Today, we introduce you to Renita Siqueira, whose poem “Allowed to Exist” placed third in our fifth annual poetry contest.
Renita, Welcome to The PBS Blog!
What is your name, and where are you from?
I’m Renita Siqueira and I’m from a city called Pune in India.
India in the houseeee.
When did you first fall in love with poetry?
It was during one of the Literature lectures in college. My professor explained the meaning of each line of a poem. I sadly don’t remember which poem it was, but for the first time, I realized poems are not as simple as they can seem to be. There is a technique, rhythm, music, and a lot of thought that goes into writing them. They can evoke feelings, stir up memories, lead to uprisings, and connect strangers. They are powerful! With the beauty of imagery and different figures of speech, you can write about something without mentioning it at all and leave it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Your poem stood out because you gave us a glimpse of life on the other side of the world.
Please, tell us what inspired your poem.
There is an increasing intolerance in my country to differences in various things, such as opinions, beliefs, and religious practices, to mention a few. I was shocked to read the news that young Muslim girls were asked to remove their burkhas and hijabs if they wanted to step inside the classroom. They had to choose between two BASIC human rights—the right to free primary education and the right to practice one’s religion freely. I’ve grown up reading about women like Savitribai Phule and others who pioneered women’s education back in 1948, and here we are in 2022. Disheartening!
Today, it isn’t uncommon to read about mobs, lynching, someone being attacked based on religious grounds, being discriminated against for favouring/supporting a particular political party, etc. People are trying to speak up, but many voices are silenced under various garbs without reason.
There is a powerful line that says:
“Now, the punches break walls and bones and homes with unveiled ferocity no admonishments, no penalties.”
Can you break this down for us?
There has been an increase in caste and religion-based hate crimes in India. People from minorities or certain castes have been subjected to mobs, lynching, and attacks on them and their property. There have been cases where people have been forced to sing slogans of another religion just to stay safe. Rana Ayyub, one of our most outspoken journalists, has been a victim of incessant trolling and threats. Many of the perpetrators of these activities have gone scot-free. If you read the article about hate crimes, you’ll see that some of these horrific crimes were not even reported or acknowledged.
Today, sadly, such stories of violence have become so common that they’ve become just another statistic.
If you could have lunch with your favorite poet, living or dead who would it be?
Can I cheat and name two? My favourite poet alive is Sarah Kay. I first came across a video of her performance with Phil Kaye on YouTube. The vocabulary in her poems is simple, but the subjects and writing make you feel the depth of it.
Yes, I am familiar with Sarah Kay! Amazing talent.
My other inspiration is Maya Angelou. I didn’t know much about her when a friend lent me ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, but later, I kept hearing references to her from different people. I get goosebumps whenever I read or hear her performance of ‘Still I Rise.’
I know right! Maya was amazing.
What inspired your writing journey?
I am quiet, an introvert, and most often found listening to what others have to say. But I am also very observant, creative, and perceptive and have my own take on things. The bio on my first blog read, ‘I express myself better through the written word to convey unseen feelings and unheard thoughts :)’. Ten years later, I find myself better at expressing my thoughts vocally, but I still prefer the written word. I received a lot of encouragement from my family and friends. Moreover, when people shared that they liked what I wrote or it made them think, that encouraged me to keep writing and trying to hone it.
On a side note, I like writing in rhymes, but sadly, it’s not considered serious poetry.
Aht, Aht! All poetry is serious poetry, lol.
Have you ever performed your poetry before an audience?
I was first introduced to live spoken word when I was in Bombay and attended an event curated by Rochelle D’Silva. She was amazing! I’ve fangirled over Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, read Nikita Gill, and listened to Megha Rao’s podcast. It was so cool that I wanted to give it a try.
I ended up reading, instead of reciting, my poems a few times out of fear of forgetting. It was very nerve-wracking. Yet, as poets, we know exactly which words require emphasis, where to slow down and pick up the pace, where to pause, etc. If I practice long and hard enough and gather enough courage, I would love to give spoken word a try.
I think you’ll do great.
What Does Freedom Mean to You?
To me, freedom means the ability to ‘live and let live’ without impeding on someone else’s right to live, and their way of living shouldn’t affect mine. I’ve grown up practicing ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’. If I don’t want to be discriminated against, want to read, eat, travel, and do the things that give me joy, I also need to make sure I don’t step on someone’s right to do the same.
What advice would you give to people who want to pursue a career in poetry?
I’m learning myself, so I’m not sure whether I can advise. My Manager says the best way to improve at anything is through practice and exposure. So, keep writing and reading. Be okay with being mediocre in the beginning; everyone has to start somewhere. Diamonds shine only after all the polishing, right? Don’t discount yourself, don’t assume publishers will not like what you write. Write it anyway, share it anyway. Most often, there’s more to gain than to lose. And give up the idea of ‘perfection’—a perfect word, a perfect poem, a perfect time. If perfection existed, progress wouldn’t.
Please, tell us more about your work.
I am an instructional designer, freelance writer, and poet. I’ve written for various publications on the environment, healthcare, gender, and socio-political issues.
Where do you see yourself a year from now?
I’m a work in progress. I’ll be reading and writing for sure, developing new interests and hobbies, learning and growing, and, fingers crossed, having a book published.
Yess, to published books! Talk that talk.
Now, let’s get to this poem!
“Allowed to Exist” by Renita Siqueira
from the golden bird of the east,
the land of riches, of diversity, of hospitality…
You’d be welcomed.
Here, you could find men
with a turban, a taqiyah, a crucifix and a sacred thread
Exchanging tales of laughter, sadness and fears.
Here, you could find women
permitted to pick up pen and paper
and right their own futures.
Here, you could agree to disagree,
roll with the punches
without bleeding life and its dignity.
Here, we celebrated each other in our own ways
bowing to our different gods, because
They were allowed to exist…
in a democracy.
I now hail
from the land of saffron,
the land of poverty, of conformity, of not bigotry… yet.
You are (not) welcomed;
Hungry wallets are.
Here, you will find men
but the turban, the taqiyah, the crucifix must remain hidden;
The tales are replaced
by grim pleasantries, meaningful nods, suffocating silences.
Here, school girls can wear hijabs
But must strip their personal beliefs at the classroom door
if they want an education.
Here you can say your prayers
but not too loud.
Now, the punches break walls and bones and homes
with unveiled ferocity
no admonishments, no penalties
if you dare to swim against the tide of saffron
which began through trickles but now threatens
to wipe you out.
Here, history is being rewritten or expunged.
I read 1984 and wonder
Did Orwell foresee what would happen in the land of his birth?
Here, we celebrate what’s left of ourselves
within our boxes, hiding our labels
without stepping out of line
bowing our heads to one god
the only god that’s allowed to exist…
AuToCrAcY (in disguise).
Renita Siqueira is from India. Growing up in a family of readers and teachers, and with lots of books, she finds recourse in words. She found poetry, or rather poetry found her during college when she was encouraged to take part in a poetry competition. Since then, she hasn’t stopped writing. She’s an instructional designer by profession, poet by passion and hopes to have her own books of poems published someday.
Being a creative person, she draws, paints, sings, dances (in her bedroom), lovingly makes handmade gifts and does a bit of gardening. She enjoys traveling and loves train rides. She’s constantly on the lookout to learn something new and grow. “Though she be but little, she is fierce!”
I’ve been Self-Publishing my books for twelve years now. Usually, after learning I’ve published fourteen books and counting, people are astonished. They want to know what the secret is. There’s only one problem.
I don’t have a secret.
But, I do have a system.
System: A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method.
Every time I publish a book, I follow the same 5-7 steps.
Call it a schedule if that’s easier, but this timetable helps me to publish with ease every time.
This is the new book cover for my first novel, The Aftermath (2012), which I revealed years ago. I had planned to launch a second edition but still have not finished revising it. However, I won’t have to worry about a cover when I get around to it. It is bought and paid for.
As you can see, I don’t always keep my steps in exact order, but I am never too far off track because I have a blueprint to follow.
Tip: Always get your book edited and formatted before your artist designs the entire book cover because the book’s trim size determines the book’s dimensions. A cover design (just the front) is okay if you’d like to use it to promote and build excitement, but for an accurate width of the spine, for instance, your artist will need your exact number of pages which you won’t know until the book is edited and formatted. Getting the text formatted before the final cover is complete is part of my system.
What I am saying to you is I do the same thing repeatedly. No magic. No secret sauce. Just systems and consistency.
I call this series Indie Author Basics because I genuinely believe simplicity is king. All you have to do is find a way that works for you and repeat it. That’s a system. A collection of parts working together.
If you have not written your book, what can you do every day to move you closer to finishing? Could you write it every morning while drinking coffee? Could you write it before bed? During lunch? What system works for you?
If you’ve written your book but have not published it, click on the link below and schedule a call with me. If you are looking to Self-Publish, you don’t have to figure out a system. Just use mine!
When I was coming up, we treated writing like a special gift, and those who could write well felt like they had superpowers. Or at least I did.
In elementary school, I was a terrible student. I got straight F’s, and the source of my lousy grades was math. I failed the sixth grade twice and almost failed the seventh grade.
Correction: I did fail the seventh grade, but someone had mercy on me, and I passed on to the eighth grade. I cannot say for sure today how it happened. Only I am glad it did.
By the time I was in eighth grade, I was seeing a special ed teacher. Every day he would come into our class, they would announce the special ed teacher was here, and the four, five, or six of us would stand and leave with him.
If that weren’t degrading enough, the work we did in that small room was fit for a first grader. Two plus two and four plus four. It was frustrating because the math I needed help with was the eighth-grade stuff.
I knew that one plus one was two. I didn’t know how it applied to the more advanced math in the other room. Still, they would give us these long worksheets with these kindergarten math problems, tons of them all down the paper. Some days, they would give us candy.
It was humiliating, and I would go home and vent my rage in my diary. I would write about how it felt to be singled out in front of the entire class and for the teacher to utter the words, “The special ed teacher is here,” which I thought was unnecessary. The lack of discretion seemed to me a lack of care for our feelings as students. I felt stupid and if that’s how I felt, I am sure the other kids felt it, too.
And then something happened.
This same teacher discovered I knew how to write. Suddenly, everything turned around. I cannot even say for sure how it happened. I still did not understand the math, but the more I wrote, the better my grades got. By the time the school year ended, I had an armful of academic awards and was graduating with honors.
Writing got me out of the eighth grade and into honors classes in High School. (Even honors math.)
Writing got me into College while still in High School. I attended Robert Morris College in my Junior year for early credit. I would go to High School in the daytime and then take the green line downtown for my college course in the evenings. It was dark when I got home every day.
Writing got me into AP Literature, graduating High School with honors, tenth in my class.
The Point of it All
For writers like me, writing isn’t something we dreamed up on a whim, but is an intimate part of our lives. It is something we can trace as ever-present. For us, writing is a deeply rooted passion that played a major role in developing who we are.
My concern now is writing isn’t taken as seriously as other gifts. Do we even consider it a gift? Indeed, one can learn to write through education, training, and coaching, but is it still a gift?
Are there still people who are natural wordsmiths? People, who go the extra mile to string words together into comprehension? People, who devour books like a man starving? And is writing still opening doors for them? As it did for me?
Do we still consider writing a gift, or is everyone a writer?
A lot is going on in the world, so I sit here bathed in solitude and fishing for a thought. Let the noisy silence of second hands and chirping birds lend me the inspiration needed to write. Let the calm of the rain suicide its face onto my windowsill, onto shingled rooftops, ripping puddles, or perhaps it will only melt itself into the concrete.
Have you ever sat back and listened to silence? It is hypocritically noisy. I can hear the laughter of locusts and the singing of birds as they intercourse themselves into the wind. This noisy wind. It whistles and shouts and spreads its hum across the troposphere, just silent enough for us not to notice amid the growling of car engines and groaning of electricity. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear angels sing in the wind.
Give me not the physical right now. Not the booming lyric of music or the chatter of distraction. Give me focus so I may snag a thought from the roaring voices of spirit and memory hanging from the pictures on my wall. We are familiar with the sound of noise, but not the noise of silence. Not the tickle of an idea brushing past our thoughts or the seductive wooing of trees to wind. The giggling fabric against the windowsill. The peaceful lullabies of daylight.
Indeed, nature has its way of suckering us out of quiet, but what an incredible stillness.