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Green Leaves

Unpacking ‘Lakesong’ with Lakshmi Kanchi

In this interview, we learn more about Lakshmi Kanchi and the stories behind her debut collection, Lakesong.

Centre for Stories first met Lakshmi Kanchi (also known as SoulReserve) when she applied for our Writing Change, Writing Inclusion hot desk fellowship in 2021. Lakshmi’s poetry has been published in Portside Review, Saltbush Review, Across Vast Horizons, Creatrix and more . Her work also appears in Centre for Stories’ anthology Under the Paving Stones, the Beach published in 2022. Lakshmi was the inaugural Poet-in-Residence at the Wetlands Centre Cockburn.

Centre for Stories (CFS): Can you tell us how Lakesong came to be?

Lakshmi Kanchi (LK): It began as a puddle of rainwater, a surface expression of small things became a catchment that burgeoned and grew into the brimming lake of my writing. My poetry. My Lakesong. At the very cellular level, the idea was to investigate the question that has haunted me since I read Wordsworth’s Prelude and has often come to me from other places of deep reflection. Who is this poet split between this world and that? What threads bind me to this world? Am I a part of it? Or am I floating at the cusp of change aspiring to be something else? And Lakesong took shape, became an unequivocal response triggered as much by my being here in this space and time at the edge of a lake, as by being tethered to another place that runs like deepwater through my veins. I heard the echo. I saw the muddy footprints. I read the submerged leaves like tea leaves in a cup. And everything signalled poetry.

Lakesong is more than a collection of poems to me; it is a living being that has been speaking to me for several years for which I have been writing poetry. While some of the poems in the book were written specifically to give voice and agency to the ideas of identity and belonging that I have been carrying and battling with, many of the pieces were written over a longer period and were included in the book based on their thematic coherence.

In terms of direction, I had a vague idea of what I wanted the collection to be about, drawing on my experience of settling in an unfamiliar country and my now fading connections with my home country. However, the editing process with my Mentors and Editors—Miriam Wei Wei Lo, Indrani Perera, Robert Wood, Marise Phillips, and the team at Centre for Stories and Red River Press was invaluable in helping me refine this vision and bring it together as a cohesive whole.

It was Robbie who helped choose the name for the collection, Lakesong. And Miriam’s insights were especially vital in ensuring that the poems complemented each other thematically and “spoke to one another” like they spoke to me.

CFS: Many emotions come up when first learning that your poems are to be published in a book. What was it like when you heard the good news and who did you celebrate with?

LK: It took me a while to accept the news that my poems were going to be published in a book. What! Really?! And I bawled like a child and clung to Roe. But after the emotions had settled down a bit, the first person I called was my mum. She’s always been incredibly supportive of my writing, and I knew that she would be thrilled to hear the news. When the physical copies of the book arrived, I called her again to share the excitement of meeting Lakesong in person and holding her in my hands. It was a special moment for both of us, and I’ll always be grateful for it.

CFS: You mentioned that Lakesong and the poems within have been speaking to you for several years. Poems that we’re sure you revisited, edited, and edited again. What was it like working with your editor and was there anyone else who helped you along the way?

LK: What draws me to poetry is its vast complexity and succinct simplicity; it distils the essence of a feeling and breaches into undiscovered-before territories; it is the question and the answer merged into one reality; it is a palpable fraction of an idea as the idea develops and becomes something absolute. Poetry is everything to a discerning eye.

And for these reasons, working with my editors, Marise Phillips, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, and Indrani Perera to shape Lakesong, was an incredibly revealing and valuable experience. I learnt how to refine my writing, pay attention to every unspeaking detail, and approach my craft with new impetus.

Miriam had a structured approach to editing which included developing a tabular framework and unentangling the sometimes latent voice of each poem. Marise, on the other hand, looked at how poems appeared on the page, critically questioning every line break, space, and punctuation mark. Indrani delved deep into the poems and uncovered meaning and phrasing that sat at their roots. Together the three of them brought fresh perspectives to my work and helped me see my poems in a new way.

The experience taught me the importance of trusting my own voice and instinct as a writer. I learnt the value of taking risks and experimenting with different forms and styles, which helped me push the boundaries of my writing.

CFS: This book sits within a series of poetry collections within the Green Leaves/Red River project in collaboration with Red River Press in Delhi. What is something cool/fun/challenging that has come up due to the physical distance of the publisher being in India?

LK: In the words of Argentinian poet Antonio Porchai, “I know what I have given you, I do not know what you have received.” This defines what was the sometimes complicated and sometimes thoroughly streamlined working relationship with Red River Press. There were several cool/fun/challenging things and perhaps many of these things happened all at once. The physical distance created some unique challenges. It was tricky to coordinate deadlines, overcome time zone differences, and manage version control of files that flew simultaneously from every person on the email chain. Bits got lost in translation and it took some work to ensure that we were all on the same page.

However, there was also a silver lining. The opportunity to work with a publisher over in India allowed me to connect with new and diverse perspectives and broaden my understanding of the literary landscape beyond my own viewpoint. And it accounted for a lot of innovation, such as with the way we communicated using an array of different media from email and WhatsApp to Zoom to complement the process. We uncovered new pathways of how to best bring our strengths to the table while overcoming pitfalls.

One of the most rewarding experiences was participating in the book development process virtually. It was inspiring to hear from Dibya about the nitty-gritty of the printing and publishing process and to share my ideas with a supportive and engaged collaborator. The book’s unique layout and design that has a signature Indian touch is thanks to this beautiful ‘meeting of minds’ approach. Even Roe, my husband and partner, was able to contribute by giving my book a striking cover, all thanks to the open and inclusive way in which the publisher approached this project. Despite the physical distance between us, we were able to come together, build a meaningful connection through our shared passion for poetry and storytelling, and piece together a stunning book in Lakesong that is a true testament to the power of sharing and collaboration.

CFS: Lakesong is your debut collection of poems, kicking off what we expect to be the first of many publications. What has met your expectations and what has been awkward or unexpected?

LK: Releasing a poem into the world, much less a book, is a powerful and humbling experience. It makes you reflect on all your insecurities as a writer. You go over the lines and verses repeatedly in your head lest you dropped a comma, misspelt a word, or wrote something you weren’t meant to. Given that English is NOT your first language, although you’ve spoken the language for all your adult life, you are entitled to some misgivings… you think.

Then one day when the book is in your hands—it stops. The questions stop. The reflections stop. And now you are left feeling at peace having gone through the process and accomplished what seemed like an impossible goal, a big tick on your bucket list kind of a thing. And you are grateful.

I am incredibly proud and grateful. And I have everyone at Centre for Stories, Red River Press, WA Poets Inc., The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, South Freo Writers Group, Creative Writing Hub, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, Indrani Perera, Vivienne Glance, Rashida Murphy, Professor Emeritus Dennis Haskell, Peter Jeffery OAM, Annamaria Weldon, Nandi Chinna, and Natalie Damjanovich Napoleon to thank.   

CFS: Would you like to share a poem from Lakesong with our readers?

LK: I choose to share “The Sacred Place of Lotus.” This poem is of special significance to me, and it reaffirms what I set out to achieve with Lakesong. The poem touches on the theme of eternal love and is inspired by the works of Shri Rabindranath Tagore, an esteemed Indian poet and Nobel Laureate. His poem ‘Unending Love’ touched my heart and sent me down a path of rediscovery, rekindling my love for poems written in the many different and familiar languages of the subcontinent.

‘Unending Love’ enjoys its place amongst the most cherished love poems of the world. It was much loved by the Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn who considered it one of her favourites. There is a clip (on YouTube) of actor Gregory Peck reading this poem as a tribute to her after her passing, and I recommend that you give it a listen. 

Meanwhile, here’s my humble offering.

About Lakshmi Kanchi

Lakshmi Kanchi/SoulReserve is a Western Australian poet of Indian descent. Her poetry explores love and its tumultuousness and fantasy and zest in nature. Her debut collection, Lakesong, was recently published by Centre for Stories. She is the recipient of 2021 Pocketry Prize for Unpublished Poets, and her poems were Highly Commended in Poetry d’Amour and Ros Spencer Poetry Prize at the 2022 Perth Poetry Festival. Lakshmi’s poetry has been featured in Social Alternatives, Portside Review, and Burrow Journal. She is the current Poet-in-Residence at The Wetlands Centre where she is working towards “making poetry accessible to everyone in the wider community”.

Praise for Lakesong

“Warm, accessible, distinctive. This first collection navigates the complex terrain of the migrant journey. Kanchi writes to place herself in both India and Australia. She writes with a curious and observant eye and with great sensitivity towards the natural world. There is a gentle, but heartfelt warning here of the consequences of ecological disaster, whichever part of the globe one calls home.” – Miriam Wei Wei Lo

Purchase a copy of Lakesong from our online shop.

A photograph of a book held the the palm of a person's hand. In the background is a beautiful book shelf. The book cover is an aerial shot of a lake with the title Lakesong in white at the top.

Green Leaves / Red River is an international publication project by Centre for Stories in partnership with Red River Press based in Delhi.

The project supports eight poets from CALD backgrounds to publish a full manuscript of poetry. The project also provides two editorial fellowships to emerging editors from CALD backgrounds. Editorial Fellows work with the writers to develop a manuscript of high literary standard. The collections will be published over two years and sold individually as part of a series.

This project is possible with funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

Photos of Lakshmi taken by Rohit Kanchi.

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