Sujatha Menon is a poet, holistic health practitioner and singer and songwriter for the band Satsangi.
She has been in the band for over twenty years and practiced yoga since she was studying visual arts at university.
She runs Cocoon workshops where she practices yoga with poetry for a holistic experience.
The Glass Puddle by Sujatha Menon will be published in November by Dempsey & Windle Publishing. It will be available directly from Sujatha at www.sujathamenon.com.
Sujatha's Instagram: @Sujathamenon_
Makarelle - I can see from your website that you have been songwriting and performing with the band Satsangi for twenty years. How did you all meet?
Sujatha - There have been about a million versions of our band. We started as me, my husband and a friend getting together socially in kitchens, where we would drink and play and celebrate life. Then over the years, I think, nearly every musician in Leamington has been in the band at some point.
Makarelle – So how did you start writing songs?
Sujatha – My husband would put the melody together – and then I would add the words, Keith Richards says ‘songs wrote themselves’ which sounds really woolly but that totally resonates. I hear a song and it inspires me to write down words.
Makarelle - Have you tried to write songs first for music to be added?
Sujatha – I have tried to write the other way and I envy people who can, but I like to fit the words to the melody.
Makarelle - I can also see that you have a degree and master’s in visual arts – How does that influence your work?
Sujatha –I come from a family of doctors – I was the black sheep, so creativity was a way to self-soothe growing up in a conflicted environment. It is at the heart of everything I do. I felt fractured as I do so many things, I’m not brilliant at them all, but I sing, write poetry and make visual art. For me, it is so important to surviving. When I was at art school, I was making art about being British Asian and what that meant. I feel art is about making people look at things in a different way, making the ordinary extraordinary. And poetry is the same, take the most mundane thing and bring it to life to capture people’s imagination, create a whole new world.
Makarelle - Your first book of poetry is called the glass puddle, what is the inspiration behind it and how would you describe it?
Sujatha – During the pandemic, my husband and I would go for walks through a local village. It was quiet and in the countryside. During autumn and through winter the inspiration came. Through writing poetry, I was able to escape and find respite in another world of the imagination. Being in nature, being immersed in nature was like medicine and the poetry came out of that. Lockdown let me embrace this childlike quality, I was at home, I had time to be creative and play.
The name of the book came as where we were walking there were puddles everywhere, the puddles were reflecting the light like mirrors to the environment which reminded me of Alice Through the Looking Glass, I just loved how loaded and rich it was. The theme of water runs through the book.
Makarelle - Do you think that your poetry influences your music and vice versa or do you write differently when you are songwriting?
Sujatha – There are some overlaps but I am more prompted by the music, it guides me, I don’t even have words to begin with, I have vocal shapes and then fit the words in, but the poetry comes from a different place, it’s more critically focussed whereas the music is more intuitive. Over lockdown, the band and I have created a new album working separately and sharing it online with one another. I have included spoken word which has worked really well.
I have also been working with a German band as part of the Dresden Coventry Friendship Project, a collaborative project where artists from both countries share their work. So, I have sent some of my poetry to this German band who work with industrial soundscapes and they are going to put music around it.
Makarelle - As with all writing, your readers may interpret your work differently from how you see it – Do you think that matters?
Sujatha – It’s the hardest part, for me, of being an artist as a bit of a control freak. I don’t like to explain away lyrics or poems but instead, have an overwhelming signifier which puts context to it. It usually comes out of a title. So, my titles can be quite ordinary, but it is a different take on what you think it is going to be, so there is a surprising element in it. As an artist, I have to accept that people are going to read into things at all different levels and somehow connect with it and give them the space and freedom to do that.
Makarelle - I can see that you do spoken word poetry – I find the idea of getting on stage and reading my own work terrifying – Do you find it challenging or does it help your work to develop and improve?
Sujatha – Performing in a band is quite different to performing poetry, I can perform to hundreds of people with the band and be confident. I am in my element as I can take on a persona and I can hide behind my band a little, if I need to. When I do spoken word I am alone on stage and feel really naked and exposed, I absolutely shit myself.
With the spoken word poetry, I tend to choose poems that are more read-out-able or have more humour, so people can connect with them quickly.
Makarelle - You are also a yoga teacher – how did that come about?
Sujatha – At art school, I didn’t have great mental health and had anxiety and depression. Exercise helped me cope with that and when I left uni I started to train as a personal trainer. Then I started to explore my Indian background, that I previously rebelled against, and discovered yoga. Through yoga, I found Ayurveda, which is traditional Indian medicine, so I trained in that as well. It looks at people’s unique mind/body type and then you prescribe yoga and exercise according to their constitution. So, I became a yoga therapist and did more holistic training and got really creative with it. I teach Vinyasa which links one pose with another creating a sequence and flow.
I had become disillusioned with the whole Indian male tradition of yoga, with rules that don’t fit women’s bodies, not taking into account, menstruation or pregnancy. It all came from very male traditional views. Indian women weren’t allowed to do yoga, they were only allowed to do Indian dancing.
Western women made yoga more about listening to their bodies and minds which made it more relevant. I do my own thing now which is a mixture of Qigong (gentle movement) and yoga. And I run a monthly poetry and yoga retreat called Cocoon.
Makarelle – I am fascinated by that - How do you use poetry as part of yoga?
Sujatha – Some people teach yoga as a form of exercise, which it is, but for me, it's about trying to get your body and mind to slow down and be receptive to relax and chill out. In the classes, I may have a theme, like autumn. So, I might read a poem by Mary Oliver about autumn then we might explore the theme of shedding and letting go and then at the end I put everyone into yoga Nidra which is deep relaxation - people become rested and rejuvenated. On a psycho-therapeutic level, you are going into trance accessing deep levels of consciousness where the mind can rest. When you come out of Nidra your mind becomes more receptive, it can really hear what you are listening to, so reading a poem at this time will open up new meanings. With Cocoon, poetry is threaded throughout the experience
Makarelle - You look at identity, Britishness and culture in your poetry and in Cousins, you talk about being ‘blown into Motherland’. Can you tell me more about that?
Sujatha – It’s a bond I have through my lineage, particularly my mother, my grandmother and poets and artists in my family.
I learned a couple of years ago that my great-great-grandfather was quite a renowned poet in the south of India, he was part of a movement who moved away from writing poetry in Sanskrit to use everyday local language. Then he mentored another poet who became more famous than him – which was a huge surprise.
Unfortunately, in India creativity is undervalued – it is always sciences that are promoted. I have visited many times and have a love-hate relationship with the country. There is a polarity of rich and poor, dirty and pure, beautiful and evil. I call it motherland because genetically I am there, tied to it.
Makarelle - Personally, when I write poetry as opposed to fiction, I tend to write from a very personal perspective. Whereas with fiction there is a degree of separation – parts of me slip in but not my whole. Would you say that is the same for you or do you build worlds within your work?
Sujatha - I try to write a book or chapbook with a theme but it tends to just come and then I find a theme afterwards in the work. I am not into therapeutic writing – so everything comes from personal experiences but I try to reimagine them in an engaging way that will capture an audience and I don’t think I write for an Indian audience, but for a British one. I do create other worlds for people to come into but they are from my own experiences.
Makarelle – Do you think you write for women more than men?
Sujatha – I think I am. It is a natural thing.
Makarelle - Whose poetry do you enjoy – I saw on your gallery you were reading Mary Oliver.
Sujatha – I am reading Imtiaz Dharker; she is my favourite British Asian poet. I also like the American, Ruth Fainlight, I like Insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Nikita Gill – I don’t like all of their stuff and I understand their critics. Rupi Kaur is criticised heavily in the contemporary poetry orthodoxy but she has sold eight million books, she is bringing poetry to the public, so who am I to say that she’s not a poet. There is clearly a need to connect. I also like Gillian Clark – her poetry focusses on nature.
Makarelle - Do you have a favourite poem by another author?
Sujatha –I think my favourite poem is How to cut a Pomegranate by Imtiaz Dharker
Makarelle - Similarly, lyrically who do you think stands out musically, currently.
Sujatha - There is a David Rawlins song, he is from the deep south, that I simply love and makes me cry every time. PJ Harvey is amazing. Lana Del Ray’s writing, I think stands out - Blue Jeans is my favourite.
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