Meet the author: Arundhati Subramaniam

Equally adept with poetry and prose, Arundhati Subramaniam is a leading Indian poet and the award-winning author of thirteen books. Here’s more on this talented author.

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Arundhati SubramaniamArundhathi Subramaniam is a leading Indian poet and the award-winning author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, most recently the poetry volume, Love Without a Story, and a book of conversations with female sacred travellers, Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Other works include the acclaimed anthology of sacred poetry, Eating God, and the bestselling biography, Sadhguru: More Than a Life. She is the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Khushwant Singh Poetry Prize, Raza Award, the Il Ceppo Prize in Italy, the Homi Bhabha and Charles Wallace fellowships, among others.

Motivation to write…

“My motivation? A deep relish of language, primarily. I’ve enjoyed hanging around words since I was a child – savouring them, feeling their grain, their rhythms, their cadence. Later, in my adolescence, words became an urgent means of self-expression. And still later, I began to integrate my sensuous enjoyment with my need to express myself,.” Tells Arundhati.

“It took time to find my voice. And it was just as well, since publishers of English poetry in India were few and far between in the 1990s. My first book was published in 2001, after more than a decade of active writing. And yet, looking back, it was worth the wait. That decade of gave me a chance to hone my craft and trust the timbre of my voice,” she adds.

Inspiration behind words…

“When it comes to poetry, each poem has a different inspiration. One may be triggered by an intense moment of grief or rage or love or loss, another by a phrase that keeps playing hypnotically in the mind, and yet another by the sheer boredom of waiting in an airline lounge!” she says

“When it comes to prose, however, I have always started with a very definite intention. For instance, I was asked by Penguin to write a book on the Buddha, or to work on an anthology of Bhakti poetry. Since these converged with my own preoccupations, I was happy to do so. As for the biography of Sadhguru, More Than a Life, or the recent book of essays on women on sacred journeys, Women Who Wear Only Themselves, these were projects I was working on, and I was glad to find publishers who were interested in them as well,” she adds. “The poetry returns to themes of quest, physical and mythic journeys, cities, intimacy, the inseparable mix of the mundane and magical. The prose explores my preoccupation with diverse paths to the sacred.”

On languages…

“I write in English. My poetry has been translated into Tamil, Hindi, French, German and Italian,” tells Arundhati.

Aim while writing…

“I aim for an alignment of passion and precision, excitement and exactitude. A poem must have a strong inner imperative as well as formal dexterity,” she tells.

Hardest part of writing a book…

“It is always the end of the journey that I find hardest. This is the time when you know the work is more or less done, but could benefit from some judicious tweaking. And yet, it is difficult to stand back and see the manuscript afresh. When you’re too familiar with what’s on the page, it’s easy to lose perspective. You’re not sure whether you can trust the final product, or whether it will work for a potential reader. My strategy is usually to drop the entire project and do something else for a while, so I can return to it with a less fogged vision!” she shares.

Advice to aspiring authors…

“To aspiring poets, I’d say: don’t forget to read! It is always amazing how little young practitioners of poetry actually read. Many have never bought a book of poetry in their lives! They simply read poems online. And the other suggestion: if you feel strongly about writing, don’t listen to the nay-sayers; believe in yourself and plunge into it. At the same time, poetry isn’t just inspiration and spontaneity. It is also riyaz, sadhana, practice. Make sure you keep revision and tweaking your work. Don’t be in a hurry to publish until you’re absolutely ready to stand by your text,” she says.

On experience with publishers & editors…

“My international poetry publisher is Bloodaxe Books in the UK. In India, I’ve published with Penguin, HarperCollins, Westland Amazon and Speaking Tiger. I’ve also done an anthology for the Sahitya Akademi and my first two books have been with Allied Publishers,” tells Arundhati. “The best publishers are those that offer you not merely a fine-tuned editorial attention, but are also committed to getting your work out there. I am always open to doing readings, but am far from dynamic on social media. So, I’m always glad to have a publisher who is proactive about marketing and distribution.”

Talking about editors, she adds, “I usually stick to editors I trust, and would follow them wherever they go – even if they shift publishing houses. I’ve had a particularly good experience with certain editors – Neil Astley, Karthika V.K. and Ravi Singh, for instance – and am always glad to entrust work to them.”

Dealing with Covid…

“It was certainly difficult because so many one cared for were in situations of isolation and ill health. As a reader, though, it was wonderful, because it was license to catch up on so much deferred reading. And as a writer, it allowed me to get down to writing the book of essays I’d procrastinated over for two years. It was the pandemic that allowed me to get down to writing Women Who Wear Only Themselves,” she tells.

On literary awards & fellowships…

“Awards help because they do offer external validation of your journey. Given how solitary and non-lucrative the poet’s journey can be, and given how difficult it is to keep the faith, they can offer encouragement – and

a reminder that one isn’t entire lunatic to keep doing what one does! As for fellowships, they’ve actually offered financial support for a project when I’ve needed it.,” concludes Arundhati.

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