Utsa Seth: A Poet Life

Utsa Seth connects with nature, people, and animals, and can be often found atop her favorite tamarind tree, reading a book, writing, singing, or just observing.

A budding poet, her first book of poems, ‘Fine Tangled Strands’ is the result of over three years of consistent writing. To get an insight into the workings of the young poet’s mind, I met with Utsa Seth – this is an excerpt of our conversation.
1. When and how did you start writing poetry?
I first started writing poetry when I was around eight years old. This was also when I started my first poetry blog. Back then, I wrote primarily for school assignments. On realising that rhymes came relatively easy to me, I began to enjoy the process. I would occasionally write a more personal thought down, but I didn’t want to share those with anyone. However, with a shift in schools and an end to poetry assignments, I more or less stopped writing. Later, in eighth grade, I was fortunate to have a house (at my boarding school) with several poetry enthusiasts. That was the second time I started writing poetry, never to stop again.

2. What do you enjoy about writing poetry specifically?
The thing I enjoy most about writing poetry is that it’s me, one or two ideas, and how I can convey them best. Unlike prose, poetry works with very little raw material and depends almost entirely on how a thought is expressed. I enjoy the precision and work required to select every word I place in my poem. The same can be said for punctuation and line breaks. It is incredible how much of an impact little things can have on a poem. Finally, the fact that months or years of work sit condensed in the two-hundred odd words of a poem, makes every single piece of writing intensive and noteworthy.

3. Tell us a poem that picks you up when you have a creative block.
Without hesitating, I’d pick “Poetry is a Sickness” by Ed Bok Lee. If you haven’t already read it, you must read it the first chance you get. Many poets have written self-aware poems about their writing. However, no other poem I’ve come across picks up the art form, shakes it up vigorously— as if checking for substance, and then somehow reinstates it with more dignity than it had before. “Maybe the best poem is always the one you shouldn’t have written,” says Lee, flipping a creative block onto its head. The problem is hardly what one doesn’t write; it is the conflict between honest expression and the world which is the true challenge.

4. Do you think poetry is a dying art form?
I don’t think we’re running out of poets, but we may be running out of readers. Engaging with or spending time on a possibly complex bit of writing seems to be a slowly disappearing skill. Perhaps this is because the world is gradually being defined by instant gratification. With every passing day, the world picks up a faster pace. Prose continues to firmly hold its position because people anticipate what three hundred pages of writing might hold. Poetry, however, seems to be stuck in an odd spot. It isn’t short or catchy enough to consume like an Instagram caption, nor is it long enough to treat like a novel. Of course, most poets read other poetry forming an audience. However, in my opinion, retrieving and recreating the culture of reading poetry is an urgent need today.

5. Where do you get your inspiration for writing poetry? 
Well, I suppose the world can be an incredibly inspiring place, as long as you’re on the lookout. To provide more insight into this answer, I think describing a few examples would prove helpful. For example, the poem ‘On The Tamarind Tree’ is simply a narration of an incident the way it happened. For, sometimes, life presents moments that deserve to be captured. On the other hand, the poem ‘I Want To Be Three Again’ is the manifestation of a moment of personal revelation for me. It was a time when I was overtaken by a feeling I couldn’t put a name to and tired of making emotionally challenging decisions. As it happens, the feeling was a need to be three again. Finally, poems like ‘Is There Room For A Flood?’ and ‘Consensually Weird’ were begun in moments of poetic catharsis. Sometimes, poems just appear, but they were still revised and modified later to become what they are now.

6. How would you describe your style of writing?
I would describe my style of writing as rhythmic free-verse. I don’t try to rhyme consistently, but I see the power that a rhyme can have. So, I do make an effort to intersperse them in my poems. I am forever in awe of people who can communicate their ideas in classical formats like the sonnet, amazed by those who write in blank verse, and blown away by those who write triolets or pantoums. The haiku, however, is friendly. I think the reason I almost always write free verse is that I am unwilling to share control over how my idea is expressed with a format.

7. Do you think poets view the world differently than other people?
Yes, I think they do. However, in my opinion, it is more about how deeply a poet views the world than how differently. If every moment I live has the potential to be inspiring, I would want to observe each of them carefully, collecting not only events but also emotions. As William Blake says in ‘Auguries of Innocence’ – “To see a World in a Grain of Sand // And a Heaven in a Wild Flower // Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand // And Eternity in an hour”. I think that is the power of a poet.

8. A final request for a verse on ‘Coffee’ please.
One and a half spoon
of heavenly ground coffee,
love, a perfect mug.

That’s my Haiku.

Hey, Look at the Cookie
I sat down slowly.
Pencil in hand
love on a platter,
and thought about how
I may reach you
beyond, and deeper
than mere chatter,
convince you,
that the intricacies,
the struggle, the ache
you feel,
I feel,
is just as temporary
as full stomached satisfaction
and the hearts that melt in our hugs.
We’re always turning
our heads away
in the wrong direction,
looking ‘neath the flowers
at thorny torment,
glancing above the cookies
to see more space in the jar,
only growing
to get over.
What sounds inside
takes me to task,
with every silver lining
don’t tell me
you don’t see the clouds?
To which I say,
I do,
but that isn’t
what the sky is about.
I wonder then,
that when I say,
the world is a tad sweeter
with you in it
and that you live
in someone’s smile,
and mine,
will you believe it?
If only for a short while,
that you’re a gift
worth every dime
and life has wanted you,
and waited a long,
long time to love you.

Read Utsa’s book at – https://notionpress.com/read/fine-tangled-strands
Buy her book on Amazon : https://www.amazon.in/dp/1685636993
To avail a 15% discount, use coupon code – 15COOKIE
For global links visit – http://www.utsaseth.in/fine-tangled_strands-utsa-seth/

Read more by Shikha S. Lamba


Photo Credit: Tijana Drndarski from Unspalsh

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