On The Table is an interview series with emerging writers from the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship. Here, writers reflect on their Hot Desk experience, the changes to their practice, and the connections they made.
Priya Kahlon is a poet and lover of the way writing can breathe new meaning into life. Born and raised in Perth, Priya is an emerging Indian Australian poet who participated in the 2018 Indian Ocean Mentorship Program with the Centre for Stories, and most recently, the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship.
Since then, she has appeared on a panel as part of the 2019 Perth Writers Festival, appeared at the 2019 Melbourne Digital Writers’ Festival, and her work has been accepted by The Tiger Moth Review and Enchanting Verses Literary Review. Priya’s poetry explores the ideas of identity, our place in the world, purpose of our lives and the use of language to break free from the structure and expectations of modern society.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
When I first started writing, I tried very hard to develop a consistent writing routine, experimenting with writing at the same time each day, for the same amount of time etc. and would get frustrated each time the routine wouldn’t stick. I realised that much of the rest of my life is based on routine and structure—I work as a lawyer in a corporate environment with strict hours, I practice yoga and meditate regularly each requiring discipline and focus—whereas writing is the one area in my life that is fluid and flexible. So now I allow it to be that way. There are certain periods, like during the fellowship, where I am able to dedicate more time to writing and others where I write less but I know that I will always carve out time to write in some way because it is something I enjoy and love to do.
Where did you start at the beginning of the Hot Desk Fellowship? What changed in your work and what did the Fellowship allow you to do?
I was quite curious to see what it would be like to dedicate time solely to writing, as a writer you can sometimes feel like you are doing your writing a disservice if you are not writing full time. Instead, the experience gave me a renewed appreciation for the other aspects of my life and how they enhance, rather than detract from, my writing.
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
The fellowship gave me the time and space to really consider why I write and what I wanted to do with my writing. At the beginning of the fellowship I was quite focused on publication and was submitting to a number of journals throughout the duration of the fellowship. What I found was that I started writing for publication, writing poems to “fit” the themes and prompts of journals, as opposed to writing to explore my own ideas and questions about the world. It was a good reminder to refocus my writing and to consciously think about what I wanted to achieve through my work.
How does the Centre for Stories compare to your workplace, social space, and so on?
Coming to the Centre for Stories is like coming home, you feel like part of the family and everyone who comes through is always so open and generous. It is a really nurturing place to work and Perth is really privileged to have such a unique space.
We ran a series of workshops around reading, editing, and publishing. How did you find these workshops and how will you apply what you learned?
The discussions in the workshops were really beneficial in helping me to look at my writing as a craft, which requires precision and dedication. For me the process of writing is a continual learning journey and I will come back to what I have learnt as my writing evolves.
As part of the Inclusion Matters Project, we took five Hot Desk Fellows to Melbourne for the Digital Writers’ Festival. Can you tell us of your experience?
It was a really humbling experience, it can feel daunting coming from Perth, which has a much smaller writing community compared to our Eastern States cousins, but the festival had a great atmosphere and the audience was very receptive to our work. One of the best parts of the experience was meeting the other writers from Melbourne and witnessing my fellow Hot Desk Fellows perform, some of whom were performing their work for the first time, each performer was unique and generous in sharing their talent.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship. Where will you take your writing?
I am trying to be open with where this writing journey takes me and to not put expectations on myself and my writing. I was quite focused on publication and have had my work accepted into a few journals and anthologies and have had a number of performances. However, the focus for me now is to really develop my writing as a whole and work towards a longer cohesive piece of work.
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
During the fellowship, I was trying to write as much as possible and experimenting with different styles and themes, whilst still maintaining my voice throughout all my poems. The three poems published by the Centre for Stories show that, they explore themes of love, wonderment and our place in the world and are written in different styles. “Love Song” is emotive, rich and vivid; “Heartbeats” is pared back and restrained and “Cloudless Nights” invites the reader to ask a question of the world around them.