Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rachel Zucker's Essay on Long Poems

Had been reading Rachel Zucker's essay on long poems. It made me think about my own poems in the way I haven't done before. I didn't set out wanting to write long poems, or poems with narratives. But my concerns, the materials I have been thinking about, kept pushing me towards narratives in poems. So, I am still trying to process two things that Zucker pointed out in her essay:

1. Long Poems Grapple With Narratives

2. Long Poems Grapple With Narrative But Are Not Prose

I think, I write longs poems, often with strong narrative content, because I want to see what happens when one explores an otherwise tangible story through the abstraction of poetic language. To me, that abstraction or non-mimetic, non-realist nature of poetic language opens up ways to explore the political content of a story I am narrating in the poem in a way I can never do within a short story. The non-realist language demands that I put more and more pressure on my capacity to go deeper, to explore the substance of a phenomenon without the imperatives of a strict plot-line or the need to "sound real."

But there is also something else. I began to explore narrative poems because I did want to move away from the overtly confessional tone of some of the contemporary women's poetry. And the fetishized "me-ism" of much of the body of alienationist verse. Having a specific character to write about, using she/he instead of I allows me to contextualize and historicize the persona I am writing about more. It also allows me to create a distance between the personal me and the persona I am writing about or through. This distance does let me think of the multi-layered nature of the interactions between the self and the social collectives much more. I mean, all experiences are personal in a way. So, to say I am writing about my personal experiences does not mean much to me. What is important to me is how do we understand that personal experience, contextualize it, place it within specific grids etc. That is, the work of theorization.

And, at the cost of incurring the wrath of lots of people I happen to know and love, let me just confess that poetry is a form of theorization for me.

At this point in my life, the material I am writing about, the experiences I am most concerned with, allows me to do that theorization better if I have a narrative, and use the messy structures of a long poem. Or so I think.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Amar Kanwar's Many Faces of Madness

My first venture into Kanwar's work. Have heard great things about him from friends. But unfortunately, didn't like Many Faces of Madness. The topic is nothing extra-ordinary, although very very relevant for the contemporary world: ecological destruction, corporate hegemony, popular resistance. But my problem was that, it's too verbose. The voice-over was overwhelming,the central metaphor, ie, that of madness, was explored only in a scant kind of a way and seemed too imposed-from-above. Let's see what his other works have in store!

Monday, August 16, 2010

My First Ever Pushcart Nomination

It does feel good to receive a Pushcart nomination! Yes, my poem "de-veiling from the top of a champa tree" was nominated by Heather Schmidt, the editor of the online journal tinfoildresses. Thanks, Heather. I feel encouraged to write more, to submit more.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Moving Through Archives

A friend of mine, with whom I shared the manuscript of my chapbook, said something interesting. He said, my poems should be read as a movement through archives. Different kinds of archives. Oral archives, literary archives, colonial archives, archives of mind and blood. I think, this is the most apt reading of my work so far, and I am happy that someone caught it. All these academic readings about archives did have some impact after all!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Re-Mixing Kiran

I decided to end my chapbook with two poems on Kiranmala, the heroine of the story Arun-Barun-Kiranmala from Thakumar Jhuli. Kiran had been bothering me for a while, but I was thinking of working on her as part of a totally different project, something that will keep me busy in my post-dissertation days. But then, I recognized that I don't have much from Bengali folklore/myth in my present chapbook collection, and decided to include some Kiranmala as concluding poems. I think, it will also create a nice conversation between this chapbook-project and the subsequent longer project for which I hope to use Kiranmala. But I also couldn't help re-mixing the story of Kiran-mala with some elements of Irish folktales that I have been reading recently.What does one do when one's "own" narrative tradition does not provide one with all the tools/solutions? One reaches out, I would say. That reaching out, itself, is "innovation." And innovation doesn't happen unless one learns to extend one's gaze beyond one's own narrow cultural box of symbols, stories and allegories.

In the last poem, Kiran is reaching out. Of course, not without certain caveats, her own terms and conditions. But she is reaching out. And so am I, the writer who imagined Kiran's reaching out.

The result? I don't know, that's for my readers to say!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Collection!

I am listening to Jeannine Hall Gailey's suggestion. That the chapbook and the full-length book do not have to be two mutually exclusive processes. So now I have a very shaky first draft for a full-length book, and a less shaky first draft of a chapbook. I am hoping to finish the compilation of the chapbook within the next two days. This has been an extremely interesting learning process. This decision, this attempt to put the book(s) together.

For example,I have learnt,the book must have a central theme. That is, not just the individual poems, but the book, as a whole must have a narrative arc. And that narrative arc must communicate something.I tend to think of poetry as a form of language-art that, by its very nature of constitution, defies realism. So, for me, it wasn't very easy to think of my prospective book in terms of a narrative arc. But then, so many of the poems I have in this collection tell concrete stories with concrete characters. Although, I should say, because I have attempted to tell these stories in poems, they have allowed me to do things that are very different from the conventional forms of prose. So, without being very conscious about it, I have engaged with the notion of a narrative arc in my poems. And after working through the first drafts, I also feel much more comfortable with the idea of a "themed" collection. Although, I would say, the word "themed" is open to interpretations.

So what is my collection about? If I have to say it in one sentence, it would be something like this. This manuscript is about one middle-class Bengali woman's engagement with history and "isms." If I have to expand on that, I would say, I have attempted to chronicle my engagement with feminism, Marxism, the intersections of the two, ideas of creativity, politics of aesthetic form, colonial violence, race and economic modes of production and the ensuing violence. Because I have also been thinking a lot about writing as a mode of expression and the ways in which it is political, during the time I have written most of these poems, a lot of that has sneaked into these poems too. All in all, it's more like an autobiography told in slant, in stories, in poetic forms, narrative genres and characters who are nothing like me.

The collection is autobiographical, but not confessional in any way.