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Soibam Haripriya

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

Soibam Haripriya is a poet whose work has appeared in the bi-monthly journal of Sahitya Akademi –Indian Literature (2019). Recent anthologies where her poems are featured include –A Map Called Home (2018), Centrepiece (2017) and 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry (2016).  Her poems have been included in Muse India (May-June 2019) and Poetry at Sangam (July 2019). She is presently a postdoctoral fellow at Department of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University. She was a Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Shimla. She previously taught at the Centre for Sociology and Social Anthropology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati).

Photo of Soibam Haripriya

What prompted your interest in poetry?
This is a rather difficult question to answer. I am, of course, very lucky to have grown up seeing my uncle who was a writer and translator in his everyday routine of reading and writing, his discussion with his students (He also taught in Manipur University, in the Manipuri Department). We didn’t have much growing up, but we grew up in proximity with his personal library which I didn’t think of much then but in retrospect I recognize that as formative. My gender and the context of violence is also crucial. I do not think I would have written poetry in the manner that I do if I were a man living in another context. My generation and those after had not experienced peace to compare it to ‘the good old days’ as our parents’ generation had. Poetry is an escape as well as an engagement with that context.

What are you reading?
I just finished reading Milkman and am struck by her craft of writing about violence – I could relate to the hyper-surveillance, the network of rumour, the machismo through which young men (try to) regain lost ground; simply the ways in which conflict is lived. Unfortunately, I am not surrounded by my books because I am here (in Ghent) for a semester. That gives me a writing block. I carry and read a book by a Meitei poet/writer, everywhere I travel, as a conscious decision.  This time it is a book Phiral amasoong Uuful (Flag and Dust) by Dilip Mayengbam. It is quite apt title for what my hometown is going through. I read Granta regularly, I am currently re-reading its issue on Death.

How do you find inspiration? 
Reading. My primary inspiration is reading. I find teaching and the exchange of ideas an important part of what contributes to my writing.

Where do you write?
Sometimes while drifting off to sleep a line comes to me and I think I have to write it down (but I don’t) and by morning I have forgotten the lines. Because it is lost, I would like to think of it as a brilliant line. Now I usually keep a pencil and a notepad, so I now know the lines are not as good as I thought they were. I need to get used to a place to write. Unfortunately, I have been moving so often in the past 2 years. I fluctuate between trying to find a place to sit and write and those poems that comes to me in its own time.

Why do you write?
I write because there is no other way!

What is your advice for emerging poets?
Our metaphors and imagination are already colonized in a way. I still am struggling and unlearning. Certainly, I am in no position to give advice but my own decision to read a book by a writer/poet in Meiteilon every few months is part of that un-learning and might be useful of others as well.

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?
The literary magazine seems to be what all of us interested in the business of writing have done unsuccessfully in our youth. We too had a collective Burning Voices/ Howling Poets and maybe it is sheer optimism that I am part of another group Yendai. It is easier now as with Yendai we have an online magazine. With Burning Voices we printed and photocopied a journal that we for some reason called Our Private Literature. The template though is similar – We continue to engage with the everyday, living from one crisis to another in an attempt to better understand it.

I do not want to put this grand duty of shaping the future on poetry and poets. It has been close to centres of power. It is how one decides to use this medium that becomes crucial. An engagement with the present is how we shape the future.

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