Author Interview Ankita Agrawal

1. Can you tell us a little about your book? 


The poems in my collection ‘Paper Swans’ are extremely personal to me. They document all the feelings, as well as the highs and lows, of my mental and emotional journey. I have chosen the order of the poems very carefully as well, to show that this journey was not a smooth sail through on a sunny day, but rather an arduous fight to keep going in the midst of a tumultuous sea. Through my narrative, my hope is to let those who might need it know that they are not alone and also to encourage them to open up and use the arts as a medium to express themselves. I also hope that my poems will sensitize others and help them understand the perspective of someone struggling with their mental health, destigmatizing this important-but-ignored topic one reader at a time.


2. What got you writing in the first place? 


I have always had an inclination towards creative writing. I remember filling an entire book with limericks in the 4th grade, although I didn’t recognize my passion for poetry at the time. Recently, I went through a bit of a rough patch, mentally and emotionally. In these times, I turned to poetry to find solace and to help me sought through my feelings in order to gain some clarity. Over a period of a couple of months, I had a solid collection of poems that documented my entire mental health journey.


3. What was your impression of your first draft when you read it?


I didn’t really have a first draft or any draft. The poems in my collection are all raw and unedited. I didn’t want to sugar-coat any of the difficult feelings that I went through, feelings that many of us have gone through, especially during this pandemic, so that my readers get a blatantly honest perspective of my story and can see themselves reflected in my experiences as well.


4. Which part of your story connects the most with you? Why?


I feel most strongly about the poems like ‘Broken Hearted’ and ‘Truth of a Liar’ that comment on society’s apathy and stigma surrounding mental health. This stigma and unwillingness to acknowledge mental health as a serious matter can be extremely detrimental and alienating for someone experiencing such issues; it definitely was for me. Every time  I managed to claw myself up to the surface, this stigma pushed me back down deeper into my hole. I hope through my poems, I can increase awareness about this topic and be a catalyst of change.


5. What makes your book the one to read?


My poems are born from my personal experience, and thus provide unfiltered honest insights into what someone going through a mental health struggle experiences. The  book not only follows my upward emotional journey but also acknowledges the times when I lost my footing and fell to rock bottom. It doesn’t gives the readers unrealistic expectations of what to anticipate on such a journey, which also makes this book the perfect companion for anyone who might need a little encouragement to take the first step or is already traversing the winding road to self-love and discovery.


6. What was the best advice you got while writing? 


The best advice I got was to stay true to myself. You should experiment with different forms of writing but never limit yourself to the confines of literary conventions or expectations. If you want to write free verse poetry, do so. If you want to write a three-page long poem, do so. If you want to go heavy on the figurative devices, do so. Don’t ever write poetry with the aim of pleasing society.


7. Who’s your all-time favourite poet? Which book of theirs made you fall in love with them? 


One of my favourite poets is Carol Ann Duffy. I was initially introduced to her book ‘The World’s Wife’ through my English coursework in school, but her style of writing instantly enraptured me. Her poems are strongly evocative, harshly blunt and overflow with metaphors and dark imagery, all while tackling societal issues like gender discrimination. Her audacious, unapologetic style is an inspiration to me. 


8. What is your evergreen tip to the writers out there?


I strongly urge all writers, even those who might not consider themselves writers yet, to just WRITE. You will face many instances of self-doubt or be afraid to start writing at times, not wanting to disappoint yourself more than anyone else, but don’t let it get to you. Just put pen to paper and write the first word. After that, the waterfall of words will come tumbling down. Emotion is a powerful motivator, and is clearly reflected in one’s writing, so use it to your advantage and start expressing yourself through your words.

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