Sunday, July 29, 2012

Preliminary Bibliography On South African Slavery

1. Slavery And Emancipation In South Africa

2. Social Death And Resurrection : Slavery And Emancipation In South Africa

3. Slavery In South Africa : Captive Labor On the Dutch Frontier

4.Slavery In Dutch South Africa

5.Cape of Torments : Slavery And Resistance In South Africa

6. Slave Emancipation And Racial Attitudes in Nineteenth Century South Africa

7.Slavery In Africa : Archaelogy And Memory

8.Public Memory of Slavery : Victims And Perpetrators In The South Atlantic

9.Liberating the family? : gender and British slave emancipation in the rural Western Cape, South Africa, 1823-1853

10.Children of bondage : a social history of the slave society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1838

11.Breaking the chains : slavery and its legacy in the nineteenth-century Cape Colony

12.The Slave Question : Liberty And Property In South Africa

13.Slavery At the Cape of Good Hope

Those in bondage; an account of the life of the slave at the Cape in the days of the Dutch East India Company.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

::Primary Texts To Be Read For Monograph 1::

1. Kites of Fortune
2. Calligraphy of the Witch
3. River of Smoke
4. Castaway
5. Emprehendora
6. Testimony of An Irish Slave Girl
7. The Kitchen House
8. Onaedo-- The Blacksmith's Daughter
9. All the books on Slavery by Andre Brink, which deserves another list like this one
10. Before We Set Sail

: Liver Kosha With Spinach::

There was this slab of liver lying around my freezer for a while. I wanted to use it up, and I also wanted to use up a bunch of spinach leaves I bought during my last visit to the East Austin Farmers' Market. This recipe was born out of that necessity to combine the two. I learnt, while surfing through the net that submerging the liver in milk for a few hours before cooking helps. Apparently, that way the liver loses some of its characteristic bitterness. I did that. And after six hours or so, I marinated it further in turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and a little bit of red chili powder for a couple of hours or so. I followed this recipe more or less. I did brown the liver and the potatoes separately. I also added some sour cream and sugar into the mix. In some ways, this is the standard recipe for cooking anything kosha. But because I needed to use up the spinach, I made it into a puree. And while the liver pieces and the potatoes were being browned in pot number one, I mixed the pureed spinach in pot no. 2, along with the onions and the spices and let it all mix together in a nice gooey thingie. And then added the liver pieces and the potatoes into pot number 2.

I loved the results. I think, this one is going to be a keeper in my kitchen. But still, I missed the taste of the fresh goat-liver that I have eaten in Kolkata. The frozen stuff simply did not taste the same. The again, who knows, maybe it's all in my head. Anyways...

Friday, July 27, 2012

:: Setting Myself Up For A Challenge ::

I think I need a little push. So, I am setting myself up for some challenges. During this coming week, I mean starting today, I will do these things everyday, even if they mean spending only 10-15 mins. on them : 

1. Job-search
2. Finding means to fund myself in Fall 2013 
3. Working on my current short story 
4. Eating a fruit everyday
5. Working on my poems
6. Finish reading the unfinished books before beginning new ones
7. Getting back into a habit of reading serious (like serious serious) non-fiction prose, even if it means 2 pages everyday.

Today, so far I have worked on 1, 2, 3, 4, 6. It's only 9 here. I will have an hour before I close shop for the day. I will try to put some work during that time rather than wasting my time on the internet. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

::My Writing Mojo,Somewhat Lost::

There are lots of real-life concerns I am worried about right now --- the work that I will have to do before my program ends, finding a job for myself which would ensure a ensure a stable (if moderate) source of livelihood, a lot of other personal issues. Writing has been hard for a while now. In March, I yanked out a few poems, around 10 or so. In February, I wrote 12 or something like that. I would wake up around 5, 5.30 pm, make myself a cup of tea, wrap myself in my navy blue flannel dressing gown and would read some poems before writing a few lines. And I would do this everyday, before I began to prep for the class I taught. I don't think I ever finished a poem in one sitting. But I would steadily work through them, writing a few lines everyday. 

After that, it has been a really slow drain. I am working on revising some of the ones I have, and a lot of those I wrote in February had been accepted in places. But ever since April, I haven't really been able to generate a whole lot of new work. I am trying to keep a regular pace of working, writing a few lines every day, reading reading and reading. Hoping somehow that will give me the energy and whatever it needs to dance on page again. But so far, the things I have written don't have that quality which has no name-- you know, how some poems "sing", go straight into the material's core and produce something that will cause you later to think I wrote that, I really did write that

In a week I will begin this month-long workshop : Writing A Poetic Sequence. I am desperately hoping it would give me some extra space to feel that creative energy again. Possibly we will read something that will rattle my bones so much that I will be forced to write and write well. Until then, I will try to push myself through, I will bring my pen closer to the paper everyday, let the two brush up against each other, and be satisfied with whatever comes out of those moments of persistent and somewhat forced creativity. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Karen Russell's Short Stories

I finished reading Karen Russell's short story collection St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. For the longest time, I could not get into the stories. I would find one or two interesting things – a brilliant sentence, a remarkable imagery, an intersting exposition. But overall, I could not get in. It seemed to me that the writer has not paid enough attention to the world-building, the characters are interesting, but there was something off. I appreciated how Russell built most of her stories around these children who are misfits, but it also seemed to me she has fallen back upon a kind of easy magical realism. The non-realist elements did not seem to be organic to the worlds of the stories, but came across more like something the writer had gotten involved in because she was reluctant to do the sociological, historical research that strictly realist stories would need. Then, I came upon the story “St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves,” (the last one in the collection) and it blew me off! It was that good. I loved how she had experimented with the “we” voiced, while inserting within that “we” three individuals (an “I”, and two “she”s), all of whom occupy three different places within the story. Also, this is the only story in the collection where moving beyond the realism actually attributes something more to the story. While reading it, I kept thinking of colonial education systems, but more specifically Native American boarding schools. Whatever it is, I could not shade off the complicated histories of race and racism while reading this story, and I think, exploring race through tropes of human-animality ascribes upon the story an additional dimension which a purely realist depiction would have probably missed, or would have seemed repetitive. I am looking forward to reading her novel Swamplandia now.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

<< Reflections on Why I Write What I Write >>

I have been trying to think of the issues and themes that have guided my poems in the recent times. When I first began to write seriously again, I was writing two kinds of poem – a kind of high lyricism with a very strong sense of “I” and an overload of images, and what can be called speculative poems, exploring myths, fairytales and such. I was avoiding the so-called “confessional” poems because I was hyper aware of the ways in which as a woman, and especially a woman-of-color who is also a citizen of a Third World nation, whatever I write will be read as overtly autobiographical. Now, I don't like the term “confessional.” The word appears to be overtly hierarchical, bringing to mind vastly Christian notions of sin, guilt, priesthood. Even if I ignore the religious overtone of the word, it is hard to be inattentive to the ways in which the word circumvents notions of social power, guilt and wrong-doing. Now, I have nothing to “confess” in that way, having been totally dismissive of the heavenly “F”ather and highly questioning of the earthly one. Yes, I am a sinner in most ways, and I celebrate my sins. In fact, the sins I have committed are highly connected to my notions of social power and resistance, and if I have to indulge in a prayer, it would be something like this : “Dear Universe, give me the power to be a better sinner and sin in more and more creative ways.” So, that is why, I repeat, I am not a great fan of the term “confessional poetry.” Autobiographical poetry, yes. Memoir-based poems, yes. Life-story poems, yes. But not confessional ones. Then again, even when I was writing the high-lyric and speculative poems, I was being autobiographical. I haven't written anything to date that hasn't passed through my consciousness-- in some way or the other.

The way I see it, what goes on under the label of “confessional poetry” in American literary circles, have facilitated the opening up of certain things as legitimate subjects of poetry – women's lives and worlds, women's work within the family and the social relationships that encompass familial lives. The body of poems (and by now, it is a HUGE archive, mind you) that constitute the so-called “confessional poetry”, have succeeded to evolve a language which leads the writers to reflect upon the forms of structural power that invade the lives within families, the drudgery that is domesticity, the little (and often almost invisible) ways in which women resist or do not resist. The “I” in such poems are often highly gendered, and if I have to sum it up in one sentence, these poems have made it possible to make the everyday configurations of gendered violence a legitimate topic of poems (and I would argue, lyric poems too. But that's the topic of another post.) I am not claiming that the “confessional poems” are solely focused on gender. Neither am I claiming that they have been only written by women poets. In lots of ways, "confessional" poems have also made spaces for the writers to write about violences of race and class, and the intersections of such categories as gender. But, inspite of that, I do think that the confessional poems have given gender a form of visibility that is unique in many ways.

Now, the thematic and political concerns of these poems had always been my concern too. I wrote about similar topics and themes, but I also concealed myself within the folds of a “she.” Sometimes, I would write deliberately obscure imageries and call them avant-garde. But, after a while I had to confront the fact that I am really hiding behind language, I am hiding behind stories and the so-called narrativelessness/problematization of narrative etc. etc. I was claiming I was doing. And I needed to face myself if I had to continue writing. So, I turned somewhat consciously to the “confessional” poetics. I tried to be less afraid of the “I”, and I began to write poems whose raw materials were derived more directly from my own childhood, my own youth – my own life-history, so to speak.

A lot of those poems are raw. They are sometimes really really angry, sometimes overtly sad. A lot of them are not good poems as such. But they did two things for me: they lead me to see my own family as a site of violence. I could not hide behind broad, big, macro-level claims of how family as an institution is itself patriarchal, how family is a site of violence blah blah blah. These poems made me confront how my own life within my own family has been extremely violent in a totally benign kind of a way. How I have been shaped by patriarchy. How my mother has been shaped by patriarchy. How my father has been shaped by patriarchal notions of masculinity. How my mother has policed her own life, and mine. It is not that I was totally unaware of these things before. But once I began to write these poems, I had to vocalize what I could only grumble about in the darkness of my own room and mind. I had to delve into the details, I had to find a viable language for these facts, stories and histories. And that opened up my voice in very important ways.

It was okay to feel sad in my poem. It was okay to be angry. It was okay to call a spade a spade. was okay to make my persona do things to claim her voice which I could not always do in my real life, but wanted to.

First of all, they led me to see how our notions of love are themselves coded in violence. And families and familial loves-- the most benevolent and benign of them – are implicated within very strange, but totally foundational forms of economic transactions and inequalities. In short, writing these poems made me see the fact that there is no “free” and “equal” love in an unfree and unequal world. And one of the profoundest acts that poets and writers can engage in, consists of tearing apart the veils and masks of our love languages. Now, I would be the first one to say, my parents are not terrible people. Within certain middle-class parameters, they are generous, gentle human beings who have tried to give me a good education and a love-filled childhood in the way they understood it. I don't have anything dramatically bad done to me when I was a bad. I wasn't sexually abused by my loved ones, I never had to think about where my next meal is coming from, I never had to worry about my school fees and such. And these are all tremendous privileges in a nation which has such high starvation and child mortality rates as India. But then, I cannot say my childhood was violence-free. Neither can I say my anger, the sense of violation I have often felt, are baseless and trivial. My life, like that of a lot of others, has always been implicated within banal networks of evil, and it is that banality that these poems gave me the courage to explore. And explore more.

I don't think “confessional poems” are the only kinds of poems I will write for the rest of my life. I do want to keep working on the other kinds of poems I had drafted, give them more complete, definitive forms. But these “confessional poems” have given me the means to explore myself a little bit more which other kinds of poems did not necessarily do. Definitely not in the same way.