Karishma Sangtani

Full Time Poets

Part One: Writing under Capitalism

by Karishma Sangtani

I began working full-time over two years ago and, perhaps naively, believed I’d be able to dedicate most of my time outside of work to creative projects. In reality, I’ve struggled to remain consistent with my writing practice outside of workshops. Whilst I’m sure this is, in part, due to my own tendency to overcommit myself, both professionally and socially, I’m also convinced that the 9-5 routine is enough to deplete the creative energy of most people. A few chats with other poets and a quick delve into a couple of Reddit threads tell me there are countless others feeling the same way. As one Reddit user states, ‘I don’t get to do art much because even if I find the time, I don’t have the energy.’

To me, these feelings point to larger, systemic issues; in a cost of living crisis, under a Tory government that — as Katie Goh eloquently puts it — ‘has been on a hell-bent mission to defund, devalue and dismantle the UK’s arts and culture sector’, it’s unsurprising that, for most people, quitting their day jobs to pursue writing, or other creative endeavours full-time, is simply not a viable option. For many people, the difficulty of finding the time and energy to make art is also connected to other governmental failures, be it the violence of the hostile environment or the crisis in trans healthcare. As Lola Olufemi writes, ‘if we wish to see a world of art and creativity, then we must remove the barriers to that creativity and the systems that kill artists.’  

In addition to organising against these systems and participating in mutual aid, I’ve been asking myself, on a more personal level, what can I implement in my own life to make writing easier? I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but there are a couple of exercises that I’ve found helpful. One of them has been the classic free-write. If I’m honest, my free-writes usually turn into half-formed journal entries, where I can dump the stresses of the day without worrying about anything making sense or being ‘poetic’. Eventually, this mental dump helps me to reach a more creative headspace. Another helpful exercise has been creating short erasure poems. On the days it seems too draining to face the blank page after work, I occasionally reach for a black marker and a book I know I won’t read. Though these free-writes and erasure poems are far from exceptional works of art (whatever that even means), I think they’re just as important. In a system which values art only if commodifiable, doing my silly little writing exercises and producing nonsense sometimes feels like a small act of resistance.

Part Two: Our Progress in Scraps

by Kayleigh Jayshree

The shadows of trees
burn out: edges in periphery
another splinter

During this residency, both myself and Karishma have worked full time, amongst other commitments. I’ve felt burnout before; at the end of my Master’s degree, I slept almost the entire day for two weeks. I’ve never felt burnout and been unable to rest before. 

Holding these facts together
remembering all I have to do
can I get past this?

For most people I know who are artists, including middle class writers, we have to work full time, whether that’s in the industry or not. Writing doesn’t cover a full time job, and even when you become successful in your chosen career, it will have likely take longer than a decade. Writing isn’t a difficult career, in my opinion, but it takes a lot of mental energy, time, and resilience. I lived in Nottingham until fairly recently, and commuted to London, once a week, to attend the Roundhouse Collective with Karishma, with rail strikes, delays, and travel costs all standing in the way. I’m not the kind of person to let roadblocks stop me, but even so, I found myself getting more and more exhausted as time went on.

We’ve lost our training wheels
choice passes us by; life
cycles off a cliff

I haven’t written as much as I usually do. I’m trying so hard not to let it get to me. I have to work to stay alive, to pay rent and build towards a future which is neither written nor guaranteed. I’m lucky to be able to work from home, to live in the north, and I know this is a privilege. Regardless, it’s exhausting to write on the weekends, I feel mentally drained, have a lack of stimuli to push me to write. We’re socialised to believe we live on scheduled time, that we have to be productive, to create and churn out material. My brain feels like sticky soup, I’m struggling to read more complex things, and I still feel like I’m running out of time.

Bones whittle to rot
I can’t think of anything til 9am
scheduled, scheduled, undone

The month of our writing residency has involved writing together online, sending each other scraps of Haiku poems (as shown above) and trying to write collaboratively. We’re both burnt out, tired, and looking for moments where we can write something. The biggest thing that holds me back during writer’s block is worrying that my writing isn’t good, or isn’t working instantly. This is when I’m in my editor brain, and I can harness it to work on existing poetry, but doesn’t work as well when I should be creating new stuff. We feel like we’re running out of time, we feel like we should be more productive, trying to do more, an instant success already, but we don’t have the time to create when we’re working to pay rent, and to survive. I’ve really enjoyed writing with Karishma, talking about poetry, our craft, and creating individual responses, but I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. I’ve thrown myself headfirst into water poetry and imagery for my individual responses, and working on freewrites.

Our hopes chafe into time
instant success, popped up toast
scraping off the burns

I started attending writing workshops in 2018. I developed a close network of writers across England and still attend workshops to this day. A writing workshop is a session where I can say what I need to, write stuff, experiment, try different things and get instant feedback from my peers and the workshop facilitator. There are often times where I am in awe and inspired by the people I am writing alongside. No matter where the workshop is, whether it’s in person or online, forming connections with people who have vastly different life and writing experiences is a valuable part of the practice. Since the beginning of my writing career, I’ve found community, collaboration, and working with people a cornerstone of my practice. Some think that writing is an individual craft, but I believe that you can only improve when working with others and building a community. 

I wish it was easy
inspiration birthday cake,
sliced evenly

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