Megha Rao On Writing About Trauma, Heartbreak Poetry, And Finding Beauty In Brokenness

“My art is all fear, yet fearless”

I don’t know if there’s a right way of describing Megha Rao’s poetry. You can try but there can only be sepulchers of words, falling short in front of imagination so grand and thoughts that intense. 

Reading her poetry is mostly like sitting at just the right distance from an erupting volcano on a cold winter’s night; you don’t get burnt but you feel a certain warmth cascading around your being. The strength, the rebellion in words have a conviction about them that tells you they come from the depths of truth and honesty. “My art is all fear, yet fearless,” she writes and truly means it.

All of 23, Megha has certainly seen a lot in life. Having spent the majority of formative years in Singapore, India wasn’t particularly kind to her when she finally moved back to the country. At 18, she had to face the kind of bullying that went to the extent of an angry mob chasing her in the college. “Even today, when I am addressing my audience, I have to constantly reassure myself that it is a good crowd,” she says.

However, with big trials comes great strength and she has certainly found hers in the unadulterated honesty and the power of the written word. In a recent interaction, Megha talked to me about the various genres of poetry, her new book, and the art of finding beauty in brokenness. 

Intrigued? Read on:

On trauma poetry

There’s so much about trauma poetry that people just do not understand. One thing which I want to clear about trauma poetry is that there are many ways of writing it. Like I personally do not enjoy taking the route of writing sad poetry. Although I know that a lot of things come naturally when you are writing and grief is probably one of the primary emotions that you feel. 

However, I look at trauma poetry as war poetry. I also believe that it doesn’t necessarily always have to be about being sad or trying to get others to empathise with you. For me, proving to people that I was traumatised or somebody affected me enough for me to carry it through the ages is not always necessary. That intensity doesn’t has to be constantly shown through sadness. For me,  it’s more like writing about things which are inspiring. It should uplift people around me who also feel like they have been traumatised.

I think the whole idea of trauma poetry is to save yourself as well as the people around you. The strength of trauma poetry is where you tell them, “Look, we can heal together. We are so much bigger than them and I will show you.” That’s the beauty of trauma poetry.

On confessional poetry
The first time I came across confessional poetry was through Sylvia Plath. More than me thinking that this woman is a good writer, it was about how honest and real she got in talking about pain and topics that would have made other people uncomfortable.

Like the whole point of confessional poetry is hanging your dirty laundry in public right? I think I found a lot of beauty in it because there was so much trapped inside me. When I read Plath I was like, “Wow, poetry doesn’t always have to be vague and you can actually say whatever you want to say.” That’s when I started seeing so much beauty in honesty and the catharsis that it brings.

On magical realism
For me, magical realism is more like a bridge. It bridges the gap between hard reality and creativity and imagination. It is so vital for an artist because there are so many ways to look at the world.

As an artist, I have grown up so weird and isolated but at the same time there was this entirely different world inside me and magical realism lets me translate that into poetry. It lets me create this fantastical world where people get together and howl. I don’t think that could be possible in the real world but to put that picture in the minds of people counts too.

At the end of the day, maybe it’s not even about people getting together or howling, maybe it is just about people feeling intensely. That’s the beauty of this genre. It makes you feel something. 

On her latest book “Music to Flame Lilies”
The premise is a young artist in London who leaves everything behind and runs back to the village that she grew up in and she is coming back after a long time because she got a message from her friend. Now the catch here is that she always used to text her best friend but never got a reply because her best friend killed herself. But one day she misses her best friend so much that she ends up texting her and gets a reply and is thrown into confusion. So Noori comes back to this village and starts noticing a lot of things that she never did in her childhood. There is a lot of mysticism involved. This book is about identity for sure and finding your place in the world. It also has a lot of conversation going on about literature and philosophy and it’s definitely a reflection on how I see the world.

On art and the artist

Every time someone tells me I really like Freida Kahlo, I ask  them about their favorite painting from the artist and most of them just say “I dunno, I just like her style.” 

In fact, this inclination towards her style got so huge that it began to be called Freida mania. It was highly romanticised and people began prioritising the artist so much that they forgot about the art. I, for one, definitely believe that the art comes first and is more important than the artist because art is intangible, art is a movement, an artist is an individual.

However, at the same time the artist is the creator and that is why I will never go by the idea that once the artist makes the art they are dead. I am going to create something beautiful and I am going to show it to the world but that doesn’t mean that the world can snatch it away from me. I am not saying I am the art, I am saying that I have created something and it belongs to me but at the same time I am not going to put myself first. 
On finding beauty in the broken 

I don’t support the idea that we should romanticise brokenness in any way but at the same time it is important to assert that there’s nothing bad or ugly about being shattered. It is very human and after having been in really trying circumstances and situations myself, I know that, it depletes your self worth, it makes you feel like you don’t want to exist anymore which is why it was important for me to find beauty in brokenness.

 At the same time I didn’t want to advertise it as the only beautiful thing. I don’t want to say that broken is beautiful so stay broken and sadly I see a lot of that happening around me. People have really started glorifying and romanticizing the idea of being shattered and struggling with their mental health. If you are broken, I am really sorry for what you have been through but there also is a need to find your strength and get some help. That is the whole point of poetry.

I have been in the place when I put out my emotions and tell people that I am sad and angry but now I am moving towards the place where I say that I was there but now I am healing and look where I am! Healing has made me even more beautiful. 

On being judged and self love

I am 23 right now but I have days when I feel like I am 16 and days when I feel like am 29 and I think certain issues especially when you are a woman are going to be constant. Even when I am 60, I might worry about wrinkles and dark circles.

You cannot help succumbing to postmodern beauty standards even though it is so wrong. I think it is important for me to tell women not to be hard on themselves. I want to stand up for everyone in generals who feel pressurised by peer group, by society, by media standards, I want to stand up for the underdog. I want to tell them that ultimately it doesn’t matter who likes you, what only matters is that you like yourself.

 I want to say that because I have been there. I tried so hard to please everyone, I tried so hard for everyone else but not for me. Now I realise how good I feel when I try for myself and I want them to feel just as good. 
On the prejudice against love poetry
A lot of people look down upon heartbreak poetry and that’s so funny. It’s high time we stop shaming people for going through heartbreak. Even for me, when I get hurt, I get really upset and I do cry a lot and then there are people who come up and say, “What are you crying for bitch. I thought you were such a strong woman.” I cry because I am an emotional and sensitive person and looking down upon that is like scorning some of the most basic human emotions. Heartbreak poetry is universal. 

Heartbreaks are a common experience and addressing it is important. It is something that people shouldn’t be shamed for.

On one of her poems that will always stay close to her heart
I really like this poem that I wrote on heartbreak. I love it majorly because I am really attached to Mumbai. First time I moved here, I met someone and it’s written after that emotion, how I connected with this person, it really made me feel something. I go back to that poem and I keep feeling things. I know that I have written better poems but that one is special for me. 

Here’s the poem:

On one fan moment that made her realise that she is on
Okay, so it is always special when people approach and tell me that my poetry has changed their lives. But, once there was this girl who came up to me with a copy of “Eliot.” It was an old book and she said to me, “I was looking for this book online but it was out of stock but I wanted to give it to you. This is my favorite book and I wouldn’t have given it up but I really want you to take it.” You could see it on her face, it was so difficult for her to part with it. 

I was holding it and she said, “Oh my God my favorite person with my favorite book.” and I was just like, “Let me read it and let me mail it back to you.” She was so elated by the idea and once I mailed it back to her, she sent me two new books in return.”

Cover Image Source: Megha Rao

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