British poet W H Auden once said: “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” This is true of Dublin-based poet Fiona Bolger. Her poetry is a reflection of her love for languages.
Irish-born Bolger has spent a good amount of her adult life in various parts of India, including Chennai. The languages she heard during her time in the country have greatly influenced her poetry. In her poem Words to a New Wife Entering Her Kitchen, Bolger uses Tamil words like manjal, jeera, and levang. In the same poem, she also uses the Hindi word ghusa. These foreign language words make Bolger’s poems richer, besides hinting at her fascination with the nuances of different languages.
Bolger believes language is the most precious gift we hand over to future generations. In this exclusive interview, Bolger talks about her poetry, her love for languages, and how Chennai played an important role in her becoming a poet.
Could you tell us about your life in Chennai as a poet?
During my years in Chennai, I did write, but not consciously. However, on returning to Ireland, I realised that in many ways Chennai had made me a poet. I grew up to be an adult and a mother in India. Returning to Ireland in my 30s and starting to write seriously, I found a way to chart my life and Chennai was—and is—a huge part of that. I describe myself as living between places. The project I am currently engaged in is an attempt to write poetry which grows from the experiences of those who live between places.
In your poem The Middle of April, you have used Tamil words karam and vellum. What is the motivation behind this usage?
As I was writing this poem, I was thinking of green mango and its sourness—that teeth sucking sourness. I had never had green mango in Ireland! It is something I know from the beach in Thiruvanmiyur. How else would you describe the piquant powder with which they dust the sour slice? I was also thinking of how I like to boil green mango with a red chilli and plenty of jaggery, later adding roasted mustard seeds. I use words less from motivation than from a sense that I am using the best word to describe the sensation, the sound, the experience or even the object.
You write in English and use Tamil and Hindi words in your poetry. Does this make you plurilingual?
My understanding of ‘plurilingual’ is that it does not require fluency in all the languages. But perhaps it does require a deep affection for language in general, and the ones you experience in particular. I love words and whether they are in a language I speak or a language I hardly know or something in between, some words just haunt me and echo in my brain. When I am writing a poem, they will appear.