Rishika Aggarwal: on poetry and being a self-published poet

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I think we’re beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savannah or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem. –Lucille Clifton

I stumbled into poetry by accident.

Well, maybe not. For me, writing poetry has been a thing I’ve done for the last decade of my life. I’ll be the first to admit that my first forays into writing weren’t particularly good – the ruminations of an angst-filled teenager entering puberty, and nothing more than that.

The first time I took writing poetry seriously, however, was about five years ago. I’d spiralled down a rabbit hole on the social media website Tumblr, where careful searches will result in you discovering a gold mine of budding poets, and I’d fallen in love with what words could do. The poem that sealed the deal for me was Clemetine von Radics’ ‘For Teenage Girls with Wild Ambition and Trembling Hearts’ – I remember getting lost in that, and knowing that I wanted to be able to evoke some of those emotions in another person.

For me, writing poetry is an inherently personal act. It is an act that is both political and not – poetry is the lens through which I filter my understanding of the world, my love and passion for a variety of eclectic subjects, and experiences seen through the lens of emotion. It is where I pour my love for mythology and fiction, my frustration with politics, my feminist ideals – the landing pad for all my dreams and hopes.

It’s not easy to get into writing – any type of writing – as a career. With something like poetry, I didn’t know where to start, but Tumblr seemed like a place where I could make my first steps – after all, that’s where I truly fell in love with what poetry could do.  On my poetry blog, where I post some of my pieces for free for anyone to read. But for me, I knew that was never going to be enough – I had to challenge myself, take my passion as far as I could.

The thing I discovered was that one of the best places to gain exposure is through a variety of literary and poetry magazines, both online and print based. Many take unsolicited submissions, or put out calls for submissions for upcoming issues. Some have themes, and only accept and publish poems related to that, while others are simply looking for what they feel are the best poems, regardless of topic.

The one thing to keep in mind is that many poetry journals are looking for first publication rights – they will often not accept content that has been published elsewhere. This is an even more common fact when it comes to journals that pay contributors. Not all journals do so, and many are willing to accept pre-published works – it’s just a matter of finding one that works for you.

The other thing I realised is that sometimes, what’s right for you may be self-publication. Full-length poetry books can range from 35-50+ poems, depending on what a publishing house is looking for. For people looking to establish themselves, while also earning something, one option is self-publishing chapbooks. This is a small booklet of work, usually about 10-20 poems long. These can be physically printed out and sold, or published and sold online as an e-chapbook. For me, it was the second option that made the most sense – I have published two e-chapbooks, #FDD017 (Golden) and Interstellar.

To me, poetry is forever a space that I must inhabit – a space that draws and calls to me, one in which I feel compelled to wander. It is a place of immense wonder and deepest gratification – it is home.

In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist. –Meena Alexander


Rishika Aggarwal is 23-year old perpetual student, writing poetry in between work and studying literary theory. You can find her reading, arguing about books with Sakhi or browsing bookstores and book sales across Mumbai to collect pretty books for her ever-expanding bookshelf. 

Rishika Aggarwal

Rishika Aggarwal

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