Interview With Poet Cathy Nerujen By Cassy Mantis
It's 2017, and Cathy Nerujen has been with Hub Pages for over seven years now. She has made quite an impression on the hubbing community with her writing. Writing as Astra Nomik, Cathy is well known for her endearing poetry and her singular, yet transformational slant on romance and love. Her writing really grows on us, and has been described as love-positive, and life-affirming. It is many things, endearing, universal, sacred, yet also sensual and intimate, and even hilariously funny. We can't wait to see that book. (Actually I have, literally this minute! Awesome!)
Now her poetry is to become her first published poetry book, and at over 90 pages I am impressed. Since her dad passed away, she has been distracted by obvious family matters, but we chatted about her hubs, her life, why she feels poetry has a big place in the Hub Community, in books, magazines and beyond. She is a wee bit more relaxed now, and her usual smiling shy good-natured self. Anyone who knows Cathy will enjoy this conversation, as I think you will find her answers here most insightful.
Cheeky Girl: Okay Cathy - first up, tell us a bit about who you are? Who is Cathy Nerujen, what are you about - and why did you choose the Astra Nomik name?
Cathy: Well, I am British, in my late 20’s and from the outskirts of London. My parents are Asian, Mum is from Thailand, and Dad was from India. (He passed away recently.) Some poetry in the new book is about him. My parents moved to London and started this crazy Nerujen family. So we are a British Asian family. My siblings and I were born and raised here. I have an older brother living in India now, and younger sister, Teena. We're a close family, probably even closer now. I am a poet and writer, and editor. I work in a publishing company in the UK, and I write and edit books now as well. I blog a lot and I guest blog for various blogs. I started a magazine called Flashstar magazine for writers.
I chose Astra Nomik, because you told me to pick a catchy name. (Cheeky Girl chuckles here.) The meaning of my name Astra Nomik - it's something that friends used to ascribe to some of my poems and writing back in my school days. There was always a musical pull to my words, even then. It's a nice sounding name. I resurrected it for my hub writing. I should probably update my bio, now that we are able to do that here..
I also wanted to ensure that I came first in Search Engines in any look-ups for that word. (Cathy laughs here.) I am kidding. But actually it does come up always on top results, weirdly. (Am I babbling too much?) Anyway, in my family, I am the quiet one in the middle.
Cheeky Girl: You are fine, Cathy. But explain “quiet one”...?
Cathy: Um, well I was always the least talkative one. I had that shyness thing a bit as a kid, but I am over it now. (Laughs.) I preferred books. I'm a total book person. I fell in love with words and how they affect and transform everything. I met my first heroes in book before I met any in real life. So growing up, I discovered the amazing power that words can have on people. How they can enable in so many ways, just as ideas can become real if we make them real and act on them. Words open up possibilities. I love heroes who have passion, and writers with passion, as they seem to succeed more, and books and comics became my obsession and escape. And poetry became my thing, the thing I am really good at. (Laughs here.)
Cheeky Girl: So modest. How old were you when you wrote your first poem?
Cathy: I was not even ten, and it was simple enough but at least it rhymed. My Mum read stories to me as a kid. I hung onto every word she told me. Books were full of amazing ideas, and words were like planted seeds that grew into orchards of words. And I had a knack of being able to put words together in a certain way. I think I read a heck of a lot of books.
Cheeky Girl: were you a bright kid in school?
Cathy: (laughs nervously) Yes, I was good, probably above average. I am not a nuclear scientist or executive like you, but I’ve never been not working. (Does that count nowadays?) I can't help sneaking looks in Ian Thomas poetry books during coffee breaks. That guy just amazes people with words. So yes, I have a job now where words are such a part of my life (working in a publishing company). I always knew that would happen. I think everyone knew that in my family. I write poems about my girlfriend mostly, edit and run a poetry writing blog, and I work on our magazine for poets, writers, artists and photographers. I contribute to other blogs, and do freelance. it's all writing for me. It’s funny that way.
Cheeky Girl: Yeah, for as long as I have known you, Cathy, you write a lot. People write for all kinds of reasons. What is your reason for writing?
Cathy: Oooh that is hard to say... I love writing. I would do it for free, probably. I'm such a mutt. I love reading books, (some HubPages writers are now published writers, did you know that?) plus magazines, ebooks, and blogs. Blogs are just amazing. So immediate. So in the moment. I want to be inspired by others. I also love being around other writers. Writing is part of how we make sense of the world. Writing is how I express myself.
There is so much to say, and things need to be said, not remain unsaid. You know that saying about the elephant in the middle of the room. Stuff that everyone ignores?
Cheeky Girl: please don't tell me you have him on speed dial or I'll cringe.
Cathy: (Laughs again) No, but that is so funny. (Tries to describe an elephant with a Nokia but it is a weird segue, so she continues.) I'm a romantic at heart. I am more and more trying to relate to the world and people, friends... my loved ones. They say writers use words like a carpenter or scientist uses carpentry or lab tools. I am always writing about love somehow. Everything comes around to it, or back to it. So much in life depends on Love. Love seen from many angles and sides. The thing that draws a person to another person. I am utterly captivated by love and what goes inside the human heart. Maybe I am looking for something inside myself.
Love is my biggest reason why I write poems. I express my hopes and feelings and so much more through those words. There's a whole universe in there. I am not in to negativity and cruelty. I hate that.
Cheeky Girl: I get you. The writing, can you explain that a wee bit more, it sounds interesting...
Cathy: It's like asking - have you ever tried to make sense of something? It’s like you can’t make sense of a thing or a person or a feeling till you put it in a sort of context. I mean how we can relate to a person without words? To ourselves? Have we ever stopped and tried to think of how we want to say the simplest little things, but the words just didn't fall in to place for us?
We have to tease the meaning out of things that try to hide on us or stay hidden for whatever reason. The world we live in today is so full of meanings and standards. Words define them, and how we relate to words and are comfortable with words can spell that success or failure, like how we balance meanings. How we solve problems... we have to live with words more, somehow. We have to know how to use language and make words work for us. Poets are experts at that. Read Vincent Moore and his poetry, and you'll see what I mean.
So I write poetry and I edit a lot, and because of words you somehow understand things like love better. Words clear the air, dispel the fog, and bring clarity, if we use them right. With poetry, sometimes the words can be so sensual or descriptive in love poems. And then sometimes very tender. They can be active or passive. When words become poetry, possibilities open up, it gives everything a kind of value or a sense of something more.
Poems reveal what we dream and feel somehow. Each word has a special sound and a shape, even a personality. I am very drawn to the sound of words. We (as writers) use poetry to say things that we don’t consciously say, but you feel those things anyway...and when the person they are meant for reads them, they know... It’s a cool way of exploring emotions and dreams...
Cheeky Girl: So it's kind of subconscious in a way...
Cathy: Poetry is universal. Yes its the subconscious and we bring it forward to the moment we are in. It can be a different truth but still the truth, understand? It can give pleasure and joy. Poetry can venerate, it’s like worship. Poetry can be immortal. There is "foreverness" in poetic words, so the words have to be the right ones. I want that feeling to be cast in words so they stay forever. If the sentiment is true then the meaning is evergreen, and will last for a long time. Word are something I discovered in kid-hood. I get words. I just understand poetry. I get poetry. But I struggle with stuff like cooking... (laughs here again.)
Cheeky Girl: "Foreverness in poetry". What a beautiful description, Cathy. Let’s stay with poems. This overlaps the previous question a bit, but you write a lot about Love, Relationships and Romance. Why those?
Cathy: Love connects everything. Maybe it's because of who I am or what I am. Or most things in life. I know being a bit introverted doesn’t help when you are a teenager. I was that way a bit. But when I discovered that certain um...avenues were closed off to me, romantically, I found that poetry was a huge help somehow. It was a safe harbor for me while I figured things out. I felt that sense of relating to love and people... it was finding expression there in my poems. And my poems were and still are about the people so close to me... my closest friends and more... I live these feelings in my poems. I am in all of those poems somehow.
Cheeky Girl: H'mm... fascinating how you describe love and words... so what do your family think of your poems?
Fehl and my poetry
Fehl comes into my poetry so much now. She writes a Blaise25 here on Hub Pages, and she is a published poet with her book "Toss and Turn". Her writing is very free and flows so easily. It was you Cassy who introduced me to her.
I have written so many poems for her, and about her. "Simmer Night Of Love" is one such poem.
Writers and Families ...
Cathy: Families and poetry, it's a weird mix. My Dad passed away in 2016. He was smart enough, very traditional, and I loved him to bits, (even if I was afraid of him too) but poetry is something he couldn’t relate to that well. He didn't read books as a kid. I think he liked reading more "useful" stuff. My mother relates to books and poetry better, and my sister loves the arts. My friends like my poems. They are pretty cool about it.
We Brits have been raised around books, the whole Harry Potter thing, the Le Carre, books, Ian Fleming books about James Bond. Roald Dahl sold 250 million books so far. Not bad for a Brit writer. Some of us could just stop working and write those books we all have inside us, and we'd help the economy a lot. I'm not kidding, Cassy. We see the value and reward in words and stories. Stories are figuring into so much nowadays, advertising, marketing, in our work lives and in business. Not being word-friendly is like not being internet savvy. They are more of a kind of currency now than before. Every success has a story and being able to articulate it is a necessity. Some day when I have kids, (one of my dreams for my girl and I) I want them to read lots of books and read the best writers. I'd be the mother who would tell my kids that it's totally okay to feel different, and love them no matter what. I went through it all.
I used to go on dates, and the person I’d be with would ask to read some of my poems. Some of them were so personal. I had a massive conflict over my preference for dating. (Going off topic here a bit...) My parents wondered why I brought home more girls than boys, then I stopped bringing home boys completely. (Though one really sweet guy helped me get my maths grades up a lot.) My parents figured it out. But they said nothing, just worried a lot. But I told my Mum. I got tired of sneaking about and in the end it just got silly. Ignoring the thing made it only worse.
Cheeky Girl: I won’t dwell on this too much, if you like, but this did have a big influence on everything in your life, didn’t it? Dating and having relationships later...
Cathy: Yes, of course it does. Coming out was a terrifying experience to me. I had gay friends who were coming out. I had my family to contend with, and since I am part Indian, part Thai and so many Asian marriages are arranged, our family never talked about it, about gay stuff... it was like Voldemort from the Harry Potter books, not to be mentioned.
Coming out to my parents was not pleasant. I think parents worry a lot about that. Lots of Asian marriages are arranged, and I worried because I didn't want to be "measured up" for something. Anyway, its kind of weird to talk about, because there is more to it than I am saying. So to make this short and brief - it took years for my dad to accept it. To accept me, their daughter as lesbian. Not happy times.
Cheeky Girl: Let’s move away from this, Cathy. The reason I wanted to touch on that subject is because you have experienced that pain, and it just seems that you really are able to understand things a certain way. For me, I came out in my teens and I brushed it off as just life. People's opinions were a luxury I simply did without. That kind of emotional turmoil you endured has given you ... what should we call this? An ability to relate to other people, and have this empathy for others.
Cathy: ...That is so...um yes, when you say it like that, yes. And even though things are far better now, I did have a few difficult years, and most other people would have just got on with their lives. I wanted to be independent and perhaps own my own business and still be close to my family on my own terms. But the cards just were not falling in my favor then. I felt torn in some ways. Like my car to the airport took a wrong turn along the way.
I tore some up of my earlier poems and feel embarrassed by some others. But they still reflect where my life was turning. The hub “Youth is wasted on the Young” is a good example of what I’m talking about. And the poem “Found You”. I dragged this old girlfriend I was with - to India one time, she hated it. Not being able to show our feelings in public...we got stared at by everyone...it sucked. It was long ago. And there's a story in it, but whatever. Yes, that poem is so unusual. It seems to cross boundaries somehow. People read it and immediately see what's going on.
Cassy: So it's like what Robert De Niro said at the Academy Awards about writers, the pains they go through...?
Cathy: Oh yes, I think they do. Creativity comes from somewhere, and he kind of nailed it. I should put that quote on this hub.
Cheeky Girl: so explain how you work through a poem? Where do you start? And how is sound so important in your poems?
Cathy: Okay, have a look at say – “Halfway Space”. That is a rhyming poem, the hardest to write, as it has to have the rhythm throughout it and the repeating metronome and beats is important. The words have to be a unique sound, and having similar sounding words close together is very effective, and gets attention. “Two fleas on a bees back”, that the kind of thing I mean. I start with the idea, and write or imagine it in my head, and let it float for a while, till I have something to hang the poem on, a clear idea and way out seeing how it will turn out...
Cheeky Girl: okay, so it’s not spontaneous, it’s planned?...
Cathy: yes, I plan it in advance, and I will probably read it out loud for rhythm and sound, to see if it resonates with me. To me a poem has to have a good sound to it. Read Percy Bysshe Shelley, (the poet who married Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame) – he knew a lot about how sound worked. That guy wrote some of the best sounding poetry ever.
Cheeky Girl: Okay, any other poets you love?
Cathy: Yes, read "Milk and Honey" by Rupi Kaur. She is a divine poet.
"Milk and Honey" by Rupi Kaur
An amazingly honest and true poet, a New York Times bestseller in poetry. Rupi Kaur is Canadian Indian, and her words mermerize from the first page.
Cathy: I eventually moved out and found my own space...
Cheeky Girl: which is where I come in to your life. (Cheeky Girl’s turn to laugh now.)
Cathy: (laughing) ...my hero! (More laughter.)
Cheeky Girl: and so to Hub Pages. (And anyone who wants to know more on those things ought to read “First Encounters” which is my very first ever hub, about how we met.) Cathy, how did you come to be on Hub pages? Can you recap for those who don’t know or haven’t read it already?
Cathy: um, okay. I decided to publish a hub, after what you told me about the writing community here. It was not long after we met and I had moved in with you. I love the Hub you wrote about how we met. It is very honest and truthful and decent. You were writing some very interesting things on Hub Pages, which I had never heard of. My view changed especially when I saw lots of poets in hub Pages. So I joined up and my first hub was about hidden poverty. Another is a continuation of the Narcissus story, some hubs started by A.A. Zavala and Nikki Jordan and another hubber. All my other hubs are romantic poems. I discovered some amazing poets here in HubPages.
Cheeky Girl: any one in particular take your fancy?
Cathy: (Blushing and laughing) Um...can you re-phrase the question, please?
Cheeky Girl: Poetically I mean...
Cathy: Well ... there is blaise25, who is Marifel Dungo, her poems give me goosebumps sometimes... in a very nice way... and there is Epigramman, Colin is just astounding... and Art, no longer on hubs now. Nikki Jordan, (who writes as Nikkij504gurl), she has a terrific imagination - and Janika Lee Reyes, "Nika" is so talented, more than she knows.
Cheri, (Heart Felt Book)...Vincent Moore ought to be in print and hardback editions and anthologies, as I like his work, ( he has since published 3 books of wonderful poetry) ...yes lots of others too...poetry thrives in Hub Pages. Acaetnna is another wonderful poet. Dim Flaxenwick, Ruby Jean Fuller - aka Always Exploring, Lyricsingray, Mentalist Acer, Bard of Ely, Frankieonfire... her style can be so dark but so thrilling and full of drama... she and others like Micky Dee are great poets too. Jinny Marte (who is an amazing painter), Erica - Bellawriter, Rena - Romancer of Life. Angela Oliver - Angoliver, (Author of "Bittersweet" on Amazon), these are all great poets and writers, Cassy...
Augustine A. Zavala is a terrific writer with an amazing imagination. I collaborated with him on the "Narcissus" hubs, and it was amazing. I would love to continue working with writers like him. Many more are dipping their poetic toes in the waters here, and I love their poetry. Another is Angelme566 ... every poetic voice is worth reading... they will find it so rewarding and fulfilling sharing their work with the world.
But Cassy, that's just the tip of an iceberg, there are thousands of poets in Hub Pages. They should all have a poet’s badge for publishing so many nice poetic hubs. (Cheeky Girl approves of this unusual and terrific idea!) Blaise25 or Marifel, Fehl – she is so free and natural. Her poetry is so romantic too, she is amazing. I love her so much. I mentioned her already, but can I give her book “Toss and Turn” a plug? We bought this book on the internet (on Lulu.com) and on Amazon, and it is excellent. Fehl is a poet par excellence. And she launched a terrific blog www.philpad.com. I guest blogged on it.
Cheeky Girl: I agree! Your choices are ones I approve. And yes these poets deserve publishing, and some like Fehl and Vincent and Deborah already are. Fehl is a special lady. Damn Cathy, you and Fehl are made for each other, I swear! And then Rena, Colin, Nikki, Nika, Augustine - and those amazing Narcissus hubs. Like you, I love writers who write from the heart. So way out there and so unique. So many authors you mention here, Cathy. I am getting all sentimental now. Ouch. Writers are going beyond just hubs now, branching out into blogs and websites of their own, books too. Cathy, you are full of great ideas in your writing and poetry, it's obviously your passion.
Cathy: I love passion, and I love people who have passion too. That’s where great writers can be found.
Cheeky Girl: who are your favorite all time all-round poets or other worthy writers?
Cathy: the Romantics. They are Princes of verse and rhyme. British poets are astounding. Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley - Shelley is a lyrical powerhouse of words and images and more - blows me away. The American poet Emily Dickinson is super amazing, I never tire of her poems. My school teachers said my use of “hyphens” in poems is what she did...that is so like me, putting those dashes at the end of lines. T. S. Elliot. Yeats, some Irish poets like Seamus Heaney are fantastic. I read a lot of Rumi too. His poems are not rhyming when translated to English. Moslem poetry has all separate rules, and worth reading. Rumi is pure stream of consciousness stuff. A Grand Master of Poetry. Thai and Indian poetry is a cultural mind shift. India has some brilliant writers. Rupi Kaur looms ever large in my life. Japanese poetry is also excellent. And America has some great edgy or unusual writers known for their amazing prose or poetry. Raymond Carver, the minimalist and David Foster Wallace. Just terrific writers. And I read Michael Madsen the actor from Pulp Fiction and Species, who writes such amazing poetry, a new beat writer for the new generation. He is such an original voice in writing. Totally cool.
Cheeky Girl: About poems, then. Planned or just straight out of your head? Do you have any poetry in Hub Pages that was ever spontaneous?
Cathy: Most of my poems are a mix of those ways of writing. ”Found you” was kind of one take, but I did a small bit of polishing, as some of my poetry can seem incomplete. I jot it down to capture the feelings more than the meaning sometimes. Other times I do several edits, polishing the words until the meaning comes up shining like a button. (Sometimes I throw away the beginning of my poems and start in the middle, it’s just better, and things move quicker, and I pick up the pieces as I go along. "Found You" was about a friend I loved, with whom I went on holiday, one time in India. Things got tangled, sort of cultural family thing, she wasn't comfortable with it...and we got stuck, got a bit lost with each other. And out of nowhere, things just fixed themselves.
Cheeky Girl: That poem is so amazing. Your hubs get a lot of comments from readers. They speak volumes. Is there always a true story behind every poem?
Cathy: um...yes. There is a truth, if not a true story. (Sometimes I protect the identity of the person as they might recognize the name on my poetry.) I prefer there to be a truth, as it’s less complicated for writing. I write about people, lovers... gestures... events... places, real or abstract, rejections, even dreams. Other times, I will be inspired by a suggestion from someone, or some emotion or niggling feeling...honestly it can be many things. The poet's mind is always open to ideas...
Cheeky Girl: Wow, that's one of the best things I ever heard about poetry in my life, Cathy. You're an encyclopaedia when it comes to writing.
Many thanks for the wonderful and updated chat here in 2017. I hope Hubbers come to know more of your poems through this interview, through Flashstar Magazine and your poems. And we support and read hub writers who entertain us with their great writing. When is the poetry book coming out?
Cathy: (Laughs here) The book will arrive in 2017. The wonderful designer guy in Flashstar magazine is also my book cover illustrator and designer. I have so lucky. I had wonderful support and help. Fehl has read the ebook version already, and she loved it. I see you with your copy there too. Publishing a book is a big step for me. I'm sorry it took so long to arrive. This is what happens when I surround myself with so many writers. I get so caught up in literary adventures of so many others.
Cheeky Girl: Cathy, that's not a crime, that is terrific! We are so looking forward to seeing you finally in print. You take on a lot of writing projects. Just to finish, can you give a name of a Poet you are following in the world of Quality poetry right now?
Cathy: Um, just one? Well, I am a huge fan of Rupi Kaur, and Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate for the UK. She is awesome. Tyler Knott Gregson is another wonderful poet. Oh and about the magazine I mentioned. Can I just add this writers magazine called Flashstar Magazine and we released Issue 1 in 2014. Vincent Moore, Fehl, and some other familiar names to hubbers are just some of the names attached to it already. There are more writers following, and we have many more coming in the future. We are setting up another big project as well.
Cheeky Girl: You have already set up the website for the magazine and I know you are working hard to get this project working, Cathy. It's nice to see writers from HubPages taking part in it. I'm happy to include myself as a contributor and more in the magazine. Really, this is very exciting! I really hope this lets people see more of the Cathy Nerujen behind the writing. But it is really about the writers. Thanks Cathy for chatting to me again. Cheers!
Cathy: Honestly I loved it, totally.
The Original interview with Cathy Nerujen April 2011. This was modified and updated with additional input from Cathy in January 2017.
Copyright © 2011 to 2017 Cassy Mantis & Cathy Nerujen. All rights reserved.