Urni, a warm welcome to you – our youngest and most amazing friend and literary lighthouse, recognized as the WE Glowing Diamond. It’s been a rocking five years in every sense of the word, treading poetic trails at WE, and more recently at YQR. I’m constantly mindful that each step of our journey has been rewarding, even the frighteningly wobbly ones, because we met you!
Somrita Urni : In every conversation I’ve had with you, Smeetha, founder-extraordinaire of WE – conversations on poetry, feminist politics, and female solidarity – I’ve felt heard, understood, supported. WE events over the last five years were like returning to a sisterhood that you built and nurtured with your energy and integrity. I saw you develop the YQR from scratch, and work tirelessly for the Kamala Das and WE Poetry Awards over half a decade, and I truly admire your commitment to poetry, especially the works of people who identify as female Indian poets, writing in English.
As a judge of the WE Poetry Awards, you comprise a dream panel with Nishat Haider and Taseer Gujral! Many thanks from WE and YQR. How do you feel about it?
Somrita Urni : Growing up, I was deeply inspired by Kamala Das. The more I understood how significant a role she played in blazing a trail for female Indian English poets, and for confessional poetry in the subcontinent, the more I worshipped her. I studied Kamala Das in my undergraduate years, obsessed with her poetic aesthetics, devouring everything she had written. Now I discuss Kamala Das with my undergraduate students. To be able to light in them the fire that has been burning in me for a decade is an opportunity I don’t take too lightly. And to be associated with the Kamala Das Awards is indeed an honour. Getting to be a part of this dynamic panel of judges is an eminently rewarding, fulfilling experience. Many thanks for trusting me with this and having me on board again.
Everything came to a head during ’20-’21, when the pandemic and climate change necessitated a renewed look at life and nature. We’ve been fortunate to have worked through those trying times establishing new awards, writing poetry and celebrating treasured moments.
In recognition of your outstanding contribution to WE through tumultuous times, you, Nishat and Taseer, are recipients of the WE Green Hearts Awards 2022, (poets Amita Paul, Rituparna Khan and Lily Swarn received it for poetry @ #CeWoPoWriMoWE and contribution to WE Celebrations). This award is very special as it joins the dots in our WE journey since 2016, when WE Literary Community came into being.
Would you like to share your thoughts on this please? How do you see it going forward?
Somrita Urni: Thank you for considering me for the WE Green Heart Award this year. Humbled, and moved by your thoughtfulness.
Going forward, I hope more female poets volunteer their time and resources to make WE thrive. The success of a community not only depends on the ideas brought to the table by the leadership but also on the active participation of its members. I see WE expanding in the future by establishing chapters and chairs in different cities as we slowly transition back to physical readings, meetups and poetry adda sessions. I see members from these different city chapters volunteering their courtyards, drawing rooms, or terraces, hosting poetry soirees, encouraging new poets to join the group, and passing on the baton. I would also love for our collective to widen our scope and reach out not only to women in urban spaces but to voices from the margins as well. Together we can. And we will.
The past decade has posed the biggest challenge for women in this country, and continues to impact the present; its texture common to many parts of the world. What are your thoughts on this and how do you deal with it?
Somrita Urni : Poetry is personal. Poetry is political. Poetry is therapy. I return to poetry to heal, and for lessons in loving and living. So, engaging with the WE poetry community has helped me at the personal level too, not to mention you have been one of my loudest cheerleaders over the last few years – making my small, personal milestones more meaningful. This is 2022; yet, women continue to be pitted against each other, represented in popular imagination and culture as pictures of puerile or shrewd monstrosity, envious of the success of their own kind. This is, of course, a narrative fueled by patriarchal structures since it helps the cause. In a climate so hostile to women’s growth, it is a blessing to have met someone like you who selflessly celebrates my journey.
For every #MeToo movement there will be, as there have been, several counter strikes in the form of #NotAllMen, #MenToo, or #MRA. For every female poet who might, someday have the courage to call out a predatory male publisher or editor, there will be a counter strike in the form a self-congratulatory, incestuous coterie culture which will ensure that several other emerging or established female poets are silenced. The misogynist hatred that an “imperfect victim” (The Guardian) like Amber Heard was recently subject to, for instance, demonstrates, chillingly, how patriarchal institutions continue to perpetuate the myth of the Ideal Woman, or what I call the Sati-Savitri syndrome. The path for female poets in India is chequered. We might lose friends on the way. There might be disappointments, rejections and regrets to deal with. For me, the ominous silence in our poetry circle when it comes to calling out badly behaved men was a shock, and subsequently an eye-opener. Some battles we need to fight on our own. Some battles aren’t worth our time. These are constant conversations I have with myself. Today I understand what Agnés Varda meant when she said, “I tried to be a joyful feminist but I was very angry.” Sometimes, I feel frustrated when I’m unable to change a system bigger than you or me. And then I remind myself that sometimes challenging the system is a revolutionary act too – change takes time. You and I have had many such conversations – late nights, early mornings, rain-soaked evenings. These conversations rejuvenated me when the going got tough. So, the power of an independent collective by (and for) female Indian English poets (and allies), such as WE, cannot be undermined. WE is perhaps India’s only forum exclusively promoting women poets writing in English. It has provided a platform to several young voices, including me when I started out on this journey, helping build a community, a network, where I hope women poets can feel safe, where their efforts are not invisibilised, their struggles not diminished, their journeys not sabotaged.
Somrita Urni Ganguly is an Indian professor, and award-winning poet and literary translator. She was a Fulbright Doctoral Research Fellow at Brown University, USA, and is an alumna of the University of East Anglia’s International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School. Somrita is serving as a judge for the 2021 PEN America Translation Prize, and is currently Head of the Department of English, Maharaja Manindra Chandra College, University of Calcutta. Her work has been showcased at the London Book Fair, and she has read in cities like Bloomington, Bombay, Boston, Calcutta, Cove, Delhi, Hyderabad, London, Miami, Providence, and Singapore. Somrita is the editor of the first anthology of food poems, Quesadilla and Other Adventures (2019), and has translated Firesongs (2019), Shakuni: Master of the Game (2019), and The Midnight Sun: Love Lyrics and Farewell Songs (2018), among other works. Somrita was selected by the National Centre for Writing, UK, as an emerging translator in 2016. In 2017, she was invited as translator-in-residence at Cove Park, Scotland, and as poet-in-residence at Arcs of a Circle, Mumbai, an artistes’ residency organized by the US Consulate in Bombay. Somrita has been published in Asymptote, Words Without Borders, In Other Words, and Trinity College Dublin’s Journal of Literary Translation, University of British Columbia’s Prism Magazine, among others. She has fourteen academic publications to her credit, and is a recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund Award (2013) and the Sarojini Dutta Memorial Prize (2011). Her work has been acknowledged with the WE Glowing Diamond accolade from WE Literary Community in ’20. Somrita is one of the judges for the WE Poetry Awards.
Link to video recordings of some past readings: 1. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLveD8ZdUaPFACwdGTax0QExDL4A1Yq9i5 2. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLveD8ZdUaPFCQet8HIwN3w9wPfUfWzjj8 3. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLveD8ZdUaPFBpF_pzuZsW9U80O4JFngyG 4. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLveD8ZdUaPFBR53Ef_wyuCiEfY6cVeOPf
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