Reena Prasad is the editor of THE SIGNIFICANT ANTHOLOGY, which features works of 176 poets and writers across the globe. Here she talks about the incredible book, her life, writing and musings in general. The entire interview is conducted in two parts, in the first part she answers a panel of three esteemed interviewers namely Santosh Bakaya, Binod Bastola Joshi and Paromita Mukherjee Ojha. The second part consists of an interactive Facebook session, which appeared in the group named REJECTED STUFF. Hope you all enjoy this incredibly unique interview!
In conversation with the members of Rejected Stuff
SB: I have seen you wearing an enviable array of hats with incredible aplomb .What is the secret behind it? Is it merely your passion for hats or something else?
RP: What a great compliment from a writer par excellence! The secret is to enjoy the bright sunshine on your head to the extent that people begin to think that the sun is special and try to cover up your shameless enjoyment of it with hats of all kinds.
Seriously, I own no hats and prefer working in the shade. Some people have hats thrust upon them and then to wear it gracefully till it is taken back is the only thing to do. 🙂
SB: You are not the one to rest on your laurels , what is next on your agenda ?
RP: I will be working with the renowned writer Dr. Santosh Bakaya and with Dr. A. V. Koshy on some new projects- perhaps a second anthology and an e-book of essays/short stories. Discussions are underway and we hope to improve upon our past work. There is no time or opportunity to rest when one is in the company of fast and furious prolific writers with a penchant for punctuality and perfection.
SB: I am very fascinated by the name of your blog, Butterflies of time. Why did you settle for this name?
RP: “Let us know the happiness that time brings, not count the years” said Ausonius.
My blog came into existence about 5 years ago. The name is from a poem of the same name. The blog was born at a time when I was going through certain upheavals in my personal life and writing had taken a back seat. I realized that time wouldn’t wait for me if I postponed writing any longer, it doesn’t for anyone- every moment of consequence is like a butterfly with a short life span. You catch it as it passes by and you become a part of it. You let it go, unwatched, unwritten about and it becomes dust within days. The ephemerality of our lives and its moments is what the poem talked about- I liked the name and it stuck. It was my writing alias too for about 4 years.
SB: Did you inherit your writing talent from your parents, and have your kids also inherited it from you?
RP: My maternal grandfather has written a book of Malayalam poems. He passed away long before I was born and I have not seen the book either. My parents are avid readers and I inherited my love for English from my Dad, who is also my first English teacher. I fondly remember Sundays spent with him doing the Telegraph and Hindu crosswords. We still do them when we meet up usually once a year. My sister and brother too are avid readers and are a great source of support for me. My kids are young and absolutely love reading and my daughter (a precocious reader-at 11 she knows every character in the LOTR series, and is a Greek mythology nerd) I believe will someday write but it is ok if they grow up and don’t want to but I secretly hope they will read me someday.
SB: To quote you on THE SIGNIFICANT ANTHOLOGY ,” Opening the mailbox was like opening the clinic door and finding graceful birds, comic bears, erudite foxes, and angry cheetahs waiting in orderly chaos”. What exactly do you mean and how did you go about organizing things?
RP: I was watching a video where dogs of all kinds small and big, mild and ferocious were waiting in a room for their owners to come back from shopping. Some slept, some snapped, some barked and fidgeted and others picked up fights but the moment the door opened they became a sea of wagging tails.
When we put up a call for submission, there were no criteria except that the work sent in should be in English and be the writer’s own favorite or best. From that day till a month later, we had submissions of all kinds from a two- line verse to a mega poem, a play, musings, autobiographical writing, thriller crime stories, emotional overflows onto paper, satire, comic pieces and poems of all styles and sizes. Now this was exactly what we wanted, not a book full of cut to size, fitting into form, tailor-made, thematic stuff but free style, free spirited, original, raw writing coming straight from the poets and writers without passing through any barbed wire fences. We took it all and for editing purposes grouped them into prose, poetry, play and long poem. Every kind of writing is welcome and encouraged in our group Rejected Stuff and rather than look down upon or quell individuality of styles or content, we have tried to healthily promote it and maintain its flavour in TSA. Thus we have people from many nations, native and non-native speakers of English, expressing themselves and enriching the language with subtle yet heady fragrances that come with their own charm.
SB: What, in your opinion is the best part of The Significant Anthology?
RP: The fascinating array of writers in it and their original creations
Kasozi Andrew’s “I will still Write’, Titiksha Singhal’s ‘Sinners’, Suzette Portes with her poem ‘The Victim’, Sonal Agarwal’s ‘Ordeal’, Sandeep Kaul’s ‘The Answer to Diogenes’ , Paul Abuya’s ‘These Poets’, Samantak Bhadra’s ‘We Are All’, Persian Khushi’s poem ‘I Sit Here And Ponder’ Nonhlanhla Vezi’s ‘They Never Gave up’ are examples of poems coming from different areas of strife and born out of anger, sadness or because of the apathy too prevalent in our world. These share space with tender poems like Smitha Bharathan’s ‘My Father, So Dear,’ Gargi’s tribute to her grandmother, Sha-Azam Mohammed’s poem for his best friend, Jayachandran R’s ‘When I go…” and many more.
Andre Roberts’s ‘In The Movement’, Ade Caparas’s ‘In Bliss’, Sarada K’ ‘In Rain ..’Malkeet’s An Elemental Woman’ are all poems of such diverse beauty that I am in awe of them all. To say more is impossible- all of them are in the book because they all deserve to be. There are satirical poems, sweet love songs, post-modern, traditional forms, experimental ones, poems on the sordid, unwashed sheets of life, poems about the sun, sweat, grit, sin, broken hearts, on words, confusions, trees, dandelions, wronged tigers and even about Stuff… the list goes on and on.
The prose section consists of twenty eight pieces of unparalleled, power packed writing and not just short stories. Monsoon Union, Ocean, tire, Healing, Madam Ji, Listen to The Leaves are a few examples that come to mind.
Something for everyone is becoming the tagline for TSA and from reviews coming in, we think that it is very apt too. Not everyone reads the same kind of stuff – this book is just the companion for people who like to savor their reads.
Then of course there is the play on Autism by the maestro Jawaid Danish, translations by Faraz Jamil Kakar and a few others and the Reuel Prize winning epic poem ‘Oh Hark!’ to make TSA a complete experience in itself.
SB: The Significant Anthology is dedicated to different-abledness and peace, hope it proves to be a tremendous success, and may the team of Dr. Ampat Koshy, Michele Baron and you gather more feathers for your caps. All the best.
RP: Thank you.
Binod Bastola Joshi
BBJ: What is writing for you?
RP: Writing is a way of coming to terms with experiences that affect me positively or negatively. When I write I am on platform with a better perspective or view because there is a small space between experiences and putting it into words and in that short period or space, I get to decide the direction I should take. Often it is a means of saying things which otherwise would remain unsaid because I am an introvert and a total recluse except when it comes down to putting something down on paper.
BBJ: Can a poet or an artist be built from training, guidance or reading ? The best way to learn writing/poetry?
RP: I cannot generalize. There must be a spark of madness which one must discover on one’s own and then build upon perhaps.
I took to poetry because it sort of came naturally to me influenced by lots and lots of heavy reading, not poetry but books of all kinds. As a child I must have read an entire library during summer vacations of two months. I even knew where every book in the library was but then it was a small library in the steel township of Rourkela. Reading, I firmly believe, opens one unto new experiences, writing styles, forms and from great writers who have mastered these, one can learn a lot even if it is how not to write. One then knows how an idea can be put across with minimum words. Reading good books is the best way and next best is to write and write till you write away all the frivolous, sentimental, flowery expressions that come naturally while you are learning to write poetry and gradually learn to chip away the stone and come to the image i.e., express oneself with grace and yet in a concise manner.
BBJ: How deeply are you in love with your writing/poetry?
RP: I am not in love with any of my poems or prose pieces. They can always be worked upon and improved. I am in love with the creative process though undoubtedly. I love the way poems and stories begin in the mind, take form, take me in their grip and never let go till at last I write them off and sometimes follow me about and generally make life miserable till I give my full attention to them and hone or chisel them to my satisfaction. This process is a big part of who I am. The TSA is the first book I am totally in love with.
BBJ: Do you compare your writing when you read or see any other fellow poet?
RP: Definitely. I am a learner, always been one and what better way to learn than compare notes. My friends on Facebook who write and even those who do not are my greatest inspiration. We read and compare endlessly through sharing our poetry and it has helped me grow immensely, to recognize weaknesses and to build up on my strengths. Inspiration and encouragement are two lifelines that any writer needs and my fellow poets’ writings are definitely the material for these. I have to thank Dr. Koshy, Dr. Madhumita Ghosh, Dr.Zeenath Ibrahim, Rukhaya. M.K,Dr. Mary Annie, Payal Pasha, Ra Sh , Shyama Edtl, Lopa Banerjee, Elizabeth Kuriakose, Michele Baron, Sudarshana Di, Panjami Anand and many, many more friends. For teaching me about good writing by being exemplary writers themselves and through constructive criticism or giving praise only when it is well deserved and suggesting books to read and improve my craft.
Paromita Mukherjee Ojha
PMO: Did The Significant Anthology finally emerge as you had conceptualized it initially?
RP: As editors of The Significant Anthology editors, Koshy, A.V, Michele Baron and myself are proud of our first collaborative effort. From a group of writers called Rejected Stuff, a group that is a smoldering melting pot of raw talent, this book was conceptualized to channel some of the energy of the group into a landmark anthology which would stand testimony to what a love for writing, poetry and good literature can give rise to when in the hands of people who love art for art’s sake. To that end, the book has shaped out well, the contributors have been patient and enormously supportive of our efforts and very responsive to our frequent online discussions in the group regarding the direction and progress of the book. We have been helped financially, technically and have been greatly fortified by the moral support of not only the 176 contributors but also the other administrators and members of Rejected Stuff. We want to thank Dr. Santosh Bakaya, Sarala Ram Ramal, Aruna Edula, Ananya Chatterjee, Lagna Pany , RS Administrators -Donnis Mathai, Tapti Pal, Elizabeth Kuriakose, Gauri Dixit , Sarada Kuchibotla and Lopa Banerjee for being extremely supportive of the book and for helping us in all possible ways.
PMO: This anthology has been a trendsetter in eschewing materialism and offering contributors a free copy. How did this idea come about?
RP: Dr. Koshy in our discussions during the initial period was apprehensive of the whole set up where a talented writer might have to pay to get his work into a book. He wanted to set off a trend or rather make writers realize that if they have to pay to get their work published, it is better not to publish work at all. A writer worth his salt must not have to face rejection on financial grounds or because he/she does not have his/her content trimmed into respectability or befitting ‘moral’ guidelines. That is killing an artist. In The Significant Anthology, the writers have been free to write their best and to get their work set and framed in a beautiful book and a royalty copy of it given to them. All they had to do was write and e-mail their submission to us. The idea is to respect art and artists and not money. I believe this will set off a positive trend in the days to come, even if only competitively, we are already seeing indications of it. The quality of our book is very high and we believe that the morale of the writers in it and all around us is still higher.
PMO: Going by the tremendous response the anthology has generated, would the readers be fortunate to read a second edition?
RP: Yes, We are discussing it. There is always scope for further improvement though TSA is a superb book and we are proud of every contributor in it and thankful to our publisher, the meticulous George Korah of Morph Books who has taken great care in the editing, printing and packaging process as well as in the delivery of the royalty copies for the contributors in every part of the world. The books are still on their way, though about 90 of them have been safely delivered. The next Reuel Prize, TSA part -2 all will hopefully come when we are satisfied that we have everything in place to do a better job of it.
PMO: How fulfilling personally has this journey as an editor of TSA been?
This is the first book ever to have my name on the cover and that too as an editor, anthologizer, compiler and contributor as poet and critic (introduction writer). Before Dr Koshy. A. V -one of the best writers and critics I know – offered me this opportunity to be a co-editor, I was one of the administrators of his group Rejected Stuff and just one among the thousands of writers on Fb.
I have been lucky to have got hands on experience in making a first draft, putting together a complete manuscript and learning first hand, the thrilling process of how dedication and extremely hard work shapes a whole lot of e-mailed stuff into a world class book of high quality writing. The hours put into it have helped me grow as a poet, as a writer and as an human being able to empathize with different kinds of writing and with people from all over the world. Most humbling experience ever! The beauty of kindness, tolerance and support that I have received from friends and from RS group members has enriched me and made me want to give more. TSA is doing very well but the learning I hope will be forever. For that I am thankful to my mentor, teacher and friend Dr. Koshy.
Interactive Question and Answers from the thread on FB
Sunila Sharma: For starters, I will ask: What makes Reena Prasad, a REENA PRASAD?
Reena Prasad: Sunilji, an ability to bribe people with Masala Dosas. There your question is done.
Sunil Sharma: What makes you exceptional poet as per the critical consensus?
Reena Prasad: I would not term my poetry as exceptional instead I prefer to look at it as a continual learning experience that I happen to enjoy. To answer your question Sunil Sir, if I go by the feedback I get from my poet friends, the things they approve in it i For starters, I will ask: What makes s the use of images coupled with a certain lyrical quality which comes from probably a steady dependence on rhyme during the early stages of my writing. There might be certain elements of its sensuousness that garners it For starters, I will ask: What makes praise but equally appreciated is the homely feel, its Indian-ness, which people closer to home would relate to much more because that is where it comes from and which people not familiar with our land find intriguing.
I try to write good poems but don’t know if trying is enough to be called a ‘poet’ let alone an exceptional one.
Sunila Kamal: My question is till now which has been the best poem close to your heart written by you and what was the muse for it?
Reena Prasad: I have a few favourites. This is the first random one that comes to mind titled ‘Slow Grows The Moss Here”
I find the presence of both lyrical and narrative elements in it interesting. Like the title suggests, it was a poem that grew in me slowly over a period of some months, a poem based on a small town to big city shift – actual and in perspective too.
You can find it here. It was published in an online magazine last year. The link is. http://indianreview.in/slow-grows-moss-reena-prasad/
Lopa Banerjee: My question for you: what inspired you to turn from a poet/writer to an editor/team leader for RS and The Significant Anthology? And where do you envision yourself 5 years from now?
Reena Prasad: Who inspired me is the way I read it Lopa, Dr A.V Koshy did. When he formed RS, there were a few of us fb friends doing fun postings there, me, Ampat Koshy Sir, Zeenath, Madhumita Di,Rukhaya, Payal etc. We joked about the rejections we were getting, made them public and celebrated them too. Before RS, rejections were mostly private agonies and RS inspired me to really see the positive side of these rejections and to continue to work on my writing skills all the while without letting the negativity affect the work in any way because it helps tremendously to know you are not alone in being rejected and also to know that friends will be there to say, hey, shake it off, write a funny poem about it. Being an admin here is a way to give something back to such a great group.
From there to TSA, it has been an unbelievable journey all credit of which rests with Koshy Sir. We would discuss poems and other stuff being posted on RS, by a growing number of members and I remember being astounded by talent, the amazing stuff pouring in daily and it was just a matter of time before it was diverted into The Significant Anthology. Being there in RS and reading almost everything posted there made me familiar with the work of almost all its members and that is how I got lucky being given a chance to be a big part of it and of TSA.
Five years from now, I hope to continue working on my writing, to be a part of good books and to publish my own book too if the time is right. But I am in no hurry-the crucial thing is that I feel confident about the manuscript, of having done the best for my poems before I seek publication. No poem or book is flawless but then there is no point in hurrying for a first book release when one can always revise it a bit more.
Mary Annie AV: How do you manage to write beautifully and stay so too?
Reena Prasad: That isn’t a question as much as it is praise. Thank you!!
I quote “You have to rely on whatever sparks you have inside”
Kuchibhotla Sarada: Say something about your schooling and parenting… Love your matured thoughts which you pen as poems. Admire the way you maintain your composure…
Reena Prasad: Thanks a lot Sarada. Went to a Steel school in Rourkela. I am trained to steel my expressions LOL ! scribbled poetry on every class bench as far back as I can remember smile emoticon Both parents, my bro and sis all are into commerce and accounting, while I tried to squeeze in somewhere between the real world and words and they let me .
THE SIGNIFICANT ANTHOLOGY is co edited by Dr. Koshy A.V and Michele Baron.
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Interview co-ordinated for Incredible Women Of India : Rhiti Bose