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Poet & Novelist Avilasha Sarmah: Five Things You Need To Write Powerful And Evocative Poetry

An Interview With Heidi Sander

Create only for self, and the rest will follow. — We write poetry because it makes us feel a certain way — this and only this ought to be the motivation. Otherwise, what is the point of creative expression? Ultimately, if only we are true to ourselves, we would attract the right audience and platform. For instance, a spoken word poet would have slightly different needs from someone who writes ‘a haiku a day’, or another who uses poetry for activism.

Poetry is growing in popularity and millions of people spanning the globe have a renewed passion for embracing the creativity, beauty, and art of poetry. Poetry has the power to heal and we make sense of the world through the human expression of writing and reading. Are you wondering: What does it take to become a successful poet? What is the best medium and venue to release your poetry? What are some techniques to improve or sharpen your skills? In this interview series about how to write powerful and evocative poetry, we are interviewing people who have a love for poetry and want to share their insights, and we will speak with emerging poets who want to learn more about poetry either to improve their own skills or learn how to read and interpret better. Here, we will also meet rising and successful poets who want to share their work or broaden their audience, as well as poetry and literature instructors.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Avilasha Sarmah.

Avilasha Sarmah is a Novelist and a Poet from India. In 2020 while working on a fiction book (MORNING- the purest feeling), she accidentally created a global nature poetry community/ initiative on social media called “NATURE GYPSIES”, as an extension of her personal brand -“STORYTELLER GYPSY”. She has been currently shortlisted for “Best Author 2021” by the “India Author Awards 2021”. Her writings — be it poetry or prose — are an amalgamation of nature writing, travel writing, and spirituality held together by the gamut of storytelling.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to poetry?

I was 10, and our family dog, a beautiful German Shepherd, had just died. I remember experiencing the death of a loved one for the first time. Probably poetry was my way of analyzing my feelings about the incident, and I wrote a poem in memory of Jerry, our dog. Later, my mom sent it to the regional newspaper — The Telegraph India. I don’t know why poetry because I was yet to meet Wordsworth and Keats, who would heavily influence me, but at the time, it seemed like the most natural form of expression.

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

I am working on a few things which, albeit varied, seem to intertwine –

  • First, I am working on a two-book series (fiction) that follows the journey of a singer-songwriter duo.
  • At the same time, I am experimenting with a personal content brand called the “STORYTELLER_GYPSY,” — I already share my poetry online under the handle.
  • And finally, NATURE GYPSIES — the accidental “global nature poetry community initiative” that aims to “bring the focus and conversation back to nature” via poetry.

My end goal with my projects is to have a space wherein I can not only keep writing but also co-create and collaborate with fellow writers and poets, such that we use “content and creativity” to not just add value to our lives, but equally make an impact in the world, at large.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. What is your definition of poetry? Can you please share with us what poetry means to you?

I believe that poetry is a creative expression of the purest kind because it is almost, often instantaneous, synonymous with our intuition.

For instance, the simple act of observing nature inspires me to write, in an attempt to capture the emotion nature bestows, like bottling up a feeling to cherish and share.

What can writing poetry teach us about ourselves?

I believe that writing poetry heightens our awareness, makes us sensitive to our surroundings and self. This coupled with self-awareness is key to improvising our living experience.

Who are your favorite poets? Is it their style, the content or something else that resonates with you?

My foremost poetic inspirations have been William Wordsworth and John Keats, among others, and they will thus remain my favorite, along with Pablo Neruda and Maya Angelou.

I am deeply awed by Wordsworth and Keats’ love for nature and their undeniable prowess in immortalizing it, Neruda’s depth of emotions, and Maya Angelou for her unyielding power of expression!

If you could ask your favorite poet a question, what would it be?

To Wordsworth: “If you were to live in the 21st Century and write, how different would your ode to nature be?”

Poetry can be transformational. Is there a particular poem that spoke to you and changed your life or altered a perspective you held in some way? Can you share the story?

John Keats’s “Human Seasons” inspired the structure of my first fiction book, “When the Cuckoo Called,” when I started writing it as a teenager. The way Keats compares stages of life and emotions to seasons left an impression on me. I, thus, divided my story plot into the four seasons of nature to express the mood they conveyed.

Today’s world needs so much healing. Can you help articulate how poetry can help us heal?

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people turned to creative expression as a coping mechanism, of which poetry was one of the most widely chosen. This is evident of the power of poetry not just as self-expression for reassurance, but also as means of connection and community.

We’d like to learn more about your poetry and writing. How would you describe yourself as a poet? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style or main message?

I have found poetry to be the most organic means of expression, perhaps because of its ability to capture emotions at their rawest. Hence, only poetry has been able to grasp my love for nature. At the same time, my writings echo an element of ‘harboring answers’, or what I would like to call “conversations with Source.” As in the act of realizing a poem is a cathartic experience that draws a satisfactory conclusion. This explains the positive undertone of my pieces. All the more enabling me to advertise them as “friends with your inner voice,” because they are — from my soul to yours, beyond man-made identities.

In the same breath, this particular narrative is also the inspiration for my content persona -”STORYTELLER GYPSY” — the “gypsy soul” reflective of being rooted to not an external device but to a sense of self, one that transcends boundaries and hence belongs everywhere.

What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

If anything, I seek a more profound connection with myself via heightened self-awareness. I do believe poetry as a means of expression enables self-worth, self-esteem, self-belief, and self-love. While in the process, if I inspire others to tune in and use creative expression (no matter the form) to improvise their lives, then my purpose would attain a full circle.

In your opinion and from your experience, what are 3 things everyone can learn from poetry?

1. To appreciate the world around us.

2. Attention to detail that makes up the bigger picture.

3. The healing power of self-expression.

Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things a poet needs to know to create beautiful and evocative poetry?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Listening to our “inner voice” — Poetry as a means of expression is unique to the poet, and acting in sync with our intuition is the only way to be authentic. For example, we connect to our favorite poets/poetry because their authenticity echoes ours. We agree with Wordsworth’s rendition of the Daffodils’ because we feel the same, or when Neruda chimes of the despair of being “Forgotten in Autumn,’ it plays with our insecurities.
  2. Find your muse — As a creator, it is essential to bank on our strengths — as in knowing and focusing on our dominant source of inspiration. Ultimately, this muse becomes our signature. For instance, the way we associate modern nature poetry with Mary Oliver, and or subaltern feminist expression with Kamala Das.
  3. Pay Attention to detail. — Awareness of the world around us and of ourselves is another essential. An evocative piece that manages to inspire, highlights the little things. For example, if we look at Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost’s description of the natural world and the emotive actions of his horse enables the wholesome realization of the poem’s purpose.
  4. Create only for self, and the rest will follow. — We write poetry because it makes us feel a certain way — this and only this ought to be the motivation. Otherwise, what is the point of creative expression? Ultimately, if only we are true to ourselves, we would attract the right audience and platform. For instance, a spoken word poet would have slightly different needs from someone who writes ‘a haiku a day’, or another who uses poetry for activism.
  5. Make space to receive — for inspiration to strike. Poetry, I believe, is but a “feeling” kept alive via words. Hence, the best way to realize a good poem is by allowing our muse to speak, and enabling the space to receive it. Elizabeth Gilbert in her famous Ted Talk — “Your Elusive Creative Genius” — mentions the act of poets and musicians receiving a poem/melody ‘in the wind’, or while in a pensive state of flow.

If you were to encourage others to write poetry, what would you tell them?

If you feel inclined to express yourself poetically, allow. Make space for self-expression. Allow whatever be the inspiration to guide you. It is the surest way to feel alive.

How would you finish these three sentences:

Poetry teaches…Self-awareness.

Poetry heals by…Giving needful space for expression.

To be a poet, you need to…Pay attention to your emotions.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment, Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

It is hard for me to pick just one person because I have a list! But as of today, it would be an honor to sit down for a fun lunch with Author Jen Sincero. Because it is her “Badass” advice (from her book, “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life”) that has been a motivation in strengthening my self-belief.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This is the link to most of my writings online.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.

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