The Blogchatter eBook Carnival was launched on 13 June this year. My first eBook Unlocked- Historical Tales in Verse was released in 2020 on the same platform and will always remain a memorable part of my writing journey. This year, I am a carnival volunteer and am just through with the first few books from the Blogchatter library. Evidently, these initial picks have been from the fiction and poetry sections. But there’s non-fiction and travel, culture and technology too. Do check out this eclectic mix here.
Today, I bring to you a poetry book from the carnival. Titled Dharma Artha Kama Moksha, this debut collection of twenty poems by poet Seethalakshmi is unique in its subject as well as treatment. The tagline says, Unveiling the Feminine in Verses. As the poet points out in her introduction, the collection brings forth feminine characters who have a life of their own (inspired by Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa’s works with heteronym characters).
Giving voice to women who have been silenced by (in)visible clouts of patriarchy over centuries, the poems are bound together using the four pillars of life as pointed out in Hindu scriptures — Dharma (righteousness), Artha (prosperity), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation). How do you find a connection between women and these inherent values or Purusharthas, which are said to be the blueprint of human fulfilment? I quote the poet in response.
If happiness with purpose is the pursuit of life, what makes a woman happy? What is her purpose? Who defines or defies it? How much of her happiness is influenced by external factors? The answer to these questions is what constitutes this book.
A single reading of a book of poetry is never enough to soak in its different flavours. One must revisit each poem at different times in their life until fully drenched. Even as I continue to re-read the poems (a combination of free verse and form poetry), here are some of my favourite lines from few, followed by a tête-á-tête with Seethalakshmi.
I believed we were equals
him and I
until we both
made a mistake
and he walks away free
& I carry a scar for eternity
Guests in our living room-
A royal platter, I serve
Glass mementos, brass trophies
Scream of his achievements
My burns & sweat-
Testimony of my master chef side
Sulks under my skin
The river oe’r my head
is a scintillating red
like the cotton rose
that turns from a pallid white
to a pink flush-
And now, it’s over to Seethalakshmi, and her soulful poetry.
- ‘Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha’- how did you arrive at this unusual title for your book and interestingly decided to juxtapose names of women with each poem. How did the amalgamation happen/fit in?
The idea seed for this book was sown during my participation in Blogchatter’s A2Z challenge. While every other participant had their posts scheduled or at the least, titles ideated ahead of the challenge, I jumped in by saying I’m just going to surrender to the moment and see where it takes me and that’s how these poems came alive and along the way I titled them “Intuitive Poetries” (on the blog).
I had used the concept of heteronym characters, a literary concept familiarised by the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. A heteronym is a literary concept where a writer creates one or more imaginary character(s) to write in different styles and voices.
The names that you see juxtaposed to the titles are the names of these heteronym characters.
When I thought of compiling the blog posts into an eBook, I felt a need to tell more about these characters, to give another perspective to their lives. So, I penned down a few more poems or lines to make them alive.
As poetries started showing up, a unique theme started unveiling itself. Those were the voices of women that were generally hushed. And upon close inspection, I found a common thread that united them all.
- What is the common thread that binds the poems in the book?
I have seen people get confused between being feminine and being a feminist. In my opinion, being feminine means a certain way of expression and acceptance of the natural qualities of being a woman while a feminist strives for equality of genders.
The common thread of my book can be seen in its by-line that reads- ‘Unveiling the feminine in verses’. Interestingly, some of the feminine voices in the book are also feminist ones.
- An interesting feature of your poetry is the use of Indian English or a textured multilingual flavour. This particularly comes across in poems like ‘Who Feeds Ramu’ and ‘This is how our Marriage got Fixed’. Was this intentional? Do you write in another language besides English?
I love using vernacular language in my poems. It’s my way of showing off like a proud Indian. If I can learn and write in a foreign language to reach a particular audience, why not they learn a few words from my motherland in return, right?
But there is a particular reason for adding multilingual flavour here, i.e., to add characteristics to the heteronym characters. Each one of them has a life of their own and so does their language, dialect, writing style and voice. Adding vernacular language helps add layers and uniqueness.
Though both the poems that you have mentioned use Tamil, there’s a stark difference in their voices.
And yes, I write in Tamil too. Tamil is my mother tongue.
- Your poetry is not vulnerable, if I may say so. Instead, it is unapologetically strong and convincing. There’s a sense of ownership in whatever you say, a stamp of sorts about your beliefs. Has your writing always been this fearless and spontaneous?
I love your keen observation, Sonia. It can be deceptive to say that my poetry is vulnerable. But the characters here are vulnerable, in the sense that they are all real, living characters. I know them all personally though they are hidden under different names. So yeah, they are all vulnerable women whose voices are hushed.
But as you have mentioned, the poems are unapologetically strong and convincing and it is intentionally kept that way. When I took it upon myself to be the voice of those vulnerable women, I knew I shouldn’t get them or keep them trapped in a victim mode, drowning in self-pity. I intended that their stories should come out in all honesty, yet I wanted to give them hope. While the poems should narrate the vulnerabilities of being/feeling feminine and the adversities that come along, they should at the same time give those vulnerable women the strength and hope to find their voice.
In general, my writing is more along the lines of keeping it honest and spontaneous and yes, at times it comes out sounding fearless or strong. But there are poems where my fears and dilemmas are captured too!
- Finally, what next after the Blogchatter launch? Where else would you like to take Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha?
I’m thankful to Blogchatter for providing this platform and the much-needed push to compile this eBook. It was an amazing experience to do everything from scratch, right from designing the cover to marketing the book.
While publishing this eBook, I had a slight doubt if the readers would be able to grasp the use of the heteronym concept and the way these characters were weaved into the theme. But my readers surprised me with their appreciation and a few, with constructive criticism too.
Now that I know that this book is well received, and very much understood, I plan to bring in a few more characters and with more poems giving a peek into their lives. I also intend to add some more nuances like conversations or conflicting opinions between a few characters through poems, to make it more appealing and go for a print version of it.
As of now, just putting it all out in the Universe and I know it listens and answers too. It just takes its own time.
- Give us your favourite lines from one of your poems.
Choosing lines from just one poem is tough but then I wish to highlight this particular line from the poem, “Introspection” by the transgender character, Indra, who is coming to terms with their identity:
Within the walls of isolation, I find my boundaries disappear.
What makes it my favourite is the fact that what reads like a simple line here, looks a whole lot different in the book where the structure, line break, spacing, title, and the chapter under which the poem is placed, everything adds different layers to the poem giving it a deeper sense and flavour to it. And that is where crafting comes to play in poetry.
Dear Readers, I loved every bit of this insightful interaction with Seethalakshmi about her poetry. The book is free to download at the Blogchatter Library and I am convinced that it is a wonderful read. So, grab your copies on the following link,