"I look at everything from the lens of time" - Interview with poet Soumya Menon

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"I look at everything from the lens of time" - Interview with poet Soumya Menon

In an exclusive interview with Poornima Laxmeshwar, Soumya discusses her creative process and how her poetry dabbles with loss, memory, and other personal themes.

Soumya Menon is an author, poet, and storyteller, who is currently residing in Bengaluru. Her literary work balances the divide between reasoning, mindfulness, realism and existentialism. She also loves writing poetry and short stories for children, short stories for all ages, articles, and flash fiction. Soumya has a degree in psychology, English literature and journalism and a degree in audio-visual communication. In the past, she has worked as a journalist with reputed national and international publications and media houses. When she is not writing poetry or short stories, she works as a marketing communications professional.

In an exclusive interview with Poornima Laxmeshwar, Bengaluru Review’s Editor, Soumya discusses her creative process and how her poetry dabbles with loss, memory, and other personal themes.

PL: Tell us how you began writing, about that clear moment when you felt that writing was what you were meant to do.

SM: I was exposed to English authors and classics at the age of 6. My paternal granddad was an English Literature graduate and he had stacked books everywhere in his house in Kerala. Our summer break was the only time I got hold of those books. Whenever I got away from playing, I would find a place in the attic of the large house to read. He had an amazing collection — now that I recall — Geoffery Chaucer, the Bronte sisters, Joseph Conrad, Lord Byron, Virginia Woolfe, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and many more. I started experimenting with poetry and essays. My first attempt was at age 7. I continued writing through school and submitted my poems to newspaper magazines — some of which were published and some did not. I shared my first well-structured poem with a maternal great uncle, who took interest in my writing, when I was 13 and he wrote back saying “It’s scorching sun and not growling sun. Ask why and answer it when you write”. He asked me to read my work aloud. And I thought, why can’t it be growling sun? I started questioning the existence of everything.

I realised that writing is all I can do when I caught myself taking notes of everything I observed. As a teenager, I started writing about nature — mainly clouds — for a long time. I had to write in some form or the other — I even attempted writing a play when I was 15 or 16. In school, my lecturers would comment on my approach of answering questions “she explains everything with an anecdote”. It was all about reasoning for me. I had to find out why something is the way it is. I completed my degree in English Literature, Psychology, and Journalism — and took up Journalism as a career. I wanted to combine my knowledge in all these subjects and write about things that affect people the most — existence! I had an inane interest to study criminal behaviour and write about it — so I specialized in crime beat and investigative reporting. It gave me the chance to write a lot.

Poetry is one form of literary art that makes sense to me. It is a powerful movement — and it’s constantly changing. Today, there are more forms of poetry than there ever was. If I could possibly learn all the spoken languages in the world, I would still choose writing over anything else. To be honest, I feel English has become an impoverished language — a debate for a later time.

PL: What does your poetic voice want to convey to the world? What is that you can write naturally about?

SM: Chaos is inevitable. It is the basis of all existence. I aim to share my knowledge and learning on existence, to highlight the importance of mental health, to advocate healing from trauma, to engage in conversation about resilience and that you are your ‘true sweet self’ when you feel your feelings — and it is okay to be that way. I want to push people to question who they are while I am also doing the same in the process.

Nature is filled with metaphors that we can learn from. We are a part of that nature. This is what I can write about naturally.

PL: I am particularly in love with the poem ‘Paper Town’. Tell us how this came about and what made you pen this.

SM: This made me smile. Thank you for falling in love with Paper Town. As a journalist, I specialized in a few areas of investigative reporting, which included counter-terrorism. This poem is a take on the alleged confessions of a terror suspect. The suspect while confessing performs the narcissistic act of hoovering the other person with his love for learning, expressing his guilt, his helplessness, his pride for what he had done, and his need for connection. The name Paper Town is specifically the world that was created during a conversation between the suspect and a psychotherapist. The trauma, the loss, the hope is what is captured here.

PL: ‘Loss’ and ‘distant memory’ seem to be flowing through several poems in the book. Do you think that most of the poetry stems from these emotions?

SM: I am so glad you asked me about ‘loss’ and ‘distant memory’. I have a strong intent to spread as much awareness about trauma, loss, and healing. As stated in the book, The Song of Silence was a war won over after a series of traumatic incidents and I recognise the importance of healing. The pandemic itself is an added trauma — the effect of which can pass on through generations. Unfortunately, not enough is being said about healing from a trauma-informed eye. Over time, trauma and its effects look like traits of personality, family or genetic fabric, and cultural dynamics. And that’s what needs to be deciphered while healing. Some of the poems in this collection are a mix of my experiences and borrowed. The section “From Vodka to Whiskey to Wine” is entirely personal. The idea is to highlight the resilience that loss brings with it. Loss is personal — any kind of loss — the loss of self included. You will find traces of it across the book, however, my focus is on the resilience it brings — that we are capable of unbelievable growth post loss or trauma if we set our minds to heal for the rest of our lives.

PL: There are many instances in the poems where you seem to travel between the now and then, between real and unreal. Do you think that is the lens with which you see the world and capture them in your words?

SM: Yes. There is a scientific reasoning to this. When you get a flashback of something — a good or a bad memory — have you ever noticed how your body reacts? Similarly, when you capture a moment from the perspective of far and near or now and then or as you say real and unreal, it will help you recognize how your body reacts at that moment.

I look at everything from the lens of time — what I saw today was somebody’s yesterday and will be somebody’s tomorrow. And now just mix it all up, change the verb and you’ll know what I mean.

PL: What are the three important things for a poet?

SM:

Honesty = Intent

Kindness = Voice

Gratitude = Authenticity

You can’t be true to your work if these three don’t exist in the mix of things you practice. Create the resilience you require to be as honest as possible — if you believe a message needs to be shared, share it. It may not appeal to a section of people and that’s okay. However, there are people whose life will change a little after reading your work. Kindness because you need to be kind to your own self — it’s your voice. The style of writing you choose, the approach, the brevity or longevity of it is in your voice. For all you know, you may invent — and that’s poetic. And the most important of them all is gratitude, which makes your work authentic. Being a poet is a journey of learning, healing, and discovery. It’s the ebbs and the flows that a poet accepts and will reflect on the work.

PL: One book of poems that you think is must-read or a poem that you carry in your mind.

SM: A must-read collection — “That Was Now, This is Then” by Vijay Sheshadri. I adore his intellect — especially his emotional intelligence.

A poem I carry in my mind — “The Cloud” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. As mentioned earlier, clouds were my first subject of observation and I can never get enough of it. I read this poem first when I was 10 and I have carried it with me.

PL: What made you realise that it is about time to get your poems published traditionally?

SM: Time itself made me realise I had to get my poems out in the form of a memoir to silence and its existence, the effect of silence on us and vice versa. I wrote the entire collection over a period of 60 days — as the pandemic took over all our lives. I was destined to meet with Red River, as the publishing outfit gave my collection the perfect look and feel. It’s such a beautiful feeling to be able to hold a book — my book.

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