Interview with Arja Kumar

“Story Made from Small White houses” and “Notes from a Grocery Store in Chicago”

Each of your poems are very different and utilize a different tone. How do you decide what tone to use with a particular piece?

“I don’t think I ever consciously decide what tone to use with a piece. I never sit down and think “okay, I’m going to write a poem and it’s going to have a sinister tone.” The tone, or just all my writing in general, stems from random moments. Some thought, some overwhelming feeling, some place, someone, or something, will stick out to me out of the blue, and I become haunted by it until it’s written down. It’s like having these ghosts in your stomach that either sit there and settle or come up and escape through the psyche, begging to be born into existence. Each one of those phantoms or ghosts has their own story and voice—some mystical, some mournful, some amorous, lilting, lyrical—each very different and unique from the other—and that’s what gives the tone for each work I write.”

Because of the titles of your poems, I assume you are from the Midwest area. Do you find it more difficult to find inspiration in such a midwestern region?

“Yes, I am. I live in Freeport, Illinois. Actually, living in such a Midwestern region gives me the most inspiration. And just because I’m from the Midwest region doesn’t mean I only write ‘Midwest poems or Midwest stories’—I’m always experimenting and trying new things in writing. A lot of people, including some who live here, usually argue things like: ‘There’s so many new restaurants, people, things to do in other places!’ ‘What’s so special about a bunch of old cornfields and abandoned motels?”Don’t you want to get out of this middle of nowhere?’ And I reply: ‘It’s your middle of nowhere, but my middle of the universe.’

Yes, the Midwest can appear mundane, boring, uneventful. It definitely isn’t one of those places you see on TV being advertised as a shiny paradise. But there are stories, there is deep history, and there is something in its spirit and its people that is so haunting, so beautiful, and so fantastically unique from anywhere else in the world. If you really knew the Midwest, I mean really knew it—you’d see the extraordinary things found in the ordinary. In other words, the Midwest’s beauty is in its ordinariness and simplicity. Open your eyes—I mean really open them—and you will see a priest gambling inside the pub and gaming lounge after dinner, a young high school girl cruising in a chewed up car at 5 am with an old man who oddly resembles the devil from the 70’s film you watched last night, the wife of the town surgeon drinking moonshine in a shanty looking out at the pond infested with locusts, naked children eating their Kraft Mac and Cheese dinners in styrofoam bowls on a playground in the middle of humid summer, residents of a nursing home at sunrise escaping through the balcony to cross the road and feel their bare feet on dewy green grass one last time, a baby born to her mama’s ringtone of Sister Christian—this and so much more you will see. If you look at things like this, you will find an infinity of inspiration.”

In some of your poems such as “Story Made from Small White Houses” and “Notes from a Grocery Store in Chicago,” you do not use capitalization. What was your reasoning for this creative choice? Did you worry this decision would cloud the reader’s comprehension of the poems?

“I do not think there is any logical reason why I use no capitalization in some of my poems. I guess maybe it’s because the poems that I use no capitalization in flow more freely off the tongue or brain when I write them. I also feel like it makes the poem more easygoing and emphasizes the mood of the poem. The poems I do use capitalization in are usually more like narratives. I think that a lot of the poetry today uses no capitalization—maybe because it seems more approachable to the modern reader than traditional poetry, or maybe because it’s popular to use no capitalization because it’s “trendy” and “artsy” in social media culture. These are just my guesses. I don’t worry too much about this creative choice because I trust the reader and like leaving a lot of room open for questioning.”

Poetry is a very popular industry, and poets are subjected to a lot of judgement. What are some tools you use when handling rejection and criticism?

“To be honest, I’m a pretty sensitive person in everyday life and take things to heart easily. With writing though, I am surprisingly thick-skinned. Like at the end of the day, I don’t care what anybody says when it comes to my writing. Having a stubborn spirit is my key to handling judgement, criticism, and rejection. You really just have to persist, work hard, and keep trying. Listening to the criticism is constructive, but don’t listen too much because only you know what’s best. Most importantly, never lose your voice. That’s just a plain sin to the art. Keep your individuality and your unique vision alive and strong. Rejection, criticism, and judgement are a natural and normal part of being a writer. When I started out writing two years ago, I knew right from the start that I was going to get rejected and criticized and judged for my writing and even being a writer. Knowing that truth humbled any expectations, and I still never have any expectations for how my writing is going to be received or even how people are going to look at me as a writer. I just write out of 100% pure passion and love for the art. And it’s a real honor whenever one of my pieces gets lucky and gets out into the world.”

Arja Kumar is a human, writer, and nineteen-year-old college student from Illinois. Her work has appeared in literary magazines including KAIROS, Sweet Tree Review, Literary Orphans, Blink-Ink, and Bop Dead City. When she is not writing, she likes to cook, paint, and stargaze.

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