Samyukta & Sonya

Sonya J Nair

Sonya J Nair and Samyukta Poetry were suddenly making waves in social media with a festival of poetry called Anantha. An academic and writer, Nair spoke to Borderless Journal about their venture and their work and a bit about her own writing which flickers to life every now and then with a searing brilliance, much like the short intrusions she made during the Anantha sessions — are well-informed and apt rising to the situation. As Samyukta Poetry seems to be associated with the name of the two decades old Samyukta Journal of Gender and Culture, is it only for academics or is it for all of us? Venture into this interview to uncover the intricate workings of the Samyukta Research Foundation, its various associations, new projects that will evolve under its banner and Samyukta Poetry, which homes many poets.

Tell us how Samyukta Poetry came about. It started in April, 2020, during the pandemic lockdown. So, what made you start this venture?

Samyukta Poetry was the result of a thought that came barrelling across a long time ago. I always had the idea of starting a vlog that featured the latest in fiction. But like with everything else, I was taking my own time and in the interim, Samyukta Research Foundation, of which I am the Director of Research, asked me if I would look at poetry instead. As I do write poetry myself, the offer was too good to pass-up. And thus, was born Interestingly, we started off with a laptop and a friend whose brother who handled all the initial tech matters. And now the whole enterprise has grown, there have been a lot of people who have come in on a voluntary basis, on the basis of goodwill and lent us their creative and technical know-how and made subtle-yet-strong differences in the way we look and come across today.

What is the link between you and the Samyukta Journal of Gender and Culture, which is a peer reviewed journal?

The Samyukta Journal of Gender and Culture, founded in 2001 by Prof. G. S Jayasree, is a journal that comes with quarter of a century worth of legacy behind it. In fact, Samyukta Poetry draws on a lot of goodwill thanks to the journal. There has been some cutting-edge research on Women’s Studies that the journal has presented over the years. And there have been some great collaborations with names such as Dr. Malashri Lal, Ritu Menon, Leela Gulati, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Uma Chakravarti, Sneja Gunew and Margot Badran.

You will soon be launching another off shoot of the journal. What will this one be? When will it be launched?

The Samyukta Research Foundation is the organisation that has the overall responsibility of the academic, creative and publishing wings. There are a lot of journals that are in the offing in the coming years. As of now, there is a journal of Film Studies and another one on Sexuality studies that are being readied for launch in the current year. There is a very good team in place at the Samyukta Research Foundation that helms these initiatives, and it is their vision that drives us forward. In the coming years, there are going to be serious endeavours to place before people, quality research that is rooted in integrity. Which is the benchmark of the Foundation. The publishing wing, Samyukta India Press, is a very vital agency in helping us realise these aims.

What are the kind of writers you hope to attract at Samyukta Poetry?

Samyukta Poetry does not work with a clear mandate regarding the people we want to feature. The only ground rule is that it must be honest poetry that speaks fearlessly. We look for the human…for that primordial connection that comes through and forms extraordinary narratives of everydays, of the everywhere in the nowhere…of places that are real in the imagined and vice-versa. For us, the story of the poem, where it comes from– the histories it contains is as important as the art, the craft and the technique.

Our readership is for everyone who loves poetry, who loves the intricate mesh of narratives that govern our lives. Its for everyone who would like to understand the majesty of the universe. It is not a grandiose statement that I make here. If you read our features, you will understand that we draw the poet from the many circumstances that they may not have visited, but are ever-present in. We are all about discovering the joys of that relatability of these experiences.

You just hosted a huge online festival, Anantha, to commemorate your first anniversary. Was that for Samyukta Poetry solely or for the journal. How did that go? Tell us a bit about it.

Anantha was initially conceptualised to mark the first anniversary of Samyukta Poetry. But looking at the response we got in terms of participation and the conversations that we had going on; it was decided mid-stream that we would make it an annual affair. We had tremendous goodwill and cooperation from all the people we approached when we were planning the festival. There was a lot of thought that had been put into the panels of poetry readings — my idea was to mix it up, have seemingly dissonant voices in some panels, have poets with vastly different styles and approaches in some other panels, focus groups in certain slots… it was a very trying initial time, curating the names in terms of who went where…but it worked. The poets connected, their voices rang out, there was tremendous energy, and the viewers loved the vibe.

The book launches were another thing we were particular about, we had six books released at Anantha and each of them was unique in terms of their subject and treatment. We went all out to ensure that it was an event to remember for the poets.

Our panels were moderated by some of the best-known names in Indian poetry. Menka Shivdasani, Gayatri Majumdar, Ra Sh, Jaydeep Sarangi, Ashwani Kumar, Amit Shankar Saha, Kashiana Singh, Sanket Mhatre responded brilliantly to our requests to moderate our panels and to bring in their voices to weigh and contemplate.  To have more than seventy poets zooming in and out of our portals at various times of the day for seven days was both exhilarating and at the same time nerve wracking — the electricity, connectivity and the looming miasma of the second wave of the pandemic making it a very trying time- emotionally and otherwise.

Anantha was a festival with a clear vision, to discuss the majesty of poetry with all its polyphony and to understand the beauty of the creative process. Our panels on translating Kashmir, Tagore, Multilingual poetry, Bhasha poetry were all eagerly anticipated and well received.

The In Conversation sessions with Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Arjun Rajendran, K. Satchidanandan, Anju Makhija, Anupama Raju, K. Srilata, Ranjit Hoskote and Arundhathi Subramaniam crossed frontiers in terms of the ways the poets spoke about how they see writing and the architectonics of their writings.

Now, your own journey. Since when have you been writing poetry?

Ah well, I have been writing poetry since childhood…the usual, initial rhyming ones about flowers and cats gave way to non-rhyming ones about angst and then love and then life.

Do you think publishing poetry/ prose gives the same fulfilment as the process of writing? You are planning a book. What is your forthcoming collection about?

Those are very deep questions. I think each of these processes gives a special sort of joy. Different, albeit special.

When I write, I am very happy because I always think the previous poem might have been my last. I am very aware of the mortality of my poetry. The idea that I may never write again. So each poem, is a personal testimony of being able to be moved, to be inspired, to want to feel alive and accountable.

Seeing your name in print is a very different sort of experience. It is a sort of permanent praise. An engraving of the acknowledgement that someone out there thinks you have something worth listening to and feels that others ought to hear it too. At that point, a part of you crosses over to immortality. A little part. But still.

I am in the middle of writing a biography of a transperson from Kerala. A truly inspirational figure ad it will be a book with a very different narratorial voice and very different things to say.

And yes, I am also putting together a collection of my poems. It’s an exploration of the many ways we can view the world. There are flatbed trucks, there are polaroids strung along roads, there are the places I grew up in and the people I fell in love with. It is also about people, places, trains, tunnels and the vast unknown that is the Mind.

And there is a plan evolving for an anthology of poems by Samyukta Poetry. So chaotic times ahead!

You are an academic. How do you shuffle the multiple tasks of writing, running a journal and teaching?

By not thinking about it. Honestly! I keep these worlds apart — or atleast, I think I do and trust my instincts and ensure I’m not crowded out. Also, I believe in the elasticity of Time. So, I stretch it. Thankfully, it all works out in the end. It is not for nothing that Lucky Jim is one my all-time favourite works. That’s who I identify with.

What is the future you see for yourself as a writer, an academic and for Samyukta Poetry?

My future as a writer is only as good as my next poem or prose piece. That and whatever the readers allow me. I like that edgy feel.

The academic in me and the Samyukta Journal of Sexuality Studies are going to live symbiotically. We have a fantastic network of scholars across the world who are working in tandem. So great things are expected.

Samyukta Poetry is branching into reviews and taking on a more vocal role in promoting different, organic voices and building a community of people who realise that though they are hungry, there is enough space under the sun for everyone. That graciousness is what Samyukta Poetry wants to stand for. The recognition that there is no I without a WE.

(This was an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal.)


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