Gaia Rajan ’22 Challenges Traditions and Expectations with Poetry

At the age of 17, Gaia Rajan ’22 has published over 40 different poems in various literature magazines, and in November 2020, she published her first chapbook entitled “Moth Funerals.” According to Rajan, she strives to break down norms, stereotypes, and establishments with her emphatic words, bringing new perspectives and insights into the world of poetry. 

In Rajan’s poems, she often jumps from one scene to the next with no pauses, creating a degree of ambiguity for readers at certain points. She notes that her experimentation with such enigmatic content was most prominent within her poem “Pine Street,” which was published in the magazine “Split Lip.”

“At first when I was writing [“Pine Street,”] I was really invested in making sure the reader understood every shift that I made, but my incredible mentor Claudia Cortese said, ‘You need to trust the reader more. You don’t need to worry about things making sense.’ Once I removed that expectation, the poem really opened for me,” said Rajan. 

Though slightly hard to grasp at times, Rajan’s writing style is still effective in conveying her themes and subverting expectations, according to fellow writer Frank Zhou ’22. Zhou explained that the appeal of her writing comes from how nebulous and consequently nuanced it is. 

“Her voice is very distinct, and there’s a degree of not being able to really fully get what she’s going, a degree of knowing that there’s more out there [within her writing]… A lot of her work also features young women, girls… she’s pushing back against so much of what literature is done with major canonical figures being white men,” said Zhou. 

Throughout her published pieces, Rajan not only tends to explore and experiment with a variety of ideas—she never finds herself fixating on certain topics—but also criticizes the tokenization of writers of colour, a pattern that she notes to be harmful and pervasive in the poetry scene. 

“I have a poem that’s called ‘Inside of a Poem You Can Hear Muffled Screams,’ and it’s about how a lot of the field of poetry forces a kind of packaging of trauma or violence in a way that isn’t necessarily constructive to healing….Writers of color can sometimes feel pressured to write about heritage trauma or other trauma they faced in a way that is specifically geared towards white editors,” said Rajan. 

The issue of tokenisation is not the only matter Rajan brings up within her writing; she also uses poetry as a medium to discuss themes of social justice and political action. Diverging from the belief that poetry does not have a purpose or that it only exists for aesthetic reasons, Rajan is among a school of poets that believes poetry is a form of political action. 

“I think a poem can make moves towards or away from explicit political actions…There’s this choice to make something violent, beautiful, or not beautiful. This choice to euphemise or to not use euphemisms at all. Language itself—the way that we name things—matters, and it will always matter,” says Rajan.