Ruby Dhal is a poetess, fiction-writer and bestselling author of two poetry books- ‘Memories Unwound’ and ‘A Handful of Stars’- with two degrees in Philosophy. After losing her mother at the tender age of 4, Ruby turned to books as a form of escapism. Spending several years reading about story-worlds led Ruby to pick up a pen and create a world of her own. Ruby’s life-affirming poems about love, heartbreak and healing are deeply appreciated by a generous readership on Instagram. She has written articles for various online magazines and she was one of only 7 South-Asian women writers in the world to be featured in the Harper’s Bazaar Writer Hotlist in 2017. Ruby was brought up and resides in London and is presently writing her debut novel which she hopes will break down the negative impact of cultural identification.
DivInc - You come across people’s instant reactions and opinions on a daily basis for whatever poem you put out there in front of the world. Does this affect your writing in any way?
Ruby - Yes, and no. In one way, seeing my readers’ instant reactions helps me understand how they are feeling and if they’re experiencing the same things at that moment. If they are, then I am motivated to share a post with the same background/theme again that day/that week. However, what I write is not affected by my readers’ instant opinions. In fact, my writing is only affected by what I experience and what people around me experience. Knowing how my readers feel about my writing helps, however, it doesn’t anchor my writing, and the fact that they experience the same things just means we’re on the same page and it’s a win-win situation — as it means that we are healing together!
How has writing or poetry shaped you as a person?
Writing poetry has made me incredibly sensitive, and in a good way. I’m more sensitive to my needs and emotions, as well as the needs and emotions of other people. I’ve become a lot stronger because now I have a mechanism through which I can deal with things — writing — which means that I can cope with day-to-day life without letting my emotions get in the way. Writing has become an outlet. Poetry has transformed my behaviour towards life in the most incredible way, as I am no longer as pessimistic (or realistic, as I thought) as I used to be. My heart feels lighter when I get my emotions
down on paper, and that in turn allows me to see the world and life in a positive light and be optimistic about the future.
Tell us about an Insta poet’s work you love reading and your favorite piece of writing.
I love so many Insta-poets, and for different reasons. I cannot pick just one! It’s like picking one book or one song. It’s just not possible. But I will name a few. I absolutely LOVE @rmdrk and I have since before I ever became a poet. My favourite piece by him (and I remember most of this by heart) is:
‘I’m thinking about you
right now and I am sending
you love, real love.
the kind of love that warms the skin
and waits all night to be held
by the moon.
the kind of love that reminds you
of how beautiful you are under
the day and the night and
between what is left.
the kind that does not
wake the next day alone.
this is me thinking about you
tonight. this is me sending real
love, all that there is to receive.
the only gift worth sending.’
Do you think Instagram has changed the way people perceive poetry nowadays?
Absolutely! Poetry has become a lot more accessible for people and I feel that it is more about emotions and less about painting fancy pictures. People associate feelings and applicability to poetry which they perhaps didn’t before, as poetry was always this phenomenon filled with deep meanings behind words that we had to learn to unpick. Nowadays, it is less about unpicking and more about reading a piece and feeling as though you’ve just been kissed on the cheek with your own experiences penned down before you. I think readers nowadays see a colloquialised side of poetry which they didn’t before, and this helps them understand it a lot easier and quicker.
Do you ever find it challenging to pen down your thoughts or feelings?
Only when I’m not feeling things or experiencing anything. When I’m super emotional, it is easy to pen down my feelings and that’s when I write best. However, when weeks have passed, and I haven’t ‘experienced’ pain (which is a good thing), I find it more difficult to write poetry. I always joke about my pain and my writing going hand in hand — I can’t have one without the other. But I see this as self-destructive, so I need to learn to write poetry in the way that I write fiction — detached and without experiencing any of the emotions that I write about as I write about them.
What is the best advice you ever took?
The best advice I took was from a friend who said a very cliched line to me, but it stuck with me. They said that there is no such thing as an ‘overnight success’ and it takes weeks, months and years of hard work to get to where you want to be, and the things you get easily are easily lost too. That’s why I work as hard as I do. I know that if I work hard for what I want then it will be valuable to me and I won’t let it go easily either.
What advice would you give to young poets who have just started sharing their work online?
The first thing I would say is do not compare your social media platform to anyone else who has started at the same time as you. It’s easy to get side-tracked when you see how well the numbers are looking for other people. Often, this is enough to motivate you in the wrong direction of attempting to copy what other people are doing — either in style, or content or in presentation. Just focus on your own work and how you can allow it to
grow. Do not compare!
Secondly, don’t worry about numbers because they never end. As Bob Marley once said, “If you’re going to chase numbers then your search for happiness will never end.”
Tell us about a poem you wrote which sparked a discussion and got a lot of response for.
One piece of mine that sparked the most amount of discussion was:
‘And maybe I was born in the wrong generation, or maybe, just maybe, other people cannot understand love in the way that I do.’
This was a snippet taken from a much longer piece that I shared on my page a few weeks prior. I took the last two lines of that piece and decided to share it on my page because those two lines reflected my emotions at that point. Incidentally, a lot of my readers felt the same way — misunderstood, as though everyone else had a different definition of what love is and misplaced in a world full of people who think they understand this emotion.
And it was ironic to see, because there were hundreds of readers who wrote ‘I feel the same way’ and it made me think that none of us are alone. We all feel the same way about love because love is universal; beyond history, religion, culture, time and space and even beyond species. The discussion allowed a spark of realisation in me that we all knew what love was but because we felt so misunderstood and alone, we thought that no one else understands it in the way that we do. But they do, they do, and those comments were evidence of this very fact.
Do you remember a criticism which affected you deeply? How did you overcome it?
A year into creating my page I decided to publish my first book and it is called
‘Memories Unwound’. I shared the front cover, and someone commented that the cover reminded them of ‘Milk and Honey’ by Rupi Kaur. And I’d been getting several comparisons with Rupi Kaur when nothing indicates any similarity between us, other than the fact that our names are quite similar. We come from different parts of the globe, we come from different cultures and different life experiences altogether and our writing is evidence of this. But I never voiced out against those comparisons, but it was this particular comparison of the cover my book with Rupi’s which annoyed me to the core.
If you’ve seen the first edition of ‘Memoires Unwound’, it is grey. It has a face on it with a pink flower on the left eye and a tear drop in the right eye. There was no similarity between my book and Rupi’s. Not even close. And that is what annoyed me, because if there had been then I would’ve taken it as constructive criticism. But because there wasn’t, and this reader was pointing out an arbitrary fact about my book just because of us both being brown and with a similar name, I decided to call the reader out on my page.
Since then I have not received any criticism nor any comparison with Rupi. I think critics realise now that we are two individuals on very different journeys and our writing is reflective of that disparity.