Priya Sarukkai Chabria on literary activism and the power of poetry

An interaction with the poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria, leading up to the festival Poetry with Prakriti.

Jaideep Sen Published :  02nd December 2017 09:36 PM   |   Published :   |  02nd December 2017 09:36 PM
Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Priya Sarukkai Chabria

An interaction with the poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria, leading up to the festival Poetry with Prakriti 2017, set to be held from December 3-17, across multiple venues in Chennai.

Give us your overview of how you see the space for poetry changing and evolving in India - specifically, for regional language poetry alongside writing in English.
Thanks to the internet and social media poetry journals and blogs proliferate – which doesn’t mean all of them are worth reading. I don’t differentiate between poetry in our English bhasha and our other languages but look for certain qualities. You’ll notice this on Poetry at Sangam that I curate. You’ll read poetry in translation from many languages plus original work in English. 

Tell us a little about your plans at the Prakriti Festival. What can audiences expect, given your participation at the event?
For the world poetry event, I’ll probably read my poetry that is linked to my birthplace, Chennai. Later, I’ll  focus on the wondrous mystic poet Andal. US-based poet Ravi Shankar and I translated her songs as Andal The Autobiography of a Goddess which has won the 2017 Muse India Translation Award. I look forward to speaking on impassioned bhakti, sexuality, the art of translation, Sangam era poetics and beauty.  

How would you like to see the Prakriti Festival holding its own alongside various other new events and biennales dedicated to poetry, across the country?
We thank Ranvir Shah for conceiving this unique festival that takes poetry out to varied audiences and students. Prakriti’s belief in the receptivity of Chennaivasis to poetry has turned this into a successful annual event that poets everywhere celebrate. Perhaps in the future, Prakriti would like to support the publication of a couple of poetry books annual. Let’s talk! 

Would you consider poetry readings to be rather similar to performance art pieces? How does the performative aspect of a public reading change things in terms of engaging listeners, and disseminating and offering poetry? 
Each reading is a performance, each talk is. The transformation from solitary writer to performer is dramatic but so too is the shift the solitary reader makes to spectator. Poetry readings for me are primarily acts of sharing and I love interacting with my readers who I otherwise don’t see, don’t know. This is very special. 

Please tell us a little about how poetry is gaining significance as a form of protest, in the present day. How can activism through poetry be more effective?
Poetry, because of the condensation of language and concentration of emotions, is not easy to corrupt or co-opt. It can be witty and pithy, rhyming and rhythmic which makes it easy to chant. That’s its power. Literary activism grows in importance in our turbulent times, and every means – from poetry slams and tweets to readings in cafes, lounges etc - should be used to spread the word. We need to do this more often so that growing numbers spread this aspect of poetry - as protest.

Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Sonnet Mondal, Erik Lindner & Brian Turner will perform a reading at Amdavadi, Chennai, on Monday December 4, 7 pm.