Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. A. L. Kennedy

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

From the couch with Nilanjana Bose, reflecting on crafting a poem and other fascinating aspects of a writer's life.

Hi friends!
Words are the building blocks of our craft, yet, ironically, the way words are put together is often one of the facets of storytelling we’re most likely to overlook in our mad dash to perfect plot and character, dialogue and POV, and yes, to finish that novel/poetry collection/short story collection etc? But then comes a book, a luscious book such as Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany. You are reminded of the importance of beautiful words singing together within the harmony of perfect sentences.

Mayes sketches her life in Italy with elegiac prose that makes us feel as if we've stepped inside a poem. You can close your eyes and savour the bliss of such phrases as “The ripe peach colors of the house rhyme with yellow, rose, and apricot flowers.”

It also kind of makes you want to throw up your hands in defeat, thinking that there's absolutely no way my prose is ever going to trickle off my pen in such beautiful patterns. 

But walking amongst us are real-life poets, poets of the 21st Century. I've met some in the blogging world and I treasure them as personally I believe poetry writing is the most difficult type of writing. 

Today, reclining on the couch, is one such elegant poet, Nilanjana Bose, whose poetry seems to flow effortlessly. Perhaps she will share some secrets with us today.

Take it away, Nilanjana!

A vivid childhood memory is…
The drive back from school.  At a place called Bauchi in Nigeria.  A lot of negative news from there lately, but back then it was paradise on a platter.  The road at one point used to run straight to the horizon, and there was a little hillock at the end of it.  Very scenic. It gave me a thrill on the drive back every single day, I used to wait for it to come into view.

My most treasured possession is …
Impossible to answer! Obviously I treasure too many, must cut the clutter.

The word that best describes me is …
Amazed, most of the time.  And gobsmacked when not.  Clueless is also a good fit.

My favourite smell is…
Baby hair, preferably attached to head, and preferably of own baby. Coffee. Petrichor. In that order.

Ha! Coffee! Wish we could share a cup together! Now what song gives you goosebumps?
Hallelujah. Imagine. Blowing in the Wind. Annie’s Song. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out. Bridge over Troubled Waters.  Where the Streets Have no Name. Mull of Kintyre.  Among many others, Western and Indian. And it’s perfectly possible for me to get goosebumps from instrumentals too – the Chariots of Fire theme, or some of Armik’s stuff, for instance.  I know!  I’ve got weird skin.

I can't believe how many are my favourites too. That Chariots of Fire theme is incredible. Now let's see if we share a favourite movie…
Gone with the Wind. Phew! Finally, an easy one.

I certainly share that love with you Nila. My heart's in Atlanta! Now how about your first job…
A market assessment for typewriters.  Gave away my age with that one, oops.

I began writing when…
I was 8 years old, my Mum still has those poems and she threatens to publish them anytime she wants me to shut up.

Mums can be evil. Tell us about books you loved as a child…
Thinking here more in terms of authors than specific books, really - Enid Blytons, Richmal Crompton’s Williams series, Biggles, a series called the Bobbsey twins, Nancy Drews, Perry Masons, Agatha Christies, du Mauriers, Alistair Macleans and Desmond Bagleys are top of mind still.  I did not start reading English books till I was around 9-10 years.  All my leisure reading was in Bengali initially, English was strictly for textbooks!
Books I couldn’t put down recently…

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan; Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel; The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin; Levels of Life by Julian Barnes; The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee. All very different, but each one very, very good. 

Books that I enjoy are…
A bit hard to define.  I will read anything that holds my interest, and I will read up to 50-60 pages before I decide.  I won’t go out of my way to read sci-fi or spy-thrillers, but if that is what is lying around (big fans of those in my immediate family) and I have nothing else, then I will get my nose in those too. 

Not finishing books scares me. I was reading Peony in Love by Lisa See and the first half didn't grab me, but when I got to the second half of the book, it was, like WOW!! I could have missed this! 

Now I know you're a writer, Nila, so tell us about your latest project…
I have two on-going  – one is a book of short stories, am working on the tenth one there.  Don’t know if that will be final, or there will be others.
The other is a novella – which is kind of first-draft-standing-at-a-crossroads-cooling-its-heels type thingy right now.  It can get shredded and rewritten into a full length novel.  Or it might get shredded into a short.  In the latter case I am going to coolly insert that into the first project ha!
…and I have just put together my first ms of poetry

What is your writing plan?
Get up, grab a coffee, swat a few flies/mosquitoes buzzing around the vacant brain, wait for words to come, wrestle them to the ground/screen if they turn up.  If they don’t, grab another coffee, swat a few more flying bugs...repeat till the poem/flash/story looks like one.
Seriously flawed in the planning department - I just look at prompts and look blank and swing between panic and writing. Push the words out, and then tweak.  Sometimes I have the ending clear in mind, sometimes the beginning, and I join the dots A to B somehow.  Sometimes I have more than an A and B, maybe a C, D, E as well, but that is rare. It holds together for me presumably because I write shorts.  Poetry is of course slightly more unplannable and messy.

Where do you do most of your writing?
On the couch… :)
I don’t have any special room/space where I write, do it anywhere.  There is nothing special about my writing, I just get up in the morning, and if life doesn’t get in the way, sit down and write.

I relax by…
Reading mostly, walking if I have nothing to read.  Getting into some open space or other, listening to water, watching the open skies will also do the trick.

The point of life is…
Never to arrive, and never to return -
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Matsuo Basho

What is your process for crafting a poem? 
The process is a a kind of haphazard ride, hard to pin down exactly.

It can begin with anything, a snatch of song or conversation, an image, a news story (a recent poem Asylum took off at a news item about the Rohingyas), a writing prompt or even reading a book.  Sometimes the 'prompt' gets in the head and sits quietly for ages without you knowing and then one day (or night, or at some most inconvenient time) it just takes flight, buzzing round and round literally like a bat  :-) and you have to open a window and let it out...at other times it is immediate. Whenever it happens, you just have to give in and write, it will give you no peace till you've done that, you can't focus on any other task.  

The first draft of a poem is just sitting and letting the fingers 'bleed' -  the words come in a rush and you put them down as best as you can on the laptop if it's handy, otherwise on any scrap of paper.  It is rough and maybe rhymed, maybe not, you can't force rhymes or any form onto a poem at this stage, you're just trying to put down the flashing pictures in your head before they disappear...then when that is done, you fine tune and shape it - in a way more pleasing to you, retaining the pictures but hitching a different word here and there to make it clearer and sharper.  Some poems feel complete right after this second stage, and you leave them alone if that is so.  Some don't, so you revisit them later and try to find out why they feel a little 'off the mark' and edit further till they do feel right.  There is only so much control you can exercise. It is almost entirely an intuitive process. Something is already there in you almost fully formed, and you are just trying to chip off the extra material.  
More about Nilanjana...

Nilanjana is a parent, writer, poet, blogger and a market research professional.  Born in Kolkata, India, brought up in New Delhi and West Africa, she is widely travelled – her mailing address has changed some 15 times and she is always ready for the next change.  She believes in travelling light, and a sense of humour, along with the passport, is top on her packing list. Dipping into other cultures and countries, whether as an expat resident or as a tourist, refreshes her soul/writing muscles. Her bucket list includes a round-the-world trip and writing an historical novel set in Mughal, India. She speaks English, Bengali and Hindi, and understands more Arabic than she can account for.

Her poems, short stories and travel memoirs have been published in both print and on-line.  Her first book was a collection of short fiction in Bengali called Seemaheen Bidesh (Borderlessly Foreign).  Her work has appeared in print in Ananda Lipi, in multi-author Social Potpourri – An Anthology, and also online in ezines like eFiction India and other forums.  She was a contributing editor to Inner Child magazine with the byline - Passport to Our World – a monthly travel feature which ran to a 24-part series. A multi-author short fiction anthology, published by Harper Collins India, is slated for release later this year.

She is presently working on a book of poetry - The Art and Smarts of Bystanding - which explores themes of love, loss, and the singular sense of homelessness an expatriate life entails. Another WIP is her second collection of short fiction, called The Intricacies of Return, and a novella loosely titled Moonlit Waters set in post-revolution Cairo.

She lives in Bahrain and can be found on-line at Madly-in-Verse.  

Whoa! So you see Nilanjana is a prolific author. If you haven't already, please visit her blog on which she posts poetry and at times prose.

Thank you for visiting my 'From the couch' series and are enjoying learning more about the wonderful bloggers who inhabit the blogosphere. In the future I'll be welcoming Hilary Melton-Butcher and Clem Mackenzie who will pop up after their blogging breaks.

  • Do you know Nilanjana? Have you read her poetry?
  • Do you write poetry? Do you want to write poetry?


  1. I love Nila's poetry! Sometimes, just finding words to describe how they make you feel when you've read them is the hardest part of commenting on her blog. After reading her words, there just aren't any left, she's that good - actually better. Great interview, love learning more about these beautiful, talented individuals! Awesome job, Nila, Denise!

    1. That has to be the nicest compliment I have received in a while Yolanda! Thank you! Poetry isn't everybody's cup of tea. But the ones who like it are passionate about it...both writers and readers, no half measures possible :)

  2. I do not know Nilanjana, but when we get back home I’ll go and read her words. This was a great interview – it really gave a feeling for her work and I am in awe of such talent. I wrote poetry when I was little, in French, but would never try to write any in English, or in any other language. I love words and admire writers who can achieve so much by placing all those words in an infinite variety of sentences to create unique works that can inspire us, bring us joy or make us cry – words have such power.

    1. Hello Vagabonde, I agree that words have great power. And it's interesting what you mention about writing poetry in a particular language, in your case, French. I am bi-lingual, but have never written poetry seriously in my native tongue, just doesn't work out, that's my 'prose/fiction' language. In our parts, there is a belief that the goddess of poetry chooses her spokespeople :) and obviously she chooses the language as well!

  3. Thank you, Denise for that fun and amazing session on the couch! Took me to places I haven't consciously noticed :)

    1. My pleasure Nila! I enjoyed interviewing you! :-)

  4. Hi Nila & Denise.
    Nila's poetry is amazing. It hits the spot... bullseye!
    Confession: poetry is my first love... but has since been ousted by flash fiction. *sigh*
    Though I HAVE been quite busy with haiku writing. It's a challenge but I'm enjoying it.
    Great interview ladies!

    1. Thanks Michelle. I wish I were a poet! :-)

    2. Thanks Michelle. Form poetry is really challenging, and Eastern forms are deadly :-) Kudos to you on the haikus!

      Denise, if I had a choice, I'd choose to just read poetry and limit the writing to prose :)

  5. Yes, I know her! Amazing writer and poet. She knows how to string words together in a lyrical way.
    I learned to type on a typewriter. Just gave away my age as well...

    1. You know, I never did manage to learn to type correctly...still don't know how... :)

      Pleased and privileged to be known among this group of talented writers and blogger friends...thank you!

  6. Hi Nila and Denise ... I'm not hammocking out! Sea fog's just come in and rolled away ... still bitterly cold (relative!). But am here occasionally ... my guilt is still with me Denise - no doubt I'll throw it off soon ...

    Nila was so kind ... out of the blue came Muriel Maufroy's "Rumi's Daughter" in the best selling tradition of The Alchemist ... Kimya's story ... a poetic gift of creative imagination .... I think I'm going to be appreciating poetry a lot more after I've read this - delighted Nila ... and Denise if you haven't read it ... perhaps one for you too - and then a review?

    Fascinating to read a brief bio ... and how you speak the three languages, and yes I bet you understand more Arabic than you suspect you do ... but how your goddess selected English as your poetic language ... she must have known you'd connect with this amazing group of bloggers. We are very lucky ... as we get educated, and offered wise words from our friends on line ...

    I need educating in my only and native language ... here's to more learning ... and lovely answers from Denise's couch ... I do feel I know you a little more ... take care - I must to my cave return ... cheers to you both - Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary, and I completely agree with you on that bit about life choosing for us the paths we are likely to do best at.... Indeed I have been very lucky in my friends, online and off it too :)

      So glad you like the book. I don't have access to books that I might want off-the-shelf here, Bahrain is tiny, but I was looking for another before Rumi's Daughter. I am sure you'd like that too - Samarkand by Amin Maalouf, that has Omar Khayyam in the plot line :) good for holiday reading combining history and fun.

      Hope the weather turns and you can get to the hammocking soon :-)

  7. Never knowing how the poem will form is a fun way to be. Never knew baby hair had a smell, guess that shows I haven't been around babies much lol

    1. I don't know pretty much how anything will form really, but all part of the fun...the best bit about babies is their hair :-)

  8. This is really interesting, and lovely to be introduced to this talented writer.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and nice to meet you here,

  9. What an excellent interview. Sounds like Nilanjana has led a very interesting life that is rich with writing inspiration. Sitting down to write even when the words aren't flowing is so smart. Eventually the words come if you stay long enough.

    1. Agree...if you stare hard enough at that writer's block, then it always blinks first :)

  10. I like the questions! A refreshing way to get inside a writers mind. Poets... I've always been a bit envious. I'll have to check out Nilanjana's work.

    1. I enjoyed the questions too, Denise's questions and couch are both way cool!

  11. I love poetry and poets! It's been forever since I've flexed my writerly muscles that way. Of course, there are some readers who don't like poetry and prefer to read stripped down prose. Guess it's all about audience.

    1. The audience for poetry is possibly narrower than fiction, but it is quite a passionate audience. Thankfully :)

  12. Amazed, gobsmacked, and clueless are perfect words to describe a good poet. :) Good luck with your book of short stories and your novella, Nilanjana!

    Another great interview, Denise. Keep it up! :)

    1. Thank you Chrys! I am wondering now if disaster-prone is also good for poetry :P

  13. Denise, thanks so much for the intro to Nilanjana and her work. Thanks also for stopping by my blog for Alex's post. It's great to meet you. Enjoy the rest of the week!

  14. Prose and poetry certainly are lovely. She lives in Bahrain! She's almost my neighbor! Great interview, and have a wonderful day! :)

  15. Awesome interview! I agree with every single one of your songs!!
    Had to look up petrichor - but I like that smell too :)

    1. Does sound fancier than first wet mud doesn't it? :) Probably like it more now because it rarely happens where I live. Happy to know that I am not alone in finding it difficult picking favourites

  16. I am always happy to see Nilanjana's name in my list of commenters. She is sensitive, sweet, and intelligent ... best combo for a poet, right. Hemingway said the best novels were poetry in prose. :-) Nilanjana's words prove that.

    1. Wow, thank you Roland! Speechless just seeing my name in the same paragraph as the maestro...

  17. Hey Nila; I know you :) And I've read little bits of your poetry. I don't read it much, and never write it, but I've found your poetry quite pretty. I don't always understand all the symbolism.

    Loved your writing plan - just sit and write when possible. Mirrors mine :) I'll read almost anything too, which is why there are so many free books on my kindle. I enjoyed reading your answers Nila.

    Hi Denise *waves* Enjoy your beautiful weather while it lasts.

    1. Yes I'm enjoying the sun, surf, coffee, family and writing! Thanks Donna!

    2. Hey Donna, I know plenty of people who don't write poetry and don't read it either, all of them great writers and/or great people/friends :)

      Glad you enjoyed the answers...thanks.

      Denise, that sounds wonderful! the sun's pretty much un-enjoyable right now where I am at :) but coffee and writing are always there to see me through

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  19. Wonderful interview, Denise and Nila! I read poetry. The right words, their rhythm, the way they fit together are important to me as a writer, but I’ve never been brave enough to try my hand at penning verse.

    Like Jemi, I had to look up petrichor. It’s one of my favorite scents as well—probably true for many of us who come from warm climates with long, hot summers. How wonderful it has a name!

    Best of luck with both your book of poetry and novella, Nila!

    VR Barkowski

    1. My own view is that there is poetry in pretty much everything if you stare at it long/deep enough, not much courage required. But of course everyone has their own preference of how they wish to write/read it out.

      I don't just like that scent, I like the sound of that word itself too, rather poetry-friendly :) Must remember to use it somewhere in a poem!

      Thanks a bunch for your wishes.

  20. Great interview! I love those smells too. I used to write poetry often, but fell out of the habit. It's hard to pick it back up, but such a wonderful craft to practice!


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