Each year our Pavilion Poetry students assist with the publishing of our new collections, dedicating their time to an individual poet. In this interview, Olivia Carpenter talks with author Anita Pati about her new collection, Hiding to Nothing (Pavilion Poetry, 2022).
What inspired your new collection Hiding to Nothing?
Hiding to Nothing developed organically. In a way it’s an amalgam of everything that’s happened, not necessarily directly; things have taken a few years or perhaps my whole life, to synthesise. Sometimes, with a first collection, you don’t know what’s going on until afterwards. I know this doesn’t sound too strategic or academic because the book was written quite instinctively. I’ll say upfront, I find it hard to talk about my own work.
In fact, it was only when I was ordering the poems, when my editor Deryn asked me what I was trying to say, that I had to work it out. The process of ordering helped. And the meanings are still coming to me. Violences, hidings, heartache. Happy! It was important I looked at cycles, at cause and effect, at blight and bloom. This book had to be written in some form. It came in short bursts as all my writing does, mainly put together during the pandemic after I was lucky enough to be offered publication.
I also think a lot is taken for granted, such as motherhood, what it means, who can do it and how, or how a female body or any body for that matter, should look or behave. Or how notions of motherhood are tied up with notions of womanhood and how problematic that can be. I couldn’t really find literature like this, especially not the uncomfortable or unglamourous bits, and not the intersectional bits. I’ve only touched the surface and looked at what I know and I’m seeing more written elsewhere, which is great.
Are there parallels between the Otherness in this text and in your pamphlet Dodo Provocateur?
I think Dodo set the scene for Hiding, although I hadn’t actively thought of it as ‘otherness’. Dodo featured marginal characters who I think have morphed into voices or presences, within Hiding. Whatever that means – sometimes I think my writing is far ahead of me in what it knows. Other to what, I wonder?
I also thought about form, white space, patterning etc in Hiding which I didn’t so much within Dodo which was more content/sonic. But Dodo came together after 10 years so the process of putting that together was different.
Motivating both I think are a lot of unheard voices, unheard stories in the world and I don’t believe it’s right that those who know how to shout the loudest tend to win at the expense of others.
Hiding to Nothing defies unsettling perceptions of the brown female body within an unwelcoming, even hostile, environment. Could you expand upon the context of this hostile environment?
Sometimes, simply expanding on hostility attracts further hostility. If you’re a person of colour and dare to criticise the UK or be different, you’re in sticky territory. Even if it’s your own country, no matter how British you are in many ways, no matter how much you should belong. Know your place. Be grateful be forever humble.
The term ‘hostile environment’ was popularised by Theresa May as part of immigration policy when she was home secretary. Its aim was to make settling down as painful as possible and the UK as unwelcoming as possible for migrants. Citizens now had to check up on each other for immigration status and increasingly, with social media, we’re keeping each other in check.
Do you consider this collection to be a feminist text?
It’s not the first thing that comes to mind – it wasn’t written as any kind of ‘ist’ text particularly – (possibly a bit pessimist though I could argue it’s optimist). It’s just something I had to write –
I do feel strongly about issues the poems cover though, including the pressures on women and girls to conform and the violences done towards humans, including towards women.
So I’m happy if it’s seen as a feminist text. But I don’t think of myself as any kind of intentional activist in my writing – there’s such an expectation to further box yourself which I’ve seen over the years and when you belong to multiple categories as I do, it’s too confusing. I guess I just write about what is familiar and important to me.
Why do you think poetry is your selected art form to express your voice?
I think I like brevity – I used to be a freelance journalist for a spell and you have to be able to express something clearly in few words – similar to poetry. Not that I’m necessarily doing that here… I would find a long novel hard to write as I just don’t have that many words in me. I’m relatively quiet plus words are such tricky and slippery things. I’m also attracted to the traditionally lyrical and musical as well as silence.
Do you have any advice for other poets, such as how to overcome writing blocks?
I am not the best person to ask advice of in poetry! I feel I still have such a lot to learn in this art form. But as you are asking me about writing blocks, I’d personally say don’t worry. There seems to be a lot of pressure to be generative. I am not prolific and write very few poems per year. I don’t worry too much about blocks at the moment as I see all of living as writing – it’s all going in – and when the time is right it will come out in whichever form you express yourself in at the time – hopefully.
But I do think it’s important to read. I try to read as much as I can, fiction, non-fiction etc as well as poetry though I am a very slow reader so can’t read as much as I’d like. I think writing down scraps as they come up though can be useful, even if you’re not writing poems – those little sentences or fragments can spring a whole trail of insight.
What is the main message you want readers to take away from Hiding to Nothing?
Anything! I’d be very happy if readers took away anything that moved them or made them think differently from it. I think Hiding works on various levels so different people may take different things away from it. I could never say I hope they take this from it. There wasn’t an agenda when writing Hiding or not a conscious one anyway.
However, now I’ve said all that, maybe there are some thoughts! I guess what is important about Hiding, in a general sense, is that cycles of violence and greed in all their forms can repeat, that it’s not necessarily easy to break out as life is complicated (but awareness may help). I think lives should be allowed to reach their best positive potential and it’s a tragedy for everyone when that doesn’t happen. It sounds naive, I know.
Anita Pati was born and raised in an English northern coastal town and currently lives in London. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Dodo Provocateur, won The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition (2019) and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets. She has been a Jerwood/Arvon mentee, an Aldeburgh Eight participant, a winner of the Wasafiri New Writing Prize and a joint winner of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize (2018/20). Anita has worked variously in journalism and libraries.