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A Wonderful World

Poets beyond Borders

In Conversation with Ryan Quinn Flanagan, George Freek, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, Ihlwha Choi , Sutputra Radheye, Anasuya Bhar

We surfed virtually around the globe to gather half-a-dozen poets for the lovely lines they write to ask them what makes them write as such. We start from the top of the cold frozen north to travel down to warmer climes where birds and bees have started singing tunes of a vibrant spring. Meet some of the moderns who contribute towards a world undivided by manmade constructs...  

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online. He is truly prolific and his poetry endears as you read it repeatedly. Click here to read a poem by him.

Why do you write poetry?

Writing, particularly the physical mechanism, has always been something I enjoyed.  It is a solitary act that I derive great enjoyment from.  To be able to sit down and create something seems a wonderful thing to me, regardless of medium.  I love fine art as you know, but cannot paint.  Writing is my music, my form of painting I guess.  It is a great release as well.  To be able to create and express as I wish is the ultimate freedom.

What is your poetic process? 

I may have a few rough notes and ideas/titles, but nothing really fleshed out.  I get up and never shower on a writing day.  I don’t know why, but it seems to get me in the right head space.  Then I listen to the same music and eat the same thing I have for years.  For writing days, that is oatmeal.  Then I head upstairs and sit down to write with some wine.  I tend to put on some classical music so that my voice is the only one, but I can still zone out to the musicality of what is playing.  I tend to do that for about six hours at a time.  That is the same writing process I have followed for years now. 

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

I most definitely believe in inspiration and the Muse.  That is why I repeat the same processes, to put myself in the right inspirational mood or be ready for the Muse or whatever you wish to call it.  I believe that things are created in a certain time and space and once created, belong to that specific time and space.  You can never really return to that exact place, but you can look back on it through the work for sure.  Other things are then created in a whole other head space and the process continues.  Sweat of the brow or hard work is also important though, not only in creation but in submissions, building and assembling, as well as editing books.  There is a lot of work that goes into everything, so hard work must be there to compliment any inspiration that may come.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose too?

I think so.  I don’t really differentiate between poetry and prose that much.  It’s all a voice and time and expression to me, so whatever way it chooses to come out is not overly importance to me.  For me, it is much more to get it out instead of caring much about how or why.  And to enjoy the mechanism while doing so.

George Freek is a poet and playwright living in Illinois. His poetry and plays have been widely published. His plays have been performed by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the Changing Scene in Denver, and the Organic Theatre in Chicago, among others. He has also received grants from the Illinois Arts Council and The National Endowment for the Arts. His poetry is modelled often after Chinese poets of the Tang and Song dynasty. Click here to read his poem.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry because it’s the form that best suits my thoughts and feelings.

What is your poetic process?

The process begins with the need to express an emotion. Then it’s work to find the appropriate “objective correlative” in T.S. Eliot’s words.

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

I don’t necessarily believe in “Inspiration” unless that means simply the initial urge to express the emotion or the thought. After that it’s mostly work to make it sound right and unpretentious and yet avoid banality.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose as well?

I think my response to your last question is included in my first statement. If something can be expressed in prose, it’s not poetry, although there is some prose which has the quality of poetry, e.g. Joseph Conrad!

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal is a Mexican-born author, who resides in California and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. He is prolific and often his poetry shuttles is enriched by his ability to assimilate varied cultures into one lore. Click here to read his poetry.

Why do I write poetry?

I write poetry because I like to read it. In the many years I have been reading poetry, I continue to find new writers, some no longer in this world. These writers have influenced my work over the years. I write poetry because I enjoy writing it. Sometimes I write personal poetry. It is a sort of catharsis. It is a way describing how I am feeling about myself, about others, and about the world. Sometimes I write nonsense and rubbish, which I try to keep away from readers. 

What is your poetic process?

My poetic process is writing one poem a day. It is really that simple for me. It could be a three liner, a ten liner, or a long poem of more than 20 to 30 lines. If a poem comes out like rubbish or a journal entry, I try my best to come up with something better the next time around. There are times I get lucky, and a keeper comes along. I am not writing to impress anyone. I am writing for myself most of all and I share my words with readers. If some like what I have written, then that makes me feel good. If someone hates what I have written, I could not care less. I will not lose any sleep over it. I will continue to write as long as I have breath or until something else comes along that takes up my interest.

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

I do believe in inspiration and the Muse. I am inspired by everything and everyone I come in contact with: nature, night and day, moon and sun, the stars and the rain; the woman I love and the dreams that come along, some haunting and some sublime. I am inspired by the poetry, art, lyrics, and music of others. I am inspired by the news of the world, by the clients I work with in mental health, and those close to me that care for me (my family and friends). I am influenced by the birds in flight, the landscape of Los Angeles, trees, flowers, and animals. The sweat of my brow alone only comes into play when you consider everything else that provides knowledge to one’s mind. Whether clever or strange, imagination is also a great thing to have.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose as well?

While poetry is brief and concise as opposed to prose, what can be said in poetry can also be said in prose. Authors writing prose can be poetic in their words and have been throughout the years. If I had more patience, I would give prose a try one day. I am more comfortable in poetry, where I can express something in a few words. Get in, write it, and get it out.

Ihlwha Choi is a South Korean poet. He has published multiple poetry collections and what is most interesting is that he translates his own Korean poetry to English to reach out to the world. Click here to read his poetry.

Why do you write poetry?

I grew up in the countryside. Most of the people at that time were poor agriculturists. I was accustomed to the lifestyle of a farmer. I couldn’t access musical instruments or painting equipment. I naturally expressed my thoughts and feeling with my pencils on the notebook. During my middle school, I fell in love with a popular girl. She was popular because she received a poetry award. I fell in love with her, but my love was unrequited. I was very disappointed, so I began to write something on the paper. Most of them were poems but I have never learned the method of poetry writing. There were no teachers around me who taught me about poetry. I tried hard to write good poetry but always failed. After that period, I was very busy studying for university entrance exam and military service. In our country, all young men must go to the army or navy or air force. I served as a sergeant in the army for three years. Then, I had another problem of earning a living and marriage. My passion for writing poetry revived after I married. I don’t think that I had been born with lot of poetic talent. I don’t want to be famous but try hard to write better poetry for my own satisfaction.

What is your poetic process?

Usually, I do not sit in front of the desk to write a poetry. When I brush my teeth, wash dishes or read, one line of a poem comes to me and I catch it in my memory or on the memo of cell phone. I call it the seed of poetry. Later, when I sit in front of my personal computer, I write a poem based on that line. Sometimes I write a poem very quickly because of the first line and sometimes it is a longer process.

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

I think both sides are necessary. Inspiration gives the poet pleasure and happiness. But if he does not try hard, he will not be able to write poetry.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose too?

Yes, what we say in a poetry can be said in prose. The only difference is the form of expression. One poet said that when you want to know if a poem is good or not, it is necessary to rewrite it in prose. Some poems are so difficult to understand that ordinary reader cannot grasp it. When a poetry can be explained meaningfully into prose they are recognised as good poetry. But every prose cannot be changed into poetry. Poetry needs symbol, metaphor, rhythm, simile, compression etc. Though nowadays a poems are sometimes written like a prose without any stanza or poetic line. There should at least be some rhythm to make it into a poem, even  though it is written like a prose.

Sutputra Radheye is a poet from India. He has published two poetry collections — Worshipping Bodies (Notion Press) and Inqalaab on the Walls (Delhi Poetry Slam). His works are reflective of the society he lives in and tries to capture the marginalised side of the story. Click here to read his poetry.

Why do you write poetry? 

I write poetry because it gives me a voice. For me, it is a personal and intimate affair. In poems, I can be naked. I can roam naked on the streets of my mind without pretending. I can be blunt, and raw without filtering myself. I feel safe in my poetry and so I write.

What is your poetic process? 

There is no such process for me. I write when I feel something. I write when I am angry. I write when I am happy (though this only happens sometimes). I write when I am depressed and pessimistic. I write to unleash my demons on paper so that I don’t need to carry them to bed with me. It is more like a release for me. Sometimes, I find it to be metaphysical where you can just leave everything behind once you write it down. But not always. The process keeps changing. I used to listen to music while writing two years back. Now, I don’t. What has remained constant is this burst of raw feelings. 

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

Yes. I believe in inspiration and muse. As human beings with different tastes or choices, we will get intrigued by different things in life and they somehow become a part of our poetry. It is those things that separates our poetry, I believe.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose too?

Yes it can be said in prose too. But, the way it will be said will be different. It will lose certain elements that poetry brings but will gain what prose has to offer. 

Anasuya Bhar is an academic teaching English literature in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College, Kolkata, India. She would also want to be known as a poet. She writes lovely essays and has written on eminent voices like Tagore and Satyajit Ray. Click here to savour her poetry.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry merely to unburden. In many ways, poetry is also therapeutic for me. The motive impulse for my poetry is mostly a moment of pain and sorrow. I feel that the best way to come to terms with such moments is to weave words around them in comfort, camaraderie and friendship. My poetry usually concentrates on the self and its many experiences, moods and flavours.

What is your poetic process? 

Most commonly, poetry comes to me in a whiff of words, pluri-significant and usually in a gust, like a burst of fresh air, triggered by memory. I also often get excited by particular and occasional colours, shades of light, and even smells, because they bring with them a certain cosiness, which is both intimate and personal.  It is only in moments of calm and silence, when my mind usually processes these sudden words into some kind of meaning, trying to give concrete forms to fleeting bouts of impressions. My poems are usually ready after one, or two revisions, but they do need tending and pruning. 

Do you believe in inspiration and the Muse? Or is it the sweat of your brow alone?

Yes, I do believe in inspiration and the concept of the Muse. My poetry is imbued with a feminine presence – that of warmth, care, nurture, protection and sometimes even passion. Such a presence has sometimes found embodiment but, almost always remains elusive and a figment of my imagination, unseen but, powerfully felt. This has always remained with me; it is only now that it has compelled me to express myself in words and through poetry. My muse is a picture of beauty and charm and sometimes even of spirituality.

Do you think what can be said in poetry can be said in prose too?

Yes, at times, perhaps. But poetry is metaphorical, and one can suppress as well as express oneself in it. Prose might prove to be more probing at times. I feel that there are subtle differences between prose and poetry, even though prose can be poetic and philosophical. 

We are grateful to all the poets for sharing with us their personal journeys.

The poets have been interviewed online by Mitali Chakravarty.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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