An Interview with Ayesha Chatterjee

Born and raised in India, Ayesha Chatterjee has lived in England, the USA and Germany. She is the author of two poetry collections, The Clarity of Distance, and Bottles and Bones. Her work has appeared in The Moth (Ireland), Magma Poetry (UK), Exile Quarterly (Canada), The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective and elsewhere, and has been translated into French, Slovene and Russian. Chatterjee is a past president of the League of Canadian Poets and currently chairs the League’s Feminist Caucus. She lives in Toronto. 

Her poem, The Bluest Bower, appears in Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

The Bluest Bower is the second of what I hope will become a series of poems about birds and human interaction in the Anthropocene. I’m both fascinated by how human interaction is changing avian behaviour and deeply concerned by it. I’m also constantly thinking about identity and belonging, and this poem touches on those themes. It was actually recently set to music by producer, composer and former CBC Radio broadcaster, David Jaeger, specifically with Toronto-based soprano Karen Usha’s voice in mind, though it hasn’t yet been performed.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar? 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses was pretty much my anthem when I was growing up, especially the last three lines. A bit of an odd poem for a teenager to hold so close to her heart, I know, but it continues to speak to me on many, many levels. And then, while I was in college in the US, I discovered Emily Dickinson. She is possibly my biggest influence as an adult in terms of writing. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a couple of different series of poems—the bird series I mentioned earlier and one on the warrior goddess Durga. I’m also collaborating with musician and composer Emily Hiemstra on some new musical pieces, which I’m really excited about.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

It depends. A line, an image, a memory. Some of my poems are tucked in the back of my mind for years before I realise that I need to write them.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

The visual arts. I’ve often said that I write poetry because I can’t draw or paint. Poetry is the closest I can get.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

I try to set aside two days in the week for poetry, and keep those days clear of meetings or other engagements. I write best in the mornings and then the rest of the day is for poetry podcasts and/or reading poetry. I’m a very slow writer, though.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

I used to belong to a couple of writing groups when I first started writing poetry seriously as an adult, but I find that when I write with a group, I end up writing FOR the group which is not always the best thing for me, although it was extremely helpful initially.  I now have a couple of poet friends whose work I greatly respect and admire and with whom I am in regular contact. Being in touch with them is a constant source of creativity and inspiration, and I’m very grateful for their generosity of spirit and their friendship.  I‘ve been sharing and discussing drafts with a close friend on a regular basis for a couple of years now, and that’s been a real gift.  

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