PM (about their own practice):
The concept of 'Poetry' is a difficult one to navigate, since attached to it are ideas of the genre itself, poetry as performance and poetry as means of a career. I tried to examine each of those within this piece to give the listener and insight into my own understanding of poetry, as it differs for everyone, which is in itself the beauty of the genre.
SS: Your piece “Dear Poetry” is an interesting way of pulling yourself out of writer’s block. As an artist, we suppose you find yourself in this position often, as we all do. Have you made a collection of these letters to yourself, or was this a one-off experiment of sorts?
PM: This piece was actually written as part of National Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo for short) in April. The challenge is to write 30 poems over 30 days. I had actually missed 4 days (oops), so I decided to write a poem with 4 stanzas to make up for those lost days. Having to confront my own insecurities about my poetry and push past my writer’s block on a daily basis was challenging as someone who deals with a lot of imposter syndrome about my work. This poem sort of appeared out of nowhere! Usually I go into writing with some sort of line in my head that I want to continue riffing off of, or a theme or idea. With this one, all I knew is that I wanted to write, which is probably why I think it’s one of my most authentic experiments in poetry until now.
It would be interesting to have a collection of letters though and explore that combination more – I may just steal that idea.
SS: We’ve noticed in your submission statement that you speak about poetry being perceived in three different categories; which category do you believe your work fits into, if not all?
PM: So, the categories were: poetry as a genre, poetry as performance, and poetry as a career. I think all these categories are interlinked, and for good reason. Poetry as a genre to me is about the exploration of poetry, how we can push its limits and play; poetry as performance is about delivering that play to an audience. As a spoken word artist, you always need those two categories to intersect, but the third one isn’t a necessity, which is what I, and I’m sure a lot of other creatives, need to remind myself of quite often. If you focus too much on one, you forget the joy of writing or performing. Recently, I tried to box myself into the third category, and it’s created a lot of stress around my art, to the point where I’ve tried to actively avoid writing. Equally, if you focus too much on your performance and the audience, you’ll end up writing for them and not yourself. If you focus too much on the genre of poetry, you’ll try so hard to be new and different that you end up writing something that may not feel like yours. Sometimes, I don’t push or pull the genre. I’ll write a haiku and stick to the 5-7-5 rule, and that’s fine. Other days, I’ll try something a bit different and challenge myself, like with ‘Dear Poetry’, which is also fine. The main things is I managed to write a poem! I think my poetry flows between these categories, simply because what I create will always be an extension of myself, my emotions, my thoughts and their many fluctuations.
SS: You have written in your artist statement that your voice was difficult to hear within the spoken word community, but that was aided by being able to post your work online. Could you tell us a little about your experience within the spoken word community, and how it differs in digital and physical spaces?
PM: I think at that time my opinion was very different since I felt quite isolated at home with lockdown. Now, I am lucky enough to have found a space where I feel like my voice is heard and appreciated (you can check them out online, BYOB – Bring Your Own Bars Poetry). Being a POC, and so a minority in the UK, it is difficult to find a community that shares your experiences to the point where they not only empathise with and enjoy them, but can understand their more subtle and metamorphic forms when they appear in a poem. Digital spaces, in terms of blogging, are interesting because the internet helps you pull in those people automatically; generally people will click on a poem about British-Indian culture if they want to read it, it’s a more conscious decision. Having a physical audience means you have no control over who’s going to be there, which means often my poems concerning topics about my race or with Hindi in them are often reserved for spaces where I know there will be more POC.
SS: In “Dear Poetry” you also speak about your occasional hatred of the medium, and the pain it can sometimes cause you. Would you consider poetry to be a therapeutic tool, or does it allow you to express negativity in a more constructive way, perhaps?
PM: Definitely both! I love the ability spoken word has given me to transform a negative experience into a positive one. For example, I recently wrote another letter poem which was a love letter from my healthy ankle to my injured ankle, inspired by Sarah Kay’s poem where she brings to life a romantic relationship between a toothbrush and a bicycle tyre. This situation had been getting me down for a while, and so it was wonderful to use poetry as a medium for positive self-talk. Now, whenever I feel upset about my injury, I can read that poem as a reminder to be kinder to myself. It becomes painful, like in ‘Dear Poetry’, when I don’t permit myself to write out of fear of failure, which I’m sure all artists can relate to. If left unaccounted for, it can transform into a downward spiral that is so devoid of anything that I can use to construct a poem or transform with poetry, which is why I used the image of a whirlpool. To any artists reading this – don’t let that happen! You got this!
SS: We really like the quote “rummaging through languages drawers”. Could you elaborate on your process while creating a poem, is there a degree of risk taking and guesswork to it, or do you try to strike a balance between order and chaos?
PM: Thank you very much! I quite like that line too. I think that’s a really good way of describing my creative process. Sometimes lines will come to me in the shower and I’ll have to scramble to write down what I remember of them on my phone without covering it in water! That’s definitely the chaos element. The guesswork comes later when I have to sit with that line and try and form a whole poem out of it, and sort of play a game of fill in the blanks. Other times like with ‘Dear Poetry’, I’ll have given myself an allotted time to write and have to try and build a poem out of nothing. I think it’s fun either way to try and pull bits of language together to form some sort of coherent, thematic piece, which is what I meant in that line. I suppose that’s where the risk element comes into it, because you risk dismantling people’s previous understandings of a word, phrase or idea For example, I recently heard a wonderful poem about pillowcases and there was a wonderful metaphor about wanting to fit a person inside one, and now I can’t look at pillowcases the same way! The inverse of that is you risk putting pieces of language together that you love, but other people find incoherent because you may have drawn those words or phrases from experiences so personal to you that it doesn’t translate to a wider audience. I think its difficult finding that balance as a creative whose art-form automatically comes with an audience, but once you do it’s often very rewarding.
We would just like to thank Pri for taking the time to answer our questions and for allowing us to share their work through our Queer Contemporaries Showcase!