To have one’s life dictated by art, culture, poetry and travel is a dream – one that the poet Bina Sarkar Ellias has fulfilled. While her own words weave together the magic of how she sees the world, her alternate expression takes place in the form of the revered bi-annual arts and ideas magazine Gallerie, of which she is the editor, designer and publisher. Sarkar Ellias spoke to Scroll.in about how her fascination with the world at large dictates her work, why poetry feels like home, and her recent trip to Taiwan for the launch of the Chinese translation of her poetry collection FUSE. Excerpts from the interview:
and the eyes
of a child
alone in his
I love how brevity has been incorporated into your poetry to bring out the essence of what you are trying to say, like in the poem above. Tell me about how you came to this particular format, and some of the poets whose style influenced your own.
Somehow, condensed thoughts appeal to me. The art of minimalism, where scattered or epic mind-meanderings can be persuaded to convey themselves in little nuggets of reason or unreason!
Your life and career seem to have enabled plenty of travels. How strongly does place enter your poetry?
Many of my poems allude to regions in India and overseas, especially in the last 43 years of travels. They are grounded in how a living region reveals itself to me like in Santiniketan 1:
in the still night
a red road rolls out
like Kali’s tongue.
Some writers cringe on returning to old poems. Do you ever regret publishing certain poems?
Fortunately, I’ve begun publishing my age-old poems rather late…therefore, with the few grey cells I have, I’ve been able to revise some of my old foolish wanderings!
Is poetry a release or a literary pleasure?
Poetry has always been a compulsion through my life. A natural thought process…
it’s like the morning mess,
sheets in disarray, pillows on floor,
cigarette stubs in coffee cups,
milkman at the door.
the news of course, is daily dirt,
how many governments do you curse?
the cacophony of silent tweets
makes the waking even worse.
it’s like the morning mess,
the tangled words in my head.
how does one stack them neatly so,
in visual splendour to be read?
Art and design have also shaped your life in a big way. You’ve created a legacy with International Gallerie. Tell me about the initial vision for the publication and its evolution over 20 years.
It’s a matter of mapping one’s own life. My passion has always been in the visual arts and literature, in cinema and photography, people, cultures and travel…in learning about cultural diversity. Thus, Gallerie was birthed in 1997.
Gallerie emerged from a need for excellence without compromise. From a desire to share excellence, address universal issues, stir minds through the arts, encourage understanding and appreciation of the socio-political, cultural situations and their aesthetics on a global scale. I have no marketing skills or commercial wisdom. Gallerie has been sustained through these 20 years, fuelled by passion and stray goodwill from rare cultural organisations that recognise the significance of the work.
The quality of research/reportage in Gallerie is excellent, reflecting that you clearly immerse yourself in your work. Are you always in work mode?
The research is hands-on. I travel to every region that the issue is dedicated to. Meet artists in their studios, engage with poets, writers, curators, performers, photographers and filmmakers… almost all of whom we feature. It has been an enriching journey, a conceptual journey, a learning journey through the years.
Work is pleasure, punctuated by writing poems that are an unwinding.
Gallerie clearly takes up a lot of your time. Having read “night crawls/in my coffee cup,/dregs of day yawn;/a poem writes itself.”, I’m curious to know your writing routine.
Work is nourishing. I breathe my work! A twelve-to-fourteen-hour working day is joyful. Gallerie work is all-consuming and not possible without the discipline of the number of hours each day. It’s a sedentary life when I’m not travelling…and I have to urge myself to practice yoga or take brisk walks…get my skin to soak in some vital vitamin D outdoors...stir myself out of the cave!
Culture has played a big part in your work. Talk to me about the current trends in the broad world of art and poetry. Where does India stand on the global map?
Culture has been the essence of my life.
In my view, art has unfortunately been navigating a commerce-driven, festivals-driven trail since the mid-1980s. There is very little art emerging out of bleeding veins (a metaphor) like that of Ram Kinkar Baij or Van Gogh. Art is more measured today. Calibrated. There are very few passionate artists left in the world. Poetry is in a purer space, since there is no commerce involved. However, there are poets who are driven by festivals and are adept at marketing themselves!
What have you been working on of late, apart from the recent Migration issue?
We recently released the 20th Anniversary double issue of Gallerie, titled “Peace & Hope”. It has been very well received globally.
My book FUSE is also on a delightful journey. Since its launch in 2015, it has been taught at Towson University, Maryland. Selected poems translated into Arabic, Urdu, French and German. A Chinese edition of FUSE was translated by the eminent Taiwanese poet Lee Kuei-shien and released at the Formosa Poetry Festival recently, where I was invited to participate. I’m just back from the wonderful experience of engaging with poets from Taiwan and diverse global regions. Being alive and fulfilled in this benign space in a world that is turning increasingly cruel, is like a delusion.