Confession time: I have never really been a poet. I took poetry classes in school because it was a part of my requirements for my major, but I never really felt I could write a good poem to save my life. I was always a novelist, dedicated to my long form and my epic storytelling (ironic now, as I’m publishing almost entirely short stories). I didn’t even read a lot of poetry back then, but I do remember a few poems fondly from my childhood that really inspired me, like “The Spider and the Fly” and “Annabel Lee.” Maybe it’s because I find it so difficult is why I have a great respect for poets who can put together a poem that resonates with an uncultured poetry swine like me. Poetry’s a hard sell for me. It doesn’t take up many pages, and most of it reminds me of my own poetry, which I think is pretty try-hard and bad. But Ribhu instantly won me over with his poetry submitted for consideration in World Unknown Review Volume III, with a clear voice and vivid images, and, most importantly, they stuck with me long after I’d finished reading them. “Stretching Out, Remembering Names” was easily my favorite, and it’s June’s featured story. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and dive into a simple yet complicated world, told succinctly and beautifully. And then come on back and read the following, an interview with the poet Ribhu, who I’ve had the honor and pleasure of getting to know. Hopefully, we’ll be getting to know him through is poetry a lot more in the coming years as well.
L.S.: Let’s start simply: Who is Ribhu?
R: Well, this always comes as a difficult one. I am currently pursuing a graduate degree from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. I am 21 years old. I write and edit for a living. I enjoy poetry and long walks, but my taste in things vary when I change places. When I am at home, I enjoy riding my bike, finding comfortable and quiet places (my farm among other places) to sit and light a cigarette, trying to feel good about myself. Besides, I enjoy cooking, but my area of expertise is limited to Indian dishes and a bit of popular Chinese dishes. Over time, I have grown to mindfully enjoy the company of close friends, pets, ice cream, and trips to home. I like abstractness in art and life.
I have mentioned so many ‘I’s in the last paragraph, but discovering and rejuvenating the ‘I’ is a constant journey which I have learnt to enjoy.
I remember when I accepted “Stretching Out, Remembering Names” for the World Unknown Review, you said it was your first publication. Have you had any successes since then?
Yes. “Stretching Out, Remembering Names”, to my great joy, was my first publication. After that, I have been published at Scroll, thanks to Rohini Kejriwal.
How did you get into writing poetry?
Oh, I still remember the day I wrote my first poem. I was in seventh grade – no more than thirteen years old. I had a diary which I had found in my uncle’s wardrobe – a thin, old, and blank diary. So I decide to put it to some use and thus ended up writing a poem. It is unfortunate that eight years later – today – I do not have the copy of that diary which had a record of my early poems in English as well as in Hindi – Hindi is my mother tongue.
However, I do remember a few verses from the poem and its title. The poem, which I had decided to call ‘A Cloudy Day’, had these opening verses:
There are clouds in the sky
to the fancy of passers-by,
Oh I wonder it is why,
there are clouds in the sky.
The people are coming out with raincoats;
the children are busy making paper boats
…and thus it went.
I had first read out this poem to a friend while cycling to school the next day, and he had found a couple of spelling mistakes I had made. Things were different then. The internet was not much popular then and learning to write was a practice quite independent of the institution I was studying in, as they mostly focused on the students scoring high grades.
Poetry was self-taught.
I started writing more and got constructive feedback from friends and family, especially my grandfather, who had earlier helped me kick-off my interest in reading by handing to me abridged copy of Oliver Twist.
One of the things that struck me most about your poem was the clear, concise language used, simple, but really evocative of a particular emotion. Do you feel that most of your writing takes on this style, or was this a departure from your usual prose?
My writing has evolved over time. Initially, I would consume myself with rhymes, and most of my lines rhymed, which was delightful to read, but sometimes there was a conflict between the thoughts I would acquire and the desire to put them all in words, I found it difficult in places to put them all down – the emotions in their true form without much decoration, especially.
And then, Charles Bukowski happened. The day I discovered him with my friend, a fellow poet, I was rolling on the floor laughing. I had realised the power of free-form – put them all down, nothing to hide, nothing to decorate – clear, concise words in their native form. After that, it has been a mix between rhymes and free form, and now and then, I experiment with forms like limericks and ballads.
I think it’s important and exciting to experiment – to pick up something new and play around with the language. It’s an adventure. Language is a gift.
Another thing that really resonated with me was how familiar that sense of listlessness and longing was, even though the setting of the poem was literally very foreign to me. For me, that’s the crux of a good poem: specific elements built up around a nearly universal idea. It has to have just the right blend of accessibility and uniqueness. To me, that’s a good poem. What would you say are elements essential to a good poem?
I distinctly remember the days of my writing when I had composed numerous poems – this was the same time when I had written “Stretching Out, Remembering Names”. Then, in the later half of last year, I was temporarily out of college, killing time in my apartment which I shared with my wayward friends, paying bills and writing poetry. I had gotten hold of a vintage Olivetti Leterra 22 for around $70 – a beautiful machine – and I was tapping furiously on it – 10 poems a day, if not more.
Then I had found a wonderful critique in my English teacher, to whom I give much of the credit for my art. She moulded my writing, gave me constructive feedback, and kept my juice flowing. If you are reading this, my dear Madam, I take this moment to acknowledge my sincere gratitude for everything you have done for me, even unknowingly. Another thing was my overwhelming affection for a girl, which has seeded many of my poems. These people were the fuel for the fire of art which burnt inside me – initially, it felt terribly hot, but deep inside, I knew that a diamond was being formed. I am glad I had these people around during some of the most creative days of my life to nurture my art.
Coming back to the point: yes, the idea in a poem can be universal. We have seen common themes of love, affection, misery, joy, anger, sadness, and more in poems. The key element if to use pathos with the words to create verses that pick up their scent from your surroundings, observations, and instincts. What comes out, after that phase of individual decoration, is poetry.
Read any good books lately?
I finished Vonnegut’s Mother Night, and I am currently on a collection of short stories by Alice Munroe. Also, I am reading short stories by D.H. Lawrence. My current reading phase is a personal effort to improve my prose. I want to write more and better short stories and not just limit myself to poetry. I like short stories. A short story well-read is a new life well-lived.
What’s one of your favorite poems, and why?
But here’s one that I especially enjoy reading. It’s by e.e. cumming:
Who Knows If The Moon’s
who knows if the moon’s
a baloon,coming out of a keen city
in the sky—filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should
get into it, if they
should take me and take you into their baloon,
we’d go up higher with all the pretty people
than houses and steeples and clouds:
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody’s ever visited,where
in love and flowers pick themselves
I like this poem because it routes towards a subjective interpretation of the ideal world one likes to live in. The poem slowly transcends into romance. The poet is excited, and this excitement yields great poetry. It also brings forward the element of human connection and how it makes us feel wonderful, contrary to our voluntarily isolated lives. Romance keeps things kindled, the warmth of which is important for us to grow and survive – both as an individual and a race.
What’s next for Ribhu?
Graduation, I believe. This is one thing I am actively looking forward to. And then I would like to get a Master’s degree in English Literature and probably teach. Alongside, I will be actively writing and trying to publish my work in different publications. Let’s see! The absurdity, rawness, and nakedness of life fascinate me, and I await with open arms.
Where can we find more of your work?
I post quite a bit of my poems on my personal blog at ribhu.live. It’s a space which I enjoy – a brilliant way to interact with active poetry readers and other poets and writers.
Once again, I’d like to thank Ribhu, not only for contributing to and becoming a part of the World Unknown Family, but also for taking the time to provide such a rich and thoughtful interview. His is a talent I know I’ll be trying to keep a sharp eye on, because I know I’ll be well rewarded for doing so.