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An Interview with Ramisa Raya; writer and poet

1. What motivated you to start writing about women's experiences in the way you have?

My earliest pieces were 'light-hearted Young Adult novels' that I’d consider more of a writing exercise than a megaphone. For many years, I refused to write about the issues that were closest to my heart. What if I misrepresented or diluted them?

Fortunately, this fear dissolved after I took English Extension as a senior subject. One piece in particular began this process – it was an exemplar of a past student’s creative piece of Charles Perrault's The Little Mermaid rewritten as a free-verse poem. Unlike our traditionally voiceless heroine, this protagonist was given the voice to speak about being an object of male desire. It was a critique of feminine culture in very simple words; the vocabulary was fourth grade level maximum.

I was mesmerised.

I used the style and tone for my own of creative piece for Little Red Riding Hood. And in just one sitting, I wrote the first draft of 'murder weapon: abandonment.’ Now, this was big - I never truly understood what inspiration was until I wrote without the fear of the message being misconstrued. And that marked the birth of this collection. (Yes, reference intended!)

2. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading 'A Stoic's Guide to the Good Life' by William Braxton Irvine.

3. Could you explain a little bit of the thinking behind ''Unbirthing Little Red Riding Hood'?

Like every other poetry collection, ‘Unbirthing Little Red Riding Hood’ can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Whatever your interpretation, you’re right.

But if I were to be explicit in how I'd written them:

Our protagonist is the victim of sexual violence. Pronouns are used in the absence of names to allow the reader’s easy transition into the different characters. ‘I’ s Little Red Riding Hood; ‘You’ are her mother; ‘She’ is her grandmother; ‘He’ is the wolf.

The ongoing metaphor of ‘murder weapon’ suggests that our protagonist has suffered a metaphorical death in the hands of those who were supposed to protect her. The most important female figures had effectively ‘unbirthed’ her post the traumatic event to protect their cultural constructions of honour – and to distract themselves from the irreconcilable truth that the abusers were respected members of the community.

4. What do you want people to take away from your poetry?

Interestingly, I had never formally explored the concept of ‘honor killings’ before SAHR. My poems were written from a purely psychological, cultural-critique perspective, but I am now able to see how those themes fit the collection. And they fit really well – especially the symbol of the gun from ‘murder weapon: abandoned.’

It is beautifully eerie how your experiences can completely transform the way you read poetry. My goal in writing ‘Speak’ is to reconsider the representation of women in the stories that have shaped our world –i.e. historically significant fairytales and folklore– and restore their complex identities and voices. But how should one interpret it? I’ll leave that up to you.

5. Where can we read more?

‘Unbirthing Little Red Riding Hood’ is part of a poetry project, ‘Speak’ - a collection of folklore and fairytale free-verse subversions that restore the voices lost in feminine discourse.

to kill your daughter, wrap her up in white satin and place her in the hands of wolves

then when you find her on your doorstep, stained with scarlet:

lock your door, shut your blinds, and turn off the lights,

because nobody is home.

- murder weapon: shame

You can find the project here.

6. If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

In the context of writing: Have courage in your own voice. Believe that you deeply understand the issues closest to your heart. Intellectual humility doesn’t just mean sitting on the fence while you evaluate both sides. It’s also about speaking out about what feels right, keeping your mind open to refutations and, if corrected, graciously acknowledging that you were wrong.

7. What does feminism mean to you?

I take a nondiscrimination approach: Gender alone should not be the sole basis of an inequality of opportunities. Constructions of gender should not be used as a weapon to justify judgment or ridicule.

8. What role do you think art should play in activism?

An important one. In art, you are able to privately challenge your own biases in a free forum. In public debates and protests, however, your comments are likely to subconsciously conform to a specified identity or the perceptions of others.

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