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Rachna Singh, Editor The Wise Owl talks to Gopal Lahiri about his book Anemone Morning & Other Poems

Talking Books

With Gopal Lahiri

Rachna Singh, Editor, The Wise Owl talks to Gopal Lahiri about his recent poetry collection Anemone Morning & Other Poems. Gopal Lahiri became the first author to be conferred the Jayanta Mahapatra National Award for Literature this year. Lahiri is a poet, critic, editor, and translator with 29 books to his name.


Thank you, Gopal, for taking time out to talk with The Wise Owl.


RS: Our readers would be eager to know the inspiration and the creative trigger for your poetry collection Anemone Morning & Other Poems.


GL: It is a collection of meditative, eco-critical, nature, real and surreal poems. In addition, there are Japanese form poems, like Gogyoshi, Haiku, Senryu ad Haibun. There are four segments in the book, namely, Resurrection, Dreamer’ search- Green Path, Mind’s Eye and Miscellany. These sections instigate a different kind of possibility in poetry and a more sustained of attention to language. With fresh images and striking metaphors, these poems create a poetic landscape. And they flow with a quiet ferocity urging the readers to join me in my poetic journey.


RS: ‘Anemone morning’ is a beautiful name for a lovely collection of poems. Our readers would be curious to know what made you pick this name for your collection.


GL: Anemone is a flowering plant and the morning signifies the first light. As Tagore writes in his poetic prose ‘Seeing,’ ‘the fully bloomed seeing hasn’t yet happened, we haven’t seen the abundant seeing. Yet every morning light comes from far afar and says, See..’


I wish my poems in this book can provide that morning light, that quietude and that fragrance, and the sense of connection. And it is the language, subtle and ingenious, that lies beneath my thoughts and delivers the results recorded in my emotional registers.


RS: You are an award-winning poet, writer, critic and editor. Tell us a little about your journey as a poet and the challenges you faced during the course of your creative journey.


GL: I can easily recall the reading of Tagore poems in my childhood and slowly I fell in love with poetry. In my early days fear was not any option and I was free to write. The answer was from my heart. I am a lover of nature and I have memories of writing poems on nature in school magazine. As it happens, I am more enchanted by the surroundings with its smell, sound, fissures and lineaments and their intricate relations with the people. It has been on for nearly forty years. I do not know when it started exactly but writing, especially poetry is something which is essential for me. Poems that I am creating are just part of me. I never fume in the lines and I feel comfortable with this.


We know a poet pays a great deal of attention on symbolism, the development of character, the use of allegory and myth but in my mind the real challenge is the relevance and I am always facing this challenge to reach a reader’s or listener’s ear, resulting in a unique and highly complex experience.


RS: Nature seems to play a significant role in your poetry, as also in your book ‘Anemone Morning & other poems.’ How do you incorporate elements of nature into your work, and what do they symbolize for you?


GL: The influence of nature is always there in my life since childhood and I still love that. It means so much in my poems. May be the wealth of reflections of nature in everyday life that I collect in my mind and translate later into words. Being an earth scientist, I must travel a lot and watch the life in realms of nature. May be that help me to break in if at all.


I do not know when it started but writing, especially poetry is something which is essential for me. I guess I love to watch and listen to the people in realms of beautiful earth- how the world is and how the world ought to be. Never really want to grab the readers by their frontal lobes and immediately snag their attention.


RS: Your poetry often traverses various locales, from serene landscapes to bustling urban environments. How do you capture the essence of these diverse settings in your work?


GL: In my thoughts, Poetry is a picturesque journey and I borrow the moments of pure soaring beauty from my surroundings to hit against the most ordinary in life. Then expand the bounds of connections that give us life. All these processes invite me to enjoy and it is good to recollect that we need one another, my soul and poetry in diverse settings.


Each small fragment of any city narrative is an answer hard-won. Still, piece by piece they come, until we are hovering on the edge of understanding, with the feeling that there is a door to revelation up ahead just starting to crack open. These stray thoughts and images that distils the filth and dust of the city but the tiny sparks are always there in my heart, in my mind,


I want to take my readers on a wonderful walk where a little rain is a downpour, where silence is a part of our essence, where a solitary mind is a chorus.


RS: Do you have a favourite city or place that you find most inspiring? Tell us a little about it.


GL: My favourite city is of course Kolkata and it is incidentally my birth place. It is undeniably a city of poets, the little rafts of refuge for me. The city is a perfect metaphor for its spiritual condition, its beautiful heritage, its furious rhythm, its geometry, and anguish. I love to explore all these- poems that exists in chaos, in movements, in conversation, in heritage or in resistance to the poetry itself. The images of the city in my mind are always vivid like an immersive canvass, a sketch that can never be erased. My poems on Kolkata invokes a sense, a feeling that distils the filth and dust of the city and draws a timeline that is unique for me.


Kolkata is always a home to many poets and writers- from beginning to end and a backdrop and inspiration for their works. It is a place of promise despite the many hurdles that the commoners face day in and day out. The city has a unique ability to


RS: Human relationships are a core aspect of your poetry. What aspects of human interaction do you find most compelling to explore?


GL: I find human relationship is very important in our life. The people and the surrounds are there who create the sound and silence. I observe, listen, and inhale the atoms and molecules of life. This portal into the past is unlocked by poetry alone.


I want to connect them to a larger vision of shared humanity, revealing history and heritage while granting insight into distinct values and conditions of the past.

I love to watch and listen to the people in realms of beautiful earth, how the world is and how the world ought to be. Surely, it is not an extension of dreams but multitude of thoughts and given the opportunity, words and letters can create texture and rhythm and I feel that’s poetry.


RS: Many upcoming poets are a part of our readership. They would love to know how to hone their craft and evolve as good poets. What advice would you give them?


GL: My advice is to the upcoming poets and writers that you must read more of others works, develop a relationship with your subjects and in those relationships, you must able to identify expressions and nuances of creative writing. There is a sense of belonging in it and you must cultivate that. You must ask yourself can I be able to make it? It is an art form very frankly. Be evocative, thoughtful, lucid, and fluent. When I look around, I feel that many of us are interested to make short-cut and trying to be famous. We should not ignore our objectives of being a good and honest poet or writer.



RS: If I were to ask you to define yourself as a poet in three adjectives, what would they be and why?


GL: Humble, Serious and Imagist. I am a shy and reserved person by nature and I hardly go out shouting about my creations. I just allow everything to sink and settle inside. Poetry is always a serious task to me and I love those poems which linger for some time and fill my poetic landscape slowly but surely.


Thank you so much Gopal for talking to us about your creativity and your recent poetry collection. We wish you the very best in all your literary pursuits.

About Gopal Lahiri
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Gopal Lahiri became the first author to be conferred the Jayanta Mahapatra National Award for Literature this year. Lahiri is a poet, critic, editor, and translator with 29 books to his name.

About Dr Rachna Singh
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A doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, Rachna Singh has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). Her latest book is Phoenix in Flames, a book about eight ordinary women from different walks of life who become extraordinary on account of their fortitude & grit. She writes regularly for National Dailies and has also been reviewing books for the The Tribune for more than a decade. She runs a YouTube Channel, Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein, which brings to the viewers poetry of established poets of Hindi & Urdu. She loves music and is learning to play the piano. Nurturing literature & art is her passion and to make that happen she has founded The Wise Owl, a literary & art magazine that provides a free platform for upcoming poets, writers & artists. 

Talking Books

Anmol Sandhu talks to Sonia Chauhan about her book This Maze of Mirrors

Hi Joanna. Thanks for talking to The Wise Owl


RS: Your collection of Cherita ‘river lanterns’ has been released recently. Our readers would be eager to know (as I am) what inspired you to write this beautiful collection of 90 virgin Cherita. 


JA:  I have been published in Ai Li’s Cherita journals for a while and love writing in this form.  I mentioned in my email correspondence to Ai Li that I aspired to have my own Cherita collection published.  She offered to edit my selection of poems from a large selection that I sent her.  I would say my inspiration came from reading Ai Li’s own collections of her Cherita verse, they are so beautiful. 


When I began writing these, I was mindful to really show me as not only a writer but as the person beneath and how the Cherita form bends to the art of storytelling.  It took me some time to write these and I am delighted with the narrative that Ai Li made with her choices for my book.  When another person chooses, they can distance themselves from your work and look critically at what you have sent.  It was a real honour for me to entrust the creator of the Cherita with my work.



RS: Your book is a collection of Cherita verse. Cherita is a genre of recent origin (1997). Tell us what attracted you to this genre of poetry. Were there any creative influences in your life that encouraged you to adopt this genre as your own.


JA:  I am attracted to this genre of poetry as I hold a deep reverence for Ai Li’s poetry and the short form poetry forms as a collective.  I was excited to see that Ai Li had developed this new genre.  She published my short form verse in the 1990s in her journal Still and I was sad when this was no longer in print.  I enjoyed the challenge of learning how to write this new form and find it really resonates with me as a writer.


I discovered her new form of Cherita and was hooked by these story gems.  I really admire the way that the Cherita journals are produced and enjoy reading the work within these.  As a writer it is important to keep on working at your craft and I love it when I get to enjoy the work of a fellow poet in the same genre. 


RS: River Lanterns has been edited and published by ai li, the creator of Cherita as a genre. How was the experience of connecting with the doyen of Cherita and having her select your Cherita?


JA:  As I mentioned earlier Ai Li had published my work in the 90s, then through offering Cherita to her for publication, the connection was reborn.  I have always enjoyed reading Ai Li’s poetry and I have found her to be a gracious supporter of my Cherita.  Sending my work to the creator of the genre I think really made me conscious that I had to elevate my writing to meet the standards to have enough quality Cherita for my own individual collection.  The experience is something that I will treasure as I now have a collection published other people can enjoy and will hopefully encourage them to do the same.


RS: Cherita is said to be a unique form of storytelling…storytelling in 6 lines. M Kei says that Cherita verse ‘combine the evocative power of tanka with the narrative of a personal story, like the vignettes we glimpse as we sit in a café and watch the world go by.’ Do you agree ? For the benefit of the readers would you please elaborate on this.


JA:  Yes, I think M Kei’s insight is correct.  Cherita to me contain the voice/song/whispers around the campfire as the stories unfold.  They can be written about such a wide range of experiences, focused through the lens of the individual. I love the power of tanka, and I see Cherita as a close cousin, both forms use beautiful language to sing a fragment of the world that we live in.


RS: I feel what differentiates Cherita from narrative storytelling, is that it tells a story about life & our spiritual journey. This is very true of your Cherita:


have you
found it yet

the fun arcade

where wishes
are the alchemy
of breath


What are your thoughts on this?


JA:  Yes, I feel a real connection with Cherita and my spiritual side.  This is an element that attracts me to using this form.  It allows me to explore and highlight aspects that may not be accepted in other types of verse.  The Cherita can be used as a blank canvas for me to embed my perspective of my inner and outer world through stories. 


RS: What are the themes or stories you have touched upon in your various Cherita verse?


JA:  Where to begin…  The Cherita in this collection provides a map of my highs and lows.  They reveal how I see the world and feel about it.  I enjoy adding elements of fairytales, myths, rich imagery, and aspects of the natural world.  The importance of love, loss, friendship, connections, truth etc. all are within.  The Cherita captures a moment of beauty, in time, often of universal things that happen to all of us but told from the narrator’s perspective.    Often there is a vein of spirituality running through the verse.



RS: There are some cherita terbalik also in your collection. For the benefit of our readers please tell us how this form is different from Cherita and why we need a different syllable arrangement for this form of poetic storytelling


JA:  The Cherita terbalik also tells a story but ‘terbalik’ is the Malay word for upside down or reversal (   It is a different arrangement of the original Cherita stanza format.  By using another variation of the Cherita format it enables the writer to alter the flow of the story that they are telling, such as the example from my collection below:


the ruby shoes

the glass slipper

the fairy dust


as a child

I imagined all


in my cupboard


To me this verse is stronger with the terbalik arrangement.  Writing Cherita I make a judgement as to which stanza suits the flow of the story.


RS: Do you also write in other genres like haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun on a regular basis?  Which is your favorite genre among all these genres (we know your fondness for Cherita of course)


JA:  Yes, I also write in other genres such as haiku, senryu, tanka, Haibun and other short form verse.  I began writing contemporary poetry first and then I discovered haiku when I was looking for poetry journals to read and subscribe to.   I fell in love with haiku and feel that they are the guardians of nature and our world.  I find short form poetry very special; these dewdrops of tiny forms really capture a sense of the world around us. 


I see the bonds between these genres as strings from the same bow –


the heart harp


wind and rainfall

skeins from sky


this humming

of a melody

our soul bonds


Selecting a favourite is like asking a parent to choose a child.  They all hold a place in my heart.  I began with haiku and then progressed to tanka – aspects of the heart.  These are the two that led me into this world of short form poetry and were my entry point for exploring and discovering other genres.  I wouldn’t like to be without any one of them as they each offer a different way to express aspects of the world and my own life journey. 


RS: What advice would you give budding poets of Cherita verse?


JA:  The advice I would give to writers of any verse is to READ, READ, READ.  Study the form, work on your craft, support the journals that publish them – if you want to write them, then surely you will enjoy reading them. Write, keep on writing and honing, learning the form, find your own style/voice, make connections in the writing world – even if online and listen and appreciate editorial advice – they have a vast range of experience, and this is how you grow as a writer.  The short form poetry world is a beautiful, supportive place.  When you buy a journal that publishes Cherita verse or another genre, be open to learning and see how well other writers use the form.  Try and buy the collections of writers that you admire, this keeps our writers’ world vibrant and alive.


Thank you, Joanna, for taking time out to talk to The Wise owl about your beautiful book. We wish you the best and hope you make this unique storytelling genre rich with your verse.


Thank you so much for asking me to talk to you. 

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