Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is a Sydney artist, poet, and improv pianist of Indian heritage. She’s a member of the North Shore Poetry Project and Authora Australis. Her poems, "Hidden," "Sparkling Water," and "Video Game Bird" have recently appeared in The Mark Literary Review. If you'd like to read her poems before her interview, you can find "Hidden," "Sparkling Water," and "Video Game Bird" here.
Q. You are involved with Authora Australis and the North Shore Poetry Project. Can you explain what those are and how you got involved with them?
A. I met writers and academics Roger Patulny, Carlo Caponnechia, and Sukhmani Khorana, in 2015 when I moved to Sydney. I was looking for a writing group, and Roger and Sukhmani had just founded The Marrickville Writer’s Corner (now Authora Australis), a collective of creatives. Even though the monthly meetup was an hour and a half by train from where I lived, I would go to The Gasoline Pony, a quaint pub in Sydney’s vibrant inner west where the writing group met. It was worth the journey—I found like-minded people! We discussed our pieces, did fun writing exercises, and performed at open mics and readings. I am thrilled to share that Roger and Carlo just launched Authora Australis, the literary journal, and I am proud to be a co-editor. We have just put the call out for our first issue, "Empty Spaces"—a COVID-inspired theme. The North Shore Poetry Project was founded in 2012 in Sydney by Philip Porter, to provide a space for emerging and local poets to perform their works. I met Philip at an open mic in 2018 and was taken up with his enthusiasm for bringing poets together. I liked that the group met every single week, bringing new poems to present and critique. I loved the disciple and commitment to writing that it called for. I’ve been with the North Shore Poetry Project for almost a year and a half now. Thanks to the support of the group, I was motivated to write regularly and to be diligent about sending my work out for publication.
Q. Your poems published in The Mark seem to be based on real-life experiences. Are these poems inspired by your everyday life or do they come from your imagination? A. I tend to plumb my life, everyday experiences, and relationships for inspiration. So yes, a lot of what I write is autobiographical. That said, I sometimes infuse bits and pieces of other people’s lives into my writing too. I make sure that I cover my tracks by making my characters and scenarios unrecognisable so that people don’t directly identify themselves in my poems! Q. How did you get started writing poetry? Do you come from a literary background?
A. I started writing poetry from the age of 7. It was one of those things that just happened I guess, like the interest I showed in art and music from a very early age. I loved books and I would write and illustrate my own stories. I was raised in a conservative South Asian family. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, for most young people in my community it was all about becoming a doctor or an engineer. In school I was a bright student but my parents didn’t push me into pursuing the sciences. They knew that my real abilities lay in the arts and they fully encouraged my creative pursuits. I published three small collections of poetry as a teen. I went on to do a Masters in English from the University of Delhi and became an English teacher, pursuing painting on the side. As a child, I was inspired by my aunt who wrote and published poems in her native language, Malayalam, and the stories my mother told me about my grandfather who was a voracious reader and free thinker. My immediate family now consists of engineers and pilots—I am the only odd poet! Q. Do you share your poems with anyone before you submit them to magazines? If so, who?
A. Vivek, my husband of 17 years, is my resident editor. I can always count on the man to give me unvarnished criticism. I also have this one good friend from my school days who reads drafts of poems that have bits I am doubtful about. She is absolutely brutal. Every writer needs a friend like that and I am lucky to have her because praise and adulation don’t help you see your blind spots. You need no holds barred feedback to grow.
Q. Who are your favorite poets? Who inspires you? A. Omar Musa, Bhanu Kapil, Eileen Myles, Tess Taylor, M J Iuppa, Megha Sood, J P Dancing Bear. I love the vignette poetry of Diarmud Maolalai and John Grey, and am deeply inspired by the humanity and vulnerability in Carolynn Kingyens’s works. Q. Are there any recent poetry collections you recommend?
A. I want to get a copy of Carolynn Kingyens’s recently published Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound. I’ve read some of the poems in this collection in various publications. It would be a treat to savour it all in one place. Of the collections I read last year, my favourites are Ali Liebegott’s Summer of Dead Birds and Shira Elrichman’s Odes to Lithium. Q. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
A. Finding the time! I have a teen and a tween, and I’m a full-time mum, cook, and cleaner. I teach art part-time at an after-school program, and do three group exhibitions and several commissions a year. Many of my first drafts are written on my phone during my commute on trains and buses, or on a voice recorder when I walk to work.
Q. What advice would you give to a poet who wants to have her poetry published in a literary magazine?
A. Hone your craft. Read extensively and a wide variety of poets—both established and emerging. Before submitting to magazines, scour the archives to get a good sense of the journal’s aesthetic and if your poems are a good fit. Write a little bit everyday even if it is just a horrendous draft. And when communicating with editors, it doesn’t matter if someone is 25 or 75, be respectful and professional—humility and courtesy go a long way. Never take rejection personally. Whenever a poem comes back with a rejection slip, do some fresh revising before submitting it elsewhere. Keep sending out work regularly!