Scott Thomas Outlar: First off, Ananya, I want to thank you for taking some of your time to do this interview for W.I.S.H. I’m going to dive right in and ask you about your new book that was released recently. Could you talk a bit about the collection and the type of poems it contains? How was the experience working with Scarlet Leaf?
Ananya S. Guha: Thank you, Scott. It is always a pleasure to talk to you, and to be on the platform of W.I.S.H. which is a trendsetter and a path breaking online magazine. My new book is ” Now, Then And Again”. It was written roughly between the period of September to November 2016. That was a time when I felt the country was going through a crisis, because of new ideologues trying to impose an impaired vision on the country. It is the rightist ideology, and secular values which I believed in, and grew up in, were being smashed. History was being misrepresented and rewritten. Now, you can’t tamper with history, which has its inexorable logic. Tampering with it is danger. If you blacken out the Mughal period of history in India, you are doing not only the country, but history a disservice. So, one means to say that what we learnt in school and college was gibberish, that Akbar the Mughal ruler, did not have a vision of the country? Moreover right wing non secularists emphasize only on culture as religion, the Hindu religion. Culture and religion are not totally synonymous. Indian culture is an amalgam of race, ethnic origins, religion and language. Most of these poems are related to culture and politics, the politics of the times, and violence based on religion. However my home town Shillong, its natural beauty also echoes in the poems.
It was great working with Roxana Nastase of Scarlet Publishing House Canada. She is very professional and adept at what she’s doing, a concerned publisher. I am very grateful to her, for her action oriented work.
Outlar: You are constantly publishing your poems in the small press, but that doesn’t stop you from still posting even more work on social media. Where does this motivation to share your work come from? Can you recall what factors influenced you to start submitting your work to literary venues in the first place?
Guha: Social media is a tool for creativity. Sadly enough it is being misused. I find in social media a leverage for communicating creative and heightened tension. The blank space is regenerative, prompts me into urgent quest for words and their deployment in a creative manner. I find online journals a more simple way of communicating rather than pen or paper and the dreaded SASE! Replies are prompt from the editor, sometimes very fast. You will recall that you introduced several links to me. Prior to that I had published a bit, but I did not know where or how to search!
Outlar: One of the ways I’ve noticed you giving back to the worldwide literature community is through your efforts serving as poetry editor for The Thumb Print Magazine. Apart from the highly questionable decision of publishing my work when I was first breaking onto the scene, you seem to have good judgement and a real knack for tracking down new poets. What are you generally looking for in your capacity as editor? Who are some of the emerging poets you have your eye on these days?
Guha: I normally write to some poets I know, and the emerging ones are always on the lookout! But I must say most of them are very talented. I want to explore their work, their mentality, their style. They are writing in droves, and the internet has laid bare to them the world of poetry. They are not afraid of ‘big ‘ names, they are gutsy and write with verve. ( I am not afraid of big names too! so I share a mental bond with them!!). Some of the names which come to the mind are William Gordon Suting, Tikulli Dogra, Prerna Bakshi, Debashish Parashar, Nathan Hassall, Debarshi Mitra, Goirick Brahmachari and a host of others. In fact the poetry scene in English in India too is very vibrant, and more and more young poets are taking to writing poetry and publishing online magazines. I would say that the internet has driven the writing of poetry and short stories in an unprecedented manner. Nathan Hassall is a young poet in the UK, brilliant and has a very stark and original voice.
Outlar: In searching for justice and equality, you also somehow find time to write essays and articles about the political climate in your home country of India. In your opinion, what is the overall social situation currently?
Guha: I have mentioned the situation earlier. I am not doctrinaire nor overtly political, but I cannot cherish non secular and intolerant beliefs. You cannot mix politics with religion and culture. You cannot define culture in narrow restricted ways. You cannot especially be antagonistic towards a particular religious community. You cannot redo history according to your own whims and fancies. You cannot put a slur on the great National Movement in the country.
Outlar: We’ve just recently cycled into 2017. Do you have any special goals on the agenda for the new year? Are you optimistic about what lies ahead for the world?
Guha: I will continue to write poetry and articles on cultural politics. I will continue to edit, to showcase others’ poetry. The ego is damaging. We must be concerned with others as well, not only to: you scratch my back, I scratch yours, which is religiously and disgustingly happening in our country. The world is becoming a one cosmic zone. But political deterrents are making the world fractious. Unfortunately it is happening on religious lines. Unless the youth of the world become passionately introspective and do away with zealotry this will continue, but changes are taking place, for example the very fact that you are talking to me on the internet, is a sure sign of global friendship. The poet cannot be dissociated from politics and society.
Outlar: Finally, returning to the theme of poetry and literature, do you have any advice for young writers concerning their craft? Getting work published is fun, of course, but we all know there are some challenges that can come along with it. Do you have any pointers when it comes to the “art” of being professional, submitting, and dealing with the inevitable rejections?
Guha: They must write and not be afraid of rejections. At the same time they should not espouse the ”publish or perish” belief, in that manner they will compromise art. They must read. The art of professionalism is simply trying, trying and trying. One rejection, two more submissions! Commitment, belief, and conviction in the craft are very important. Life’s experiences count a hell of a lot. Poetry can be written on anything and everything. The subject matter is vast. The other day I was reading an article here in India about sexist attitudes in the country, and how poetry could take up issues such as these. Or, the identity of women. But poetry must go beyond gender, activism, categories, only then will the universal appeal of poetry reach consciousness. To be mired only in issues or specific ideologies may mar aesthetics. Yes there is protest poetry, direct, coming from the heart.