Interview with Sweta Srivastava Vikram
What is a measure of success as a poet?
Walt Whitman said, "To have great poets there must be great audiences too." In conversation with Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, Managing Editor, Cyberwit.net, Sweta Srivastava Vikram tells us about her success as a writer.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Tell us about you and your background.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Well, I am an ordinary human being who feels an extraordinary attachment to words and the art of writing. My life has been a novel in making. Not in any dramatic way, but the sheer journey has been an interesting, humbling ride. I had a nomadic childhood. My parents moved around a lot, so I spent my formative years in three different continents. New cultures, people, cuisine brought fresh perspectives. When I look back, I am grateful for those experiences. They made me empathetic, stronger, wiser, and poetic. See, the mobility strengthened my relationship with words.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What inspires you to write poetry?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Plato said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” Poetry is how I make sense of my world and the universe in general. I can’t really say that there is one force that drives me to write poetry. Sometimes it’s an impressionable moment or an emotional surge that works as the muse while other times it could be a planned assignment. Whatever is the reason, ultimately, I have to feel the poem, and it has to consume me. Though I have to say that the closer I am to nature, the more prolific I feel. It has to do with being able to shut out the outside noise and hear my own voice.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What is a measure of success as a poet?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I can’t speak for the entire poetry community. Every poet has his or her own measurement & evaluation tool. While some might tell you it is the book sales and royalties that are the best determinants of success, others might consider their connections & networks with peers far more important. For me, it’s a combination of several factors. Don’t get me wrong; I am ecstatic when my books sell and rank in the best-selling charts. It’s a fulfilling feeling. Equally satisfying is meeting and interacting with like-minded and inspiring poets. But, to me, it is more important that my poetry touches people’s lives—make a personal connection and urge readers to pause, ponder, and reflect. Evoke an emotion.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Write everyday. Don’t let your failure or success deter you from your path. Acceptances and rejections are a way of life for any writer. Learn from them, but don’t take them personally. Also, don’t be jarred by other people’s success. Anna Jameson, an Irish essayist, succinctly said, “The only competition worthy a wise man is with himself.”
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Which contemporary poets do you personally believe will be remembered in the coming years and why?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Honestly, I feel the poets who will be remembered by the masses, not niche groups only, are those whose work is accessible and/or relatable. Poetry can be intimidating to many but does it really have to be? A reader should never have to second-guess his or her own abilities while reading any poet’s work. Even two centuries later, William Wordworth’s “Daffodils” retains its appeal because of its simplicity.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Are there any aspects of your childhood that you think might have helped in making you the poet you are?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Absolutely. My displaced life offered me opportunities, exposure, and topics to write about. It made me vulnerable and sensitive—qualities key to writing poetry. Since I come from a family of word-dabblers, words were always considered precious in my house. My father is a wonderful poet as was my deceased aunt—Dad’s older sister. Growing up, I saw my dad capture moments and feelings with his poems. Very early on, I learnt to communicate with verses, you could say. That said, I would like to add that every experience throughout our life continues to contribute as to what appears on paper. Poetic growth doesn’t stop at any time of our lives.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your poems are based on your personal experience or other things such as facts?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: I write mostly on socio-cultural issues and gender injustice. Of course I have written personal poems too, and they express the feeling brought about in a particular instant or by an incident. But most of my work, including my poetry collections, lend voice to the world of women overall. They voyage through meticulous research, facts, and combine it with my opinion on the situation. Poetry can also be a strong, rhythmic voice for activism and advocacy. One doesn’t have to be a victim to fight discrimination or raise awareness. I am grateful for the life I have and the people in it who make it beautiful. I feel it’s incumbent upon be to help bring about change in the lives of those less fortunate.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your experience of collaborating with Zimbabwe's MbizoChirasha in "Whispering Woes of Ganges & Zambezi" and Claire Anna Watson in "Not all birds sing"?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Both the collaborative projects were incredible learning experiences. The only thing in common between the two was that I wrote haikus in both the books. Otherwise, they were so different from each other. “Whispering Woes of Ganges & Zambezi” was in collaboration with a poet whose artistic statement was similar to mine. MbizoChirasha writes political poems and strives to create awareness using poetry. “Not All Birds Sing,” which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize was a very different project. Claire Anna Watson is a visual artist. My Haikus were in response to her work. Cross-genre project with Claire helped me feel, see, and interpret poems in a different dimension.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: You have started writing fiction also. Your new novel “Perfectly Untraditional” looks like it is a bestseller. How did you come up with the idea of this book?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Thank you, Karunesh. God, my family & friends, and the readers have been very generous in adopting “Perfectly Untraditional.” I wanted to write a book about common people, every day life, relationships, and every other nugget that makes us perfectly human. Of course, I wanted the story to be something that hadn’t been told before. And that’s what led to the birth of “Perfectly Untraditional.”
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: You are based in US still your books are very popular in India. What is the situation of your books in US?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: So far so good. Some of my books have been on the best-sellers list and also have been nominated for several awards. I am often invited to read and share my work with people.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do Indians have to struggle a lot in US to be a successful writer?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: How many writers, anywhere in the world, do not have to struggle, Karunesh? J I am cynical about the sustainability of anything that comes easily. I am a firm believer in hard work and positive thinking. I believe if you tell yourself that failure isn’t an option and you put in 500% honest effort every day, success can’t be too far from you. Ernest Hemingway joked, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Thank you very much Sweta.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Thank you, Karunesh. It was lovely chatting with you.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com) is an award-winning writer, poet, novelist, author, essayist, educator, and blogger whose musings have translated into four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book of prose and poems (upcoming in 2012), and a book-length collection of poems (upcoming in 2013). Her scribbles have also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across six countries in three continents. Sweta has won two Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, writing fellowships, and was Short-listed for Independent Literary Awards. Sweta has held several artist residencies in Europe and America and worked on collaborative projects with artists from Zimbabwe and Australia. A graduate of Columbia University, she reads her work, teaches creative writing workshops, and gives talks at universities and schools across the globe. Sweta lives in New York City with her husband. You can follow her on Twitter (@ssvik) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta).