Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Day In the Life Of...



What I Had For Breakfast: 2 Cups of It, dissertation...and a brand-new poem....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book, If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for.
---Alice Walker

This is definitely not how I felt when I was younger, but as I am growing older, I feel, being a writer is about doing the writing, true. But it's also a way of being in this world.In that it is more than just writing. I feel like I have to be more critical and more loving at the same time, in order to be the writer I want to be. I am someone who believes in the autonomy of the text, the ability of the text to generate meanings irrespective of the text-maker, but as I am getting into the act of creative writing more and more, and getting introduced to more and more writers, I am beginning to see how biography too is important for the art/text we make.Our contradictions surface invariably in the art we produce. Our art, the texts we produce invite us to explore our contradictions. Whether we choose to do it or not, depends on us. Human beings, as much as they try, do not lead compartmentalized lives after all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Left-overs always taste so much better! Couple of days ago, I made this kosha mangsho with goat meat. I followed this recipe almost verbatim. Koshano is a form of slow-cooking, I guess. But it does some magical things to the meat.

In another week, we will bang right into National Poetry Writing Month. I don't think it will be a good idea for me to try to do the challenge with the dissertation still looming large in the background. Instead, I am taking up the challenge of working on my poems everyday. I don't know if that will amount to writing a new poem, or revising an old one. Sometimes, it takes me three or four days (or more) to get a poem out of my system. I don't want to yank out a poem a day because of April happens to be some kind of poetry month. But it does feel good to see that poetry receives a kind of special attention during this April, and there are events around it.

The dissertation-chapter is moving, although not as fast as I would like it to go. But it's moving!I have a strange, inconsistent relationship to deadlines. In case of the dissertation, the deadline to submit at least once to the writing group during a semester has been very very helpful. It has made me sit down, organize my thoughts, and just to produce something. Even if that "something" happens to be very rough, sketchy, and tentative. I mean, if I have a first draft at least I can go back to it, revise,and make it better. But it's hard to produce that first draft, often times! In case of my creative writing, I prefer to write without deadlines, and then put them up for workshops. Sometimes, I have generated new stuff for a workshop, and have revised the existing stuff extensively. But in general, I do like to produce creative stuff on my own time, and then use the workshop for thinking through the feedback.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Nice Evening

Last night, RR and I went out for an impromptu “date.” Since we are both very interesting people, our idea of a “date” consists of going to Mozart, shit-talking about the yuppies who have HUGE homes up on the cliff, watching the ducks swim in the green water, trashing the spoilt-brats who knife through the water in their privately-owned yachts, and drinking cappuccino. Oh yes, we also set our timers, and wrote. For the last couple of days, I have been writing my dissertation at home, in the mornings, right after waking up and breakfast coffee. So I worked on doing some drastic revisions on a poem while RR worked on de diss.

Later, we went to Buenos Aires Cafe, did some more people-watching, and ate some really good food. Empanadas as appetizers, some very meaty stuff for entrees, and then a dark chocolate crème brulee for dessert, and talked some more about literature, film, the relationship between craft and ideology. All in all it was a productive evening which helped me get out of the hopelessness of not landing any huge fellowship yet for the next academic year!

I kind of have an idea what I want to write for this chapter of my dissertation, and I am not letting the “I need to read more before I can begin to write” impulse to get the better of me. Instead, once I am done with the writing quota of the day, I try to devote some time to the reading/catching up on the secondary materials. And then, once I am done with the first draft of the chapter, I can go back and do a more thorough finalization of the whole thing. But I need to have the basic work done before anything else. This, often, for me, is the hard work. Because at this stage, I am trying to figure out what my arguments are going to be. So, it's a lot of active brain-storming. But I think best when I write. This is something I have discovered about myself in the last one year, while writing my dissertation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writing in an "I" Voice

I have been afraid of writing in first person, unless it's a persona poem. So far I had defined persona poem rather narrowly: I would take characters from existing stories, myths, tales and would try to write in their voice. But I have largely avoided writing in an "I" voice otherwise. Because I was scared that they would be read as confessional and autobiographical. Whatever experience I attribute to the "I" persona of the poem will be attributed to me. I think, there is a strong trend to read any poem written by a woman in "I" voice as autobiographical. But, it's especially true about the poems produced by women of color in this country. The "I" in the poem, most of the times, get read anthropologically, and I have resisted that. Now, I am in a workshop which requires that I "adopt" an "I" persona for the length of the class (ten weeks) and write from the perspective of that persona. It's challenging, precisely because this is something I have avoided so far. We still haven't progressed enough for me to generate detailed comments on the process, but I have signed up for the challenge. Let's see where it takes me!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Left Forum 2011

I discovered, this weekend, after presenting at the Left Forum, that there are different issues at stake in an activist presentation than in an academic one. The responsibilities are different, and much more collective in nature. It becomes even more complicated when one is trying to represent the social movements in diaspora. In other words, solidarity work has its own complexities. There is a huge responsibility of representation, and the political fallouts of that might be much more severe than an academic presentation, where the stakes are measured much more in terms of an individual scholars' responsibility towards the issues he/she studies. Also, after an activist presentation, the audience is much more prone to ask questions like “what can I do to help” and one has to have “positive” answers without being reductionist.

Now, some stuff I heard in Left Forum:

The White Woman in Front of the Elevator: In which panel are you presenting?

Me: Contemporary Leftist Movements in India.

The Woman: Is there one?

Me: There are many.

The Woman: Oh really? Nice. Good for you that you're presenting!

I smile, the elevator comes in, we both stop conversing.

From Gautam Navlakha's presentation:

In India, we have every variety of left. One can choose from many varieties of left movements, see where one fits me. As an Indian, this is something that makes me extremely proud!

This is a rough paraphrase of what he said, and I have to kind of agree:))))

Monday, March 14, 2011

Raspberry Smoothie


Fresh Raspberries
Vanilla Yogurt
Brown Sugar

Blend and drink.

Very difficult!

As usual, I don't really know the measurements. I go by my eyes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflections on Poetic Language

From Dobyns' chapter “Metaphor”:

A metaphor can exist to heighten just a small part of the poem or it can be the entire poem. To be successful, however, the metaphor must be functional rather than decorative, meaning it has to further the general intent of the poem and it must be necessary to the reader's understanding and involvement in the poem. Any decorative use of metaphor is basically rhetorical; the author is trying to convince the reader by what amounts to technical effects rather than by content.

Then, he writes:

Image without object is evocative but it is dead end. The image has no function without the object, while the purpose of the metaphor is to draw attention to the relationship between its parts.

Even a symbol must give a sense of what it symbolizes.

We go to art partly to learn about the world. In a metaphor, that world is represented by the object, while the comparison with the image gives us a new sense of that world.

Like Dobyns, I am not someone who believes in empty metaphors, in language games and images which sound and read and feel merely beautiful. I have blogged about it before, but I will state it here again, just so we have a context for this post: I don't believe beautiful language or grasp over the technicalities of a language can replace a complicated historical eye and a sociological imagination. Now, having stated that, it is interesting how in the workshop I am in right now, one of the things that I have been encountering is the teacher's feeling that I get drawn into beautiful language-play and images, without necessarily thinking about their meaning and content. She has been encouraging me to “clarify my meaning rather than obfuscating my meaning.” For example, these were the lines I had:

She had a name for me.

Long before, I, heaviness-wrapped,

knifed through her



skin of her thigh

a presence of my own

a sting in red, green, blue and brown.

Now, this is a revised version of a poem, and the earlier version was like this:

She had a name for me. Long before she actually gave me birth.

A different one from that which the Head of the Clan announced

in the feast, and had later scrivened in the pages of the little maroon


Her comment was:

We have lost the word “birth” in this description.

Now, replacing the word “birth” with images was a conscious choice. The word “birth” seemed too direct to me, not expressing enough about the complexities of the actual birthing process. So, I was trying to find something which would express the physical pain of the birthing process itself, the actual physical discomfort, the way a child is a responsibility, the gendered nature of that very responsibility, and how becoming a mother has historically meant loss of opportunities for women. Hence, the images “heaviness-wrapped”, of the child literally knifing through her mother's body. But then, a child is also a source of joy. Hence, the colors—green, blue and red. And why “sting”? Because this is a poem about a daughter's disappointment about her mother's acceptance of silence. This is not a poem that celebrates in nostalgic terms the mother-daughter relationship. It is not glorifying motherhood, so to say. And the daughter's criticism transforms her literally into a pest, seen from the mother's perspective. Hence, the use of the “sting.” In other words, I had used the images to convey the conflict-ridden nature of this relationship, the contradictory feelings about the birthing process. I don't think the word “birth” could have done it for me. In the first version, I was using that sentence more as a placeholder than anything else. And I don't know, my feeling is that, the images are specific enough to remind the reader that it is birth we are talking about: the innards, entrails, and especially the reference to the thigh.

In other words, the “object” of this passage is the birthing process.

Now, I do want to make it “clear” for the reader. But I don't want my poems to work as guide-books for my readers. I want them to work hard, ask questions aggressively, think through each of the images and feel them. So, I think, once again, I am bumping here against a very different understanding of what a poem is supposed to do, and what's the role of metaphors. Yes, to be honest, I am someone who is attracted towards the abstract, the surreal, the magical in my metaphors. In other words, I want to push the limits of reality in my metaphors rather than reifying the everyday in a photographic way. And when I ask for feedback, I want to see, if the metaphors I am using are being effective in that endeavor. But I don't think I am willing to let go of the metaphor--the magical in the metaphor, the abstract in the metaphor—in that way.

Because it is in that abstraction, in that ability to reach the magical, the surreal that I see the political work of poetry.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Whiny Post

What does one do when a journal sends a rejection letter after a week of me turning in the work? Come to the conclusion that they haven't really read my work?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dobyns' Court Jester

I am reading Stephen Dobyns' Best Words Best Orders: Essays on Poetry. I have long been looking for a book which would reflect on the process of writing poetry beyond the introductory stuff. It's not that they are bad, but personally, I don't have to work on pushing myself to sit down to write anymore. Neither does anyone else have to do the work of convincing me that in order to write, I need to read. Dobyns' book has been helpful so far. Although I have read only the first two chapters. One of the things he does in this chapter is to see the work of the poet through the figure of the court jester. Dobyns writes:

The jester laughs at the king, yet the jester himself has nothing. The dwarf reminds me of that mixture of gall and humility that one must have in order to write.

I agree whole-heartedly with the “gall and humility” part. For me, it translates to this strange combination of rejection, intellectual arrogance, hard work and plain old humility. I know I cannot really create what I want to create without rejecting a lot of stuff in this life-- social ideological and aesthetic. In fact, the way I think about it, the three are intertwined. I need to have the arrogance in me to stay true to my decisions, to explain them to people without flinching. But rejection alone, or negation alone has never done it for anyone. It won't do for me either. So, there is this immense need to come back to the work-table every day, make myself a cup of tea or coffee, munch on a banana, and just write. Sometimes read. Take notes. Look up from what I am doing to think, to process, to figure out more. Needless to say, I cannot really stick to this schedule of hard-work until and unless I also have an open mind to critiques and criticisms. The essential knowledge that whatever I am doing is nothing compared to what can be done. I am not writing about accepting all criticisms blindly, but there is a need to take all criticisms seriously, to think through them, and then reject it with a certain kind of intellectual modesty. As I am learning, criticisms/critiques are also ideological, historical and cultural in their very basic nature. So, I cannot really take them at their face-value. But at the same time, they deserve time and thought, a seriousness of consideration.

Anyways, what is disturbing me a little bit is Dobyns' attempt to see the court jester as having nothing. Of course, the jester has something very important-- the access to the royal court. His work, as I see it, is more of subverting the norms of the monarchy while staying within it, while continuing to enjoy its privileges. And there is a certain kind of utility to it. But what about the artists who prefer to stay away from the court altogether? Who sings and tells stories to people who will never get to see the court? I am not saying, that the two spheres are two air-tight containers, for, it's often that one makes way for oneself inside the court through singing to people. In the same way, there might be poets and story-tellers who make the conscious choice to be one or the other. So, to put it in a more rounded kind of a way, what relationship a poet or artist or story-teller chooses to have with the court, it all boils down to the specific context. But what I am trying to say that, it is symptomatic that Dobyns begins his book with this particular figure. I think, it reveals a lot about the politics of much of mainstream white, male (and sometimes women) American poets to the culture industry. It's all about trying to find one's space to laugh while staying within its logic. It's rarely about changing or moving beyond the rationality of a capital-centric culture-industry altogether.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Processing Feedback

One of the feedbacks I received in class about the revised version “Nomenclature” poem was that:

The newer version has more of a focus on the mother and even the generation before then. That takes me away from the narrator, who I really like and care about.

So I am thinking, this is a series about the conflicts of a mother-daughter relationship. The daughter, who is the narrator, does not stand as a fully autonomous figure (if there is ever such a thing). Instead, these are poems which explore the relationality. The daughter's stories are implicated in her perceptions of her mother, of her mother's stories, and in one or two cases, even the generation before. Am I bumping here against an American aesthetics which wants to see the narrator as a self-contained individual, and nothing but a self-contained individual? I don't see the contradiction between “caring” for the narrator and getting glimpses of the generations before her. If anything, it explores the narrator even more closely within a history and thus provides more space for the reader to know about her. Although I wasn't necessarily thinking about it that way, this poem, the entire series even, go against that notion of self-contained individual autonomy. Our stories are implicated in each other's and therein lies the complexity for me. It is specifically that complexity that I want to represent in my poems, stories, essays!