Linda Ashok was one of the 25 feature poets selected by the Prakriti Foundation for The Hindu Lit for Life, 2014. Her poetry has appeared or forthcoming in various literary journals including the Mascara Literary Review, The McNeese Review and the Big Bridge Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry. She reviews poetry for The Rumpus and manages The Poetry Mail. A brief on Linda can be found on Lit Hub’s #ActualAsianPoets. Linda tweets at @thebluelimit.
Wale: Can you briefly describe the role of imagery in poetry?
Linda: Imagery does to my poems “what spring does to the cherry trees”. And much like spring, imagery in poetry is responsible for its freshness, vitality and the spirit to obsess the readers.
Wale: Beautiful! What I enjoy most in your poetry is your ‘visual mode of expression’. Do you think your early exposure to paintings and other visual arts is responsible for this?
Linda: Well, I am not sure, but many writers and senior poets have often complimented me for the cinematic quality of my poetry. And if I have to believe this, I have to credit my artist/painter father for the opportunity.
And also, I realize something eerie about my subconscious wherein I can travel through spaces I have never visited, or partake in imaginary bodies I have never met. This was my lone time hobby as a child but as I grew older, knowing that I have to write better, it just found a natural way out through my writing. For example, I have never been to Flam in Norway, but I could imagine life in the low pastures of a Fjord as appeared in the Axolotl magazine. “The color of my chin on your shoulders.”
Wale: Interesting. In one of your opening lines, you said: ‘There’s an eye in every injury for the wound to see the world’. I have been thinking lately about imagination and the reality and poetry trying to be at the juncture of both. As a poet, have you ever been bothered by this?
Linda: It is true. Poetry is mostly that little red bridge over all that’s infirm and gorgeous connecting imagination to reality or vice-versa.
Wale: I want to say you are lucky, but I will need to know the situation in India, in my country, being personal is not artistic enough and I hope this is not the same case in India. What do you think of the school of thought that insist literature must speak for the society (in the broadest sense)?
Linda: Life is a masterpiece of an art. Being artistic is not an external manifestation; it is a historiography, the way our cognitive ends are attuned to receiving, filtering etc. When I say, my works are personal, I only mean to stress on the level of felt intimacy with the subject I portray.
For example, the poet Sylvia Plath always felt that the events in her life were no different than the concentration camp. The asphyxiation of her life is a historiography to the demise of her father in the formative years of her life, followed by her indemnification for the loss of many Jews killed in the Nazi concentration camp and then her failed relationships with Ted and her own self.
Wale: Right, and I do wish this get to concerned ‘stakeholders’.
What is the notion of your short and shorter poems? The last time I took that road, it was because my daily activities did not provide enough time for me and my writing desk. I wonder if that was the same case with you.
Linda: No. Shorter poems served me a discipline to the longer ones. I love going frugal with my poetry.
Wale: I must confess that I kept your poem ‘A Detail in the Fire Escape‘ opened on my tab for weeks after it was published by JALADA in September last year. I couldn’t understand the poem at first but I eventually figured it out on the third read after which I became attracted to the aesthetic of it. How do you feel when readers say they don’t understand a poem of yours and what replies do you usually give?
Linda: I am not sure what I reply. Mostly I don’t. But my beloved is a poet too and when he tells me that there aren’t enough ”windows” in the poem, I know it didn’t work for him. But at my heart, I know that’s how complicated life is. Everything reveals with time. Maybe just wait if one cares enough or reject. I keep all my stuff, though. They are me.
Wale: Let’s talk about ‘having one’s voice’ and originality in poetry. Does reading other poets in the process of writing tamper one’s voice? If at all there is going to be similarities between two poems by two different poets, where should the stopping line be?
Linda: Well, I read to say what I haven’t come across in my reading. As a poet, I have too much of ego to even sound like someone. However, if I still bear a subconscious impression of some poets, I’ll accept, because psychology is a process, not words. Finer impression always remains. Other than that, I feel one should just stop at being like others and realize, it is a creative thing and not math that all answers have to be the same.
Wale: In the case of imagery, is any similarity forgivable?
Linda: I can’t forgive it unless the interpretation is totally different. It can be the same subject but not the same way one defines it. Mostly, amongst senior poets, I have noticed uncanny resemblances. If one is an avid reader of the works published on Poetry Foundation, one will come across such things aplenty. But personally, imagery is the fingerprint of who I am; a summation of my surrounding, my livelihood and therefore my being.
Wale: To tackle plagiarism, what do you think poetry publishers (magazines and journals) should do? Most publishers do not have plagiarism checkers, how much damage do you think that is doing?
Linda: It is good to have a plagiarism checker in place, but there’s no shortcut to reading. One has to be a poet to publish a poet. That’s how I look at it and I am ready to buy an argument if that is convincing enough. A plagiarism checker can be a primary deterrent for words but ideas? Then, only reading is the rescue.
Wale: In addition to your day job, you have a writing career and you are also managing RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts, how do you divide your time among these commitments?
Linda: I am not managing well enough. It’s very hard to keep at pace with the wonderful things happening in this world but of poetry. However, I answer to my urge of writing as I would answer to nature’s call.
Wale: Apart from participating in 2015 Napa Valley Writer’s Workshop with him, Is Arthur Sze an influence? He has been to me and I think you are more than lucky to have met him.
Linda: No, I could not make it because of financial reasons and since D.A. Powell was in the knowledge of me not being able to make it, he did send me his recent book, which was a great consolation.
Arthur is a great poet and I love his works; they are precise, succinct, and somewhere his diction by the virtue of philosophic merit, renders his abstract an organic wholesome.
Wale: Well, maybe Doug’s is the next am digging after this conversation. I agree with you on Arthur Sze, I am deeply moved by his sense of description which is something I think you both shares.
Linda: Aww… even a fraction of comparison to Sze’s works, is too much an achievement for me. I mean I so love Asian-American poetry and poetry of African diaspora. The fierce of historical subjugation when concentrated on a sheet of white paper, that burn is poetry.
Wale: Yes, I have been following the works of Ocean Vuong on violence in Vietnam for a while and I am enjoying other names from both East and South Asia and most especially, Asian-American voices. I think it’s ironic how Asia and Africa is dominating English literature where we are all foreigners, something I discussed with a friend not too long. Do you think it is something we can be very happy about?
Linda: Oh yes. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to acknowledge how Asian and African literatures are making their presence felt across the world. Once, too much oppressed, these two continents are now the new trendsetters of world literature.
I am very proud!
Wale: Finally, how long do you plan to keep fans like me waiting for your book?
Linda: (Laughs) Wale!
Wale: You haven’t answered the last question
Linda: I did. I laughed.