An interview with poet Sonnet Mondal

Tête-à-tête With Poet Sonnet Mondal

Interviews & Critique

Widely published Indian English poet Sonnet Mondal’s poems reveal mysticism as compared to most Indian poets writing on political topics. The poet subtly restores the aura of life and the worth of living through his creations. Mondal, who recently performed at the 19th Berlin International Poetry Festival, will be travelling to Hungary, for an Indo-Hungarian literary event, and to the USA as a writer in residence at the Sierra Neveda College’s MFA in creative writing programme. Earlier this year, the poet read and conducted poetry writing workshops at the 10th Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka. Mondal edits the Indian section of Lyrikline (Haus für Poesie, Berlin) and serves as the driving force behind the Enchanting Verses Literary Review

Q: 1 Tell us about your initiation and how the love for poetry jailed you forever?

I hark back to the day, when I scribbled a piece in 2005, that somehow passed as something close to a poem in the court of my perceptions. Though I wouldn’t call it a poem now, but it was that moment when I penned this piece — which drew me into writing verses. And nowadays, I see myself as a person who writes — writes to satisfy an unending spirit of enquiry, writes out of love and for whom poetry is the best medium of articulation — when it comes to expressing those muse which cannot be put forward through direct statements.

Q:2 Sonnet Mondal, you are a young poet. You have read and represented India, at literary festivals in Macedonia; Cork, Ireland; Istanbul, Turkey; Granada, Nicaragua; Sri Lanka; and Slovakia. Your works have been translated into Hindi, Italian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Spanish, Turkish, Macedonian, Bengali and Arabic. You have seen the blue planet through the prism of poetry but, to what extend you agree with a famous American playwright Gwydion Suilebhan when he says, “Poetry is dead. What pretends to be poetry now is either New Age blather or vague nonsense or gibberish. It’s zombie poetry.” There is no longer, really, any formal innovation possible. The constraints of meter have long been abandoned. What is left? It is a parroting of something that used to be radical. It is about as useful as the clavichord. There is no “Howl” possible or “Song of Myself.” There is no “The Waste Land.” What is your say is it dead or dying or still alive?

Poetry is not dead. It has always had a limited yet pronounced space in our society, and has played an important role in shaping the cultural history of our civilisation. Innovations, recreations and new approach of presenting poetry can be seen all around in the current world. It is true that rhythmical innovations through metrical changes do not interest contemporary poets, but on a closer critical reading — one can sense sublime innovations peeping through many poems written of late. They may not glare at us but demand an insightful understanding. The growing number of poetry festivals, poetry reading events and magazines, that have come up in the last decade also bear testimony to my firm conviction that poetry was never dead and it is not dying either. The only cause of concern is the ‘scanty time’ and ‘hazy focus’ that readers can afford while reading poetry these days, because good poetry may not reveal itself in the very first meeting.

Q: 3 Well, let’s come to the topic of Indian poetry in English. It has a longer history than Indian fiction. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831) is considered the first poet of Indian English poetry but do you think Indian poetry in English is floundering? Why only few publishers are willing to lay their bets on a poet? Why it has only few takers?    

Indian poetry in English is at its best now, with lot of youngsters taking interest in poetry.  Numerous poetry reading events including festivals dedicated to poetry like Poetry with Prakriti, Chennai have come up in the last decade. But, limited number of poetry presses in India has indeed created an alarming situation among aspiring poets. Poetry remains of little interest to the business models of big publishing houses. The only reason behind their refusal — to lay their bets on a poet is — poetry sells less than other genres of literature. The result — there are so less takers of poetry in the country that many innovative minds are moving into oblivion inside the womb of creativity. Saying this — small presses like Copper Coin, Poetrywala, and Dhauli Books etc. has still kept the flame of poetry-publishing burning in India.

Q:4 Is it right to come up with the argument that Indian Universities can save this sinking boat by including new poets in the curriculum? 

Indian universities already have poetry in their courses. What they don’t have is poetry as a subject, which should be started soon. Also, they can increase the space of poetry in their academic curriculum, and accommodate more books of poetry in their libraries. Adding to this — contemporary poets are grossly neglected in academic books. This has to change if the academic world has to keep pace with the changing contours of contemporary Indian poetry.

Q: 5 Do you agree, in India there are enough listeners for poetry but few buyers? 

I do. In any of the literary festivals or poetry gatherings in India — lot of serious listeners can be seen — sitting, interacting and reflecting on what is being presented on stage. But, when it comes to buying poetry books, the number radically goes down.

Q: 6 Which Indian poets do you admire? Why? 

There are many, but to name a few I would include Tagore, Derozio, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das, Dilip Chitre, K Satchidanandan, and Manohar Shetty among others. To me poetry is something that doesn’t shimmer on the surface, but profoundly resides — deep inside words and turns of phrase in a poem. I find that depth, that distance of philosophy and that profundity —- in their writings.

Q: 7 Poets possess a tender heart and they can’t turn a blind eye to the bitter facts of life. There is a touching poem, “To Syrian Children” written by you. What provoked you to write such a master piece?

The apathetic and sinful world to which the children of Syria have been subjected to — provoked me to write this piece. I would quote few lines from another poem I wrote on Syria titled — Nobody Speaks of You Syria , which explicates why I chose to pen on the children of Syria.

Somewhere in your ruins,

hope peeps like a thief

through a broken tooth

of a child, smiling at a broken tank.

Through her eyes —

You look so lean Syria,

but your history is getting fat.’

Q: 8 What is your take on Kashmir where too children are dying to bullets and pellets? Any plans to pour your heart out on Kashmir? 

My only take on guns, bullets and war is — NO to them. I have quite a few anti-war and anti-conflict poems — few among them penned on the pitiful situation prevailing in Kashmir — in my upcoming book.

Q: 9 Any new project you are working on? 

My upcoming book ‘Karmic Chanting’ would come out soon from Copper Coin press. Also a revised edition of my book ‘Ink and Line’ would be coming out from Dhauli books this month. I am also writing a travelogue — including incidents from different poetry festivals around the world — which I have visited in the past few years.

Q: 10 What advice would you give to an aspiring poet? 

There are only 4 secrets of writing well — read, write, read more and write more.

Waseem Majazi is an avid reader and a book reviewer. He reviews books for Gulshan Books Kashmir, a giant publishing house from Kashmir. He has a strong liking for prose and poetry, writing reality in fiction is his passion. He writes in English and Urdu. He lives in Hajin Bandipora, Kashmir and loves visiting the fictional world of Khalid Hussaini, R.K Narayan, Charles Dickens, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Jostein Gaarder and John Keats. He was a research scholar at Central University of Haryana (2013-14) and has submitted his dissertation titled “Reflections of Trauma in the Poetry of Aga Shahid Ali”. His other interests include photography, social networking, travelling and theatre. His short story “Lost Behind Mountains” got published in India’s most loved collection of Short stories “ Uff ye Emotions 3” Edited by Vinit K Bansal.

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