Exploring the Psychology of Colours With Poetry

Prerna Gill’s first collection offers a refreshing voice that goes beyond easy rhetoric.

In a social media world teeming with every banality that passes for poetry, Prerna Gill’s is a refreshing voice that does not pander to easy rhetoric and comprehension. If good poetry is all about the silences between words, the spaces between the lines, Meanwhile is a collection that lives up to the test. For a collection that is consistently, Gill begins on a defensive note about ‘putting the book out’. As she says, ‘Writing is a way through which I examine how I may still be compromised – by fears, by a stillness that some may call the blues, others ennui or even laziness. It helps me see how and where I have healed from issues I struggle with, like anxiety. It is therapeutic.’

The collection includes six poems on colours which make for a study of the psychology behind colours. She speaks at length about this aspect. ‘The grey in the introduction was mostly to highlight the everyday moments compared to the more dramatic milestones. With the poems, I get to explore colour in a slightly different way.’

Red: Red is the first colour to fade from view under water, and that struck me as quite poetic all by itself. The deeper some of us get in our lives, in terms of time and age, or the deeper we sink into our troubles, I find we are at a greater risk of losing what red comes to mean. In terms of my own mental health, I saw red as the opposite end of a spectrum from the odd forms of silence that I would be overcome by: a silence of regular, reasonable thought that would normally counter exaggerated fears. There were also silences of action and movement with a very strange inability to will myself to get up from wherever I had perched at times during the difficult phases. In those times, I would think of red having gone from me. Once I got better, I could put those images into words.

‘Red loses the deeper it goes
And here the kelp and pale coral
Here silence’

Green: I do see the connection it has with nature. I also see how nature and a certain vicious protectiveness, especially that which is expressed in a paranoid postpartum state, are inseparable. Motherhood is natural, it is dangerous. The image of the snake on her nest and the way ‘her heart spreads its hood’ comes from a very personal encounter with that sort of anger –which one can do nothing about because it is locked and loaded in case of danger to one’s child. It is a primordial thing. I was very prepared for postpartum depression, so a state of constant, protective anger took me by surprise. It never fully slithered away though. Or rather, it hasn’t yet.

The colour of a closing day
The colour of one mother’s rage
Wrapped in swathes of tender moss

Blue: I could not look past its role in culture, specifically gender. Also, how its symbolism has changed. Some cultures may never have categorized it as a colour and that is so fascinating as an example of how words have such power even over what we see so much of. When Homer described the sea as ‘wine dark’ it was understood to mean blue.

After their seas were no longer
Churning wine-dark

The mouth of a bruise
And corduroy belly of a whale

It did confuse people for quite some time, that description. This is one of the theories, of course, but it stayed with me: that blue became part of certain languages much later. The poem then explores the link between blue and boyhood. Once, pink was a masculine colour. I suppose people saw that rosy shade as too visceral for young boys then, perhaps too close to the violence that comes just before the guests flood in to coo at a newborn. When you think of the sky and the open ocean it may be easier to forget the nature of birth and blood. Such a stark contrast to life and life-giving. To womanhood.

Yellow: The poem started out with a different placeholder name: Canary. That’s why the mention of the bird for safety as we go digging deep into the rock for what our predecessors set in stone. The past comes with dangerous problems just waiting to be inherited. The image of having canaries in our mouths was to lay emphasis on how our words, our voices may be all that we have to signal danger when we find ourselves so deep in problems created by evils of the past.

Black: This has more to do with very current problems, such as psychological ones, but also others – I wanted that part open to interpretation. What is does specify though is struggle. The way one might gather blood of skin of an assailant one struggles against is reflected in the opening line: ‘You, with nights under your fingernails.’ The rest of the poem moves from a shower stall, where the person, ‘you’, is drained far beneath what they know, to a place that is alien and unfamiliar. Haunting with a strange light, and places you beneath everything you know and remember: like a mute spectator. Unable to move. It ends back in the shower where:

In fogged-mirror silence
Is as still as you

Here is that stillness, that silence. This poem lets me confront it, like a pair of gloves keeping me safe as I study something I know to be tricky. Sometimes frightening.

White: With ‘White’ the meaning is rather clear. We do wear white for mourning. Or ‘yearning’ as I see it. There is a softness I wanted to keep, given the subject here – death. I am an atheist, but I do believe in a peace that nothingness can bring. This is why I never write about spirituality – I would not know what to say. The beauty to me lies in the difference between nothingness and emptiness. In death you perceive the world in a way that is no different from how the mogra does. Or the smoke. Or the air.

And now we gather mogra
Fragrant in their grief
You know we wear white in yearning

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an editor, publisher, critic and film buff. He writes on film, books and music for a number of platforms.