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Q&A: Manisha Anjali on poetic practice and composition

A photo of Manisha Anjali.

Manisha Anjali is a writer, editor and teaching artist. Manisha is the founder of Neptune, a research and documentation platform for dreams, visions and hallucinations. She has facilitated workshops and courses on creative writing and the unconscious, and embodies a creative practice rooted in poetry, performance and improvisation of the throat and tongue. Her writings have been published in Portside Review, Best of Australian Poems 2021Liminal MagazineCordite Poetry Review and Meanjin, among others.

Ahead of her workshop School of Dreams: Poetry and the Unconscious, we chatted to Manisha about her views on the nature of poetry and poets, her poetic practice, and the composition of her poems.

I’ve just finished your beautiful chapbook, Electric Lotus, for the second time, as excited as I was on my first reading to encounter your scintillating lyricism, the gentle, but fierce presence of your incantatory voice. I must know: what is a poem to you? What is a poet?

A poem is an archive of living, loving and dying. A poet is a translator, someone who puts into language and rhythm, a small piece of life. In poems and songs, we document our inner worlds in relation to space, for the short time we are lucky enough to live on this earth. We give our words to each other to better understand how we each navigate the human experience.

Electric Lotus by Manisha Anjali

The poetry in Electric Lotus, and work you’ve published elsewhere, takes the form of shopping lists, performance instructions, shapes snaking between text (or without text at all), and playlists linked on the page via QR code. Could your practice be called ‘playful’?

So much of my work pre-2020 was playful. I was working with themes of renunciation and supreme love, and I suppose I still do, but in recent years I have been delving into more structured forms of storytelling, as the world changes, and as does my psyche. I have no words to describe my practice, other than it is fluid, traveling and shifting with me as I move through life.

I wonder about the construction of your poems, if you’re often returning to your work in an accretive way, composing over time, or if you feel beholden to the moment of their creation in ways that are perhaps more static?

I have always loved improvisation and spontaneous composition, and many of my works in the past have moved through me with little to no editing. But recently I have been working with the long form. It has been a challenging but enlightening way of composing that I am looking to deepen.

In an interview with Danny Silva Soberano (one of our Program Admin Officers!), you state “poems can never be complete, because like us, they are alive”. For me, your poetry carries the trace of that birthing. Do you situate your work within a lineage? Does it have siblings, or kin?

Some of my past work has been influenced by naked wandering long-haired poets and saints of ancient India who move in between states of mysticism, eroticism and devotion. I would not say that I am part of that lineage of poetry, but it has inspired and informed much of my process. Those ancient poems are still alive now. We can eat them and let them live again with new breath.

If you could gift a loved one a dream, what would that dream be? How would you gift it to them?

Recently, I had a dream where I gave a loved one a sacred greenstone. In order to give them a piece of my dream, I will have to give them a gift in this realm. This gesture in the dream longs to be tangible.

Manisha’s upcoming course, School of Dreams: Poetry and the Unconscious, is running on Saturday 6 August at The Wheeler Centre. Find out more information and book to attend here.

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