Sampurna Chattarji's Absent Muses is a poet's interpretation of the modern world
Poet, novelist and translator Sampurna Chattarji is tired after the lively Toto Funds the Arts reading at the Crossword Bookstore. But she kindly agrees to an interview. We seat ourselves at a staircase in the bookstore. The poems, Sampurna had read out from her collection of poetry, “Absent Muses”, evoked myriad feelings. Having moved from Kolkata to Bangalore, the poems resonate with feelings I grapple with everyday, from “exchanging cities like vows” to negotiating with change.
A muse, as is known, serves as inspiration for every poet, so the title of her new book “Absent Muses” intrigues. “Many people have asked me this. I have many muses; it could even be an empty street.”
Sampurna's poetry is like an “arch where through gleams the untraveled world” of experience and imagination. Building on her earlier work, “Sight may strike you blind” (2007), “Absent Muses” delves into myth, history and city life. Her attention to detail and her ability to weave brilliant imagery in her haiku-like poetry is, to me, Sampurna's hallmark as a poet. “As a poet, I start from a detail of a larger picture, and then build on it. Broken things, a piece of conversation or a glimpse of an angle to a picture while passing, all of these afflict me personally.”
It is interesting that she's more provoked by things she sees around her than inspired. For her, though, influence is an occurrence, not a strategy. “It's difficult to pin-point influence. I am not conscious of it while writing, but it is something that naturally spills over in my works.”
Sampurna has a preference for ambiguity, but not at the cost of coherence. Her criss-cross of journeys across countries and cities has enriched her. “Dislocation is essential if one is to be aware about origin. Without a keen sense of dislocation, you will never be at home. Dislocation is evident in my novel ‘Rupture' in the number of cities that inhabits the novel. Biswajeet, one of the characters, is a vehicle of expression of what it might be to be transplanted, yet be at home.”
Place is important for Sampurna. She believes that it is a lot like people for it has so much character. “I am always looking for familiarity in strangeness and strangeness in the familiar. Making the strange familiar is an act of love,” she concludes.
Keywords: Sampurna Chattarji