Poetry Is Not a Competitive Sport: Pooja Nansi

I love sharing guest posts here, and it’s been one of my recent goals to share more voices on Poetic Asides (including the Why I Write Poetry posts). I’m excited to share Pooja Nansi’s voice here today on how poetry is not a competitive sport.

Pooja Nansi is a poet and performer. She is the author of Stiletto Scars and Love is An Empty Barstool. Her one woman show,You Are Here, which examines her family history of migration was part of the Esplanade Studios series in Singapore and toured to the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2016. She is a 2016 recipient of the Young Artist Award, Singapore’s highest accolade for Arts practitioners under the age of 35 and is Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador.

Learn more at poojanansi.com.


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I deactivated Facebook a couple of days ago, because I am in the midst of manuscript building and trying to reduce all the ambient noise I can. I don’t use social media in a consistent manner. Mostly I am being silly with my friends on it, occasionally using it to speak up when something really crawls under my skin. Once in a while, it’s an informal publishing platform to share raw, unedited thoughts.

I understand that being a Youth Poet Ambassador is a public role. I understand

Pooja Nansi

that it requires a presence and I choose to do that through the work. I am proud of the public programs I have run this year for different groups of people. They have ranged from public lectures and free workshops to readings and visual text installations in the middle of neighborhoods. I have some time yet to go in my tenure, and I see the role as an opportunity to use the resources it offers to allow more people to access poetry in the ways I can manage. I am, after all, one person.

I was informed that a younger poet published a public note saying she was disappointed in me. So if you are a young poet, then I have only this to say: I am not trying to be your voice. I cannot be anyone’s voice. I am sorry if that disappoints you, but I can only share my own journey in trying to find mine. And I can tell you what it took me to discover it. I can tell you I am imperfect, and that is my favorite thing to keep unpacking about myself. It is where I have found my most exciting discomforts, it is where the work I think is my most honest has come from. I can only remind you that when you have your own platforms, make space for the voices that need to be heard. We are all figuring it out, in our living and in our writing. I believe we only do our work when we use our own voices to their best capacity.

And the work of figuring it out and being a writer is largely also about anxiety. The anxiety of not being good enough, not being seen enough, of not being as prolific as the person next to us. And while that anxiety is very normal and common even among the most successful writers and artists, it is not why you became a writer. You became a writer, because you had something to say. So the only solution that’s ever worked for me against that anxiety is to open up a Word document, and to read work that expands my mind and speak to people whose values I respect, to recognize that that anxiety, whether mine or someone else’s can be toxic, and to do what it takes to remind myself it has nothing to do with who I am as a person, or what I am trying to say with my words.

Poetry is not a competitive sport. It can feel like it but the points are not the points. The point is the poetry. (I knew my Slam roots would come to my use in so many ways.)

We are not each other’s nemesis. We are not testing mettle against each other. We are not writing for someone’s approval. And when we are, it is usually artificially implemented on us; it is ambient noise. We are, most of us, just trying to make sense of our truths however we can. And hey, that’s why poetry was made for us.


If you’d like to share your voice on any poetry-related topic at Poetic Asides, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with a brief idea of what you’d like to cover or send along a 300-500 word post on spec. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.


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7 thoughts on “Poetry Is Not a Competitive Sport: Pooja Nansi

  1. tripoet

    Dear Pooja, I will be teaching a poetry class here in the Heart of America in about a month. My class will consist of older women who struggle with horrible illnesses or who are caretakers of family and friends who are ill. I am collecting a list of poignant sayings on why we write poetry to share at the first class.
    I want you to know that yours today is so beautiful that I believe it will bring them hope and joy. So see, you are reaching audiences that you hadn’t even known about today. Thank you. The purity of your words and the honesty they show touched my heart and made me happy that I pursue poetry.

  2. Marie Elena

    So much truth in your words. “We are not each other’s nemesis. We are not testing mettle against each other. We are not writing for someone’s approval.”


    And yet … it feels so good to be validated. To have someone I respect poetically say, “This is good,” or “This touched me.” To have a poem selected as a “top ten” right here on this site is a thrill. For someone like me, it is a wonderfully unexpected surprise that fills my spirit with validation. It also thrills me to see those I “know” recognized in some way for the worth of their words.

    Excellent post with much to ponder. Thank you!

  3. Walter J Wojtanik

    Pooja, you are so on point. I have beat that drum for a few years now. Poetry seemed to have taken on a competitive nature and that was a disdainful occurrence to me. I had long ago quit “competing” and gone back to being a poet. Poetry indeed lives in the heart and soul, but it is each individual’s heart and soul. No one poet speaks for another. They may cajole and inspire if we allow them to, but as you have so wonderfully stated, they do not speak for us. Stay committed to your expressive self. That is the one truth a poet has. Thank you for your perspective and the confirmation that there are more of us out there than we knew.

  4. Daniel Paicopulos

    I so appreciate these thoughts. Indeed, each of us can hope that someone, any one, out there, gets what we are up to, but, in the end, we are simply trying to find a way to express our individual truth, in as pretty a package as the Spirit of our muses allow.


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