On Poetry & blending art forms with ami J. Sanghvi

Tell me about yourself Let's see...I’m 25 years old and a first-generation, Indian-American, queer author. All of my currently published work is poetry, though I write in other genres as well, like satire, critical theory, memoir, magical realism, etc. I’m a visual artist, mostly in the areas of photography and digital art, but I’m currently branching out. I’m also pursuing my M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing. I'm presently L.A.-based, and working on my next few books. I plan to release a minimum of four more before my 27th birthday in 14 months, so then I'll have an exciting 10 by 27! I also train in the mixed martial arts, and I've been painting a bit lately to blow off some extra steam between all the writing, digital art, and photography projects. My published books at this time are Amaranthine, Devolution, Armageddon, Silk & Cigars, Cerulean, and The Book of Soft, Sweet Nothings! Wow! That’s quite impressive, and what high and amazing goals you have. When did your writing journey begin, and what inspired you to first pick up the pen? Thank you so much for that! The commencement of my writing journey is actually a bit of a cliche, but I'm not ashamed of it. I believe I was around six or seven years old, and I'd just read my first Harry Potter book! Needless to say, the torch was lit. When I was a little kid, I definitely had more of an inclination for long-form fantasy fiction, non-fiction, and reporting (I actually thought I was going to be a journalist until I was around twenty years old). In middle school, the poetry reared its lovely head. That remained with me, and became my primary form. My fantasy also grew darker, and then somewhere in the whirlwind of early adulthood, I ended up being a poet, dark and/or queer magical realism fanatic, and cross-genre/experimental writer. Last year, satire and parody entered the frame, and I even wrote a first draft of my first novel in Summer 2019. Then, I started my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and the cross-genre/experimental nature of my work evolved.

Tell me more about your published works. Sure! Amaranthine (December 2018) is my debut. Unlike my other collections, it was in the works long before I started writing the poetry for it. It started for me as a visual art thing. I was honestly in that stage that follows like four major traumas too many, and trying to change my life while also struggling with my pain. That's when I discovered the word Amaranthine. It's an adjective with three major definitions: 1. Of a dark, purple-red color; 2. perpetually beautiful; 3. indestructible, immortal, eternal. As is my nature, I became obsessed with the word, the color, and what it meant for me. It also tied perfectly into my deep-rooted affinity for roses. So, with a plan of getting past the fear of others reading my work I self-published Amaranthine as a way to get my feet wet and also funnel out some of my pre-grad school work before commencing my M.F.A. degree, since I had years and years of work just sitting there gathering dust, and I'd also just overcome a post law school writer's block, which had the poetry essentially bleeding out. So, Amaranthine is the book about the aftermath of trauma, dealing with pain, and trying to stay strong and survive. Armageddon (April 2019), aka Book No. 3 (since I'd already caught the indie poetry bug by then), ended up being an accidental continuation of Amaranthine: a "cause" to Amaranthine's "effect." This is also the first time I published my poetry regarding John Milton, my favorite author and main inspiration. Book No. 2 was Devolution (April 2019), a dark, queer, poetic, old-world contemporary narrative inspired by Dante's Inferno and born as a result of my first NaNoWriMo in 2018. Silk & Cigars (Book No. 4), my official queer, femme, feminine, and feminist collection, followed Books 1-3 in October 2019. Since it was essentially drafted in the spring of 2019, I consider this the last of my pre-grad school collections.

Cerulean, released in March 2020, almost felt like a second Amaranthine in nature. It felt like a first, and it's the first one I used my own visual artwork for! The photograph on the cover is titled "Coffeeshop Wonderland," and I followed that up with more of my photography inside the book. This is another book that deals heavily with trauma, and it also gets into the really dark, uncomfortable parts of mental illness. I remember people being shocked when I told them this one is at least ten times darker than Amaranthine. The work I didn't put into Cerulean essentially bled over into Book. No. 6: The Book of Soft, Sweet Nothings (April 2020). Both of these books explore more styles, forms, and specific topics than the previous four do. They're also far more philosophical and existential in nature. That's definitely the direction I'm moving in currently with my creative work.

Excellent. What are you working on now?

I'm actually working on a handful of things currently! On the "currently writing" front, I'm primarily focused on my masters thesis. There are two different projects, and I'm supposed to decide on one by August. One is a critical/theoretical/memoir/lyric essay focusing on an almost-formulaic recipe for "happiness" (in more general terms) based on my past experiences with it, places in art, literature, academia, pop culture, etc. where it's considered in a manner worth analyzing, and more. It also explores joy and melancholy in different degrees as it may pertain to writers, artists, etc. The other project is actually also a cross-genre, experimental work playing with parafiction, poetry, letter writing, critical theory, the philosophy of language, and some major-world building. Think high fashion and Gossip Girl meets Dante meets queerness meets Faust meets extensive fantasy world-building meets existentialism, etc.

As far as editing goes, I am currently working on editing Books. 7., 8., and 11. While I'm keeping a certain air of mystery around these, I will say that Books 7. and 11. are born from the same two hour writing purge, and the prior is currently set to be released on July 24th of this year (my 26th birthday), and the latter on July 23rd, 2020, the day before my 27th. Furthermore, 7. and 8. are very involved with roses, and all three of these are experimental poetry collections involving my own art work for the cover images.

And, on the querying front... Well, I'm super new to this process, and essentially terrified, if you want the truth. I have a queer, femme fatale, magical realism, experimental short story collection I've recently started querying, kind of to get my feet wet. The major thing I'm about to send out to agents, however, is my first novel, satire, and major MMA-centered piece, Dickhead. It deals with some VERY delicate subject matter, so that makes querying it that much more terrifying. Wow. You’re a busy woman. So you’re getting your MFA? Tell me more on what getting the degree has been like. Haha yeah, I guess I do keep busy!

Well, up until starting my M.F.A., I actually had no prior, official creative writing education, and I'd only just had my first encounter with other authors a few months before starting my degree. In fact, I think my admissions process was the first time I had people who aren't my parents or very, very close friends reading my work. That was pretty terrifying, but I had no idea what I was in for!

To be frank, going from my year in law school to my masters at CalArts (aka the experimental art school) was a LEAP. I went from what is apparently called an "art world outsider" to an "insider" overnight, and it has been a RIDE. I've loved every single moment of it. I learn so much everyday, and am constantly challenged and inspired. Not only has my writing significantly evolved in my two semesters as an actual writing student, but I've grown so much as an academic, a thinker, and an artist as well. One of the really funny things about this experience is that my parents and I expected my art side to eat my "scholar" side along the way, but if anything, it's somehow made me more of both. It's even inspired me to push up my Ph.D. applications by a few years, because I'm just way too excited to wait. All in all, I've loved every minute of it. Life-changing, to say the least. What do you plan to pursue a Ph.D. in? That's actually the really funny part of it... I'm still not entirely sure! From the time I was 7, I was confident I'd pursue my Ph.D. in English Literature. By my twentieth birthday, I already knew where I'd specialize, and even had a general list of schools to consider! Then, I came to CalArts and realized there might actually be other degrees better suited for me! I've spoken to a few of my professors, and they've all been of the opinion that my true love of English Literature may not mean there aren't other degrees I should consider. Apparently there's a certain irony to how this works, where literature-centered people end up pursuing literature under other degrees, and people centered in other areas end up pursuing these under a literature doctorate program! As of right now, I've already ruled out Comparative Literature for myself, and I let my fantasy of pursuing the Classics go a long time ago. The main ones I'm considering, with plenty of encouragement from my professors, are Philosophy, Art Theory, and degrees that combine the two. I plan to include literature in my thesis either way. The end game is the same, though: becoming a professor-artist hybrid when it's all over!

That’s great. Talk to me about writing poetry. What do you consider the core elements to poetry writing? I'm not sure anyone's ever asked me that before! That's a great question, and I'm already excited to try and answer it. Something I've learned in the past year of my life is that poetry takes so many different shapes and forms. From school, I also learned a bit about the "materiality" of it, which is something I constantly rant to my mom about every time we videochat (sorry Mom). In other words, I'm realizing how much more complex poetry is than I ever knew before, despite years of pouring over classical verse and absorbing its many whims and ways. This complexity definitely makes it tricky to condense into a single genre. The one thing that appears consistent across the board, however, is that relationship with ones self it not only requires, but essentially demands from those who write it. This means that we must grow along the way, and the depths of it varies... but that leaves a few core elements, which I'd say are keen observation, honesty with oneself, the determination to reach deeper and deeper each time despite knowing what it might do to you, and the courage to speak in the face of adversity... A lesson I very much learned from Book No. 4, Silk & Cigars, every step of the way.

That’s such an interesting way of looking at it. We talked about poetry writing, but talk to me about how you go about putting together a collection of poetry and publishing, and how your mediums have added to its?

Yes, totally! I'm definitely very controlling about my poetry, which is why I self-publish it for the most part. I don't think I really realize I'm writing collections while I'm writing them... I just tend to have certain obsessions which take up my brain for a few weeks, sometimes a few

months (Amaranthine was the only obsession I had that lasted over a year). Then at some point, either immediately before the obsession is about to flicker out, or else right after I'm done writing what will probably be the last poem for it, I discover the relationship between everything, and usually my heart already knows the theme and title of the collection before I do. After that, I decide whether I want my art to be apart of the collection. If so, it's unlikely I'll use any stock images anywhere in the book. If not, then I just remove myself as a visual artist for a bit (outside of compiling the cover). So, I draft a few versions of a potential cover, and then I go into the editing phase. This is almost where 50% of the writing occurs; I tend to expand my poems while editing them lately, so usually my page count increases by a good 30-40 pages in the first editing stage. Then I take this version into the desired sizing dimensions after beginning to set it up on Amazon KDP. From here, it goes through a final content edit. Then, I transform one into a print manuscript and one into a Kindle copy, upload these to Amazon, and make adjustments as necessary based on the previews. For some reason, every part of publishing is just as much apart of the process for me as writing the actual poetry is. I don't have this relationship with my other genres, which is why I'm comfortable querying that work, but not my poetry. Actually, since we're on the topic, I do want people to know that I'm working on some resources based on what I've learned along the way so that others can also self-publish their poetry with ease without having to do the trial and error process from scratch. Why make other people go through that entire, grueling process when I can share what I've learned from my mistakes instead?

As far as my other mediums go... Amaranthine was the first time poetry evolved from my visual art inspirations. Now, when my visual art and poetry do go together, in tends to be a process that occurs unintentionally, like with Cerulean. I don't realize the connections until later on. Furthermore, the more I've been studying pe