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Aarya A. Kaushik ’24 can accomplish anything, it seems. A double concentrator in English and Music with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy, Kaushik is a junior in Dunster House who brings a humanist perspective to her work in these “three disparate fields.” Despite her multitude of interests, it’s poetry that Kaushik often chooses to prioritize.
“It was just something that became a part of me, and I was just always doing it,” Kaushik said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson.
Her deep, personal relationship with poetry began to emerge in middle school. Like many young poets, Kaushik started writing for school assignments. Thanks to some encouragement, however, she continued to explore poetry on her own.
“My eighth-grade English teacher, Jim Edgar, was the first person who was like, ‘you can do this, you don't need to just write assignments for class or whatever — this is something you can do by yourself,’” Kaushik said.
That vote of confidence jump-started Kaushik’s journey to discovering her own passion for poetry. “I just started inhaling, breathing poetry of all sorts,” Kaushik said. Diving headfirst into reading poetry helped her foster a deep appreciation of the medium’s intricacies.
“It's an art where the human mind and how it works is really, really clearly present. So, I think that's also why I love it because it's so transparent,” she said.
She also found that poetry helps her understand the world. “The way that I treat poetry is a medium of making sense of the world and of people in my life, of myself,” she said.
In that quest for understanding, Kaushik found herself drawn to metaphysical poets, such as John Donne. “Metaphysical poetry sort of has this element called a conceit to it. I love metaphysical conceits,” she said.
A conceit connects a spiritual aspect of a person with a seemingly unrelated worldly object. This device emerges over and over in Kaushik’s poetry, an homage to the poets that inspired her.
One clear example of Kaushik’s love of the concept comes from her poem “Falling for the Moon.” The poem highlights the frequent presence of the moon with respect to the speaker’s relationship with their mother. The poem concludes with a direct comparison between the two, with Kaushik writing, “Maybe I discovered, in the safety of that cold light, / that she was my moon.”
This deep engagement with the metaphysical poets has certainly shaped her own poetic voice — one she described as “tonally very elegiac.” That quality is reflected in “Stardust,” the collection of poems that she published in 2019. Following nearly 50 attempts to publish the work in magazines, Kaushik ultimately self-published — enabling her authentic, undistilled voice to shine through in her work. Self-publishing her collection ensured a level of cohesion that magazine publication would not.
The process was not easy, though, as she took on all responsibility for assembling her work, including editing and formatting. “It kind of requires you to have a voice outside the valence of your poetic voice because you also have to be your own critic,” she said. Developing that critical voice alongside her poetic one was a major part of her personal growth working on “Stardust.”
Kaushik also reflected on some of her major doubts when publishing her writing: “Something that's very personal to me is now about to be read and shared with many, many people,” she said. “I was very worried, you know, even up to the publication date, of ‘oh my goodness, people reading this are going to learn a lot about me.’”
She decided, however, to go ahead with it. “It's not perfect, but it does hold a sort of special space in my heart as this Herculean endeavor,” she said.
Overcoming this barrier to publication may often dissuade new writers. Talking with other young writers at college, Kaushik said many “feel like maybe this just belongs in my notebook” and so they never publish their work.
“I realized this is almost a symptom of the publication system that so many writers feel this way,” she said. The inaccessibility of many publications was one of the reasons that she published her own collection independently.
Kaushik’s poetry, however, is still mainly an avenue for self-discovery. “The world for poets is full of unknown things that we just can't understand, but the work of a poet is trying to make sense of those things,” she said.
She likened this ordering of the unknown world to the naming of constellations. In “Stardust,” each of its five sections are named after a constellation, an effort from Kaushik to show how her poetry helps her bring a sense of order to the world.
Even after successfully publishing her work, Kaushik went through what she coined “a drought with poetry writing.” This feeling was partially due to comparing poems she wrote after “Stardust” to some of her best works in the collection.
Discussing “The Day the Music Died,” one of her favorite poems in “Stardust,” Kaushik asked herself, “‘Why did I have to write that?’ Because I felt like I could never achieve a poem that was hitting everything that I wanted to in the way that I do in that poem.”
The weight of those expectations helped Kaushik to turn to other means of expression. “I stopped writing poems for a few years, and I was trying out or funneling my love for writing into different fields,” she said.
These new endeavors included composing and songwriting, as well as literary criticism and analysis. Writing for multiple on-campus publications and her classes, Kaushik acknowledged that she produces a wide variety of work.
Gaining a bit of distance from writing poetry allowed Kaushik to develop some advice for her younger self. When asked what advice she would give to young writers, she encouraged aspiring writers to foster “a healthy relationship with your poetry” and to avoid molding themselves “to a standard that you don’t want.”
She also encouraged new writers to find inspiration from other creators. “Influences for your art don’t need to necessarily come from other art in the same genre or even the same form that you write in,” she said.
Kaushik has drawn a wide range of sources for her own poetry. She noted that her dedication to studying jazz music in middle school helped inspire a number of poems in “Stardust,” as she borrowed the collection’s title from her favorite standard.
Kaushik seemed excited to return to her writing and creative expression. “I feel like I've gotten back into a place where I'm filling up notebooks,” she said, “which is such a gratifying feeling for a writer.”
For those looking forward to her next project, she said, “There’s another collection of poems hopefully coming to fruition soon.”
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