Shruti Sunderraman: “No original thought in any form of literature has come out in decades.”
As told to Ishaan Jajodia | Febraury 4, 2017
- Why do you write?
I don’t quite know. A lot of times, the things I write about are conversations with self; where I’m trying to teach myself something I wouldn’t otherwise sit down and learn. Sometimes, I write to give shape to the intangible. Sometimes, I write to make good of a bad situation. I don’t think I’ve ever written to run in 5 directions creatively. It’s very easy to get lost in misplaced ideas of freedom. I write to discipline myself. I try to find true freedom in that discipline.
Of course, writing serves as an outlet to the overwhelming nature of the world. It helps me simplify things.
The written word is a powerful tool. I think I’m still learning to exercise caution with it, which is probably why I don’t publish everything I write. It can’t be a word vomit. It’s a process of learning to saddle your mind.
I don’t think I’m expressing anything new in my writing. No original thought in any form of literature has come out in decades. But things need to be recycled, remembered and reminded at every age. I think that’s where writing has a huge draw for me. It gives me an opportunity to contribute to recycling things we ought to remember.
I don’t know why I write. I can only tell you why I cannot stop writing, because sharks don’t stop swimming.
2. When did you start writing poetry?
If you mean poetry in general, right since school. Back in high school, my poems were worse than Enrique Iglesias’ lyrics.
Fairly decent poetry started pouring out after college, when I could trust myself with good literature. Poetry never came naturally to me. I had to work real hard at learning to channel myself poetically. Well, it involved a lot of reading and writing. The “inspiration is necessary” approach never worked for me. I just practiced. Everyday, I’d write something. It would be horrendous, but I’d write. I would go to people with good taste in literature to have a look at my poems and then I had to teach myself to not care too much about what they say either. I’m a private person and it took me a lot of time to put myself out there.
I taught myself to think with more clarity.
I created a correcting mechanism. I used to measure a poem’s worth by structure and I’d end up hating everything I’ve written. But when my focus shifted from structure to character, there were fewer discards in the dustbin.
3. Do you have a formal education in art? Has it impacted the way you use form and artistic devices?
I did train in Hindustani classical music. And I’m learning to compose with a couple of instruments. Music has been influential in ways I cannot comprehend. I try to see the harmony in everything, not just a song. I think that has largely leaked into the way I construct a poem. It has be harmonic. The pieces have to fall into the right place. The spaces between thoughts in my poems, like spaces between notes in music, have to be exactly where they belong. The poem has to sing to me. It doesn’t have to be a great song. But it has to have soul.
4. What inspired you to create your latest poems?
A lot of frustration, mostly. To Girls Who Make The First Move was a result of exhaustion at societal hypocrisy. Another poem was a result of feeling exhausted trying to be heard. It can be exhausting to be a feminist. A lot of people ask me how to write about feminism. I don’t really think it works that way. I can never sit down and write clinically about something so integral to how I process the world. I have trouble treating it like an external subject. Kudos to people who are able to, though. To me, if you are a feminist, it reflects in everything you write and do. You don’t need a separate poem to justify that.
Another poem was King of The Hills, which was a result of a writing prompt. My friend told me to write something with ‘King of the Hills’ and I somehow associated it with our tendency to stomp forward and not pause to take a moment to be gentle to ourselves and the world around us. It’s a reminder to self and others, to slow down once in a while.
5. Do you have any favourite poets? Do you interact with them in your work? If yes, how?
Oh man. This is an exhaustive list. I’ve been highly inspired by beat poets: Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and the likes.
Neruda, in places. But I’ve always admired Neruda from a distance. It’s like lying on the grass and staring at a star. I liked Bukowski for his honesty, but I’d never look up to him as a role model. I don’t think he’d want that either. Leonard Cohen, goes without saying. Cohen’s approach to writing gave me some good perspective. It taught me a lot about discipline.
I’ve never been a fan of the romantics. Their approach to structure highly bothers me.
I like Clementine von Radics quite a lot. She’s a Portland-based poet and writer. Her writing is so vivid. I did a reading of her poetry and posted it on SoundCloud. It’s terrible. You should totally listen to it.
People from the Spoken Word community have influenced me in more ways than I can count, like Andrea Gibson, Sarah Kay, Buddy Wakefield, and Shihan.
But no one has been more influential to my poetry than musicians. Jeff Buckley is one great example. That guy was an out and out poet with the voice of an angel and a strong sense of musicality. Nick Drake falls in the same category. I also love Chance the Rapper- he’s phenomenal.
I don’t think I borrow from any of these poets’ work or ideas. I think I just go to them from time to time to remind myself of how to stay relevant. Sometimes, they also remind me to not take things too seriously.