Interview: Lopamudra Banerjee (by Amit Shankar Saha)

‘I envision the woman as a fluid entity and also as a creative feminine energy’, says Lopamudra Banerjee, Author, Poet

Interview by Amit Shankar Saha

Amit Shankar Saha: Congratulations to you on the publication of your second collection of poems “Woman and Her Muse”. The volume is perhaps in mixed genre of poetry and memoir. How will you like to classify it?
Lopa Banerjee: Thank you very much, Amit. Yes, my newest book ‘Woman and Her Muse’ is in its cumulative essence, a collection of poems, long and short, prose-poems based on art, photography, travel and cinema and also a few short memoirs/personal essays interspersed in between the poetry. The inspiration for this kind of format for my book came from my reading of some books by American and Western authors in the recent years where there is fluidity of creative expressions and an experimentation in terms of combining both the aspects of storytelling and narrative detailing as well as poetry writing. As you know, my debut memoir/autobiographical narrative ‘Thwarted Escape’ which came out from Authorspress in 2016, was both a poetic memoir/narrative journey in its structure. Since then, I had been dying to write another version of my sojourns, in which I could pay tribute to the world of art, literature, cinema, a diet in which I grew up since my formative years, a journey in which I have matured, evolved into a woman as well as an artist. And this sojourn couldn’t have been woven in any linear pattern, that would have made the depiction artificial and constricting. Hence, this amalgamation of poetry and prose, which has helped me to craft this book more organically and cohesively. Of course, more meaningfully, at least in my eyes.
Amit: You already have a memoir “Thwarted Escape” and a collection of poems “Let the Night Sing”. Both the books have a strong feminine voice. Here you are coming out with another book which by its title is also woman centric. Is your identity as a woman dominant on your identity as a poet or as a writer in general?
Lopa: I believe my identity as a woman and moreover, an immigrant Indian woman has shaped many of my aesthetic, artistic and metaphorical expressions which I have given birth to, till date, either in the books which I have written or in the scattered poems and stories that I have penned. ‘Woman and Her Muse’, however, I would say, as the title hints at, is more about the identity of a woman as a creator, an artist, a writer who, while seeking her muse and while crafting the poems and personal stories, questions her own gender and the predominant patriarchy which compels her to pick up her pen. For example, there is poetry and prose centered on the image of Durga, based on veteran naturalistic painter Monica Talukdar’s celebrated Durga painting, poetry inspired by the female body as depicted in museums, poetry and prose on a dancer/ballerina, a singer in a bar, on Madam Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, among others.
At the same time, it is also an aesthetic journey where she embraces the sights and sounds, paintings and visuals of her diasporic surroundings in India and the US, making them her triggers that let her explode with her writings, weaving together diverse genres, across geographies and boundaries. 
Amit: Your poems are deeply personal and yet are identifiable. But to give a specific title “The Woman and Her Muse” to a volume points to something that you may like to speak on. Can you elaborate?
Lopa:  The title ‘Woman and Her Muse’ is actually taken from one of the poems in the first volume of the collection, which reflects on how poetry and artistic expressions are born in my mind, and how it evolves over the course of time. For example, I am quoting these lines: “Finding bounty, silence, music, /Haunted grounds/Melancholy, hangover/ In between voyages. The artistry of an old, crumbling house, /A grand minaret, /A fallen leaf,/ Or a doomed woman,/Or star-crossed lovers, A raped, ravaged corpse of a girl,/ Or a dead bard,/Her muse.” In it, I am referring to the never-ending series of experiences, stark, vivid, enriching and ravaging, both in my familial home and the world at large, which form a stream-of-consciousness and just flows, uninhibited. You can say it is both a feminine experience and an artistic/aesthetic experience. 
Amit: You have been writing for some length of time now and you have written in different genres. Was this compilation a conscious effort or just what you gathered in your fecund period of writing?
Lopa: To speak the truth, I would say both of it is true. Many of the pieces of the collection just sprouted from me effortlessly, especially the short poems which have some autobiographical elements in it, the prose-poems and vignettes which I had crafted during my various trips and travels to places both in India and US. On the other hand, some long poems and prose-pieces have emerged from my conscious effort at portraying a story/narrative where my muses have compelled me to rise from my complacence and write away with almost a vengeance. The same is true for my other books, apart from the translation works, which are mostly conscious efforts.
Amit: You have a Masters in English literature and a Creative Writing degree. You have been awarded The Chanticleer Prize for your non-fiction manuscript and you also won the Reuel Prize for poetry. How has your studies in English Literature, your experience of studying creative writing and your practice of writing for magazines and journals and social media poetry groups influenced your craft as a writer?
Lopa: The studies of English literature since my formative years in college and university in Kolkata, especially of poetry, drama and fiction has shaped my persona in many inexplicable ways. It started as a formal study which was a necessity back then, but then the essence of it all grew on me with time, as I was born and evolved as a writer in the later years. The study of contemporary American English literature with an emphasis in creative nonfiction writing in the University of Nebraska has given me further impetus to first envision myself as a writer and then to gradually work towards attaining it, and then social media came in my life, like many others, as an added stimulus to flourish as a poet, an artist and a storyteller. Various prestigious online magazines and journals, including Café Dissensus, About Place, Setu mag and Tuck Magazine have given me the much needed platform to showcase my work and virtual groups including The Significant League, among others, gave me some useful writing prompts and advices, and the validation to continue my journey with my head held high, so it is definitely very precious to me.
Amit: There are elements of place, family, relationship, friendship, personal tragedies, spirit of overcoming adversities and a look towards the future which may be better for your daughters in your poems and writings. Your stay in Kolkata, your diasporic life abroad, and your Bengali-Indian identity coupled with your extended stay in America define your poems. How has all these aspects shaped your writing?
Lopa: Yes, the elements of place, family and relationships have shaped both my persona and my writing, and I would say, made me an author with a leaning towards diaspora writing, both in poetry and prose. In my memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, there is this emotional urgency to go back to my Kolkata roots time and again, and rediscover my childhood, my identity as the daughter.
In my newest book ‘Woman and Her Muse’, there is a section, ‘KOLKATA: The poetry in which I breathe’, which is quite self-explanatory. Like an old lover, Kolkata keeps coming back to me and reclaims me.

Amit: It is often said that for a woman it is her body that is the space of enunciation. How will you react to that?
Lopa: As for myself, my body and femininity has shaped the course of many of my writings, especially my poetry, which has been both an inward and outward journey. I envision the woman as a fluid entity and also as a creative feminine energy, and it is her body which can be both a text, a manifesto and a piece of art. In my book ‘Woman and Her Muse’, there are several poems, including the ones written in response to female sculptures in an art museum. In them, I have combined both art, aesthetics and the spirit of revolt.
Amit: Which is your favourite piece from your book ‘Woman and Her Muse’ and why?
Lopa: I would say my poetic tribute to the charming, tomboyish Durga of Satyajit Ray’s epic film ‘Pather Panchali’ (adapted from Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel) and the dialogue poem between the couple Apu and Aparna (from ‘Apur Sansar’, another masterpiece by Satyajit Ray from the Apu trilogy, penned by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay), because the pieces were brimming in my consciousness for many days, but finally emerged quite effortlessly. If you ask me, I see glimpses of both Durga and Aparna in myself. The raw volatility of Durga and the pensive feminine energy of Aparna have inspired me in many ways, and so have the feisty fire within Maya Angelou and Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas in the epic Mahabharata, so they have their unique spaces in this book.
Another one, ‘Topography of the Fertile Mind’, a memoir which is very close to my heart because I have written it for my daughters, taking cues from their real-life dialogues, conversations about their ever-expansive world, where I am both a mother, an artist and a truth-seeker of the intricate artistry of this world where all three of us fit into our respective metaphorical spaces.
Amit: You are also a translator and your second book of translation of Tagore titled “Tales of Transformation” is recently out. Which is more satisfying – original writing or translating? Why?
Lopa: Both original writing and literary translation have their own charm, their own challenges, and both have been sources of much joy, both have their own unique learning curves. In original writing, you are triggered by a mysterious, tantalizing source within your own being and start an onward journey with that trigger, while in translation, the literary creation of someone else becomes your muse, compels you to transcribe and trans-create its beauty and essence in another language, that becomes a bridge between the original writer and the reader of the translated work. Both are immensely rewarding experiences to me.
Amit: How do you see your relationship with Tagore and your task of translating his work?
Lopa: Translating Tagore’s work had rather come to me as a promise that I had silently made to my mother during the day of her demise, as she had been a teacher of Bengali literature and introduced me to his literary gems since the time I was in elementary school. Over the times, Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore has grown on me like old roots, like a religion quietly observed and internalized. His music, writings, art and above all, his existence within me, I would say, is like a subterranean flow which would never stop and give me sustenance for this lifetime. Hence, even attempting to translate his words is like finding my own resonance in this universe.
In my book ‘Woman and Her Muse’, I have a memoir dedicated to Gurudeb Tagore, and I would like to quote a few words: “Like the deep, dark tsunami brewing within your widowed Binodini, within your Giribala and Haimonti, I too bite my brittle, cracked self every now and then, running back and forth through the chaotic mosaic of my womanly self which you had tried to dissect when you wrote the Every Woman’s story in ‘Shadharon Meye’ more than a century ago.”
Amit: Various poetry groups in India have sort of revived the interest in poetry which at one point in time was thought to be losing its impact on a new generation. But it seems to be no longer so. How do you see the poetry scene in India, especially Kolkata, vis-à-vis USA?
Lopa: In Indian writing, poetry is heavier, with oriental richness and delicate word-flow embedded in its core and images, while the American poets I am encountering now or reading recently are more minimalist in their expressions, use precarious words and visuals which are more raw, edgy and provocative. Both have their unique charm and essence, actually. Recently, in a few poetry and spoken words artists’ group in various places in the US, I have quite spontaneously spoken about the richness of South Asian poetry, the poetry in Indian writing in English, which has been vastly under-represented in America. It has been a tremendously enriching experience. In Kolkata, the poetry groups have revived the art of poetry tremendously, and I feel elated to be a small part of this revolution during my annual trips to the city.
Amit: As a successful writer what advice will you give to aspiring writers?
Lopa: Success is just a subjective and relative concept, and I do not know whether I can really be termed as successful. What I am doing is just living my dream, enriching my life in as many ways as I possibly can. Hence, I will reiterate what I have already said in my other interviews. Just recognize your inner voice and strive to chisel your voice with every poem/story and evolve more and more with reading other authors, classics and contemporary. It is utmost important to build your own voice, your own distinct style, which will grow on you, not overnight, but gradually, organically. Writing is also a solitary process, like meditation and not many people will understand your creative pursuit. It is okay, just forge on. There will always be somebody who is reading your words and a resonance is created, without you knowing it.


BIOS:
Amit Shankar Saha

Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is a faculty member in the Department of English at Seacom Skills University. He did his PhD in English from Calcutta University in 2010. He is also a researcher, a short story writer and a poet. His research articles have appeared in journals and anthologies nationally and internationally. His short stories and poems have been published in periodicals and books both in India and abroad. He has won prizes at a number of writing competitions which include Poiesis Award for Excellence in Literature (Short story-2015), Wordweavers Prize (Poetry-2011, Short story-2014), The Leaky Pot - Stranger than Fiction Prize  (2014), Asian Cha – Void Poetry Prize (Commendable mention-2014), Reuel International Prize for Poetry (Shortlisted-2016). Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is also the co-founder and coordinator of Rhythm Divine Poets, a Kolkata-based poets group dedicated to the promotion of poetry.

Lopamudra Bannerjee
Lopamudra Banerjee is an author and poet based in Dallas, Texas. Her memoir Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey (Authorspress, 2016) has been First Place Category Winner at Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and also received Honorary Mention at Los Angeles Book Festival 2017. She has received the International Reuel Prize for Translation (2016) for Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Nastanirh’ translated as ‘The Broken Home’ and also the International Reuel Prize for Poetry 2017 instituted by The Significant League. She has been a featured poet/artist at Dark Moon Poetry, a women’s poetry, Dallas. Her poetry, stories and essays have appeared at reputed literary journals and anthologies. Her recent publication titled ‘Woman and Her Muse’ published by Authorspress, is a collection of poetry and memoir inspired by art, travel, Kolkata and cinema.

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