Wednesday, June 29, 2011

.Mother-Daughter Poems.

I have refrained from making any long-term writing goals this summer because my dissertation is wearing me out. It is hard for me to concentrate on any other big project at this time. The best I can manage is to give at least 30 minutes to my creative writing every day. Beyond that, it is hard for me to plan my creative writing projects in a more sustained kind of a way. I need to get the dissertation done first. So far I have been keeping up with that schedule-- I haven't written any new stuff recently, but I am revising. And the truth be told, I have too many first drafts lying around which need my more focused attention. So I am not too anxious that I am not producing/generating too many new texts right now. And also, revising is HARDER. At least for me. Because it demands that I dig deeper. The poems that I am working on revising right now, are more personal and autobiographical than I have ever written. So, when I try to revise, I re-visit parts of myself which I have kept hidden from my own eyes for way too long. It's almost as if the poems are holding up the mirror in front of me, and forcing me to look into the contradictions of the Post-Partition Bengali-Hindu lower middle-class/middle middle-class gender roles, and the way they played out in the everyday mother-daughter interactions. I cannot work on these poems for too long. I often feel that I am talking too much. Then there are times I feel I am saying too little. And I keep wondering, how will these poems be classified by others who read them? Confessional? Autobiographical? Will there be anyone who will consider these poems as remotely political? I don't know!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Revising the Phelna Story


I started revising a short story after a while. I have had it sitting there for a while, then I turned it in for the Spring workshop, and then felt like revising it based on the feedback I got from the class. Besides, it will also help break my fiction lull. I have very modest aims--to put in 4-6 pages every week of this workshop. That is, roughly a page a day. Right now, other than the teaching philosophy, that's all I can deal with. I am definitely leading a very wordy life.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Julie Speed


One of the visual artists I "discovered" during this weekend:



Sunday, June 26, 2011

{this sunday}

This weekend I took a break from academic work. Yesterday was old bookstore and then having dessert and coffee with a friend. Today was celebration for the pubs and finally turning the chapter 3 of my dissertation to the co-director. The books I bought yesterday:

1. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
2. Alcestis by Kate Beutner
3. Rice by Nikki Finney
4. Vice by Ai
5. Sin by Ai
6. Gabriela Mistral Reader

I totally shouldn't have done this given than I am SO broke. But my excuse is, I am a writer and an academic lit-critter. So, books are one of the essential components of my means of production.

Today, I finally went to Austin Museum of Art and saw the Mona Lisa Project exhibit they are hosting right now. It is an interesting concept in itself. For me, a project like this one basically boils down to an aesthetic interrogation of the notion of beauty itself. For a while now, I have ceased to think the terms beauty and aesthetics as politically neutral. There is no way one can divorce these two words from ideologies of race and gender central to modernity. So, the fact that this exhibit has taken up a visual text which has long been understood as one of the iconic documents to provide the humanity with a definition and demonstration of beauty is interesting in itself. But, I wished the artists had pushed the boundaries more. For one thing, the project does not attempt to interrogate whiteness enough. There is only one work by an artist of color. And the inclusion of that work seemed very much like tokenism.

But, I am also wary of the way the women artists themselves have tried to perform Mona Lisa. While that act does problematize the inherent passivity and all the connotations of body-beauty image, the women are still very much the object of photographic/artistic gaze. Very rarely do they assume the active creator/artist persona themselves. So, for me, most of the visual texts ended up reifying what it was trying to question. But all in all, an interesting show, and I would be interested to see if this particular group of collaborating artists take this idea further.

After the exhibit, came coffee and explorations of some new coffee-shops. And then, some writing time with tea. I am trying to revise a short story based on the feedback I got from my last workshop. Will blog about that process later.

::Why Kiranmala::


A friend of mine, after reading the poem in Stonetelling, asked me, why I chose Kiranmala. Is it because she is a "Bong" heroine. There are lots of reasons why I am fascinated by Kiranmala, but I don't think her "Bongness" is one of them. This is something that I have been thinking about a lot these days: this question of identity in the way it often comes up in my discussions with friends and students who are second generation South Asians in this country. Bangla has never been about "identity" or "heritage" to me in the way American identity politics speaks about one's racial/cultural/ethnic identity. It was the first language that I learnt. My sense of music has been formed by Bangla words, the cadence of that language. I sing Bangla songs when I am alone without really thinking about it, because that's what I know, that's what there is in my sub-conscious mind. I didn't grow up in a social milieu where people were "post-colonial hybrids." English was a foreign language to them, a familiar foreign language, but a foreign language still. They were scared of it, in awe of its skilled users. Some people I know and have grown up with, managed to developed a functional knowledge of it. My father one amongst them. Most didn't. In India, how one uses English gives out one's economic and cultural class. The lower-middle class, suburban Kolkata milieu where I grew up, people spoke, read, wrote in Bangla. That's what they still do. And I know, if I have to make any attempt towards building up any thread of communication with them, I cannot give up writing in Bangla. So, Bangla is my identity in a certain way. But it's way more than that.

Now, getting back to Kiranmala, she is someone whose life I can imagine much more easily than that a Greek goddess' or Celtic heroine's. Her story I have heard and read many many times. I can imagine how she looked like, what she ate, what colors she loved, what she wore. I can imagine her interior life in a relatively effortless way. Besides, my lit-critter's mind tells me, not a whole lot of work has been done on re-interpreting Bengali folklore, folktales, myths and fairytales. And I am not totally unqualified to do that! So, that's why I write about Kiranmala. Because I can crawl under skin, I can stay there, I can shout and shed tears from there. Yes yes yes....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Publication

Here's a poem of mine recently published:

http://stonetelling.com/issue4-jun2011/dhar-kiran.html

I am proud to share space with so many others whose writings I have admired from afar. I am indeed very happy, and the issue itself is great!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Critical and Creative: Some Reflections

For the past few days, I have been thinking about something: to what extent does my academic work as a literary critic bear any organic-symbiotic relationship with the poetry/fiction writing I do. It is not that I believe that there has to be a mechanical relationship, but still...

For one thing, in my academic work, I branch out. I branch out to places, languages, histories, literatures far away from my own. At least seemingly. In my poems and stories, I come back. I try to interrogate what has been close to me in a very direct kind of a way. I try to probe through my own childhood,my neighborhood, the people I have known in my life, the milieus that have been operative in making me who I am today.

There are times when it seems the two have nothing to do with each other. But then there are times when I recognize it is my academic work that has taught me the meaning of "reading." What it means to "read" texts. What it means to reside within a text. To take one word, one line/sentence at a time. To take it apart to put it back together again. That is precisely the approach that I try to bring to my creative writing. I try to "read" the life around me: my past, the present, the ever-changing landscape. I try to take it apart. I try to put the people in their contexts. Try to "read" them, find out what made them act the way they did. What made them so extra-ordinarily ordinary, yet singular. What made them conform. What made them rebel and how.

I don't know how life would have unfolded if I hadn't really taken up this PhD. I would have read anyway. I probably would have written too. But that's not the point. The point is, doing academic literary criticism gave me the final push towards becoming a writer. It empowered me to find the stories in my own life, and write them. Therefore, I find no contradiction between the "critical" and the "creative" in my life. In that sense, they are perfectly organic and symbiotic.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Favorite Quotes

Literature is the big bonanza, and writing is getting down on one's knees each day and searching for the exact words.
---Edna O'Brien

Sunday, June 12, 2011

~::Ongoing Thoughts::~

I have received some "good rejections" lately. Meaning, the editors have admitted that although they are not accepting my work right now, they like it overall. Most of them have named one or two poems which came real close. And and... all of them have asked me to submit more work. I am happy. This acknowledgement, however small it might be, makes me feel that I am not writing/reading in a vacuum. I am trying to keep the work-pace going. But this work of a writer is not easy.

For example, this week I am working on revising my "Portraits" poem. And it wasn't until the fifth revision/draft that the poem began to look like something presentable. Even then I know I might come back to it a couple of months later, and think "ehhh, is this all I could manage!" In other words, there is something very intangible, very ephemeral in the process of art production. The same can be argued for knowledge production. I can spend a year trying to perfect an article only to find that I need to do some more archival work to get a better sense of my foundational argument. To use a cliche, the work is never done.

On the other hand, when I am cooking, cleaning, taking care of the housework, running errands, there is a very finite quality to these chores. I take care of them one by one. I feel done. Accomplished. It is very easy to distract oneself with housework and some such shit when I am confronting that ephemeral non-doneness in my more creative/critical work. I have heard a lot of women talk about how they use housework as a form of pro-castination. Being someone who isn't too drawn to housework beyond the imperatives of hygiene, I could never really understand that mentality until very recently. But it also makes me think ,if a lot of it has to do with internalizing the gendered norms/dominant philosophies of the world around us. The tradition "women's work" have always been more tangible, finite in nature.On the other hand, boys and men are socialized to gravitate towards work which require more abstraction of mind. This, to me, seems like one of the foundational philosophies of the gendered division of labor. Interestingly, even when women moved out of their homes into the public world of commodified production, the kinds of work in which they concentrated were/are the ones which are relatively finite and tangible in nature. Which make use of the skills they would pick up while learning to run a home swiftly. Like that of a secretary. That's why, women's participation in knowledge and art production, even today, brings up so many different kinds of anxieties, both in women themselves and those around them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

::Silence::Language:: Manuscript::

I am not so concerned with silence as I am with evolving a language for writing/talking about things that have not been or rarely talked about. That is what I am struggling with in my poems. It is not my intention to throw upon the world more victimology. Nor I am interested in writing my own sob-stories. What I am interested in, is to write about the constructions of family, motherhood and familial love. I am concerned about the nation-mother equalization. The way that construction has such stronghold in Bengali cultural and literary imaginaries. There is hardly any language that I can fall back upon while I am doing this work. I am struggling with the language, with the craft. And the easiest thing would be to give it up, and fall into silence. But that silence won't speak. There are times when silence speaks. There are times when it doesn't.

Friday, June 3, 2011

!Summer!

This week has been one of firsts-- the first visit to IKEA, the first installation of a table in my room, the two shelves, and a house-plant. Along with it comes the fear that am I growing up (read, am I becoming domesticated)? I keep telling myself, it's not me, it's the bugs. Yes, for the last six months, I have lived in a bug-infested apartment. So, the table, the shelves, and the visit to IKEA were more about creating the conditions for bug-removal, rather than about any desire to become anything else other than my scattered self. But, I must admit, I am enjoying the table so far. I am enjoying the fact that I can work in my room, and I haven't really visited a cafe ever since the tables have been installed.

(Writing Updates)

The individual poems in my manuscript needs to get stronger. So, that's what I am doing now. That will also mean more research, more reading, more digging ...more...more...more.

I was thinking how my writing has changed in recently--earlier, I was more concerned with protest. Now I am more concerned with construction. Manuscript 2 is a combination of the two.

::Things I Have Cooked So Far::

--Tomato Shrimp Chowder Soup

-- Bengali Murgir Jhol

Will try to put up the recipes soon


::Readings::

1. The Hour of the Goddess--Chitrita Banerjee

2. Pitamahi-- Shanta Sen