Our talented Week 7 Poet chats to us about writing, lockdowns, and the state of the world
“When the world fell apart, I folded clothes together” by Priya Bharadia
When the world fell apart, I folded clothes together, placing little piles on little shelves for nobody to see. It's strange to me, that when there's people dying, and laws delaying and last breaths unseen - that you and the world can watch little piles of clothes , food , books , bodies clothes food books bodies clothes food books bodies clothes food books bodies bodies bodies bodies and it will always, always be my job to put them there. It's all very normal in a world that isn't. I think I'm supposed to be grateful for that.
After enjoying her poem, we spoke to Priya about the influences behind her writing.
Priya gives us an insight into the background of her poem first of all, highlighting how “The summer before I started my first year of uni, I was working two jobs in retail. I spent a lot of hours in hot, stuffy stockrooms, packing up clothes that weren’t bought in the summer sale. For days, I was just packing up dozens of boxes full of perfectly wearable clothes which would be going back to a ‘storage facility’ – we all knew they were just going to get rid of the clothes instead, clothes that could’ve easily gone to a charity shop or recycled.
“I wrote the poem at the beginning of this year, when I was casually reflecting on the summer. I had this image of myself and my colleagues as automatons, just packing and folding and sending these objects off for no real, useful purpose beyond ‘we were told us to do this’. It’s a feeling that’s permeated throughout the last two years. We’ve all been expected to just get on with our ordinary routine while staying at home, even when it felt like the whole world was crashing down around us. The indifference and inflexibility of late-stage capitalism towards a socio-political crisis never felt starker to me than it has in the last few years. There is an overwhelming narrative of ‘So long as the products keep being made, surely everything is fine!‘that has gone completely unchallenged for the last few years. Writing a poem felt like the best way to articulate this specific experience of alienation!”
She first started writing poetry when she was “around 14 years old”. “I’ve always enjoyed creative writing since I was a child, but mostly I just stuck to prose. In secondary school, a teacher encouraged me to send in a poem for a local competition – from there, my interest in poetry just sort of blossomed. I wanted to write about anything and everything, and I was constantly experimenting with new styles and forms. I fell off the wagon for a few years due to intense workloads during the lockdowns, but over the past few months I’ve really fallen back in love with writing.
“Being in Cambridge never fails to inspire me: I always feel so lucky to be living in such a beautiful, and densely literary, city. If I’m lacking inspiration for an essay or short story one week, I can just walk down to the River Cam, or the Fitzwilliam Museum, or a library (or two or three!). Sometimes I get overwhelmed by just the sheer history and depth of literature that’s come out of this place, but most of the time that just serves as good motivation for me to get pen onto paper!”
Discussing how often she writes, she notes that “Ironically, it’s when I’ve been the busiest that I find myself writing the most. In the middle of my A-level exams, I was suddenly producing pages of poetry after being stuck in a three-year rut! The same has happened since coming to Cambridge, where I’m squeezing in a few minutes of writing between dashing to supervisions or getting through a dense reading list.
“I’m constantly aware of how early I am in my journey as a writer, and how the development of my style is very much an ongoing process at the moment. In my work so far, however, I seem to frequently pair together quite flowery, figurative language with a more blunt, succinct style of writing and taking, often in the same stanza or sentence. I’m often inspired by imagist poems, who try to capture an emotion or experience in the simplest or fewest words needed. I think it creates great space for humor or emotional range, whilst also restraining me from being too pretentious in my writing!
“I also find myself drawn to looking at the materiality of writing: I love playing with the physical arrangement of words on the page, using mediums other than paper, or subverting established forms.”
When I ask her if she has any particular favorite writers who inspire her, she gives us a few recommendations. “I think a by-product of being an English student is that constant awareness of this towering, incredible literary canon before me! I try not to get intimidated by this, though, but just to admire what’s come before and consider where my experience and perspective stands in relation to past writers. Some of my favorite writers (definitely not a comprehensive list, otherwise we’d be here all day!) are John Keats, Margaret Cavendish, Virginia Woolf, and James Baldwin.
“In terms of more contemporary writers, I particularly love Zadie Smith and Sally Rooney. Both have this detached yet deadly-precise perspective on their respective fictional worlds, which I really admire and try to emulate in my writing.”
That’s a wrap for our Poem of the Week feature for this week – if you, too, would like to see an original poem of yours featured right here in The Tab, we would love to hear from you: submissions are open now, just email your poem to [email protected] (submission guidelines outlined in the original article here). We can’t wait to hear from you!
Feature image credits: Bilyana Tomova