Jeevan Bhagwat: An Interview

Montréal Serai editor, Nilambri Ghai, interviewed Jeevan Bhagwat, a young Toronto-based poet, co-founder of the Scarborough Poetry Club, author of The Weight of Dreams and winner of the Monica Ladell Prize for Poetry (2003 and 2005) and the Conscience Canada Art/New Media contest (2011). Jeevan is currently working on a novel, and is also featured on a City of Toronto Map highlighting verses written by poets from the community. The interview follows his poems: “Lone Gull” and “The Land of Plenty.”

 

Public domain

Lone Gull

No one knew you

not even your name,

no one seemed to care

that, day after day

you would sit outside

in the unforgiving cold,

hand extended in a pleading gesture

asking for alms

without words.

 

The suits passed you by

unacknowledged,

your disheveled hair

casting shadows on your face

invisible

to their sightless eyes.

 

When the ambulance came

that December day

and took your frozen body

away,

the street corner seemed

more empty,

a space with no face

to remember you by,

 

you,

a lone gull

tired of hovering

just beyond

our collective conscience.

 

 

The Land of Plenty

In the land of plenty

stomachs groan

to symphonies of want

outside the food banks

that cannot wean

the hungry

on hope alone.

 

Politicians play saviours

and smile for the cameras,

make campaign promises

they cannot keep,

then vote themselves

a wage increase

on the backs of the

working poor.

 

In the land of plenty

single mothers swim

in rivers of debt,

watch their children struggle

to stay afloat

on welfare cheques

that cannot buy

a sail to hoist their dreams.

 

In the land of plenty

the poor slip through

a conscience cracked,

become forgotten

to the fortunate few,

become the faces of me

and you.

 

M.S.    What has been your experience as a founding member of the local poetry club? What kind of support have you received from the community?

J.B.     The Scarborough Poetry Club was founded in October 2015 by Anna Nieminen and myself. The experience of bringing together poets of diverse cultural backgrounds and different voices to share, learn and grow in a welcoming and supportive atmosphere has been wonderful. The Club meets regularly on the first Friday of every month between 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Toronto Public Library’s Agincourt Library branch in Scarborough. Due to some extensive renovations at the branch last year, we were temporarily displaced and had to find a more suitable location to hold our meetings. Fortunately, one of the Club’s members, Sheila White, generously offered to host the meetings at her mother’s house and so we had the challenge of accommodating everyone’s schedule. Although some members could not participate as usual, we had a strong turnout and the poetry kept on waxing.

Both Anna and I firmly believe that Scarborough’s poets and artists have long been under-represented in the mainstream arts community, and we wanted to change that. The Club allows poets to have a place from where they can get their voices heard and network with other writers. Scarborough is blessed with a myriad of cultures, and we wanted to hear what they have to say and learn about how they can contribute to their community.

The response to the Club has been amazing! We have over 25 affiliated members, and the membership seems to be growing. We are also generously supported by the Agincourt Library branch and often promoted by Scarborough Arts through their media channels. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive, which speaks to the need to provide such an outlet for Scarborough poets.

I have lived in Scarborough almost all my life. My love for poetry started when I was in grade 4 and attending Danforth Gardens Public School. I was always in the library reading as many poetry books as I could find, and the librarian, Mrs. Earnshaw, encouraged me to write poems, which she would then display on the walls. Since those humble beginnings, I have been published in many literary journals/websites across Canada, the U.S. and internationally. My poetry book, The Weight of Dreams, was published by IN Publications in 2012.

M.S.    What kind of future do you think is there for young poets?

J.B.     I think it’s a great time to be a young poet. Toronto and the GTA are blessed with many venues where poetry readings are being held, poetry slams are going on, and poetry workshops are happening. Technology has also impacted the way poetry is being shared and digested. Even in our public schools, poetry is making a comeback and many aspiring young poets are getting the chance to express themselves in the classroom.

M.S.    Tell us about the poets you know and have met: the unheard voices.

J.B.     As a co-founder of the Club, I have been fortunate to meet many poets at different stages of their writing careers. Many of our members are serious about their craft and work diligently to polish their poems. Teresa Hall is a poet whose lyricism and insight culminates in her wonderful nature poetry. Sheila Bello, another Club member, is a courageous poet who is not afraid to tackle difficult issues such as racism and inequality. Reginald Rego, the senior member of our Club, astounds me with his deeply religious poetry.

M.S.    Tell us about the poets and authors who have influenced your writing.

J.B.     I have always been inspired by the poetry of John Keats and Pablo Neruda. But I am equally drawn to Canadian poets such as Patrick Lane and Roo Borson. I tend to gravitate to poets who exhibit a love of nature and beauty in all their myriad manifestations. With respect to authors, I love the expressive quality of Anne Michaels’ books and the penetrating insights inherent in Alice Munro’s works.

M.S.    The three poems that you have submitted reflect urban life and Toronto streets and parks. What are some other topics of interest to you?

J.B.     When it comes to poetry I don’t subscribe to any particular aesthetic. I believe that poets have a moral responsibility to speak up for those whose own voices have been suppressed or altogether silenced. Poets need to hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions or inaction. Social issues like homelessness, racism, inequality need to be addressed in poetry. But there is also beauty in the world, and poets need to communicate that too. I am particularly interested in how human beings interact with and understand the environment and each other. There is much insight to be gleaned from this.

M.S.    You are working on a novel. Tell us about it. Do you have a publisher? When do you expect it to be published?

J.B.     Yes, I have just recently finished writing my first novel. It is a coming of age story about a young woman who loses her mother in childhood and carries the weight of that loss for many years. A large part of the novel takes place in Scarborough and addresses issues such as the environment, death, grief and love. I’m in the revision stage now, so I haven’t sent it out to any publisher yet. Hopefully, I’ll get it published by next year.

M.S.    What do you think about the poetry map of Toronto? We couldn’t find your poem on Agincourt from the map, since it did not have a search link. How often is the map updated? Are there poems written in other languages as well?

J.B.     The Poetry Map is a great idea first put forward by the then Toronto Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke. It allows visitors to the site to click on various “spots” to see which part of the city inspired or played a big part in the writing of the presented poem. I’m not sure how often the Map is updated, or if there are poems in other languages on it. My poem “Autumn Descends” is located over the Agincourt area on the Map.

M.S.    Thank you, Jeevan. Good luck with your poems and the new novel.


www.torontopoetry.ca

An article on Jeevan in InsideToronto.com

 

  • Larry Kosowan

    Scarbro bro!

  • Reginald Rego

    I believe a poet’s inspiration comes directly from God and Jeevan’s certainly does when he shows how the lot of the poor has fallen through the cracks of our collective conscience. God also inspired Jeevan and Anna to co-found the Scarborough Club for which we are much beholden.