Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist who we first published on Fresh back in March, just after her first open mic performance in Oxford (England). This month, we’re happy to bring you an interview with Jhilmil, and three more poems.
JB: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are of me, aged ten years old, writing short stories and poems, sort of copies of Enid Blyton, which is what I used to read, set in an Indian scenario. I also remember writing a poem about my grandmother growing old disgracefully, and she treasured that scrap of paper and read it to me twenty years later! My grandmother is my favourite muse and often features in my poetry. I did not write poetry or stories for years, while I had my corporate consulting career and instead wrote articles and handbooks on computers, IT and Management. Last year, I took time to make a career change and embarked upon a second Masters, and chose to do an MA in Creative Writing. And now, I can’t stop writing!
KG: Do you ever write anything other than poetry?
JB: Yes, I write flash fiction, short stories, and am working on a non-fiction biography. In addition, I write opinion pieces and middles. But my favourite writing is poetry!
What We Leave Behind
I am your ancestor. You know
nothing about me.
There is no need
for you to know my faint
upper lip hair, the mole
upon my hairline, my favourite
perfume, or my favourite flower.
You didn’t know what made me
cry. I was the poet on the run,
of cycling by the marina,
the eavesdropper of magical
conversations on the underground.
I was the poet of biryani
joints, unsmoked cigarettes
and lovers like tattoos.
A poet of shrinking violet
and delicate sweet peas
trailing on the green trellis
behind the garage. Of whisky,
of purple mascara, of mini skirts
and boots. Of Camden Town,
India and everything in between.
I was the poet of mermaids
and unicorns. The poet of impossible
hope and unerring faith. Of open
mics and poetry slams. Of kohl
lined eyes and palms of henna
in a world of blue jeans and white
shirts and blonde hair.
The future didn’t matter to me. After
a while, the past didn’t either.
I loved to say, in every breath
we die, in every breath we are
I don’t expect you to know me. You,
of designer clothes, fancy cars
and a house in the right neighbourhood.
I agreed to be the poet who lived
in this one breath. Believing
that we only remember one life.
I have seen myself in the black
car. I have seen the retreat
of the black car. I have smelled
the lilies at the grave.
KG: Do you have any favourite poets, or other wordsmiths of any kind, who have influenced your life as a writer?
JB: My favourite poets, in no particular order are Claudia Rankine, Warsan Shire, Mimi Khalvati, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and Rabindranath Tagore.
KG: What is your favourite word? And do you have a least favourite word?
JB: My favourite word is “kissed”, but not in the traditional sense, for example kissed by the sun, pound cake kissed by cinnamon, etc.! My least favourite word is fuck or any expletive.
Ten jars of spices on the kitchen shelf
Stare balefully at me
Ten jars of spices on the kitchen shelf
I try to resist
I try to look away
The colours, the textures
And God forbid, should I open a jar,
Ten jars of spices; turmeric, chilli pepper,
cinnamon, star anise, and cumin
Whisper my name through the colanders
And the sieves
I walk to the cinnamon, open the jar defiantly
The heady aroma takes me
To being five years old
In my grandma’s kitchen
Her smell, her long braid, her pink shawl
My hand clutching hers
The thak-thak-thak of the mortar and pestle
Echoing my heartbeat
I hurriedly close the cinnamon jar
I don’t want mascara lines down my cheeks
And open the friendly turmeric
Healing, orange turmeric, medicine countless times
The time my nose piercing got infected, turmeric
The time I had a sore throat, ginger, turmeric and honey
The time after a surgery, milk and turmeric
The body heals, the spices know
Eight other jars of spices regard me coolly
Which one will I open next?
I want to be strong, I want to resist
But find star anise in my hand
I crush a pod between my thumb and forefinger
I am transported to Thailand
To when I still had a family
When the words Mom meant something
I shake my head, put the star anise back in the jar
No, no, no, you cannot entice me, not today
I shut the lids of the jars and walk to the living room
Ten photographs on the mantlepiece gaze at me
KG: What tends to inspire your writing the most?
JB: Nature inspires me. Sadness of any sort, the refugee crisis, a domestic violence situation, the recent shooting in Orlando, these all inspire me. I think, as poets, we are more sensitive to pain and beauty, and we pay more attention to the details, and writing emerges.
It is delicious with crackers, and with a spot
of wine. It melts, your tongue feeling a hot
Indian summer, your nostrils filling with the
scent of a hundred flowers in Kashmir.
You hear mandolins over a river, and
you see everything more clearly.
Food, sex, chocolate, and love
all do that, you see. You don’t
need to travel far at all.
KG: And finally – what would be your best advice, as it relates to writing, life, or otherwise?
JB: Writing advice—Exercise every day, it helps keep the writing flowing and your body and mind feeling fresh and energised to write. Life advice—everything passes, so stop sweating the small stuff, and celebrate everything, pain, joy, sorrow, pleasure… it’s all fab!
If you are an unpublished or emerging poet, and would like your work to appear in one of our weekly Fresh spots (Thursdays), find out more here.