Interview with Megha Rao

Credits: Shivaji Stormsen

Megha Rao is a performance poet and surrealist artist from Kerala. Megha’s work has been featured on platforms such as Penguin Random House India, Firstpost, The Open Road Review, New Asian Writing, The Alipore Post, Spoken Fest, Why Indian Men Rape and Thought Catalog, and trended at #1 on Spotify podcasts in India. Megha has also been interviewed by leading newspapers such as The Hindu, New Indian Express, Business Standard among some notable others. Megha is a postgraduate in English Literature from the University of Nottingham, UK, and when she’s not writing, she’s either facilitating workshops for young poets or working on her upcoming poetry collection, Teething (HarperCollins India).

How would you describe your relationship with literature? Was it a tryst or did it take a particular event for you to know that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was six, but up until high school, I only saw it as a hobby. And then one day I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had a bunch of brilliant ideas I liked but didn’t love. I’d walk around saying I wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot or something, and then one day at a social event, my father’s friend said something along the lines of, oh, I know what you’ll be, you’ll be a writer. Obviously. I couldn’t believe I’d never considered it before, I think I adored art so much I never thought beyond creating it. But suddenly, the prospect of choosing it for college felt very real. Suddenly, I just knew.

We’ve noticed that a lot of your poems are anecdotal and deeply personal in nature, how was it navigating your own identity through poetry?

Music has been a constant, powerful influence in my life, and I love the poetry in lyrics. I love simple writing, so anything that sounded beautiful and relatable was immortal to me. I didn’t come across poetry I enjoyed until college when I was introduced to Sylvia Plath and Yehuda Amichai, and Arthur Rimbaud. Most of my influences write with a brutally honest voice, and that’s exactly why I gravitated towards them. For me, art is about being raw and cut open.. It’s about spilling. I believe all art is in some way, confessional. I remember starting out as a naive, clueless child, and then transitioning into a powerful, indestructible force – writing has been my vehicle of metamorphosis. I’ve discovered things about myself through it. Every time I write, it’s like marking a new entry in a diary, and in a way, it’s a record, an analysis of a past event. I’m reclaiming my narrative through it, and that’s intensely empowering. The sheer amount of personal growth that poetry offers is astounding, and I’m in awe of it, to say the least.

How would you describe the relationship between your writing and that of your culture? Our theme for this issue is “Homeland” and we’re curious about how your own remnants of home and culture shaped your writing?

It’s scattered, yet fiercely loyal. I’ve drifted a lot ever since I was a child, and there are many cities and countries I’ve almost called home. When we settled in Kerala after my fifth grade, there was a lot of adjusting, a lot of cultural shocks. Time has been kind towards my relationship with my people and my culture. I’m from a place that’s ferociously communist in its ideology. In my state, my people are extremely political, believe they can create change, and wake up early to go vote. We are simple and empowered. When I’m home, I’m usually accompanying my mother to the coconut oil mill or helping my father pull out the edible parts of ripe jackfruit when I’m not taking work calls. There are so many amazing artists here. The singers are extraordinary. My upcoming poetry collection with Harper Collins titled ‘Teething’ has a Kathakali artist in it, is sprinkled with Malayalam words, is rooted in my culture. I secretly write Malayalam poems and it feels so liberating. My experiences from my roots are an integral part of my work, and I’m proud of that.

In a larger context, is poetry a medium to romanticize life? To maybe pick up fragments of trauma and create something beautiful out of it?

There’s a difference between romanticizing life and romanticizing trauma, I believe. The first one makes you look at life from such a beautiful lens, makes you love and live it to the fullest. The latter is a dangerous affair. For me, trauma isn’t beautiful. Pain isn’t beautiful. People who fight their trauma like warriors, people who despite falling show up in front of life willing to be a part of it – their courage, their determination, their resilience, their zest – that’s beautiful. That’s what I want to make art on, that’s what I want to tell the world about. After all that life’s put me through (and I’m hyper-aware that though I’m only twenty-five, I’ve just spoken like an old woman), I still hunger for it. I salivate over new experiences, over blue skies and freshwater lakes. I crave new connections, but also the gentle comfort in solitude. I want it all. I think life is romantic, I want to romance life, I want to be a part of it all. It’s truly as simple and complex as that.

Don’t complicate it, use words people understand. Remember they’re listening to you, they’re not reading you

Credits: Namrata Khera

We love that a lot of your writings are from a feminist lens, who are some female artists that inspire you?

I am hopelessly, desperately, obsessively in love with Frida Kahlo. I love her letters, I love her undaunted passion. Audre Lorde is my idol. I took up her collection, The Black Unicorn, for my university dissertation. Anna Akhmatova is just as precious, and so is Margaret Atwood. And did I mention Plath? Yes, I guess I did. How about Kamala Das? She’s from home. And even Sugathaku- Mari is rather lovely. They’re my favorite artists, but they’re also my muses. Does that make sense?

How was the transition for you to go from the written form of poetry to the long-spoken form? Are there any tips you would like to give?

Initially, terrible. I’d memorize my page poems and go up on stage. And you know, written poems are read well, but with performance, it’s different. Spoken word poetry is all about the senses, all about auditory details and even body language. There’s a focus on repetition, and when I create spoken word poetry, I turn to the goddess of rhymes. Word-play helps. Don’t complicate it, use words people understand. Remem- ber they’re listening to you, they’re not reading you – they’re not going to sit there analyzing your work. They’re not going to hang onto every word, so time your punch lines, fit your pauses where you truly need them, and enunciate. Get ready to get emotional, you’re exposing the vulnerabilities of your heart. Go rage and grieve and be swept up in a maelstrom of euphoria on stage. Not that I knew any of this at first. I remember being super lame. I also remember growing, adapting, and learning fast, I remember loving the process through it all. It’s been a thrilling, chaotic, and absolutely gorgeous journey. And I know I did right by my art. Always.

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