Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(Tuesdays Fall 2011)

I recognized today that this semester my Tuesdays are going to be crazy. Normally, I should not expect to get too much of my own work done on Tuesdays. But, it's mostly going to be preparing for my discussion sections, attending the lecture, then office hours, then teaching, and if I still retain my sanity after that, a little bit of grading. But because it was the very first Tuesday of the semester, I did succeed to revise a poem, post it for the workshop forum, write around 300 words for the dissertation. I also managed to submit to two places. Overall, it wasn't a bad day--just an extremely busy one. Now, I am waiting for the rice to cook. It's in the oven. Once that's done, all I need to do is to reheat the dal, have dinner and go to bed. Yes, I am tired.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I gave a friend of mine a poem called "Just By Sheer Mistake" to read and comment on. The poem has been accepted by a journal ever since, so I cannot post it here. Otherwise, this post would have probably made more sense. Anyways, her comments were totally off-base. She did not understand what I was writing about at all, she had problems in understanding the references to the counter-culture, she misread everything in the poem. Literally. When I first read her feedback, I was confused (and sad),because this is a woman who is extremely extremely sincere. She is a very very nice person, and she wants to understand. So I talked to M, who really did help me a lot to put the whole thing in perspective. According to him, this woman writes primarily about the home-space--there is very little in her poems that problematize domesticity. Yes, there are moments when she wants that cloak of domesticity to be better repaired, but more or less, her poems are about celebrating the familial/domestic space, rather than looking for a space beyond the familial/domestic. On the other hand, my poem was about that very tension--the conflict between the familial and the more public space of artistic exploration. Now, what does it mean when you have a father who found his voice in that public space of artistic exploration too? In other words, the young men and women who in 1960s found their voices in the so-called counter-cultural spaces, are the parents of the kids, who like me, came of age in the 1990s. How does one write about the conflicts with them? In this particular poem, I chose to explore that conflict through the lens of a "benevolent patriarchy". Although nowhere in the poem did I use that term. The poem ended up being an exploration of a space where the "public" and the "familial" intersect with each other, through the presence of the character of the father. I have never really thought how complicated this poem is from the perspective of a reader. In other words, for someone who is not that familiar with lefty/countercultural childhood, there is a lot that I am presuming in this poem. So, after I processed some of my friend's initial reactions, I recognized, my poems are going to be understandable only to a small group of people. At least for now. I don't know if it's good or bad. And I am not going to worry myself thinking about it. But this is what it's going to be for now. If I have to be true to myself, I will have to keep on writing, and just hope there is someone out in the world who would know what I am talking about.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

{Saturday Happy}

School has started, I am teaching this year. This semester I am TA-ing for an American Lit. class. This first week wasn't that hectic, but I am sure it will become crazier as it moves along. My days are not that "interesting" right now. I wake up, make myself coffee, try to do some work on the dissertation chapter, read a little, write a little. So, yes, these were the three "happy moments" of this past week:

1. Breakfast Tacos at Cafe Medicci

Yes, I allowed myself two breakfast tacos this Thursday: bean and cheese and migas. They were delicious. But it wasn't just that. They also helped me to pay attention to the class while the professor I am TA-ing for, appreciate it, and then have a meeting with him and my co-workers during which I didn't think about food.

2. My Advisor Likes My Chapter 3

and thinks it's "bold." This did give me some impetus to keep on working on my Chapter 4.

3. Cappuccino and Revising A Poem

Yesterday, I bought myself a cappuccino and worked on revising a poem. I felt such a bliss! I haven't been able to write too many new poems, and I doubt I will, until I get the dissertation done. But I can still revise my old poems! And there was something extremely consoling about sitting in a cafe with a cup of cappuccino and revising my poem. It's like a date with a very close friend, someone who knows me better than anyone else, someone to whom I don't have to explain myself. I just emailed the poem to one of my readers, let's see what he has to say.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

::Poetry Books I am Dreaming About::

The poetry books I am dreaming about:

1. Dhaka Dust by Dilruba Ahmed

2. In the Bus With Rosa Parks by Rita Dove

3. Black Mesa Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca

4. Wild Iris by Louis Gluck

5. Rooms Are Never Finished by Agha Shahid Ali

6.Burnings by Ocean Vuoung

These are the books I want to read during this semester (fall 2011) while I also try to finish ze diss and survive teaching.

(Sometimes on a Day Like This...


* Made coffee for myself
* Finished reading an article by Ranajit Guha
* Wrote a little more than 450 words on my dissertation chapter
* Finished posting critiques and reading responses for my short fiction class
* Finished reading Cindy's chapbook
*Finished reading Native Guard
*Had more coffee
*Checked emails, responded to friends
*Read two short stories by Agnes Sam
* Began a ghazal
* Heated up leftover dinner, ate it
*Did dishes
* Posted critiques (two) for my poetry workshop
*Submitted poems to four places
*Went to bed

it's okay not to know what I am made of)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thursday Happy (Late Edition)

I am still suffering from an overall feeling of listlessness--there is too much to be done, and I am always under this feeling that I am doing too little. There is the dissertation to be completed, job applications to be done, more poems to be revised, written and submitted, stories to be written and revised, feedback to be given. If I have to characterize my life, it won't be an exaggeration to say that I live within a complex cycle of relentless, continuous work. These days, I feel, time is running out. Maybe this has to do with me growing older. I don't think I have ever felt this way when I was 21 or 25. I am trying not to lose track of life in the midst of it all. So here are the three things that made me happy this week:

Receiving My Friend Cindy Hochman's Chapbook In Mail

Cindy and I met when we took Michael Montlack's poetry workshop in Gotham. We kept in touch even after the workshop, reading and commenting on each others' poems, chatting and sometimes just sharing a good joke. It's wonderful to see Cindy's work published as a book, and acknowledged by the larger poetry world. No, she didn't charge me for the book, and had written a beautiful inscription inside.

The title of her chapbook is: The Carcinogenic Bride

Breakfast at Hornitos

I have known for a while that this is one of the Austin institutions, but never had a chance to go. So, I did finally. Yesterday. With a friend. Their breakfast tacos are very very very delicious. There is something about the chorizos that I simply love. I wish I could do breakfasts more often (sigh!)

Coffee With Komrade Andy

Whose jokes cheer me up, with whom I can share my dreams of a better world, without translating...my comrade, my fellow-dreamer in diaspora...

Monday, August 15, 2011

{Ongoing Thoughts About Femininity, Motherhood and Women's Poetry}

The poems about daughterhood I have written in the recent past, and which I have begun to send out recently, are generally more appreciated by men than by women. I didn't think about this part of the reception when I was writing them. It is only recently that I have come to recognize this aspect of the reception of my own work. I am still processing it, and I don't have any well-developed theorization about it.

But I have my suspicions. I think, men and women are taught/socialized to think about inter-generational relationships differently. Men think conflict as an integral element of inter-generational relationships. Women think of them more in terms of nurturing. Coming-of-age for girls often translates into accommodating themselves into the imperatives of the roles of nurturers and care-givers. Personally, I don't think these are either/or realities. Both conflict and nurturing can co-exist within a particular relationship. In fact, I would say, most relationships, which move beyond a superficial exchange of niceties, involve both. Where the whole thing gets more complicated is the place where our inter-generational experiences get constructed in specific ways by the societies and cultures we live in.

By that token, women are not expected to write about conflicts, the anger they feel for their mothers. Instead, mother-poems, like grandmother-poems, are supposed to be all about nostalgia-- of finding that space of purity where mother and daughter come to share bonds. Of course, there are plenty of women poets who have written against that expectation, but in my experience, it still throws people off, and especially women readers, when they encounter a woman writing about conflict in their relationship with the mother. It is as if the denial of the mother would come to an essential denial of the writing woman's own femininity. And this is something, I plan to write about very soon, it's still very hard for women writers (and women in general) to lay claim to their own anger. The mainstream women's poetry in this country (written mostly by white women) bears important testimony to that. I can say the same thing about Bengali women's poetry too. But that's going to be a whole different post.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

::Happy Weekend Thoughts--Or Things You Tell Yourself To Survive::

I often get jittery around my failures or rather my lack of success. For example, for the last two months I have been submitting to journals almost every day. I have had only one acceptance so far. While I am grateful for that, I also feel anxious that I haven't had better luck. And then I begin to think, maybe it's just that I am not good enough. Maybe. But I also keep telling myself, I have a bad habit of starting projects and not finishing them. I have wasted a big part of my 20s that way. There were other reasons why I could not be "creative" in that way during my twenties, but this is also one of it. I have had the patience or persistence to see through things. Grad school has changed that a little bit. It has made me see how sometimes you just have to show up day after day without expecting results. And then one day, you really begin to see the difference in your own work. At least that's what has happened to me.

Now, I am struggling with the next stage. In the last four years that I have been taking writing seriously, I have been able to generate enough raw materials. But a lot of these are just that: raw materials, early drafts. Interesting, but not piercing enough. So, I need to take my work to the next level. I need to keep on working, polishing and revising my drafts.

Today, I am finally giving myself the permission to admit that:

I am not really that writer who will get it right the first time. Or not even in the second or the third or the fourth. But maybe in the sixteenth. And if I stay true to myself and the work till that sixteenth time, I will probably produce something that's halfway decent.

The struggle, then, is to stick to it. To keep coming back, even on days when I am feeling low, or like a massive failure.

PS. The accompanying painting is by artist Silvia Gold. It speaks to my present mood!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

{Thursday Happy}

It is not like me to perform my "happyhappyhappy" self on blog and/or Facebook. That's why, I have mostly refrained from posting status messages on my fb page. I don't want to sound "happy" to the world, neither do I want to perform depressed. But right now, I am feeling pretty low. As I said, in one of the previous posts, I know the reasons. Some, I do have control over. But those are not things that can be taken care of right away. They need painstaking labor. Others, are beyond my control. Like the mental state of my childhood friend, whom I love deeply. Or the London riots. Or the war. So, this is an exercise I will indulge in for the next three months. I will list three things that made me happy during a particular week. This the first installment:


Cooking A New Chicken Dish
I have been on the lookout for a new chicken dish on the web for a while, and then I did run into one. It's a more spicy spin on the chicken korma that I used to cook. So, here is how I did it:
a. Marinate the chicken with ginger paste, salt, cumin and coriander powder, cayenne pepper powder.
b. Grind fennel seeds, peppercorn seeds, red chilli, cinnamon sticks and cardamom seeds.
c. Heat ghee/oil. I used ghee, since I am really keen on unhealthy eating.
d. Then pour in the ground spice mixture. Let it sizzle for a minute or two. Keep stirring the wok.
e. Slice onions, pour them into the mix, and put on a low-medium heat and cook it till the onions are brown and halfway between soft and crunchy. Sweat the onions so that the final dish is tastier.
f. Slice a tomato, and add it into the mix. Now, let everything turn slowly into a mush/paste.
g. Brown the marinated chicken. Once they have been browned, remove them into the main cooking pot. Stir and mix well with the tomato-onion spice mix. Feel free to add sugar, salt and chilli powder according to taste. I like to add a little sugar along with the spice, because I like the caramelized taste of the spices.
h. Then add1 cup of yoghurt. Add it one spoon at a time and mix thoroughly. Add chicken broth- about a cup and a half and cook it down till the chicken is cooked and the paste is thick. If the chicken isn't cooked and the broth is drying out, add more.

This turned out to be fairly good. And made me think, even if I cannot write a good dissertation or a good book of poems, or a good short story or whatever, I can still cook somewhat tasty meals for myself.

Meeting With KA
KA and I had our poems published in a journal together. So, over the last two weeks, we had gotten in touch with each other over the email, and had decided on meeting for coffee, which we did yesterday. We hit it off immediately, and are trying to plan some activities/projects together. But, this meeting, I will count from now on, as an example of positive, productive, creative "networking", as against the totally inane "professional" kind, that I have come to hate so much in the recent years.

Watching Fellini
Last night, R and I watched Luci del Varieta. As a film, it's an interesting one. But nothing that would turn my head off. But the fact that I could make time to actually sit down and see it, is something that needs to be celebrated. These days, I am so tired that I rarely find the mental peace and the intellectual energy to sit down and watch an intelligent film. I will write my thoughts on the film soon. But, for now, I am happy that I got to see it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing In Forms

Writing in forms brings out the alienationist in me. Especially when I attempt sestina. Why? Because my grasp over forms is still not that strong. So, it's hard for me to exercise control over both the form and the material. So, the material begins to act more and more like a fill-in-the-gap, while I try to stay faithful to the formal constraints as much as possible. It's easier to rant about my despair than anything else in forms, especially the ones where repetition is the key structural cement. Here's a sestina I finished yesterday, for my Writing In Forms class. According to the prompt, we needed to write a sestina including a beverage, a tool, a color, a language, an animal, and an artist or an author as the end words.


Chronicler of the unborn sisters of the iconic bards in blue,
Afraid of my own room in my father's house, dark as milk-less coffee,
I wandered around the city, craving to break it open with a hammer.
Instead, I shared my park-bench with a stray dog.
In my round schoolgirl's hand, translated entire paragraphs in Bengali
from a much-used, brittle volume by a memsahib named Woolf.

These two women in a room, of whom she wrote about—this Woolf,
exploded out of words written about them, like the knee-length tweeds in navy blue,
from which I felt bursting too, cursing in homecooked Bengali.
This city,peopled by historians alone, where men drink coffee
leaving their wives behind in locked kitchens, to pant like dogs,
I roamed the sidewalks, fingers flipping through pages, hammering

curse-words in the margins. The marble angel whispers promises, hammered
in the fountain, unable to move his head for a glimpse of a page of Woolf.
In the used bookshacks of in the rusty downtown, I, with dogged
determination, looked for foremothers. Girls my age, in satin-blue,
made out with lovers behind open umbrellas, refusing to drink coffee,
thus preserving the ivory of their skins, as befits girls of Bengal.

Me, who, more than anything else, is afraid of Bengaled,
would walk around the streets, head hammering
against illegible graffitis. Strutting in alone inside coffee
houses, inserting my own scribbles in the white spaces of Woolf's.
There was a girl with a flute,her scarf deeply blue.
Her cheeks in pink glitter, she vomited her story-quests in the ear of her per dog.

The street, that day, were strewn with broken clay birds and corpses of dogs.
The girl with the flute, out of sympathy, offered to buy my scribbles in Bengali.
Just like a Scheherazade, who had just finished a story, I felt the blues.
In an almost alley, on an old banyan branch, I learnt to hammer
strangers' stories, to avoid being beheaded. Did she ever, that (Mrs.) Woolf?
The town lunatic danced around me, stopping often enough to beg for coffee.

Trying to memorize the city streets, I see blood-drops in pots of coffee.
Money for school-lunches now exhausted, I carve clay dogs
for the toy-seller in the square, relieved she wouldn't know of Woolf
or her ghosts following me around. With callouses shaped like Bengali
alphabets in her palm, in the wings of her wooden birds, she hammers
steadiness. The nails gave her bruises, violet-blue.

The historians, while sipping coffee, try to fashion a Bengali sans expletives.
The girl, in order to avoid being beheaded, hammers her tales inside the tongues of the dog.
I burn my paragraphs from Woolf, the fire swallows the blue.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I am in that place again. I feel a listlessness creeping in, I am finding it hard to work on new poems, or revise old ones. I know the reasons behind my feeling like this—but I don't know the cures. Most of them don't depend on me. I am not sure what to do—so I keep on doing what I know best: I work on my dissertation every day, although I don't always find it easy. I keep submitting poems to journals. I am trying to read, although honestly, I am finding it hard to read too. I am typing these few lines, because I don't want this space to die.