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You are here: » Oxford Bookstore Review » Rhyme Or Reason - Sukrita Paul Kumar
Published on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 14:17
Sukrita Paul Kumar
Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar
Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar
Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar Sukrita Paul Kumar

Sukrita Paul Kumar on Poems Come Home
in conversation with Sutanuka Sarkar

Sutanuka: Ms. Kumar, how would you like to introduce yourself and your work?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : I think my work should actually introduce me. I write my poems as ‘Sukrita’ and do not use ‘Paul Kumar’. You can read what you like from this rather conscious decision taken a very long time ago! I guess there is a variety of persona that one slips into in various contexts…as a critic, I choose to use my full name. I like to balance between the two in the living of my life. As for my work, when I am writing poetry, there is a total submission to the act of doing so and every word matters. I become as sensitive to shedding words as using them. At times this kind of editing happens internally. If not, I end up making several drafts of a poem in the process of eliminating words and somehow squeeze the expression in as few words as I can. It is different when I do critical writing. There I know I must build the complete logic of an argument… doesn’t matter the number of words! I believe I am also an ardent teacher and teaching to me comes close to being an art. Unless I can pass on the experience of a literary text to my students for them to participate and respond, I don’t feel fulfilled in the classroom. Strangely the same text taught to a different batch of students thus, demands a different treatment…     


Sutanuka: What has been your primary inspiration that has brought you to poetry, and what has sustained your relationship with poetry over the years?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : I think I started writing not just to find expression for my emotions and thoughts, but to also perhaps sort them out for myself. The privacy that writing gives one is beautiful! I tasted the pleasure of that engagement as a teenager. The pleasure of agonizing for expression! …Locating the right language from within for very personal ideas, emotions etc. that may be stirred by something happening on the street out there or some feeling of helplessness at contact with some kind of suffering of others… floods, an earthquake, or even something as simple and cheerful as say the bird chirping on the tree! Writing poetry is also like doing something, is like something happening and is addictive…I often wonder, is it escaping life or really deeply engaging with it?


Sutanuka: What does being a poet mean to you? In what genre would you like to classify your poems?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : Not any particular genre. I cherish freedom and don’t think of building boundaries and constraints of ‘form’ on my expression while writing poetry!


Sutanuka: What are your expectations from your newest release, Poems Come Home?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : I think the “curiosity” and excitement had gripped me while the process of translation was going on. Once the book is published, I mean when the poems are out there in the public domain, you become a bit detached from that writing and the immediacy of the current work takes over. But yes, of course, I am anxious to see how people respond to my English poems in Hindustani. I do want the feedback and earnestly look forward to it. I see the English of my poems as being in itself bilingual…what happens to this aspect in Hindustani? I’d like to get the reader’s take on this…


Sutanuka: How has your life and/or your relationship with poetry changed since your recognition as a poet?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : I think the real “recognition” actually touched me closely when I got invited to participate in the prestigious International Writing Programme at Iowa in the US, nearly ten years ago. This meant getting to be with writers from all over the world for over three months exclusively to write and to listen to each other. This was like a reassuring nod to my ‘writerly’ self. I have nourished myself more seriously on that front ever since.


Sutanuka: How has Gulzar's Translations helped your 'poems come home'?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : Whenever Gulzar-sab finished doing the translation of a poem of mine, he would give me a call and read it out. He read them out in his deep voice and with a cadence typical to Urdu poetry … the poem sounded quite settled and yet

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vibrant in the new avatar! Once I spontaneously responded and said, these poems have come home to their habitat. That’s when we decided we’d call our book “Poems Come Home”…His translation brought the poems not just to an appropriate language but also captured the inner rhythm of the English poems that he rendered in meter in translation.


Sutanuka: How did your book Poems Come Home take shape? And how did you decide which poems belonged together here?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : Happily, this book happened as though on its own, without much deliberation. The autonomy of the translator - of selection as well as that of the style and process - demanded respect because I do believe that the translator, more so of poetry than fiction, must own and love the text to be able to commit to its re-creation. I love the way, poem after poem, the book flowed towards its completion, with English and Hindustani dialoguing with each other.  


Sutanuka: Your poetry is said to live and breathe the world of everyday turmoil, what has been your muse for composing the poems in  Poems Come Home ?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : Precisely that…the everyday turmoil…the intriguing dilemmas, social injustices hitting at individuals and communities, the pain of relationships, natural calamities …all this in the face of love, innocence and the simple beauty of say a sturdy oak on the mountains!


Sutanuka: Being a professor of literature at the University of Delhi, you must have taught poetry over the years. What do you find is the best way into a poetic state of mind for people who are new to the craft?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : No, I have generally not taught poetry. May be because I have wanted to keep my poetry away from the discursive and critical discourse. As a critic too I have avoided writing on poets or order to perhaps preserve my poetic sensibility as something separate. I believe this works well for me.

Sukrita Paul Kumar : I think to realize the poetry lying somewhere inside one’s self is to remain alert, open and sensitive to everything around one… A poem may be sitting on the blade of the grass outside, in the eye of the child begging, in the squeaking of the rat in the cat’s paws or then, in the shadows of the long rain! Open your eyes, see it, feel it; and, emotions and imagination take over… compelling one to find words to express the experience!


Sutanuka: Name some of your favorite poets. What do you appreciate about these poets and their poetry?

Sukrita Paul Kumar : Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet and John Koethe have been my favourites in the last few years, as also Mahadevi Akka and Lal Ded. For a long time earlier I was very fond of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and the genre of ‘confessional poetry’ in general. In the latter I think I identified well with the ardent push for new language for an uninhibited expression of womanhood. The likes of Akka Mahadevi and Lal Ded have been my icons for courage to breakaway from social constrictions and cherish love… and celebrate life in their own terms. I marvel at and get affected consistently by Szymborska’s reflective verses and the deeply human concerns in them and long for such soulful and yet so grounded an expression for myself! Another form that I thoroughly enjoy is “haiku”. This probably has to do with my wish to master the art of condensing ‘meaning’ in very few words. 



Sukrita Paul Kumar

Sukrita Paul Kumar was born and brought up in Kenya and at present she lives in Delhi, writing poetry, researching and publishing on Indian literature and teaching “world literature”. An Honorary Fellow of International Writing Programme, University of Iowa (USA) and a former Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, she was also an invited poet in residence at Hong Kong Baptist University. She has published five collections of poems in English: Rowing Together, Without Margins, Oscillations, Apurna, and Folds of Silence.

Sukrita’s major critical works include Narrating Partition, Conversations on Modernism, The New Story and Man, Woman and Androgyny. Some of her co-edited books are Ismat, Her Life, Her Times, Interpreting Homes in South Asian Literature and Women’s Studies in

India: Contours of Change. As Director of a UNESCO project on “The Culture of Peace”, she edited Mapping Memories, a volume of Urdu short stories from India and Pakistan. She has two books of translations to her credit, Stories of Joginder Paul and the  Partition novel Sleepwalkers. She is the chief editor of the book on Cultural Diversity in India published by Macmillan India and prescribed by the University of Delhi.

A recipient of many prestigious fellowships and residencies, Sukrita has lectured at many universities in India and abroad. A solo exhibition of her paintings was held at AIFACS, Delhi. A number of Sukrita’s poems have emerged from her experience of working with homeless people.


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Interviewed by Sutanuka Sarkar Graphic Design by Surajit Banik HTML Designed by Subhadip Mukherjee