Wednesday, May 18, 2011

{I Like Moving Around}

I just finished the second draft of the short story I was working on. I am not sure where it stands now, I will need some distance from it. Sometimes I wonder, what am I doing with this whole genre-shifting thing. During any given time, I am working between three genres--academic prose, short fiction and poetry. Part of my mind tells me, I would get things done much more quickly only if I stick to one and follow through the end. It is hard for me to stick to one thing. I tend to leap around, I have too many interests. I am not a creature of habit at all.

But at the same time, I am not sure genre-fidelity is such a good idea. Different genres respond to the complex realities of our times in different ways. I find it hard to fit all my concerns, all my interests in one genre or another. If someone asks me, what is my "favorite" genre, I would not necessarily know how to answer. What I do with poetry, cannot be accomplished via short fiction. And what I do in my short stories cannot be done in my academic writing. Now, the challenge is, to follow through the projects, keep on hacking at them, see where they take me after a considerable period of time.

I am getting better at this act of "following through." But it's still often a challenge. So, right now, I am not planning to write any new short stories. Because, I have plenty which are sitting there, after one, two or three drafts. I need to process the feedback they got, revise them and keep on revising them. Now, I am not one of those people who likes to implement something in a mechanical kind of a way. So, if I have a burning desire to write something new, I will write a new one. What I am trying to say here, that is not going to be my priority for a while.

Besides, I am finding it hard to devise new creative prose, even if it's fiction, while I am working on my dissertation. I guess, my mind is too full of prose! That is why, I feel somewhat accomplished-- I have been able to revise this story that I wasn't too sure of after the first draft. In other news, today I took the print-outs of the manuscript 2 and spira-bound it to make it look like a book (finally!). So, I will be able to read through them and see where it stands. One of my closest friends had interesting things to say. Now, I will have to plunge into the process myself.



Sunday, May 15, 2011

{été}

I am recognizing how hard often it is to assert myself in circumstances where folks don't really know how to recognize the very essential identity of women involved in intellectual or creative pursuits. Yet, those are the activities that make me me. It has been both un-nerving and comforting to be confirmed during the last one week that I will never be an ideal homemaker. I like to withdraw from the world because the kinds of work that I do need solitude. But that does not mean I am into domesticity. Staying a lot indoors or inside one's homespace does not make one a domesticated person. It becomes especially true for women who write, paint, theorize...in short, are involved in work which requires long hours away from the roles that are socially delineated for women. Emily Dickinson stayed inside the four walls of her home a lot. That does not make her domesticated or even remotely interested in domesticity.

* *

:Writing Updates:
--Submitted to 5 places (4 print, 1 online)
-- Have not been able to do any work with the poetry manuscript because of the overall hullabaloo in life. But in retrospect, that might be good. I believe it is allowing me a wee bit of distance from work just completed.
--Working slowly on the short story for the UCLA workshop. It's due in two weeks!

* *

Finished Nnedi Okorafor's novel Zahrah the Windseeker. Still under its spell, will try to write my thoughts about it once all the quasi-familial stuff recedes into background.

Friday, May 13, 2011

:: Manuscript::

I finished compiling the first draft of the manuscript. So far I have 46 poems spanning 62 pages, divided into three section, one prologue and one epilogue. Most of them, that is, around 35 were written during the NaPoWriMo challenge and the week before that. According to this, these are the most commonly used words in the manuscript:
WordFrequency
one83
mother52
did46
word39
without38
story37
way28
never23
ma23
know23
myself22
once22
around22
every21
time21
finger20
hand19
through19
ne17
page17
little16
make16
ever16
thing16
old15

I am still not sure what to think about it, because I have just compiled the whole thing. I haven't yet read the whole manuscript through. Later today or tomorrow I want to print out a copy of it and read it to figure out where it stands. But for now, I am happy that I have a tangible manuscript to work with. I also have some tentative titles. But again, I want to read through the entire manuscript to see if I can find some other catchy lines to do the work of the titling.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jane Eyre



To celebrate the arrival of summer properly, I saw Jane Eyre yesterday. The latest adaptation. I do have a slight obsession with Victorian women writers and the messed up tomes they wrote. Most of them are bundles of contradictions, but if one wants to understand the complexities of the nineteenth century British capitalism, one doesn't have much option other than to go through them. I had first read Jane Eyre when I was eight or nine, an abridged edition for kids. But it wasn't that abridged. It didn't really exclude the parts which might be considered "inappropriate" for children or anything. It merely simplified the Victorian English. I have gotten back to the text again and again after that, partly because I love it, and partly because it's hard to avoid it if you're a scholar/lover of Caribbean literature.

A large chunk of the film has been told in flashbacks. The opening scene is that of Jane leaving Thornfield. I liked that choice. For me, it's one of the strongest moments of the book, and I would say it's also a coming-of-age moment for Jane: one during which she exercises her feminist agency. She rejects Rochester, rejects what Thornfield stands for. She does not ever deny that she loves Rochester, yet she leaves. A proto-feminist statement that love is not the only place where women can (or need to find) self-expression. But there are other reasons why I think this moment is one of the most significant moments of the novel. As someone who has for the last ten years of her life spent reading literatures on and about slavery, it is hard not to notice the Abolitionist sub-text that runs through that leaving. In leaving Thornfield, Jane walks out of the legacies of slavery, the supremacy of the maritime/plantation bourgeoise. And the time too, is just ripe. The novel was published in 1847. The energy of 1848 is in the air, and slavery has been abolished in British Caribbean in 1838. And of course when Jane comes back, Rochester has lost his eyesight--the total disempowerment-declassment of the plantation aristocracy, and Thornfield itself has been burned to ruins. Jane gets uplifted a little bit in terms of her class, what with her inheritance from the dead uncle and everything, and Rochester goes through a process of being disempowered. So, the class status-quo is restored. Kind of.

The film has done some serious editing of the novel. Understandable. Too little of Grace Poole. Too little of Bertha Mason, not to speak of the fact that she looks distinctly South Asian. I do think the film tries to level out the class and racial sub-texts there. But if one is careful, it can be gleaned from whatever is available. Like, the coachman is black. When Bertha spits at Jane, what comes out is a glob of black phlegm. Blood coagulated into a thick blackness? Once that lands in Jane's white wedding-dress, it makes space for an interesting symbolic blackening of Jane herself. For the white lower middle-class woman from the British empire, to walk out of the confines of imperial femininity, she needs that symbolic blackening. In other words, in order to be a feminist in imperial Britain, white women needed to go through a process of blackening/browning/racialization. I think, that was my favorite scene from the film. Because it's one of the most profoundly politically symptomatic ones. Although, I also think, Jane's childhood scenes were artistically rendered too.

Overall, it was an enjoyable film. Although, if I have to be honest, I think there is something about the best of Victorian novels that resists cinematic narrativization.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Table


Right now, I am in a small university town in Illinois, visiting M. I am sitting in a table right next to a big window drinking coffee. Earlier I was working on typing up some of the poems I wrote during the NaPoWriMo month. After that, I read some poems from Joseph Legaspi's book Imago. I am thinking, if I had a window and a writing-table right next to it, I probably wouldn't have spent so much money and time in the coffee-shops. This desire does make me uncomfortable. Because I recognize in that very desire, a kind of consumer materialism. And I know there are actual costs of that kind of desire. This is specifically the kind of desire that makes people crave more, take paths that will satisfy those cravings rather than stay true to their passion and creativity. In short, it makes them conform. But on the other hand, I also think, is it too much as a writer to ask for a writing-table next to a window? Shouldn't we all live in a world where everyone can have access to a workplace of their choice? Yes, but we don't live in an ideal world. And so long as we don't, I should get the most of this writing table while I am here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Adelaide Labille



I have been thinking and trying to find out works by women visual artists recently. The painter is Adelaide Labille-Guiard, and the date of this painting is 1785. I love how the teacher stares back at us, an expression of defiance in her face. It is doubly significant that she has painted herself with two students, since most male painters in those days refused to accept female students.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dal With Cream and Salsa

In the last nine years, I have discovered that being a grad student means learning skills that you wouldn't necessarily think of possessing in normal circumstances. You might not even know that they exist. One such skill is throwing random shit together. Like today, I had some salsa, some whipping cream, half of an onion and some dal sitting in my refrigerator. And what do I do? I threw them together. And the result is, NOT TOO BAD! So, here is the recipe.

Ingredients:
Dal ( I used mushur, or red lentils. Anything else will do too.)
Onion (sliced in rough pieces)
Spices (I used cumin seeds, coriander powder, red chili powder, paprika, turmeric)
Butter
Red Salsa (Store Bought Variety)
Whipping Cream

Preparation:
Boil the lentil seeds and the sliced onions together.

Heat butter in a skillet. Temper it with the spices. Let it sizzle for a while.

Pour the whipping cream. Let the spices mix well with the cream.

Now pour the salsa. Again, let them mix well.

Then, the boiled dal. Let it simmer for a while.

Slurp it with rice or rotis.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Realization!

I am envious of poets who can pull of nature-imageries in skillful ways. I cannot. This is probably because I have grown up as a city-girl. I can write about how the sporadic outbursts of nature cause the city landscape to change, but I cannot, to save my life, write about nature in any consistent ways. A few years ago, I would also be unable to write food-imageries. But luckily, the experience of living alone, as a cash-strapped graduate student has changed that. I have grown a lot more sensitive about the food production process, the smell, touch and colors of different kinds of edibles and condiments than what I was during my teens and early twenties. This reveals to me how our writing and other artistic productions are often bound, in unconscious and sub-conscious ways to the kinds of lives we lead, the essential reservoir of experiences from which we draw our inspirations and sustenance.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Updates

The last few days I have spent typing some of the NaPoWriMo poems. Yes, I wrote them all in longhand in a small notebook. I haven't yet gotten to the ones which are really, really bad. But, up till now, I am really enthralled. The work I have here is not stellar by my standards. They are decent--but I did them all in the course of a month! I do have material enough for at least a chapbook! They will need to be polished a lot more, edited...but still! For summer, I am planning to take Anna Maria Hong's workshop on writing in forms. I am excited because I have never taken a workshop from a woc poet. And the syllabus looks interesting. Writing in forms is definitely something I can do with lots of improvements!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Joanna Fuhrman's 1968


“The Summer We Were All Seventeen”
From Pageant by Joanna Fuhrman, pg. 4


It was 1968. The clock read 10:43.

The Vietnam War was trapped in the television

like a moptop Rocky Road ice cream cone.

I was hungry ALL THE TIME,

munching on barbeque-flavored soy chips,

slurping pumpkin ravioli with a trimmed white poodle
named Betty Friedan.

It was the year I found twenty pointy virginities moist
in the fangs of a runaway wolf.

The year my voice broke like a lake and I sang
renegade karaoke naked beneath my sparkly trench coat.

Even the sun was an eyelid—

no one could see the rest of the face.

*

Dear Radio,
we love you
even though
we all know
you’re a big-time phony—
we call you
the secret hiding place
of rock and roll,
but we all know
the real
rock and roll
invented
by Arthur Rimbaud
with flaming tambourines
and multi-breasted albino
oranges
you crushed
years ago,
destroyed with your
beautiful
fangs.
*

In 1968 I was the inventor of bonfires and tie-dyed ball gowns,

the inventor of insomnia and transcendent typos. Every song ever
played was written by a monkey on a laptop.

every drum ever destroyed burst with centrifugal liquid lasers.

I was William Carlos Williams dancing
naked in front of the mirror while my wife and children were sleeping.

I was Li Po singing
on the peeling fire escape, smoking pot and cracking jokes about Taoism.

It was 1968 for a whole twenty minutes.

The television broke like fireworks. The television
exploded
like sprinklers.

It was 1968 for a whole century. It was 1968
when we made love beneath
the rainbow canopy of candy GI Joes

and gave birth to a Janis Joplin Cabbage Patch Doll.

Jimi Hendrix swallowed
the ashes and dove headfirst into the My Little Pony blow-up pool.

I was twenty years old
or I was six years old. I devoured every radio,
eating the wires.

I hooked my veins to the electrical current
and wrote emails to Gilgamesh twenty-four hours a day.

I illegally downloaded Steal this Book.

I fell down on the green carpet and stared at my bedroom’s cloud wallpaper.

I saw my face forming in every two-dimensional puff.
It was the summer

of free vowels,
damp noses, exfoliating
participles.

I was nostalgic for the idea of poetry
more than poetry itself.

I injected caesuras in the veins of my toy cadaver

and wrote the word “revolution” all over my friend’s plaster cast.

Rain-soaked toddlers photographed me
and sold the negatives on Ebay.

I covered every centimeter of my body with discarded gun wrappers.

I covered my head with a floating chuppa and sewed a colorful bikini

out of a discarded hijab.

I wore the whole city around my waist as a dangling belt.

Everyone could hear me jangling

from the other side of the globe.
----------
There is something about this poem which disturbs me immensely. 1968, here, appears to be a highly commodified year, era. There is a sarcasm in the tone here, and I think, sarcasm can often be put to really effective uses in poems. So, if I have to read it really against the grain, I will say, this poem mocks the commodification of dissent in the 1960s. But I just want to step back a little bit and ask: was 1968 only about commodification? Was it only about rock and roll, girls with flowers in their hair, and playing revolution? So, I can't really help pointing out that this is a poem that has been written out of the white, middle-class unconscious of the American empire. Yes, the references to a young woman's coming-of-age is interesting here, but even that has been explored through the mediation of a commodified culture, which thrives on appropriating dissent. Where is Black Panther, Young Lords, the demands for Ethnic Studies programs in this poem? Where is race? Where is even feminism? Not to speak of the fact that 1968 means something very different for me, for folks in the Third World. I mean, in India, we are still struggling with the legacy of 1968, what with the Indian state declaring Maoists to be the "biggest internal security threat." Today's Maoism that literally emerged out of the Naxalite movement of the 1968. There can be lots of criticisms of it, some very serious ones. There can be rejections of it too. But it meant a LOT more than a culture of commodified dissent mediated through a highly structured culture industry. Not to speak of the immensity of the state violence that was unleashed.

So I have been trying to write a poetic response to this one. It's happening in bits and pieces, but I think I am getting stuck in between a very familiar language of Leftist nostalgia, and a more inwardly drawn language of individual exploration? How to write about individual experiences of witnessing and participating in a moment of global political upheavals?What happens when one throws gender in the mix? I don't know don't know don't know...but hopefully will get to know...something...a little bit more than what I do now...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Stevens, Abeyta, Thirteen Ways of Looking At Things

Have been thinking a little bit about Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird. In one of the workshops I took once, this was a required reading. The dominant reading that was collectively produced by the class was, this poem resists the very work/act of meaning-making. I was of the opinion that it might be, but at the same time, the poem also assumes a white, masculinist, imperial gaze as its basis. That gaze works almost as a political/cultural unconscious of this poem. A closer reading of the poem reveals that it is a gaze that travels outwards from inwards. It is impossible for me to read this poem without thinking of a guy standing in a window, watching nature and the blackbird, taking it apart bit by bit. I identify this urge to look at something, especially in nature, as intrinsic to an imperial gaze. It tears open many many complicated questions: who historically had the right to "look" and "analyze"? I am thinking about this "social/cultural/political unconscious" as I am beginning to revise the poems that I wrote for NaPoWriMo. What are the assumptions about the world that I bring into my writing without even being aware? Of course, class. Caste. And all the associated cultural privileges that come with them. But how do such categories make up the symbolic realm of my work? I still haven't figured out fully yet! Maybe, the answer keeps changing! The assumptions I bring in Manuscript A might not be the same as the assumptions I bring into Manuscript B!

Anyways, whenever I read Stevens' Blackbird poem, I cannot help thinking about Aaron Abeyta's poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Tortilla. What Stevens leaves in the vague realm of "beyond meaning", Abeyta transforms it into meaning. The very tangible tortilla. The very tangible human hunger. Food. The process of production of food. Food as a reservoir of culture. Race. Class. Labor. And last but not the least, the US-Mexico Borderlands. In short, Abeyta breaks Stevens' almost taken-for-granted imperial setting, allegory.

Whenever I read Abeyta's poem, I become conscious of all writings as essential works of re-writings. And therefore, writings are also about "reading." What am I re-writing in these poems, then?

Well, a post for another day!