Interview: Cipun Mishra elucidates the art of heartbreak
Updated: Jul 9, 2022
How did you start as a poet, Cipun?
Growing up in an NTPC township was challenging in a small nondescript town like Talcher. We had no connection with the outside world, no libraries, or bookshops, and since these are the early 2000s, no internet, either. I never had many friends, so I latched on to Bollywood movies and songs. In a world of songs.pk, I would often cycle back and forth from school humming Bollywood songs. And whenever I'd forget lyrics, I would make my own. I started writing them down. That is how I got the bug, one could say.
But, if I am to tell you exactly when I started as a poet, I wouldn't be able to really point to a year or a date. Poetry has always been there in measures, small or large.
How has your childhood shaped your art?
To a considerable extent. Most of my writing revolves around nostalgia and the stark contrast between how rapidly the world had changed from when we were kids to how it is today. At the core of our writing is our understanding of what comforts us, where we think we are at peace. And from there, we work toward chaos. That becomes our literary signature, I believe.
I remember so many distinct memories from childhood, and so many years feel like a blur. My mind runs back to me cycling in NTPC township, humming songs every time I write. Nostalgia, as you can tell, is a crucial ingredient in how I approach my writing.
"At the core of our writing is our understanding of what comforts us, where we think we are at peace. And from there, we work toward chaos. That becomes our literary signature, I believe."
So what kind of research do you undertake before writing?
Most of my poetry is deeply personal. It's an escape for me, mostly. I read many anthologies, listen to many podcasts, and often spend my mornings watching Edwin Bodney or Phil Kaye perform on YouTube. I believe this gives my writing inspiration, a certain angle of approach. But, about researching the subject matter, I try to be as honest as possible with what I am writing and hope it resonates.
How do you formulate poetry on paper? What are the stages of a good poem?
The purpose of a good poem, I believe, is to tell a story readers can visually experience. There is no magical recipe or formulae to writing poetry or to make one better; it mostly boils down to what you want to share with your audience and how personally invested are you in telling it. My approach is to establish a connection with my readers. I set the context for them through visual and comparative aids, employing metaphors and personification such that the poem feels alive, personal, and as much the reader's story as mine. Every poem I write goes through the stages of being an idea in my mind from where it goes on to gather comparisons.
"There is no magical recipe or formulae to writing poetry or to make one better, it mostly boils down to what you want to share with your audience and how personally invested are you in telling it."
Walk us through your editing process.
I primarily write on my typewriter, so it eliminates the scope of editing a lot. I often busk in front of busy bookshops in Bangalore. There I have conversations with strangers and write poetry for them on the go. Busking often becomes really formulaic, you know. It is excellent field practice, though, and helps me get in touch with potential readers. It also lends brilliant perspectives.
For the significant part, I write with the flow - I try to fix the shape I give my poem in my head as I type. If it works, great; if it does not, rinse-repeat. Also, most of the editing happens to take away the inhibitions I subconsciously had while writing - things you want to say but are not sure if you should - so I edit till it is honest enough that it deserves a mouthpiece.
Can you write affecting poetry while being content or happy?
It becomes difficult, indeed. It is almost as if our writing is our mind's white-blood-cell response to inadequacies which is why writing becomes so much easier when there's trauma guiding it when there is suffering/sadness at its core. But, I have come to write poetry even when I am content or happy - just that the impact is never at par. It never clicks; it feels incomplete - it feels unnatural. Maybe, a lot of it has to do with the conditioning we have received - most poems we read are either empowering or nostalgic or sad.
"But, I have come to write poetry even when I am content or happy - just that the impact is never at par. It never clicks; it feels incomplete - it feels unnatural."
Does grief become a habit as you keep writing over the years?
This has to be the best question I have been asked lately. As unfortunate and unhealthy as it is, it does. You crave grief because you feel your touch with your writing is dwindling - you manufacture misery, you sabotage good things in your life because nothing satiates like the gratification you get from writing a poem you can be proud of, a poem people applaud. You romanticize agony because it 'makes your writing flow'. But, for the past many years, I have been consciously making efforts to move away from that toxic rut and write about things that make me happy, about hope, about love. It does not come as naturally to me, it never feels as effortless, but it is a start.
"You romanticize agony because it 'makes your writing flow'"
Who are the poets you love reading?
Agha Shahid Ali. Shahid's writing is unabashed and brave in the face of loss and sorrow. It inspires and yet, makes you shiver to imagine the anguish writing those immortal lines would have put him through. Jayanta Mahapatra is my other favourite as he has found that balance between writing poetry that arises from feeling content and yet is poignant in more ways than one. I also really love Rudy Francisco, Andrea Gibson, and Megha Rao's writing - it is familiar to the style of writing I have come to identify as mine.
You can read more of Cipun's poetry on his Instagram.