Written in spare language and often using metaphors drawn from both Eastern and Western sources, the poems in The Clarity of Distance by Ayesha Chatterjee pare down the complexity of existence in today’s global world into simple moments of truth.
Born and raised in Kolkata, Chatterjee has lived in England, the USA and Germany, and currently lives in Toronto. She graduated from Smith College, Massachussetts, where one of her most vividly remembered courses was a lyric poetry class taught by Joseph Brodsky. Her work gained notice when one of her poems was shortlisted in the Guardian Unlimited Poetry Workshop in October 2004. Her poems have appeared in nth position, BluSlate and Autumn Sky Poetry. The Clarity of Distance is her first collection.
MyBindi.com's Ashna Singh gets to know Chatterjee as she provides insight on The Clarity of Distance.What inspired you to write this book of poetry?
I knew I wanted to have my poems published and I wrote steadily until I had enough decent poems together to form a collection—and I was extremely fortunate that Bayeux Arts liked them enough to publish them.
Your poetry contains metaphors drawn from both Eastern and Western sources. How has living in Asia, Europe and North America influenced your writing?
The most visible influence is the setting of each poem. My poetry is very visual and so you can see how the German poems have a lot of nature in them, the Toronto poems are much more urban and the ones about India are clearly Asian. On the other hand, although my literary influences have all been Western, I express myself best by drawing from everything I know, from wherever I’ve lived. Living in Germany for so long gave me a kind of freedom to write without automatically using every day English terms and phrases. Sometimes I felt as though I had to work a little harder at keeping the language of the poems “pure”, and yet I could be more creative in how I formulated my thoughts.
What was your objective behind including “a soft thread of violence” in this collection?
It’s like life, I think. There’s always a little bit of danger lurking somewhere around the corner.
Describe one of your most memorable poems from the collection.
The poem that took the most courage for me to write is “The Last Generation”. And here also, voice, language, identity and, yes, distance plays a role.
Why is it important for you to get your readers to view the world ‘differently’? And, what do you mean by ‘differently’?
All art forms at their best have the ability to change people in some way. My favourite poems and poets have done that for me all my life; woken me up to new possibilities, cleared away cobwebs…made me think. I’d like more than anything for my poetry to do the same for others. How, is up to them.
Have you ever considered publishing works in the narrative form? Why or why not?
I actually have written a novel. It took me six years to write and it’s since been gathering dust in a drawer, which is where it belongs! I found it very hard to write and realized somewhere along the line that the reason it was taking me so long to finish it, was that I was approaching it as if it were poetry. I’m no good with dialogue or plot, I’m afraid. I’m much more comfortable writing poetry; I have better instinct for it.
Who are your favourite authors/poets? What book/poem do you read time and time again?
Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson and Salman Rushdie. I read Dickinson’s poems over and over and never get tired of them. And reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie is a winter ritual for me.