Saturday, April 30, 2011

NaPoWriMo 2011 Done!

30 poems in 30 days done! I am clearly exhausted. In terms of my personal goals, I have done two translations (one from Bangla, one from French), have written two myth poems (one South Asian, one from Grimms' Brothers), I could write only three poems in forms, and I didn't get to do any historical research for any of my poems. I am forgiving myself, because during this entire month, I was also stressing over my Fall funding, and finishing the third chapter of my dissertation. I have tried to stick to a specific topic, even when I wrote the myth-poems. So, I am hoping, I have at least a chapbook worth of poems from this month-long exercise.

I want to devote the month of May to some revisions, and trying to figure out the shape of the manuscript. My gut sense is that, what I have here will make a decent chapbook. It might be a little too monotonous to think of a book from the material I have, but I will see. I am planning to assemble 32 pages worth of material from here. But then again, I have barely written down the poems in my notebook. I will have to see how they look as more finished, final products.

Now, what I have learnt from doing this:
a. I can write everyday. I can write 30 poems in 30 days.
b. I like the discipline of writing everyday, although I must confess, it's hard to take a second look at some of the poems.
c. I now have a body of work, which was created without the kind of inhibition that comes with trying new material. ( There wasn't much time to feel inhibited.)
d. There is a kind of peace in knowing that I cannot really push a specific topic beyond this point right now.

Now, I will congratulate myself a little bit and reward myself by having a kulfi. Tomorrow is a new day, and a new month!

Incoherent Reflections

Yesterday was a day just like others. I finally got to know I won't starve in Fall, I will have employment. And I can't help feeling grateful. Now, I just need to plough through the dissertation, and get it done. The last month has been very stressful in so many ways, not the least of which is the uncertainty over funding. Now, I can relax a little bit and actually get down to the work.

To keep myself distracted from these worries, I have been thinking about cover-art for poetry books a lot. I tend to think, the cover-art is a form of collaboration, a collaboration between the artist and the poet. Anyways, this is one of my favorite cover-arts in poetry books. The one above. I love the blue. I love the combination of the blue and the white. And I also love how the entire cover gives out the story of the verse-novel itself, in a very dexterous nutshell. What is more, I read somewhere, the poet Thylias Moss herself, designed it! I don't think I can ever be that talented, that multi-dimensional to try my hand in so many different things!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing A Poem

Writing a poem is not like buying anything. Writing a poem is not like shifting through seeds. Writing a poem is not like cooking rice. Writing a poem is not anything else I do. Must we have metaphors for everything? Writing a poem is a metaphor in itself.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where I Stand So Far?

So, even when I was trying to finish the third chapter of my diss, I did not stop writing the poem for the day. There were days when I felt like I am dying, there were days when I felt numb, and then there were times when I just felt too dry to produce anything halfway sensible on page, let alone a poem. But I pushed myself, looked at unlikely places for inspiration, and I am learning a few things about the process:

1. Because I feel so robbed out of ideas, I am trying to look for ideas in places where I wouldn't normally go. Like, another poet's poem. Word lists. This looking for ideas in different places does make space for unlikely ideas. Things that would normally escape my attention are beginning to attract my attention.

2. I had decided, along with writing 30 poems in a month, I will also write on a particular topic. I am not disclosing the topic here right now, but again because I am running so low on ideas, I am having to approach my topic in slant. Which means, I am often writing from shifting POVs, expressing emotions I wouldn't necessarily go near because that's not my comfort-zone. So, yes, writing 30 poems in 30 days is making me push my comfort-zone quite a bit. Apart from making me dig deeper.

3. I am learning to see art as more than occasional creativity. This whole process is teaching me how much I love writing. It is teaching me, how only writing can generate ideas for writing and writing further. In other words, consistent work produces inspiration, rather than the other way round.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Halfway Through

I have written 15 poems so far. I missed yesterday, but then wrote two today. There was a point when I had felt extremely "dry" inside. Didn't have a word, image, sentence, theme or idea propping up. What helped was reading other poets' work, using their work as a springboard. The other challenge was, I did this along with drafting the chapter 3 of my dissertation. So, by the time I would come to the poem, I would feel extremely word-drained. Literally. There too, reading other poems helped! Most of the poems I have written so far, other than one, are free-verses. Now, I am thinking of giving a little bit more structure to the work ahead:

1. two translations
2. one from a "Western" myth/fairy/folktale
3. one from an Indian/South Asian myth/fairy/folktale
4. five in traditional forms
5. a persona poem in the voice of a character I find out through historical research

But I have learnt a lot in the past couple of weeks. Knowing that I will have to go back to the writing-table, gave me something to look forward to.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One of My Favorites From Domestic Work

Drapery Factory, Gulfport, Mississippi, 1956

She made the trip daily, though
later she would not remember
how far to tell the grandchildren--
Better that way. She could keep those miles
a secret, and her black face
and black hands, and the pink bottoms
of her black feet a minor inconvenience.

She does remember the men
she worked for, and that often
she sat side by side
with white women, all of them
bent over, pushing into the hum
of the machines, their right calves
tensed against the pedals.

Her lips tighten speaking
of quitting time when
the colored women filed out slowly
to have their purses checked,
the insides laid open and exposed
by the boss's hand.

when she recalls the soiled Kotex
she saved, stuffed into hag
in her purse, and Adam's look
on one white man's face, his hand
deep in knowledge.

Natasha Trethewey

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writing Poems Everyday

So far I have succeeded to produce a poem a day. Yes, it's a struggle. Like last night I felt like giving up, felt dry, no words or ideas coming to me. But then, I did anyway. I struggled with every word, particularly because I was so tired, and felt so drained. But then, as I said, I plowed on. I reminded myself, it's a challenge I have taken up with myself and I can't give it up at this stage. I reminded myself, even if I write a bad poem, it's still going to be a poem, and I can probably use a word, an idea from it later on. It worked. I haven't dared to look at the poem I wrote yet. But it's a poem! The thing is, I already have ten poems worth working on! I will have the subsequent months to revise them, to give them more shape, to go to places where I didn't dare to in the first draft--all these things that I tend to do while I revise. But at this point, I have 10 new poems, and it already seems like a lot!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


When I am smack dab in the middle of my despair, I ask myself,what these years of academic training in literary criticism has done for me. It has done a lot. LOT. But more than anything else, it has taught me to be an active reader. An active reader as against a passive consumer. It has taught me to wriggle inside the belly of a text. It has taught me to find space within a text to stretch myself. And now that I have learnt to read this way, my relationship to the "world" and the "text" will never be the same again. I am a more complicated person to deal with now. But also probably....wiser

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Where Am I Going With This Project?

I have been working for the last few days on this project. It is not necessarily new. Originally, I had included it as a section in my manuscript which I had compiled for JHG's summer workshop. Someone in the workshop suggested that this can be a chapbook in itself. I had kept the thought locked in some compartment of my head, but didn't really think about it much. Because the poems, I guess, seemed to be too personal, written from an I-voice, and yes, angry and whiny. But then, I began to re-visit the project again. Revised some poems for the UCLA workshop. The folks there generally liked them. And I, too, was looking for a "manageable" book/chapbook-length project that I can lift off the ground while writing the dissertation. I began to work on it again. In the last month or so, I have written some new poems aimed exclusively for this project. I must say, the poems that I have written are not exactly in my comfort-zone. I am writing them, I am trying hard here, but I am still afraid. So what are the fears that I have for this project:

1. the poems will be read as a sort of vulgar autobiographical exercise

2. the earlier poems and the ones I am writing now are different in their essential aesthetics. That can mean both--it can be a source of strength, or a source of weakness. I am not sure how it would look in this particular project.

3. These poems are based on family dynamics. Mother-daughter, father-daughter relationships. The daughter's character/voice looms large here. She is the one who is doing the "seeing", the "narrating", the "writing." There are poems which are also on the conjugal relationships of the parents. Some on the mother's relationship to her parents. But these are all narrated by the daughter. So, the daughter's voice acts as a filter. Now, here comes my biggest fear. Will these poems mean anything to anyone other than me? What it is that I am trying to reconstruct here? Obviously, the easy answer is "the personal is political." But a lot of the American poetry, especially women's poetry I am reading these days, seems to be all personal, and no political. There are lots of re-countings of everyday details of the persona-narrator's life, without necessarily reflecting on the larger implications. Without necessarily trying to answer the "so what" question.(This demands a post in itself.) I am not too interested in writing a book of poems which would sound/read like that. So, yes, I am worried about the ideological/political implications of the work I am doing here.

But also, I don't want to stop here. I want to go on, and see where this leads me. Maybe, once I am done with the first draft, I will begin to have a better sense of it? The thing is, I know so many people who have let their fears of "implications", "ideological value" , "political relevance" of their work stop themselves midway in the project, that I don't want to go down that same path. So, let's see.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In the Middle of Rejections

Ever since the NaWriPoMo began, I have written four poems. All of them are re-fashionings of older work, but still, they are more complete now, with definite arcs. They are full-fledged first drafts now. I have also submitted to a few places in the last week--some by snail mail, some electronically. This is the least favorite part of what I have to do as a writer, but also something that I have come to recognize as essential.

I have been thinking about the role rejection plays in one's growth as a creative artist/scholar etc. Why?Because, I am in the middle of rejections. Which often does make me think, maybe I am not that good enough. Maybe I should have just chosen some "safer" career-paths. Like being a secretary or a high school teacher, where the pressures to be "innovative" in this way does not exist. It is only during this last week that I have explicitly recognized, how both my chosen profession (literary/cultural scholar) and vocation(writer) are highly dependent upon subjective evaluations. Which basically translates into this: I might work very hard for a project, even put my best into it, but that does not mean I have any control over the reception. Reception, like production itself, is dependent upon too many factors.

Now, this is also an interesting life-lesson in itself. I might spend a whole lot of time talking to someone about race, gender, sexuality, sexuality, progressive politics, the intersection between political and the personal blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, my emotional investment in that person does not mean much more than my emotional investment. He/she will take it up at his/her own pace, re-mix it with things he/she is receiving from the historical/cultural/social environment around, reject some, accept some etc. And there will be lots of people in this world who will not take anything at all.This can be frustrating, especially when I am passionate about something, someone, and badly want to convince someone of something, or want my work to reach a larger audience. But I don't see any way around it. My work, my hard labor will be rejected-- probably many more times than it will be accepted. Do I stop writing then? Do I stop interacting with people about things I am passionate about? Do I stop developing the ideas for my dissertation? I don't think so!

Because that would be the ultimate defeat, the ultimate act of self-immolation. My voice, my words, my ideas have emerged out of my interactions with life, my experiences. They are by no means perfect, they are as limited as I am...but at the end of the day, they do have some relevance for ... if for no one else, for me...and hopefully, a couple of other people. So, I cannot stop working. I cannot deliberately stop myself from growing. Writing this post wouldn't really solve any of the problems right now, but it is definitely making me feel calmer, and more energized to go back to the work-table once again.