Meet the poets who will be at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival

Some of the poets who will perform at the seventh edition of this festival share their stories

August 01, 2023 06:47 pm | Updated August 08, 2023 04:20 pm IST

At a previous edition of the festival

At a previous edition of the festival | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Poetry goes on when nothing else does. It is our only weapon against mortality,” says Shinie Antony, festival director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, the seventh edition of which will be held on August 5 and 6 at the Grand Mercure Bengaluru, Gopalan Mall. The festival, which will see over 50 poets, artists and musicians attend, “is coming with song and strange new rhapsodies, with magic poems, shock poems and poems that whisper tenderly,” as Shinie puts it. “Verse is flying at you.”

Some of the poets, who will be part of the festival, share their journey.

Megha Rao

Megha Rao

Megha Rao | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Poetry for Megha Rao is a lot more than a tool of self-expression. She sees it as a way of calling her power back to herself, of reclaiming her own narrative. “For the longest time, in my personal life, I felt deeply disempowered,” says the performance poet, writer and artist, who shuttles between Mumbai and Kerala. Poetry changed the way she saw herself — “from a victim to someone who had control over her life,” says Rao. “You start being in love with your own life. It was a journey I so badly needed.”

Like many writers, Megha started putting words together very early, by around six. “Cute stuff,” she says, with a laugh. Then she went through some experiences in life and could no longer relate to this sort of writing. Instead, she found herself gravitating towards confessional poets, including Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. “I looked at that and realised that this was something I wanted to do,” says Megha, whose work has been featured on platforms such as Penguin Random House India, Firstpost, The Open Road Review, New Asian Writing and The Alipore Post. “I wanted to talk about things without feeling dirty.”

Since then, she has gone on to perform at multiple forums, authored several books and even hosted a poetry podcast, Poems To Calm Down To, on Spotify. Her next book, which she describes as “very magical” and “unhinged” is currently going through edits and will be out soon. “It is going to take a while to come, but I know it is in safe hands,” she says.

Sourav Roy

Sourav Roy

Sourav Roy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“My core is poetry. Everything I do is centred around poetry,” says Bengaluru-based poet, translator, and educator Sourav Roy.  It is why Sourav, whose current day job involves teaching Hindi to middle-schoolers, chooses to do what he does. “I do this because I am a Hindi poet and in Bengaluru, I don’t think enough in Hindi,” says Sourav.

Sourav says he has been writing poetry since childhood. He uses the art form to dredge memory and capture day-to-day experiences, “the people I meet, the questions that bother me,” says Sourav, whose published books include Kaal Baisakhi (a collection of poems), Karnakavita (editor of an anthology of Hindi-Urdu poetry from Bengaluru), Soho Mein Marx (as translator of three plays by Howard Zinn) and Os Ki Prithvi (a translation of Japanese Haiku)

He is currently working on a translation of modern Hindi poets into English, a project with Red River Press, and will be launching Hashiye Ke Pare, an anthology of Bengaluru-based Hindi-Urdu poets, edited by Mohit Kataria and published by Atta Galatta at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.

 Yogesh Maitreya

Yogesh Maitreya

Yogesh Maitreya | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“English was being dissolved like a drug on my tongue. I liked the hallucination this language was providing me, in which none of my caste-realities were visible to me,” writes poet, writer and translator Yogesh Maitreya in his recently published memoir, Water in a Broken Pot, an intensely honest book that tackles themes such as trauma, loneliness, discrimination, love, identity, dreams and so much more. “My memoir isn’t a commentary about things. It is about personal events in my life,” says Yogesh, pointing out that the personal is both political and global. “We can be intellectuals and experts, but unless we speak about our personal, intimate vulnerabilities, I don’t think we can connect with people.”

Yogesh’s relationship with English has always been a complicated one. “It is a dilemma any Dalit person growing up in the ‘90s would have had. We didn’t have social capital around that language, but it is something that enchanted us,” he says, admitting that though it was the language of the white coloniser, he found “the possibilities of writing my story with it.”

It was Dickens that he turned to when he started reading in English, he says. “His characters were people with struggles. When you read those stories, you realise people suffer and find joy everywhere,” says Yogesh, who began his writing journey in 2008, imitating Dickens who he was then reading “and missing out on my own history,” he remembers.  

Over the years, as he turned to more social history, his writing evolved and was shaped by what he read. In 2016, he founded Panther’s Paw Publication, a Nagpur-based independent publishing house dedicated to publishing Dalit-Bahujan writers. “I started with the intention of translating the mother tongue literature (Marathi) that I know into English,” he says. Today Panther’s Paw Publication publishes English translations of “any Indian language of my people,” says Maitreya, who is currently working on translating a book of Telugu Dalit short stories.

Zilka Joseph

Zilka Joseph

Zilka Joseph | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nostalgia, religion, miracles, home, identity, poetry and so much more come together in Zilka Joseph’s Sparrows and Dust, one of the poems in her 2021 chapbook, also called Sparrows and Dust. “ It is an interesting book influenced by flavours of Christianity, Judaism, Sufism, and has themes of birds, death, the afterlife, loss and grief all woven together,” she says of the book, which won a Best Indie Book Award and was nominated for a Pushcart.

As always, this book is drawn from her multiple experiences and hyphenated identities. She belongs to the Bene Israel community, the largest and oldest of the Jewish communities in India, was born in Mumbai, grew up in Calcutta and now lives in Ann Arbor, USA. “It is natural that all these influences will inform my work. It is not a conscious thing,” says the award-winning poet.

Words came early to Zilka. Always interested in books and reading, she began with “childish little poems” and soon found herself writing more seriously, getting published in several local publications. “I did not consider myself a writer or know that I would be one,” she admits. “It wasn’t seen as a serious pursuit.”

When she moved with her husband to the US, however, she began attending readings, literary events and writing workshops, going on to garner an MFA in poetry from the prestigious University of Michigan. Today, she has multiple books under her belt, has won several poetry awards, has been published in several journals and magazines and is a freelance writing coach and manuscript advisor, something she loves doing.

She is currently working on her next book “a simple collection of poems and short prose about Bene Israel food and my childhood memories, which is expected to come out in January 2024,” says Zilka, whose Bene Israel roots are an important part of her heritage. “I need to bring it out when I talk to people or when they read my work,” she says. “I want people to be curious…to know how (culturally) rich these small communities in India are.”

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