Interview with Meghna Prakash

Meghna is a published poet who has been writing as a freelance journalist for various publications such as Swaddle, Indian Express, etc. She is the founder of Poetry Dialogue and an advocate for mental health.

What impetus made you come up with the name “trigger warning”?

I am a survivor. I find a lot of things in my world triggering; things that other people don’t put second thought into. So, I have written these poems from a really personal space of catharsis, of somewhat processing my trauma. That’s why I came up with the name trigger warning.

With this book it’s like you are entering into my world, you are going to see what triggers me, you are going to experience this roller coaster with me. So, that’s basically how the name came about. I am instinctive like that, and when the name happened, it just felt really right, like yes! – this is the book, this is me, I am navigating my journey with mental health through it, and this is my safe space of thoughts. But this book can be triggering for a lot of people because I am graphic in the way I write. So, it is also sort of a warning.

We’ve noticed that you’re a huge advocate for mental health, how do you think it correlates with your writing poetry since re-living certain experiences while transcending them into your art can act like a trigger itself?

Definitely. It can be very, very triggering, but I think people process trauma differently.

I have written a trauma guidebook very recently, with Kirthi Jayakumar of The Gender Security Project, we released it a few days ago. It’s a free guidebook, and it is going to be translated into different languages. So, I have interviewed multiple survivors to know their perspective, and what all triggers them, and to understand how they process trauma.

As for me, I have been writing poetry my whole life – since I was 4-5 years old. So, it comes to me very naturally. Also, at times to process some things, I write them. Then everything starts making sense because I realize how I feel about things. So, for me, it acts like a healing process.

I have also done poetry performances a lot of times, and people have cried, and they have told me that they relate to my experiences, and that means so much to me, because that’s the whole point of art, right? You can talk about difficult subjects, and you can connect with others while doing it.

One of the leaps in the poetry community in recent years has been of instrumentalizing trauma- Do you feel that there was ever a pressure to out your experiences of abuse or to inculcate them in your writings just because they would act like a relatability factor?

Yes! When I was younger, and the performance scheme had just started out, I had noticed that need for inculcating trauma and I did not want to fall into that trap.

For me it’s not about performances; I write for myself. Earlier, I also believed that I had to be sad to write, or I had to be in a bad mental state to write. But I realized that’s not it. You don’t have to be high; you don’t have to be drunk; you don’t even have to be in a bad mental space to create art. That’s a misconception, and that’s definitely not a healthy way to do it. At the end of the day, the more aware you are, the more energy you will have to put into your art and make it better – without having any feelings of self-doubt crush you.

I have also always personally felt that I write because I must write; there’s just no other way, and it makes me really happy. (And, to know that people like what I create means the world to me, but I won’t count on it.) I just want to create because I want to talk about things, because I feel strongly about a certain issue, and I want to create something that matters. I want my audience to engage with me; I want them to question me, or ask me why are your views this way on Kashmir. I want to have that conversation with them, and I think that it’s very important that we can open up for such conversations and debates. That’s what I like doing with my poems. I like inciting people. I like getting reactions out of them, but I don’t write my poems specifically for them.

What are your views on art as a political expression? Especially considering the recent cases of police brutality and minority suppression in both India and the west, do you think poetry as an art form has the power to cause material change?

I think if you go back and look into the history of poetry, it started as spoken word art before it became a written practice – at least in India. A lot of time it is seen as a way to create awareness around issues, we have always been doing that. It’s just that now when we are living in such difficult political times, where censorship of freedom of speech is at an all-time high.

We live in a democracy where poets are arrested for performing political poems. There’s definitely huge suppression right now, and I think this is a very important time for minority voices as well, to speak up. But at the same time, the majority also needs to talk about their issues, and other issues, because they have the advantage here. They should use this privilege to put their point across. It’s really important now, more than ever.

Your book is described to be confessional, personal, and deeply rooted in childhood trauma and abusive relationships. As a poet, how was the journey to find your own unique identity, accept your trauma and create art through those embellishments?

It is very interesting to put together a collection of poems. Through this book, I was also seeing how my trauma journey has been changing over a period of time. I was able to map how it is changing, and how I was processing the same trauma at the start, and compared how the process has changed by the end of the book.

Talking about poetry, I’ll say I live on poetry. Even with Poetry Dialogue, we curate poems for people daily; we create publishing opportunities for people, and I want to see so many people published. I want to see a lot of Indian names in international journals.

How has the journey of coming up with Poetry Dialogue been like?

It was a little scary initially because we didn’t know how to post; we didn’t know how to share people’s works in the right way. It took time to figure all of that out. But once Poetry Dialogue set into motion, it’s been growing since then.

I also did a little festival for everybody to come together. We had a great audience from all around India perform, and it’s been a phenomenal journey.

Language is extremely malleable and when writing about personal trauma, it’s imperative to weave your pieces in a sensitive, more careful manner- what tips would you like to give young poets who might be interested in writing about their own experiences?

I don’t think I want to give people tips for writing about their own experiences, because ultimately everybody has to find their own voice and their own style that works for them. Attheendoftheday, it’s just about being honest, reading a lot of poetry, and above all writing a lot of poetry. Other than that, there’s no magic; there’s nothing beyond that.

Other than this, I think it’s also very important to keep sending your poetry to journals. Like, my goal is 100 rejections a year, and when I get 100 rejections, I also get good acceptances. And, with every rejection I learn, I grow. I get to know that this poem is still a baby, and I need to nurture it more, solidify the particular poem. So, you either need to have a dialogue with yourself, or with a group of editors, because the idea is to work on the poem, and then send it to journals. That’s just how I look at my poetry, and so I don’t want to tell people how to write or how to craft their voice.

Lastly, we would like to know some of your favorite poems or poets who continue to inspire you.

I am currently obsessing about Anna Akhmatova, she’s a Russian revolutionary poet. I am also reading Arundhathi Subramaniam, Kamala Das, Mahmoud Darwish.

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