SHARMINI WIJEYESEKERA IN CONVERSATION WITH JANE ORMEROD
For many years Sharmini Wijeyesekera tried hard to drop out of society; she camped in urban parks, hitchhiked across Europe and played music for her dinner. Now she lives in London and writes to satisfy her wanderlust. Her poetry has been published in Milvia Street , American Journal of Poetry, great weather for MEDIA’s Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea, and she also writes and records story-songs as the artist Charmed Life.
Jane Ormerod: Hi Sharmini. Congratulations on your poem “On the Nature of Controversy” being published in great weather’s new anthology Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea. This a short, super powerful piece. Can you tell us about its background and inspiration? Was it a work that came fast or was it one that needed sweat and multiple edits?
Sharmini Wijeyesekera: I’m gonna confess that I’d been trying to work “cunt” into a poem for some time before this came to me as a burst of inspiration on the London Underground. Looking back on this piece now, it reads a lot like a defense of some of my own bad choices. And I’d been spending a lot of time listening to people with very strong opinions on what constituted empowerment versus victimization, and then also having experience performing as a woman … well, you’re never not a woman on stage and that’s how it is. The poem is a little conflicted because my own feelings are always conflicted. But I’m pretty pleased it ended up sounding cocky as well.
JO: What pulled you towards writing and what other creative genres are you involved in?
SW: I can’t think of a time I didn’t consider myself a writer, whether I was actively writing or not. As a kid I made up stories to daydream. As I grew older I found that there is a level of honesty achieved in the written word that I’ve just never found anywhere else. And reading and writing have been one of the ways I’ve been able to appreciate being human and all the struggles that come with it.
I also make music, so that’s my other love. Surprisingly, my songs are very lyric-driven, the storytelling type.
JO: Your bio describes a love of travel. Where have you been and what have you done? Do you create while on the road or does that come later?
SW: When I first started traveling I did it because I knew I wanted to tell stories and I knew I needed stories to tell. I had some older friends who had gone and done their round-the-world trips, or worked on farms in South America, or friends in bands who’d been on regional tours. And whenever one of them would start talking about their experiences I would get jealous and think I wanted to be that person.
So I went and did that in about as many ways as I could think of. I lived in a van in America, hitchhiked around Europe, did a photojournalist internship in Nepal, volunteered at a school in India, followed a friend from couch to couch as she worked in different cities around the Middle East. I’ve done some of the fancy stuff like backpack through Thailand and take a holiday in Sri Lanka as well. One of my best experiences was skinny-dipping in a fjord in Bergen after getting kicked out of all the bars...
As planned, it did give me lots to write about. Probably that voice was there all the time, but never mind. I have no regrets. And then I got tired. Which why I’m now in London spending time writing new experiences so I don’t have to completely destroy myself to be an artist. I did manage to write on the road, but I’m a lot more productive now.
JO: What encouraged you to submit to a New York publication?
SW: Despite moving across the globe, I’m still very American at heart. I discovered great weather for MEDIA, loved the name, and when I started reading through some past collections I was really impressed with how compelling the work was.
JO: What can the audience expect from you at the great weather for MEDIA reading at the Poetry Café in London on Wednesday September 4th 2019?
SW: I like things that are raw, strange, in your face. I wouldn’t say that I’m funny, but I do like people to laugh. They can laugh at me. I will be very happy with that.
JO: Is there a book on your shelf that would surprise people?
SW: Do you know what, I have five roommates and a whole bookshelf full of great books I’ve read and nobody ever looks at them or asks me about them! So yes, I would love someone to come over and be surprised by my books.
But to get back to your question, I recently read Confessions of a Shopaholic and surprised myself with how much I liked it. I know it’s sold as kind of chick-lit fluff, but it’s a pretty feminist book. I try to keep my mind open and read a wide selection. One of my favorite books of recent times was The Idiot by Elif Batuman. At the moment I’m splitting my time between Interview with a Vampire and Lanark. It’s been a rough stretch of reading. Two dark books, not very well balanced.
JO: Finally, what’s next for Sharmini Wijeyesekera?
SW: More musical performances as Charmed Life (hello, London!), a lot of short stories, and hopefully getting a novel together for publication soon-ish. You can follow me on twitter @sharminiwjskra or check out my songs on facebook.com/somecharmedlife
Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea is an exhilarating collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction from established and emerging writers across the United States and beyond. The anthology also contains an interview with musician/artist Walter Steding.
"These annual anthologies and other work by great weather for MEDIA are an admirable contribution to arts and culture."- The Compulsive Reader
Submissions for our next anthology open October 15 2019.
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