10 QUESTIONS... TISHANI DOSHI

1. Your collection's title poem - Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods - sounds like a call to action and a warning. How did you conceive it?

I was on a bus in Ireland listening to Bollywood songs, a strange combination, but something about the juxtaposition brought out this image of girls and women coming out of the woods, in a state of mutiliation, in a state of great fury and anger, and the poem emerged as a kind of battle cry from there.

2. What do you want readers to take away from the collection?

There’s light and dark in these poems – decapitated marigold, Patrick Swayze’s perfect bottom, a pack of poor poisoned dogs, gunny bags of love. I want the reader to be able to hold these dichotomies and perhaps to believe that poems can be a way not only of insisting on joy, but reclaiming everything that has been lost.

3. Would you rather readers heard your poems, or read them?

In the first poem of the book, “Contract,” the poet appears as a mosquito, offering to buzz endlessly into the auditory canals of her dear readers. If I could, I would like to whisper poems individually into any ear that will listen. But failing that, the page works.

4. You play a lot with alignment and form in this collection. Where did that come from? And how important are visuals to the end result?

I like the word play. It evokes a sense of mischief, wonderment and curiosity, all of which I see as a fundamental part of poetry. Sometimes a form helps in unleashing the poem. I’m partial to sestinas and golden shovels, but even if the poem is just a long block of words, there’s still an aesthetic to the shape. Sound comes first, but I like my words to be presentable.

5. You spend a lot of time immersed in the writing community in the UK and in India; what are the biggest similarities and differences?

Similarities: poets are the most gregarious creatures in the literary food chain. Children’s writers might give them a run for their money, but as they make so much more money, we’ll disregard. Also, generosity among poets is a happy kind of epidemic. It’s great. Differences: There’s more institutional funding in the UK for poets—more prizes, grants, platforms, that sort of thng. On the downside, if you haven’t made specific plans after a gig you may end up with crisps or dodgy takeaway for dinner. That wouldn’t happen in India.

6. For readers who loved Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, what other books would you recommend?

My friend Gary Shteyngart teaches a class called The Hysterical Male — Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Martin Amis et al, which is a hilarious hat tip to the madwoman in the attic. I’d like to revive that angel in the house and hand her a megaphone because we need to hear her voice real loud. So I’d recommend —Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Ms Militancy by Meena Kandasamy, Selected Essays by Virginia Woolf, and The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

7. What was the first book you loved?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

8. What was the last book you read?

Mary Shelley: In Search of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson.

9. What are you working on now?

Bloomsbury is publishing my second novel Small Days and Nights in April 2019, so I’m frantically taking commas in and out, changing the names of my lead dog characters and generally having panic attacks.

10. Poetry, fiction, dance: which satisfies you the most creatively?

There are few things as complete and obsessive as the making of a poem. If I had to choose, I choose this. 

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Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods is Hay Festival's Book of the Month for October, available online now, or from all good bookshops and libraries. 

Poet, writer and dancer Tishani Doshi was born in Madras, India, to Welsh and Gujarati parents. Her first book of poetry, Countries of the Body (2006), won a Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her subsequent collections include Everything Begins Elsewhere (2013) and Dolce Marcescenza (Sweet Decay). Doshi’s first novel, The Pleasure Seekers (2010), was shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award and has been translated into several languages. She is also the author of Fountainville: New Stories from the Mabinogion (2013), a retelling of the Mabinogion myth, as well as two books about place and home, Madras Then Chennai Now (2013) and The Adulterous Citizen (2015). Her honours and awards include an Eric Gregory Award and an All-India Poetry Prize.