TQL: Monalisa, how long did Terracotta Dreams take for assembling all the poems into one collection?
Monalisa Joshi: Well I was writing many poems from the year 2014 and enjoyed posting them on my blogs at WordPress, Facebook and Blogspot. And within two years time I had written some 50 poems, then I started compiling them as a manuscript. However since the urge of writing poetry was more stronger than assembling them so I wrote more and didn’t realize that I had written almost 200 or even more poems by then. Since I wanted to get them published so I began to combine them as a book however this process alone took me two years as I often used to add some then remove some poems until I was satisfied by the final draft. So to sum up I would say it took me nearly four years to get my poems transformed into a book with the title “Terracotta Dreams”.
TQL: Who are your favourite poets? What interested you in them?
Monalisa J: There are many but the ones that I was truly inspired by was Christina Rossetti, Kamala Das, Robert Browning, Pablo Neruda, Shakespeare to name a few. Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet and I love this particular time of poetry by the women poets, as it was the time when they were trying to make a difference through their verses by being blunt and trying to depict the situation of the women in those times. My most loved poem by her is ‘Goblin Market’, it clearly depicts that how woman are fragile and were lured by the goblin men who could easily fetch away their souls and can leave them as fallen woman who would not be accepted by the society.
The style of writing is ballad and this is the poem from where I started writing long poems. My poems like ‘Baring’, The Sculptor’s Sculpture’ are truly inspired by the ballad form of writing though in a contemporary style. Moreover I found Kamala Das’s poetry extremely modern yet simple in diction and the lament in her poems could be easily seen which truly caught my attention of writing more candid poems expressing the emotions and feelings as a woman. Pablo Neruda is the most romantic, sensual poet whose love poems stir easily into the soul and I found them sweet and most profound way of conveying the love messages and this inspired me to write more love poems and musings which I keep posting now and then on a facebook page with the name “Monalisa’s Musings”.
And last but not the least you can find the use of archaic terms in many of my poems; this is because I truly found this way of writing more expressive, when I particularly started reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This not only gave me the courage to write in fourteen line stanzas like sonnets but again fusing it in contemporary style while developing the whole body of the poem. Thus, I gleefully and soulfully used archaic terms like thee, thy, thine, thou in my poetry and find these terms to be the most alluring way of writing poetry and expressing.
TQL: What kind of upbringing you had as a child and as a teenager? Explain the role of family, kinship, community.
MJ: I had a value based; loving and filling upbringing which I must say has shaped me as a woman and as a creative person. I was born and brought up in a typical medium class Bengali family. My father had served in Air Force and retired as a Sergeant at the age of 35 and after that he served as a Government employee, thus the whole life of our childhood till my youthful days we had a strong disciplinary environment like everything needed to be done on time and punctuality was top priority.
Apart from this I had a very joyful childhood and I still cherish those days when we used to spend two months of our vacation time in Kolkata. My soul was truly an observer, it had caught the glimpses of all the moments I had spent there, from the view of the Ganges, to those Sari clad women doing everyday chores, my aunts’ and uncles’ love towards me as I was the only girl child in the family to my grandmother’s whole presence and how she always kept herself busy in doing prayers.
I have grown up watching these daily scenes and didn’t even realize that they were all settling inside of me and now at present when I am far from the city married into a different household it shapes me to be the person I am as I truly can say that I do carry the essence of my lineage in my whole being.
Moreover I have seen in my maternal family the flow of artistry as my maternal uncles were great painters and I have seen there made arts on the wall of our then maternal house. Unlike any ordinary girl I was a keen observer of things that were different and usually didn’t attracted children of my age.
Unknowingly I imbibed it all and now that I enjoy writing, those things from my past and from my childhood days play a huge role in the backdrop silently and constantly working inside of me and evolving and making me the woman I never knew I would shape into. Thus I can admit that during my childhood to teenager days I had mostly seen and keenly observed a typical yet modern Bengali environment where one could hear adult people talking intelligently on various topics, be that about a fish or Rabindara Sangeet, about literature and even discussions about Authors, their books and those who had claimed prizes for their writings. And I had stared at them with big curious eyes gulping those moments within me. And today I am filling those same values and bit of that bygone atmosphere within my dwelling and into my children as well.
TQL: How do you see contemporary poetry scene in India?
MJ: Till day I can say the contemporary poetry scene in India has became much better and wider as compared to earlier days. And a big credit for this goes to internet and social media. In fact, I would like to add that we are living in those times when technology is playing a pivotal role by helping many writers and poets to reach out and come up with their voices, perceptions, thoughts in vocal or written format and share it with many others alike of them including other people also where they can easily share their craft, artistry and much more.
So I see this time as a very good and brilliant time for writers particularly women writers who mostly remain confined within their own small world but can actually share their writings through blogs, video blogs in front of the world. Nowadays there are myriad groups of poets and writers as well who are trying to take poetry to another level of its existence. These groups assemble and do open mics, poetry slams, poetry readings and much more and this is all happening and has become possible because of the social media across countries. One such group is Poetry Darbaar with which I am associated as well.
But if I were to see the readability of poetry books or have to measure the amount of books poets can sell, the ratio is very low. Readers still find and chose fiction over poetry books and unfortunately there are very few publishers as well who take unsolicited submissions of poetry collections. Fortunately however, there are many small presses, magazines who take submissions on varied themes which I feel is a great opportunity for new and aspiring poets to come into the limelight and get published. Also there are some traditional publishers as well who consider poetry manuscripts which is a good thing for poets. The only thing that I feel is that poets should lead from the heart to survive in this competitive world where mostly fiction sells easy.
TQL: Does poetry reach to Indian Women easily? Why not?
MJ: Well this totally depends on the two class or I must say two types of readers more precisely. There is one those are readers and there is one those are non- readers. Readers would surely lay their hand on books and some of them definitely would read poetry. And as it’s most commonly seen that most women love to read so in a way if they are connected with the web, visit book stores and have keen interest in finding about good books then surely poetry can reach them. But for non- readers I would say it remains more difficult as for them it won’t be their part of interest.
However if I have to talk about writers which I must since I am among those kind, particularly women writers, then I would say that not only poetry reaches them but they reach out to poetry and myriad books of great poets would definitely be sitting on their shelves. I am fortunate to be connected with such few women writers as well and this gives me confidence that poetry is not only loved by many but preferred as well. But if we see the general scenario of women buying books then it is mostly fiction they prefer so the ratio of reading or getting reached is that of fiction more. But being in the circle of writers and having explored myriad pathways I feel nowadays many women poets are coming out of their coy shells and breaking out from the mundane they are paving a way for new age poetry.
TQL: What recollection do you have of your childhood?
MJ: I remember as a child; I had been a very reticent, calm, quiet, and a timid girl. I mostly stayed into my own world of imaginative friends, talked and played with them and loved my solace. I often used to play roles of adult people whom I saw around and significantly I remember I used to play a teacher teaching her class with few students (of course they were all imaginative and invisible) and I would babble for hours giving them lessons and writing with a chalk on the walls.
I also used to write words and sentences that didn’t even made sense at that time, but I would lay my hands on my father’s old or used office diaries and filled them up with my incessant scribbling and naive words and letters which were not even known to me because mostly I used to think at that time that I was writing or speaking different languages.
One thing that I clearly remember from my childhood days is that I had always loved writing. I loved to hold pen or pencil in my hands and write on papers and slightly as I grew older that love of mine got poured into my studies as I used to make amazing notes and most of my school teachers loved my answers. And this part of my memory has become more alive in front of me because of my younger son, as I see him doing the same things which I had done in my childhood but except of the writing part he loves to draw and paint and for hours and hours he can do that. Childhood is truly the most precious stage of life that stays locked forever inside of our hearts’ when we are grown up and in the later part of our lives.
TQL: How do you observe your mother and her role in shaping you?
MJ: As a woman today whoever I am the credit of course goes to my mother. My mother is a strong person, completely fearless at times but she has a warm, caring, tender and a loving heart. She was amazingly beautiful during her youthful days, still is and the way she used to clad those simple Saris and yet looked so beautiful were the things that I have always looked up to, her beauty, her energy, her thoughtfulness and her presence in and around the house.
The way she did chores; took care of us―me, my brother and father as we were a nuclear family but we often had guests which happened quite random in our house and yet found out time for her reading habits. I remember I was a little girl of six or seven may be, she used to hold my fingers and we would walk to a local library from where she used to borrow few Bangla books and she used to read as far as I remember Satyajit Ray’s short stories and some other writers as well. She even used to tell us stories at bedtime. I was more attached to her as a child and still am till day. And today as a woman I truly feel all these qualities like taking care of the house, loving the family foremost, being a warm and kinder person and above all being a woman that I am, I have truly imbibed from my mother.
Now that I am also a mother of two sons, I tell stories to my children, love to read and write, take care of my family and does household chores as a typical homemaker. In fact I would say I am a woman behind the confines clad in a Sari with the heart of an artist, holding on her shoulders the lineage that I have seen and absorbed within my soul from my mother and my maternal household.
TQL: Do you identify strongly with feminist movements in India and abroad? Which wave is it that bought the most crucial change in lives of women in India and in other countries?
MJ: Although I am not a staunch feminist, but I do identify with feminist movements in India and abroad and mainly in India. Because I strongly feel that Indian women in many parts of the country still remain unheard, unvoiced and receives unequal place in the society. However; there are few other countries as well worldwide where women have completely degraded lives and place in the society, they are merely seen as possessions or beings to serve their opposite counterparts and mainly as an object of sex to them. But I wouldn’t here talk about those things as it’s quite depressing and the world would seem then as a miserable place to live in.
I would rather like to put light on the good things and the positive changes that women have brought in the society and have gifted to the world. The most crucial movement that I consider changed the lives of women was the post independence revolution in India that brought myriad women in the outside world and in the forefront as they rubbed shoulders alongside men and not only got our country free but made a platform for today’s women where we can stand now with equality, dignity and self respect.
The most revolutionary change I feel was brought about after the independence was women’s education as not only men allowed the females in the house to educate themselves but also take up employment so as to support their families monetarily. Similarly in other countries as well I feel it is education that plays an important role for the overall development of women.
There were some other legislative changes that were also made effective post Independence in India for women like right to equality, right to freedom in every aspect of their lives but truly if we will look closer and try to take up the present day scenario these things are still not provided to uncountable women living in rural areas. Even in urban cities women have other set of problems that they face and the most dreadful thing that bothers them today is their safety. Women truly are not safe in any part of the world. Yet they have always fought and raised themselves up from all the difficult situations. It’s not easy to change the whole world but women are speaking louder now to make a meaningful and safe existence. I feel all the love that nurtures and flows through the world breathes from the women’s heart. They are made by god for love and this universe still continues because of their presence in all and many men’s lives.
TQL: You have read Kamala Das. Is her poetry a marker of spiritualism, love and transcendence where desires are not pushed behind but are explored in relation to the societal reality?
MJ: Yes, I have read Kamala Das. And till day she is one of my favourite modern poet who spoke her heart with ease and most defiantly. She was a rebel from the heart and her poetry clearly speaks of that. Of her time as a poet she was creating words that were going to affect the future writers and readers and addressed issues that were not done before so bluntly by other female poets. Be it her love life, her myriad life experiences, her personal life as a housewife, her life as a writer and particularly as a woman she was way ahead of her time breaking free from the taboos and conventional norms she was a true rebel. And somehow for these reasons I find her poetry most resonating yet conveying the most profound messages across.
Personally; however I would not call her poetry utterly spiritual but it was rather more on the transcendental side as she expressed her soul’s longings and voice through her verses. But of course her passion towards writing poetry and prose seems more spiritual. It was like food for her soul as can be seen in many of her poems that speaks of the mundane, the stereotypical in a much contemporary way which shows that she was a keen observer of things going around her and jotted them down all in her poetry. Talking about love and transcendence in her poems she never clogged her thoughts or desires from being stopped neither as a person or in her writings as well and this truth is visible from many of her poems.
Yes, it can be said that she believed in expressing her feelings, emotions and desires in a quite candid yet sober manner that it didn’t sounded offensive or amorous yet again the soulful meaning hidden in those could be easily grasped and she had always been able to express herself in a more sane poetic manner. One such poem that I truly admire and love is “The Looking Glass”. This poem of her’s is an alluring and most subtle way of expressing the desires as a woman and how she must be admitting towards her feelings by letting them reflect in her gestures, allowing her man to love her. Honestly; I feel words from my mouth are not enough to describe Kamala Das; she describes herself most flawlessly through her poetry.
TQL: Thank you for giving us your time.
MJ: It is my pleasure. Thank you.
Monalisa Joshi is a writer and a poetess. As much she loves to write poetry, she also relishes in writing prose and fiction. She is presently working on one of her fiction book and few short stories side by side.
She enjoys blogging and is quite active on social media platforms. She is an active member of an International poetry group called ‘The Awakening poets’ and also can be found on Face book and Twitter.
Much of her writings and poetry are showcased in her blogs and can be visited at https://monalisajoshi105.wordpress.com/ and http://monalisa-wwwlisa.blogspot.in/