News and Interviews

"When One Is Always Looking out for a Poem, the World Begins to Speak" Mohineet Kaur Boparai on the Craft and Mysticism of Poetry


Mohineet Kaur Boparai's newest collection of poetry, Polychromasia (Mawenzi House), tackles the many different shades and frequencies of life, both in India and abroad. Issues of love, caste, patriarchy and even art itself are explored and analyzed through the lens of human experience, taking the reader on a challenging but ultimately rewarding journey.

We are thrilled to have Mohineet here today to talk about her favourite poetry both past and present, the best and worst parts about being a poet, and why she feels this calling was her destiny.





Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Mohineet Kaur Boparai:

Poetry did not begin from any one experience or even several experiences. To me it is a sacred happening, something that unfolded mystically, into my life, something like destiny. When I say, sacred, I intend to connote poetry as being initiated by the will of some higher power. Experiences can initiate poems but poetry is shrouded in mysterious beginnings.

How I became a poet, when, where, with whom and why, I do not know. But I know that it is an integral part of who I am and it must be related to my role on this planet. I have parts of me that have not evolved, parts of me that were there from the beginning. For instance, I have an uncanny ability to misunderstand, ever since I can remember myself. This misunderstanding of situations, misplacing things, misjudging people, and being mislead in understanding the world, altogether is an integral part of being a poet. This makes me a poet, because all the misses go into initiating a never ending sequence of thinking and rethinking about life. I am never sure if I have arrived where I should; that keeps me moving. That keeps me writing because writing for me is a way of understanding existence. There have been experiences which led me to writing, but that is not metonymous with poetry. As a child, my parents initiated me into the habit of reading, and that is essential to writing. I could not have been writing without that.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


The first poem that influenced my creative journey was T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It was probably the similes and figures of speech that startled me, and also how Eliot called the poem a “Love Song.” It was nothing akin to a love song. I was twenty then and had read mostly Romantic poetry. Introduction to this poem was my initiation of sorts into Modernity, its beauty and darkness, its mangled metaphor, and its struggles to articulate meaning. Then, I read Georg Trakl, Paul Celan, Sylvia Plath, Wislawa Szymborska, Anne Sexton, and more. Of the Romantic poetry that I had read as an undergrad student, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” most impressed on my mind. It appealed to the unconscious recesses of my psyche. It spoke to my poetic self. Oddly, the history entailing the poem’s creation, dark and mysterious as it is, seemed to enliven my creative side.


What's more important in your opinion: the way a poem opens or the way it ends?


I think both matter. Beginning a poem is easier than ending it, for me. Poems usually begin themselves and birth themselves into existence. Then they get a direction and finally when you conclude them, they have made themselves meaningful and the different strands of the poem get interconnected. The ending is therefore important. The beginning is important since without the initial plunge into the poem, everything that follows seems impossible.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


That would be Amrita Pritam’s “Kaagaz atey Canvas ” translated as “Paper and Canvas.” Amrita Pritam is a world acclaimed Punjabi poet. This is a collection of poems and corresponding sketches by her husband. She came about as a very prominent female voice in post-independence-post-partition Punjabi literature. Her poetry spoke to the woman in me. It bequeathed me to my roots in a very powerful way. Her images resound in the ones I employ in my poetry. Another poetry book that I find myself going back to repeatedly is Wislawa Szymborska’s collected poems. Her poetry awakened me to spaces around me and opened my consciousness. After I had read her poetry my imagination had changed forever. The space between conscious and unconscious filled up with words and everything around acquired, as if, a special place in the world. Everything seemed entwined together in a mysterious way.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


I think being a poet makes one more receptive to the world. When one is always looking out for a poem, the world begins to speak. Your listening for stories opens windows to the world and every time one catches a story, it gives one pleasure. This pleasure is not equated with happiness but reaching an emotional balance.

The worst part about being a poet is that the readership for poetry is very limited. One seems to be writing essentially for a handful of people. Also, the descriptions of what constitutes good poetry are contradictory. What most people would like to read usually is not what I want to write. I try to keep at bay writing that speaks to consciousness, writing that reads like life instructing quotes, but that is the poetry that speaks to the lay reader. Depth in poetry seems unwanted because you have to dwell on it and think. Usually, people do enjoy the metaphor and figures of speech but they read to fill in spaces in their life, to understand it practically; and it is impossible for a good poem to be completely rational.


Mohineet Kaur Boparai has been published widely internationally, in magazines such as Phantom Drift, Zymbol, Lindenwood Review, Pilgrimage, Boschcombe Revolution, South Asian Ensemble and Nether Magazine. She has published two previous volumes of poetry, Poems That Never Were (Writers Workshop, Kolkata 2007), and The Wind in a Seashell (After the Pause Press, USA 2016) and two chapbooks, Windows to the Ocean, and Lives of My Love (MiddleIsland Press, 2012). Zymbol also published an interview with her under the title “India’s Rising Star,” and she has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has been an assistant professor at DAV University, Jalandhar, Punjab. She lives in Brampton, Ontario.