phrases that flash through your poems and the manner in which you flip them around like in ‘Sathukka Bhootham’ or ‘Parathavar Veedhi’ are quiet zappy; but how does a reader outside this cultural milieu connect to that?

When you take a word and use it as a word, it’s just that; whereas when you draw the word/phrase from a classic work, the colour and depth becomes much more and it comes with much more than just the direct meaning of that word. Maybe it’s like the difference between dancing in a sabha and a temple. For instance, take this kaithalam patri…; I can say kai pidithan as well. But when I use the phrase which Andal has used, it opens up something more poetic and transcends the prosaicness easily. Moreover sometimes such references work towards indicating a sense of hierarchy, a certain politics, sometimes a grandeur, all can be evoked just by drawing a referential phrase. In English whenever you read the expression “You too”, you never fail to connect it to betrayal. Moreover, when I belong to such a rich poetic tradition, how can I not draw references from it? Don’t I make an effort when I come across loads of references in other poetry? But I have to confess that such references pose a huge challenge to the translator; one of my friends said these references are a translator’s nightmare!

Karuvarai Vaasanai (1995), Agathinai (2002) and Sigarangalil Urayum Kaalam (2009) are three poetry collections and Paarvaigal and Karukkum Maruthani are two non-fiction works by Kanimozhi. Poems in the copy have been translated by Prasanna Ramaswamy.

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