My favourite poem changes as I write more: An online interview with Mihir Vatsa

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Mihir Vatsa is a poet from Jharkhand, India. He was awarded the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize for 2013. His poems appear in The Island Review, Eclectica Magazine, UCity Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives and studies in Delhi, and edits poetry for Vayavya.

 

Dupur Mitra: When did you start writing?

Mihir Vatsa: 2008, when I was fifteen, studying in class ninth. The first poem I wrote was titled “Ode to a Dustbin”.

Dupur Mitra: What does being a poet mean to you?

Mihir Vatsa:  From where I currently am, being a poet means nothing. It gives me no benefits, and it surely doesn’t give me any kind of transcendental solace, or the so-called feeling of doing something good. I’m as human as another person, as poetic as another poet, with my own share of faults and baggage. Claiming to be something special may boost my ego, but for how long? I can write; some other guy can’t. But, that person may do something which I cannot. In the end, it evens out.

Dupur Mitra: What is poetry?

Mihir Vatsa: This question doesn’t need answering. People have tried to define it so many times that without a satisfying definition, what we have now is an all-growing box of interpretations of poetry. The best thing to do would be to get the hint and leave poetry alone.

Dupur Mitra: Why do you write poetry?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I had an answer to that— an answer which was essentially mine, but at present I don’t.

Dupur Mitra: Describe the writing process in your poems.

Mihir Vatsa: I write on my laptop. MS Word. I tried doing it, but I can’t write everywhere. The space, if not my room, should be a bit familiar. You may think of it as something weird, but I e-mail myself the initial drafts for backup, in case my computer crashes someday. I also leave my drafts aside for a couple of days to build a distance. This distance later gives me a sense of objectivity during the editing process. If a poem gets too personal or too immediate, I ask some of my poet-friends to take a look at it. It’s good to have a second opinion on your work.

Dupur Mitra: Where do your ideas come from?

Mihir Vatsa: I draw a lot from day-to-day events, classroom conversations, relationships, places, travels, and people. Relationships I find intriguing and beautiful. For example, let’s suppose you and someone you know from work, someone you see every day but don’t exchanging a word with, find yourselves in a train, or a bus, with six hours of journey ahead of you. It would be awkward at first, but it may also grow into a little friendship. It depends on how you approach… the first time. I like this first time— that apprehension, you know. Should I, or should I not? So, for me, it’s ‘observe, then think’. Ideas come eventually.

Dupur Mitra: Does geographic travel play a role in your poetic life?

Mihir Vatsa: Very much, actually. The travel part doesn’t come up too often, but traces of it do. These traces can be of any kind— name of a place, a strange flower, sunset over a specific place at a specific time, some cultural elements from places I travel to. Change in geographical location comes with several by-products. I find them more interesting.

Dupur Mitra: What’s your favourite poem that you’ve written?

Mihir Vatsa: Hahaha. My favourite poem changes as I write more. I wrote a love poem a few days ago and it’s my current favourite for now. Ask me the same question ten days later and I’ll have a new favourite.

Dupur Mitra: How does a poem begin for you – with an image, an idea, or a phrase?

Mihir Vatsa: Mostly, it’s a thought, or a phrase I would read somewhere. Even a word appearing on a website at just the appropriate time. If the intensity is right, then the poem writes on its own. Otherwise, I try to collect more such impulses to shape up a new poem which may have nothing to do with the contexts of these triggers. I also tried ekphrastic poetry for a while— you know, poems you write in response to a painting or a photograph— but it didn’t quite seem right for me.

Dupur Mitra: Can a poetry movement improve poetry? If yes how, if not why?

Mihir Vatsa: A “movement” is never innocent. A movement always assumes a set of agendas it must work for. In such a case, it becomes important not only to see or participate in the movement but to also identify the force, the thought, behind it. If a movement succeeds, sure, an aspect of poetry may gain recognition. We see such movements in the course-structures for a literature programme. You have Romanticism, Modernism, Imagism, Neo-classicism, a few more here and there, but even if you combine all of them together, the product may still not be as unified as what you may want poetry to appear.

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