Amita Paul, WE Earth Green Heart Awardee 2022, in an interview with Smeetha Bhoumik, Editor, Yugen Quest Review

You are a WE Green Heart, and treasured poet at #CeWoPoWriMoWE. Please share your exciting poetic journey so far, that has brought you love, recognition and warmth from poetry lovers across the world. What do awards from your literary communities (The Significant League, WE Literary Community) mean to you and how does it impact your writing?

Amita: Thank you so much, Smeetha, for inviting me for this interview. I am deeply grateful to WE for the honour bestowed upon me in choosing me as a WE Green Heart. 

I have been writing poems in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu ever since I entered my teens but have been reluctant to share them with others. It was only after my retirement from government service in November 2016 that I took to writing on Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness with which my friends on Facebook received my poetry. 

Joining groups of writers and poets in all the four languages on Facebook drew me into the experience of writing on prompts along with other poets and writers. 

In English Poetry, the experience of writing for the Global Poetry Writing Month in April 2019 and 2020 through and with the Significant League, and in 2021 and 2022 with Maureen Thorson’s original NaPoWriMo FB group as well as with TSL and WE have been very rewarding. When Maureen Thorson featured two of my poems on her site commending them to my fellow poets in 2021 and 2022, it brought me worldwide recognition. The fact that The Significant League gave me the Nissim International Award, First Prize for my Poetry in 2019, that Destiny Poets International Community of Poets chose me not only as their Poet of the Year but also as their Critic of the Year continuously the last two years i.e., 2020 and 2021, and now WE are awarding me with their Green Heart award for writing with them during #CeWoPoWriMoWE 2020 and 2021, is very heartening. 

These are humbling experiences which inspire me to write even more consistently and to make my poetry even better in future. 

It was an exhilarating experience, writing together at #CeWoPoWriMoWE, as we fought the looming shadows of ’20, ’21, ’22. Please tell us about your experiences during these fraught years.

Amita: Indeed, it was a unique experience. I fought Covid 19 in March April 2020 as well as in April 2021 in home self- care with the help of friends and Poetry, literally. Poetry was the biggest motivator and morale booster for me in this difficult time. Strangely, it helped me accept with calmness and equanimity the prospect of the worst, while at the same time filling me with the confidence to take on whatever the virus threw at me without missing a single day’s writing on all three different prompts from three different quarters. 

This experience also made me appreciate the truth behind Albert Camus’ famous testament to the resilience of the human spirit in his lyrical essay titled ‘Return to Tipasa’ ( 1954 ) wherein he says:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” 

My journey through the Valley of Death convinced me about healing power of Poetry. I am of course not alone in seeing curative powers in non-material entities. Many people see meditation as a panacea, others see love as a cure- all. I am reminded of this famous Urdu couplet from the eminent Urdu Poet Farhat Ehsaas:

Ilaaj apna karaate phir rahe ho jaane kis kiss se

Mohabbat kar ke dekho na mohabbat kyun nahin karte

(You are running from pillar to post to get yourself treated to cure your illness 

Why not try falling in Love and then see what happens? Why don’t you take a chance on Love)? 

I’d rather substitute Poetry for Love and Meditation for it embodies both for me. 

The important milestones in your journey as a poet so far.

Amita:The period in my childhood when I discovered the poetic beauty of Scriptures from all religions and the day in my teenage years when I discovered I could write Poetry myself were important milestones in my poetic journey. The next watershed point was when I began studying prosody in all the languages of my poetry in order to put it to work in my creative efforts. 

My poems used to feature now and then in my school magazine the Josephite and my college magazine the Rajendrian in the hoary past in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My College Principal at Lady Margaret Hall , Mrs EM Chilver chanced upon some manuscript poems of mine in 1978 and informed my parents that she had found a new Nightingale of India. In the LBS National Academy of Administration as an IAS probationer -trainee in 1980 , I edited the English Section of the House Magazine. While at Harvard on a Mason Fellowship i n 1997-98 I won the Humorous Haiku Challenge of the Harvard Magazine. I used to scribble all the time and I still do, but I have never thought seriously about any actual full – fledged publication of my own.

The current phase started when I began to share my poetry on Facebook and a set of readers from across the world began to appreciate it. I began to keep count around 2018-19 and I find I have shared at least 1100 poems in English (besides over 3400 haiku), 263 poems in Urdu, about 135 poems in Hindi and 63 poems in Punjabi with my Facebook friends so far. 

The next step was when people began picking up my poems for anthologies and inviting me to contribute to their online magazines. When online Poetry groups began to honour me with certificates and awards, I was truly overwhelmed. 

But my inner journey has perhaps been the most important. I now have the poise and equanimity, that comes from knowing that, fundamentally, I write to express and please myself, regardless of recognition or praise or lack of it from anyone else, and I will continue to do so even if not, a single reader reads me.

This is not meant as any kind of disrespect for my readers especially those who have so graciously showered me with their love, appreciation, and recognitions and awards, but as a plain statement of fact about my essential nature as a poet. 

Your poems centred around the natural world are as beautiful as they are thought provoking, giving us minute details about the forests you love. ‘Spring in Betla’ is a favourite. Tell us more on this…

Amita: I was brought up on a nutritious diet of Nature poetry. There was a point of time when Wordsworth was my favourite poet: he still continues to be one of my top few favourites. I feel great empathy for Pantheism. Like him I feel:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

I feel a great empathy for Mother Earth. I rage at the Anthropocene, I’m passionate about trees and forests. I’m fortunate that I could spend long months and years in wild desert dunes of Western India and in forest areas, in East Africa, in the North East and most of all in what is now Jharkhand and could work with and for Indigenous People all over India and in many places abroad, including North America and Canada. The lives and ways of life of tribes who are still much more at one with Nature than almost all other people touch and inspire me deeply. The Betla to Netarhat stretch of reserved forest in Palamau is my favourite piece of our planet.

Tell us a little about the exciting project you’ve begun, experimenting with forms of haiku. What’s your plan and what would you like to achieve?

Amita: Well, I find Haiku becoming a very popular form of poetry the world over, and evolving rapidly as it transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. I’ve written countless haiku or would- be haiku in my life and seen many forms of haiku all over the Internet. I have been using the tanka and the renga formats quite freely for years along with haiku and haiga or ekphrastic haiku. I myself like other people often bend and twist Haiku and related forms to express myself as I want to. In the process I saw new trends emerging. I felt the urge to classify some of these innovations. 

For instance, I found many people writing MetaHaiku or Self-Reflective Haiku Renga Poems or what I call Twinku or Troiku without being able to give their “makeshift” new forms a name. I decided to christen them and classify them.

Meanwhile, my friend Amanda White who started the highly popular group The Daily Haiku during the lockdown due to Covid asked if there was a form of Haiku where two completely antithetical ideas could be put together. I looked things up but could not find something quite like that so I came up with idea of the Thesis- Antithesis Haiku or TaHaiku. One thing led to another and I began to think of logical extensions of this form such as TaTanka and TasTrioku. I wanted to see how far these could go. 

People are often reluctant to try out new things in big groups. So, I thought of trying to incubate these and other new Haiku forms in a smaller group. If enough people write enough haiku in each of the new forms, we could launch them on the net or in print form as an anthology or several anthologies. Then they could be properly popularised.

The most important thing you’d like to share with people starting out on their writing journey….

Amita: I would say – Write first and foremost to express yourself, and do the very best you can, so that you can enjoy what you write when you go back to read it. Write what you would like to read but no one else seems to have written so far. 

I’d like to add – Read as much as you can on the background of your subject before you begin to write. Pay attention to the basics of grammar and vocabulary. Learn the rules before you consciously begin to break them.

Amita Paul is by profession a retired bureaucrat, but at heart a poet and teacher. She writes, mostly poetry, in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Her recent work featured or is forthcoming in several anthologies and journals. It has found a place of honour in many an online poetry writing forum , ranging from GloMag,the Lothlorien Journal, Yugen Quest Review, Spillwords, Setu Bilingual, Fasihi Magazine, and Das Literarisch to Paper Nations/The Great Margin, UK, the Groundswell Blog, Australia, and the Transnational Literature Journal now based in the Bath Spa University, Impressions & Expressions (an anthology edited by Amita Sanghvi), Cocoon Story ( edited by Vineetha Mekkoth, Getetha Nair). She was awarded the NISSIM International Poetry Award (First Prize) for 2019, for Excellence in Writing and her contribution to Indian English Poetry especially through a new genre called Tapestry Poems, by the jury of The Significant League , a Creative Writing group on Facebook. On 22 January 2020 , the TSL Jury announced the award of the First Reuel International Prize for 2020 for non – fiction to her for her experimental prose and multi – media Anthology , ‘ The Saaqi Chronicles’. Destiny Poets, Wakefield, UK declared her Poet of the Year ’20, and also Critic of the Year ’20.