Tishani Doshi has published six books of poetry and fiction. Her essays, poems and short stories have been widely anthologized. In 2012 she represented India at a historic gathering of world poets for Poetry Parnassus at the Southbank Centre, London. She is also the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award for Poetry, winner of the All-India Poetry Competition, and her first book, COUNTRIES OF THE BODY, won the prestigious Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2006. Tishani's debut novel, THE PLEASURE SEEKERS, was shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize and long-listed for the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She currently lives on a beach between two fishing villages in Tamil Nadu with her husband and three dogs and her latest book, GIRLS ARE COMING OUT OF THE WOODS, was published in Sep 2017. (Pic credit: Luca Peruzzi)
This short interview was conducted over email.
Kulpreet Yadav: Your poetry is more direct, more intense, out there on the pages to make a difference, to people, to society, to the way humans treat one another. That's what someone like me feels when I read your work. I'm not sure if you agree with my assessment, but, it might still be true if we talk about your latest book, Girls are Coming Out of the Woods. So, here's the basic question: why do you write poetry? What is your goal?
Tishani Doshi: I’ve never thought of poetry as goal-oriented. I began writing poetry because I felt compelled to and I continue writing it because I think if I didn’t I would explode. There’s so much we are bombarded with that’s ugly, negative, terrifying that I feel art is the only way I know to combat that. I would have preferred to sing or paint, but turns out my skills in that department are limited. I don’t write poems for myself, I want them to reach people, so I’m glad to hear they’ve reached you, but when I write, I have no audience in mind.
KY: You have also written fiction, and I remember reading somewhere that you were writing your new book of fiction when a tragic personal loss made you write your latest book of poetry. What were the circumstances? Does poetry really help a poet deal with personal losses better?
TD: I move between fiction and poetry. It’s difficult to inhabit both those worlds at once. I don’t think of poetry as catharsis, although it certainly allows for transformations and reclamations. A friend of mine was murdered in her home last year, and while I’ve been writing poems about gender violence for a long time, this really brought the violence in from the streets. Poetry demands that we count our losses, that we hold them and try to understand what to do with them.
KY. India has a rich tradition of poetry, both written & oral. The performance by artists has kept the form alive. Unlike most poets who stay away from the limelight, you are known for your performances & public appearances. Is this a deliberate effort to reach out to more audiences, or is it a natural extension of your personality that seeks to combine mind, body, and soul to present your most profound thoughts?
TD: I worked for many years as a dancer, so I think to bring a performative element to poetry was a natural progression. The best thing anyone could tell me after a perfromance is, ‘This is the first book of poetry I’ve ever bought.’ I really feel some conversion has happened then…Poetry is a space we must enter with stillness. And that’s difficult, because we’re living in speedy times. So the performance helps for the sound to just wash over you like an incantation, and my hope would be that when you go home with the book and are faced with the page, you will find your own way into a poem.
KY: This interview would be incomplete without knowing your thoughts on Bollywood lyrics, the engine that drives the mood of the nation, moderates the sensibilities of its people, and gives the people its character.
TD: Technically, Kollywood is more my geographical region, but my father listens to old Hindi songs on TV every night, so when I’m visiting my parents I sometimes sit with him and it’s interesting how this music has worked its way into me. I don’t remember watching too many films as a kid, but these songs are so familiar, so sweet, and I feel far more connected to those songs than what’s being produced now. I’ve been living out of an urban zone for five years, so, in general, I feel quite out of the loop with the current obsessions in India.
KY: Who are your favourite Indian poets under 40 and what advice would you like to give to aspiring poets in India?
TD: Forty is such an arbitrary number. I know it’s fashionable for certain lists, but poetry is an age-no bar equal opportunities club, so I don’t ask about age. I just wish Meena Kandasamy would continue to write poetry. I just wish Jeet Thayil would continue to write poetry. As for aspiring poets—my advice is to read. There is no way you can be a poet without devouring the work of other poets.
Tishani Doshi's latest book GIRLS ARE COMING OUT OF THE WOODS can be ordered here.