BY DARIA POPOV, CURATED BY EMMA EDEN RAMOS
In 2013, Indian poet Sweta Srivastava Vikram published a collection of poems titled No Ocean Here. Published by Modern History Press, No Ocean Here documents the stories of oppressed women living in different parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Following an itinerary made up of narrative poems, the reader travels to countries including Singapore, Bangladesh, and Cameroon, coming face-to-face with patriarchal tyranny. Vikram takes her readers on an emotional and geographical journey. She writes:
I walk humbly through cultures,
for women without a voice.
-"No Ocean Here"
Was No Ocean Here written with the intention of inspiring social change?
I am committed to writing about social change. How people process what I write, however, and what they do with my words is not in my control. I am aware of that. The only thing I wanted to do with No Ocean Here was tell the stories of strong, female survivors across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Everything else that has happened (be it No Ocean Here becoming a part of a documentary film, getting attached to social change campaigns, or being nominated for awards) is organic. I feel honored and humbled that it has inspired social change, but I didn't write with that intention.
Did you write the poems as you traveled, or did you wait until you returned to the States to begin writing?
I am glad I wrote the book, but researching and writing No Ocean Here was excruciating. It reminded me of the cruelty in the world as well as of the inhumanity pervading our daily lives. It was so hard not to personalize the stories. While I collected the stories when I traveled, I didn't write them down until I was back home in the States. I needed some grounding/stabilizing before I started to write the book. Being back home and finding my center allowed me to tell the stories from a place of pragmatic distance.
Did you travel with the initial intention of creating a poetry collection, or did the idea come to you while traveling?
So far, travel has been great for my creativity (knock on wood). Some of my best ideas come to me when I travel. No Ocean Here was no exception. Whether I’m inspired by the landscape, a particular social interaction, or food, there is always a story that finds a home in my journal. For instance, when I was in Portugal at OBRAS writing residency, I ended up writing a poetry chapbook, Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, about eco-feminism. The idea overwhelmed my senses. I was finished with a rough draft of the book by the time I left Portugal.
How long did it take you to write No Ocean Here?
The way I write poetry is very different from the way I write prose, both in terms of the time I spend and in terms of my process. So far, none of my poetry books has taken more than a month to write—the first draft, that is. It was the same for No Ocean Here. I cut myself off from the world for a few weeks and just redirect all my energy into my poems. Because my poetry is mostly based on or inspired by true stories about cultures, women's empowerment, gender inequality, violence against women, and patriarchy, I can't work on them for an extended period of time. It's not emotionally sustainable.
How did you emotionally prepare yourself for hearing the stories of the women you wrote about?
I don't think you can ever prepare yourself for the types of stories I heard. While they are about strong women who are survivors, they are heinous and make you question humanity and personal relationships on many levels. I do know one thing: These women wanted their stories to be told. I had to step up and take charge of the next steps.
Did you keep in touch with any of the women you interviewed?
No, I didn't on purpose. A part of healing is letting go and closing the chapter after a certain point. I wanted these brave women to have that space.
Daria Popov is a high school senior at The Beekman School in New York City. Originally from Moldova, Daria was raised in Rome, Italy, but now resides in New York. Poetry, digital art and women’s studies are three of Daria’s main areas of interest. Daria is interested in the use of poetry as a tool for spreading awareness of social justice issues.
Emma Eden Ramos is the author of two novels and one poetry chapbook. Ramos' novels have been reviewed in The San Francisco Book Review, The Roanoke Times and other well-known papers. Ramos' poetry chapbook was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Award in 2011. Ramos has written for Agnes Films Journal, Women Writers, Women['s] Books, Luna Luna Magazine and other publications. She has had her writing mentioned at RogerEbert.com, Examiner.com, and on WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio. Ramos occasionally writes book reviews. Her most recent, a review of a collection of poems, was republished in The British Mensa Society's Arts and Literature journal. Ramos studied psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. She is currently teaching at a high school in New York City.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. Her latest poetry collection, “Saris and a Single Malt,” ranked #1 on Amazon under several categories. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife (www.nimmilife.com), which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.