Five Minutes With is a series of interviews with contemporary poets from India. 

Mani Rao has ten poetry collections including Sing to Me (Recent Work Press), New & Selected Poems (Poetrywala), Echolocation (Math Paper Press) and Ghostmasters (Chameleon). Her books in translation include Bhagavad Gita (Autumn Hill Books; Fingerprint), and Kalidasa for the 21st Century Reader (Aleph). Her latest non-fiction, an anthropology of mantra-experience among tantrics, is Living Mantra— Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience Today (Palgrave Macmillan).

Featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English, Rao has poems and essays in Poetry Magazine, Wasafiri, Meanjin, Iowa Review, Fulcrum, West Coast Line, Omniverse, Mascara, Indian Literature, Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, W.W.Norton’s Language for a New CenturyBloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets and other journals and anthologies. She has held writing residencies at IPSI Canberra (2019), Omi Ledig House (2018) and IWP Iowa (2005, 2009). Mani has an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Religious Studies. You can follow her work here.

Photo of Mani Rao

What prompted your interest in poetry?
I have no recollection, if at all there was a defining moment. If you are a poet, anything can be a prompt. And the prompts do not matter, for they are just levers that raise the bridge of language – between you and the world. I began to write when I was very young, something like 12 or 13 years old, so it’s not easy to pinpoint a reason. I’m sure it was quite ordinary – an introverted temperament, a love for language and its rhythms and revelations and finding out that I could express myself through writing, and that it was my way of being.

What are you reading?
At the moment, it’s all poetry from Australia as I was just at a poetry festival and writing residency in Canberra organized by the International Poetry Studies Institute – Judith Beveridge, Angela Gardener, Joanne Burns, Melinda Smith, Waffle Irongirl, Caren Florance, Dominique Hecq, Anne Elvey, Shane Strange, Paul Hetherington, Tricia Dearborn, Geoff Page.

How do you find inspiration?
From stories, dreams, angst, conversations– it’s just all the intersections of imagination and the world.

Where do you write?
In my mind, and then on scraps of paper, wherever I am.

Why do you write?
I don’t know.

What is your advice for emerging poets?
Read a lot, be informed, think about why you like what you like, and listen to yourself.

What is the role of poets in shaping future?
Every form of life shapes the future. Poets are just as important, and no more.

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