This week we are pleased to feature our friend Rajani Radhakrishnan, who blogs at Thotpurge: Incomplete Thoughts… and Phantom Road . Rajani lives in Bangalore, India, and is a long-time member of Poets United. Her eagerly-awaited book, Water to Water, has just been published by Notion Press, and we are very excited about it. Let’s not wait another minute, to find out all about it.
Available in India here , the USA here, and the UK here
Rajani: If you prefer e-books to paperbacks, then I am happy to announce that that the Kindle Edition of Water to Water is now available on Amazon India/US/UK.
Sherry: Rajani, congratulations on the publication of your beautiful book. Tell us all about it. How did it feel when you held the first copy in your hand?
Rajani: Thanks so much for featuring my book, Sherry – though it still feels surreal to call it that. The traditional publishing route would have been ideal but, thankfully, we now have several options for self-publishing! I went through a company that offers a middle path- what they call ‘guided publishing’. They managed the process once the manuscript was ready.
I think when I saw the first copies, there were mixed feelings… relief that it was done, complete disbelief that it was and almost immediately a sense of sadness thinking of those who were not there – for so many reasons - to share the moment with me.
Sherry: I imagine so. What was the process like, preparing it for publication? How long did it take? Who was your main supporter as you worked to put it together?
Rajani: Those were a tough few months – there were times I wanted to start over- throw all the poems away. I was doing the manuscript alone and I’m glad now that I kept going. I had friends who pitched in later – helping with a bit of editing, with the cover art, with basic motivation, but yeah, it seemed like just one crazy person on a beat-up laptop, headed nowhere!
Sherry: The description of every writer! Smiles. Amazon describes the book as “a collection of poems about love and life, darkness and death, light and separation, brimming with everyday emotions that drizzle, quench, flood or turn into rainbows.” It sounds like a rich reading experience for the reader. Tell us about the title.
Rajani: The title came from a tiny poem I wrote long ago which is also the first poem in the book - and speaks of the cycle of life. The poems largely follow the theme of water. Water as a prism to examine everyday emotions. The Indian monsoon is a very emotive muse as is the ocean. I grew up in Chennai, on India’s East coast, so am naturally drawn to the sea. I realized as I was putting the poems together that I had a lot of work, published and new, that used water as a metaphor or backdrop - the book became clear to me after that.
Sherry: It is a wonderful and inspiring theme. Water is life! When did you begin writing poetry, Rajani? What led you to choose poetry as your means of creative expression?
Rajani: I think in high school- of course they were terrible poems- but the inclination to write was, perhaps, always there. I didn’t study poetry after school, much of what I learnt came later, online. More recently, I think, I have been struggling to express a life and culture that is experienced pretty much in a different context and language. But reading poets like A.K. Ramanujan and Agha Shahid Ali who do it so elegantly, has been inspiring. For me, being able to do that without sounding clunky or reframing the truth would be a step forward.
Sherry: You write very elegantly yourself, Rajani. What do you love about poetry?
Rajani: I think the brevity. There is no room to hide. You have to lay it all out there in a few words and constantly find new ways to say it. You aren’t feeling or seeing anything new- what is new is your ability to simplify what you experience and organize the clutter from a different vantage point.
Sherry: Well said. Would you like to share two of your favourite poems from the book?
Rajani: The book includes poems published earlier in various journals or on my blog, and also a bunch of new poems. The second poem I’m sharing here titled ‘Corollary’ first appeared in The Ekphrastic Review.
Something closes. Someone survives.
A little blue boat, a landlocked sea, a fisherman, a few fish
for the market, one for home, a wood fire waiting. There is
a certain simplicity to being predator and scavenger, the
silhouette of a bare bough on a star-dimpled night. The only
thing more minimalist is death, prey transformed into white
bones against the earth, stripped of pretence. What are we
in the end? It should be clinical, tallying emotional accounts.
Something closes. Someone survives. A vulture with bloodied
wings stains the sky. But we embellish love. Adorn it. Learn
endearments in seven languages. Today, your voice is guttural,
ocean tangling in coarse yellow sand. We assemble dreams
from asymmetric blocks. Circling. Waiting. The quarry is
worshipped before the hunt. The night is sharpened into arrow
heads. The morning is born, again, with a red gash over its eye.
There are mornings, more mornings
now, when I try to separate love from
myself. I describe my face to the silence
as a stranger would, to another, after
a brief encounter. I describe my love
to the mirror as a bird would explain
light to another, in the dark. I describe
our time together as a fish would
talk of wetness to another, not knowing.
Your fingers comb through the lines,
trying to distinguish thought from craft.
But a poem is only a corollary. A
result that has subsumed its
reason. The glass in our window is
neither inside nor out. The sky becomes
a sky only when we look up. You
describe happiness to me as a road would
to another, as a beginning or ending.
Sherry: Your imagery is always outstanding, Rajani. I so admire how you use images in your work. There is such beauty in the "star-dimpled night", and the bird and fish talking. I adore “the sky becomes a sky only when we look up.” That is a spectacular line!
Now that your book is completed, and out in the world, do you have plans to relax for a bit, or do you have any other projects in mind?
Rajani: I’d like to think there will be another book at some point. But for now, I just want to get back to writing more poems and possibly, more relevant poems.
Sherry: That sounds perfect, after such an intense project. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing, Rajani?
Rajani: I read. Non-fiction mostly, and poetry. And I like to travel. There’s nothing quite like seeing different places and experiencing different cultures far away from home.
Sherry: And both books and travel take us to new places. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?
Rajani: PU was the first poetry group I discovered after I set up my blog on wordpress. I can’t thank the poets here enough for years of encouragement and support. I wish life would take me to wherever you all are, someday, so I can meet you all for real. Meanwhile, am grateful to have the opportunity to read your poetry and learn from you all. If you do read the book, I will be happy to get your feedback, as always.
Sherry: I can’t wait to immerse myself in it! Congratulations, once again. Thank you for letting us share your excitement at its publication. And thank you for your loyal participation, all these years, at Poets United. We are so happy to have you among us.
We hope you enjoyed this visit, my friends. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!