Insights on Poetry Writing by Byanjana Thapa
Byanjana Thapa, a writer and biologist working as a healthcare business analyst, conversed with Parikrama Students’ Family, sharing with us her relationship with poetry, her motivations, and a few pointers for poetry-writing.
For centuries poetry has played a key role as a medium of communication, an art form that allows us to express ourselves and appreciate the world around us. As beautiful as poetic oeuvres are to read, if you haven’t been struck by a bolt of inspiration, you would just be staring at a blank page for hours not knowing what to write. With the deadline for KARYAKRAMA 2020 right around the corner, many closet poets and even experienced ones could be in search of this inspiration, or possibly stuck in the middle of creating their poetic concoctions. This situation could be very stressful and daunting, to say the least.
To help out, Parikrama Students’ Family approached a young and acclaimed millennial poet Byanjana Thapa, who talks to us about her connection with poetry, her inspirations, and also shares a few helpful tips on poetry writing. Thapa is a writer and biologist currently working as a healthcare business analyst, and is widely known for her exemplary knack for English poetry and prose writing. Some of her popular literary works include “To Drown” and “To Ebba, soul and body” in La.Lit Literary Magazine, “Tuesday Night Tango” in These Fine Lines: Poems of Restraint and Abandon, and “Chamomile” in House of Snow: An Anthology of the Greatest Writing About Nepal. She also helps run Sangini Bhet: a community aimed at creating confidential and compassionate conversation spaces for Nepali identifying, female-identifying individuals, where they can share their narratives, reflect on specific social issues and publish Nepali feminist perspectives on issues that matter.
1. When did you start writing poetry? What inspired you to write poems?
I began writing poetry when I was around ten or eleven years old. My father was a diplomat, so we moved countries a lot. We moved to Switzerland when I was ten. It was a huge change for me, not only because the culture and language were so different, but also because I faced the daunting task of making new friends with those barriers. As it was often hard to relate to the people around me, I spent a lot of time in my room reading and writing. I was a gregarious child, but also lived in my head a lot, and had a very fertile imagination – I still do. I became very reflective then, and that is when I began writing poems.
2. What impact has poetry had in your life?
Poetry helps me process very specific and acute emotions – it brings me closer to understanding myself better. It has been one of the tools that has helped me shape my identity over the years.
3. How do you find the inspiration for your poems?
Truth be told, I have never sat down with the intention of writing a poem. They come to me fully-formed and at any odd hour of the day or night. I often describe the process as “whelping”. My poems tend to be about very personal or private things – I often write only for myself. The work I choose to share or publish is primarily prose. In fact, I consider myself more a prose writer.
4. In your opinion, what makes a well-written poem?
For me, a well-written poem is primarily two things: honest and accessible. Trying to adhere strictly to rhyme, structure, meter – these things are unimportant, in my opinion, and even a bit boring. Also, the aim should not be to try to sound profound or write something avant-garde in a way that is unrelatable or abstruse. However, I do think it is important to say something fresh and stay away from clichés. The topic can be age-old (love, for example), but the imagery, the perspective, the understandings the poet comes to over the course of the poem – those should be fresh. And because every human being is unique, if we are honest and deeply in touch with ourselves, a fresh perspective is bound to emerge. Write from a place of honesty and authenticity. Also, while poetic license does exist and sometimes rules can be bent (e.g. e e cummings), basic grammar is important!
5. Any message for the participants of KAVYA-KRAMA 2020?
Creative expression, whether it is poetry or prose, art or music, is an opportunity to share your innermost thoughts, emotions and philosophies with other human beings. Naturally, this can be terrifying. It is normal to be afraid or hesitant to put your work out there – you could be afraid of judgment, ridicule, even persecution. Ultimately, the important thing is to take a deep breath and do it anyway, even if you choose to remain anonymous. It does not have to be done in haste. You can wait until the time is right, and you feel comfortable and confident enough. But being a writer or artist means that risk will always be there. It’s helpful to remember that artists are also some of the bravest people out there. What you have to say is important, and you never know who needs to hear your perspective.
The following is an excerpt from one of her pieces, “To Ebba, soul and body”, published in La. Lit Literary Magazine:
“I struggled with the question of death itself. What was death, in fact? As a scientist I am compelled to respond in biological terms, but as a granddaughter? The fact of the matter is this: at one moment she was there and the next moment she was not. One moment, there was breath, there was life force in her body, and in the next, her body was vacant: she had left it. But who was “she”? Who left, or what, exactly?
The idea of “ātmā” is central to Hindu philosophy – an immutable self or soul that transcends the mortal world, exists intact and independent of the vessel that houses it, the “deha”. That is the metaphor of the water droplet on the taro leaf: the waxy leaf houses the droplet, yet being hydrophobic, cannot absorb or alter it. They are symbiotic, yet separate. Touching, yet untouched. The vessel’s decaying does not compromise the integrity of the soul. It escapes its temporary lodging and, with the karma it has accumulated, either finds a “better” or “worse” physical body in the next life. Or, if it has achieved the extraordinary feat of accumulating no karma, it escapes the vicious cycle of rebirth, and becomes one with “brahman”, the universe. It is this thought that allows us to continue existing even after we cease to exist. Even in dying, we never let go of life.”