Interview with Mihir Vatsa

Our Blog Editors interviewed Mihir Vatsa, an Indian poet and the editor of Vayavya, for this week’s blog. In this interview, we ask him about the practice of writing and the habits that pertain to it in some way or another. We also ask Mihir about not only staying committed to writing, but also staying committed to writing about Hazaribagh.


Blog Editors: Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Maya Angelou reserved hotel rooms just to write. Stephen King forced himself to write six pages every day. Susan Sontag instructed people when not to call. Have you developed any specific methods for writing?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I could reserve hotel rooms to write. Someday, perhaps, I will. I usually write at night– the darkness sorts relevance from distraction. When I am writing to meet a deadline, I set a target. With prose, it is thousand words. Poetry is more malleable that way– just three lines could be a poem too, as long as they are good three lines. I am more relaxed with poetry, less so with prose. The latter demands some discipline, I have learned recently.  

BE: Do you journal? And how well do you work with or meet deadlines?

MV: Unfortunately, no, I don’t maintain a journal. I do have some romantic affinity towards the process though, and I like to hear stories that involve journal writing. I have tried it before, but have stopped midway. Trivial things begin to annoy me– is the notebook cover journalish enough, what if I wrote something and someone read it, if I am doing it on my PC then what should be the password, do I really want it personal or do I secretly want it read? I think of these clearly pressing thoughts and defer it.

I think I can work with deadlines, though I procrastinate a lot. So if the deadline is tomorrow, I would get working today, not sleeping, not eating, a bit possessed. It’s not a healthy practice for a writer, but then writers are not really known for their exemplary health.

BE:Do you outline ideas before or do you let the form teach you what kind of story you are writing?

MV: I do outline, but mostly in mind. I prefer having some ideas, some thoughts about what I should write once I start the computer. Often a poem is left hanging for a few days: one stanza emerges, then there is the wait, then another line comes up. When I am not writing, I am working with collages– cut here, paste there. When I think I have enough to go with, I start typing. With longer poems, I take it slow, filling in the blanks first, then tying the content up as the form suggests. With prose, and especially essays, I have found that it’s helpful to have some pointers beforehand, a road map, on how to progress from one thought to the other without jarring the flow.  

BE: What do you do when you become stuck while writing?

MV: If the deadline is far, I give in to the block. I switch to Netflix or Youtube, or take up a book which I had been meaning to read. You can only watch something for so long. When saturation hits, writing becomes a needed retreat. Sometimes I get stuck because I don’t want to put an idea into a form that I have already done before. Then, reading helps. I go to the internet and read whatever poetry I can find, preferably by poets who are alive. That way, I get to see what other poets in the world are doing, how they are managing language, how they are working with form, and so on. The last time I got stuck, the deadline was close. So I ordered a book and told myself not to touch it before I finished writing. It kind of worked.

BE: How do you stay committed to Hazaribagh? Is there a different lens or observation you require in order to practice the writing of something so close when you want it to reach far?

MV: This is a really good question, actually. My upcoming book A Highland in the East (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) is a memoir about living and travelling in the Hazaribagh plateau, and though I had a great time writing it, I was also often conflicted about my loyalty to Hazaribagh. I am not talking about the town per se– Hazaribagh is like any other small Indian town. It has its half-finished buildings with exposed brickwork, it has its temples and mosques and narrow streets. Somehow these things haven’t appealed to me yet. I am more attached to Hazaribagh’s landscape. Therefore, the hills, the trees, the rivers, etc are my points of affect. I remember, this one time, my friend Raza Kazmi and I were staying for a few days at Palamu Tiger Reserve in Latehar. The place is about a six-hour drive from Hazaribagh. There, I was surrounded by taller hills, denser forests, reliable waterfalls, and it made me sad. What if I outgrow Hazaribagh? “You can be committed to Hazaribagh and still enjoy Palamu,” Raza said something along this line, and though I understood him, I was still uncertain. What I fear is that one day there will be nothing wonderful about Hazaribagh for me. No waterfall will excite me. Been there, done that– that kind of boredom, you know, and so I try to modify perspectives. There is a lot in Hazaribagh, things that I still don’t know, so maybe one day I will enjoy the roads, or the history, or engage with the place in a more direct, participatory way. At the moment, I am gripped by the plateau; later, it might be some other aspect of the town.

Perception is universal– the way I perceive Hazaribagh may be similar or different to people who perceive other places, but the act is not uniquely mine. As writers, we work in and with shared cultures, so I think while Hazaribagh may be a little-known, “niche” place to write about, the things I feel when I am in Hazaribagh do resonate with people outside. When I post a photo of a hill range and see the reactions on it, I know I am doing something right. I try to understand the relevance of Hazaribagh for other people, and this is a conjecture at best, but I think that in Hazaribagh, I work through a dual-gaze. I am both an insider and the outsider, insider to the town, outsider to the plateau. When I look for information on, say, how the lake came about, or how the hill was fashioned earlier to appear the way it does now, I am being a hopeless local historian; on the other hand, when I venture into the forest, trailing a stream and not knowing where it would take me, I feel more like a tourist. Perhaps this duality works, though I am not sure yet.

BE: Do you think your editorial practice, or editorial ethics, have impacted your practice as a writer?

MV: Maybe? I don’t really know. Earlier I used to get irritated at the long wait to get a response, but as someone who has also been on the other side of things, I realise now that such delays happen, especially if you are working as a small, un- or underpaid team. One thing that I loved doing as an editor was to really edit– and not just select– a poem for publication, you know, the old-fashioned way. I would chance upon a poem which was almost ready, except that it didn’t work in some parts and patches. Whenever it was the case, I offered detailed feedback, putting the ball in the poet’s court. Here is what I think. If you agree, we can go ahead with the publication. With my own writing too, I am not averse to feedback or revision. I appreciate it if someone devotes a chunk of their time to offer comments on my work. This is something that I cherish with respect to writing, mine or someone else’s.


155727205559673739MIHIR VATSA is the author of the poetry collections Painting That Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) and Wingman (Aainanagar & Vayavya 2017). A former Charles Wallace Fellow of Writing at University of Stirling, UK, Mihir is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a Toto Funds the Arts Award in Writing. Mihir lives in the plateau-town of Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography.

Staff Recommendations: Short Stories

If you happen to be looking for some good reads to browse through as the days lengthen, perhaps on your porch or at the beach, look no further. The Inklette team has compiled a list of beloved short stories and short story collections for you to peruse at your leisure.

  1. Jagannath (Karin Tidbeck)

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This collection of short stories, covering narratives from people falling in love with machines to a girl following vittra in the woods, explores how disorienting, beautiful, and downright absurd our reality is when observed through different lenses. I’d recommend this collection to anyone interested in science fiction and fantasy with an intimate streak of psychological realism.  

–Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor  

 

  1. The Dead Go to Seattle (Vivian Faith Prescott)

511wRxVnmzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This collection is made up of 43 linked stories that take place in Wrangell, Alaska and are told by a young woman named Tova. Through the stories Tove tells, she reveals elements of herself, her hometown, the people with whom she grew up, the history and even the myths from her small town. I’d recommend this collection to anyone who loves stories centered around place and how place shapes identity, and to anyone who loves cultural mythology.   

–Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

 

  1. Her Body and Other Parties (Carmen Maria Machado)

41N7lsvNg2L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Women begin to physically fade away during the Great Recession. Bodies respond to weight loss attempts in a terrifying manner. In this collection, readers will find stories that combine horror, fairy tales, queer love, and all manner of darkness and light. Machado’s writing defies categorization, and her deft exploration of the meaning of women’s bodies through gorgeous prose will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Helen Oyeyemi.

–Sophie Panzer, Prose Editor

 

  1. Dove mi trovo (Jhumpa Lahiri)

411j4O8mOvL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis might seem like a strange choice. Lahiri’s second book written in Italian is a romanzo, a novel. But every chapter of the books reads like a short story, a very short story story, and some chapters even read like microfiction. Although only available in Italian currently, the book is extremely different from anything Lahiri has ever written. There is something dialogic about her work– the way the narrator speaks with isolation, the isolation of places around her and the isolation of time. Everything is fused closely within the scope of her minute, razor-edged words, and yet everything seems dispersed. The close of every chapter leaves you with a gasp. Instead of folding close, every chapter folds in on itself as most endings in the form of the short story do.

–Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

 

  1. Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit (Aisha Sabatini Sloan)

513CkfAho0L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Race, sexuality, youth, memory, family, art, violence, pop culture and more all intersect in Sloan’s collection of essays. All twelve pieces read as separate stories within the continuum of her life. Sloan plays with form, teaching the reader how to read the page which shape-shifts throughout each story. Somehow we find intimacy in the moments of ambiguity and concern in her profound critique over what it means to be a living, breathing, complex human of right now.

–Maria Prudente, Blog Editor

 

  1. Thirteen Ways of Looking (Colum McCann)

51jkI9h7e1L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_McCann’s novella-length piece, the first narrative in his eponymous collection of tales about empathy, is, at heart, an experimental inspection of male aging. Peter Mendelssohn’s story of growing old is elegantly woven into a detective frame and contemplates the many losses that old age provokes. It’s an angry piece that reeks of bodily inabilities and slow decay—but reads as a poetic exploration of words, language, and life. McCann’s story is thus a painful read with some unexpected twists and turns, but more importantly, one that cautions us to be patient with each other.

-Stela Dujakovic, Prose Editor

To view staff bios, please visit our Masthead page.

On Shakespeare’s 455th Birthday

BY JOANNA CLEARY AND MARIA PRUDENTE

Joanna Cleary: I’m so excited that we’ve agreed to have a conversation on the best-known playwright in the history of English literature– William Shakespeare — in honour of his birthday. As an English and Theatre major, it probably comes as no great shock to hear that I love his plays and sonnets. However, it might come a surprise to find out that I didn’t consider myself a fan of his work until I saw it performed in the theatre. My first exposure to Shakespeare came when my ninth grade English Literature class studied Romeo and Juliet. While I loved the rich images Shakespeare created, I struggled with the unfamiliar language and often grew frustrated because I read the script much more slowly than I read contemporary works. When my class when to see a live performance of Romeo and Juliet, however, I found myself absolutely immersed in the world being created in front of me. I grew to deeply appreciate Shakespeare as one who not only writes about the human condition but does so in a way that allows everything he focuses on – from emotional character development to philosophical questions – to take on an ephemeral life of itself. Now over to you – when did you first learn about Shakespeare?

Maria Prudente: Romeo and Juliet was my first experience too. My first monologue class was a Shakespeare workshop. I began, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks” and I remember the creative director of the theatre looking utterly confused. In retrospect, I love that at twelve I didn’t bother to gender the monologue, but in actuality, I just liked it best. I thought it was elegant and beautiful, I didn’t care that a man said it. In my freshman year of high school, I was cast as Rosaline for our production of R&J. I was gutted. I had no lines though I got to wear a special floral head-piece. For a character who never speaks, it was easy to create an interpretation of her because Shakespeare offers us information on “fair Rosaline” through other characters: Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio. I am not surprised to hear that you became a fan after seeing his work in the theatre. I support the notion that Shakespeare should be seen, not just read. In terms of writing, what I’ve always liked about Shakespeare is that there is no subtext; the language does the work for you and that, in essence, is the brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing. There is a vast legacy of work to choose from — what is your favorite Shakespearean sonnet or play?

JC: I know it’s a bit of a cliché to cite this as my favourite Shakespearean text, but I love Romeo and Juliet. While it’s often dismissed as overly dramatic and unrealistic, I strongly believe that the dramatic tension and spectacular plotline is precisely what captures the feeling of newfound love in the play. My favourite line of the first act is when Romeo first sees Juliet and declares “[o], she doth teach the torches to burn bright” (Act 1.5.42) — the statement is so simple, but also so profound and bursting with emotion. I completely support the contemporary social emphasis on people knowing how to be independent, I also think that love — platonic love, romantic love, and everything in between — has an important place in the human condition and deserves to be recognized in poetic expressions such as this. Speaking of how Shakespeare relates to the modern world, what do you think are the best contemporary adaptations of his work?

MP: I agree with you that the universal themes of love are why Romeo & Juliet is so captivating. We understand it as kids because they, too, are impulsive, impassioned kids and we nostalgically, sympathetically relate as adults. For me, I measure the best contemporary adaptations of his work by what is most relatable. Whether we are consciously aware or not, what we connect to when we watch The Lion King is what we connect to in Hamlet, and, what we connect to when we watch My Own Private Idaho (a classic Gus Van Zant film) is what we connect to in Henry IV. My favorite is Ten Things I Hate About You as a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. At theatre conservatory, I was selected to perform Kate’s monologue for several hours over several days for prospective students and I resented the fact that Kate wasn’t more like her modern adaptation in 10 Things I Hate About You. In the movie, we see Kat as a feminist figure, and in Shrew, Shakespeare characterizes Katherine as a fiery female turned anti-feminine, submissive wife. Would Kat have said to Patrick, “Humble your pride, then, since it’s useless, and place your hand beneath your husband’s foot? As a gesture of my loyalty, my hand is ready if he cares to use it”? I don’t think so. That’s why I think modern adaptations are important because they spark a bigger conversation. Was Shakespeare commenting on misogyny and feminity in Taming of the Shrew? Do we believe this was his point of view? Did 10 Things I Hate About You try to deconstruct gender and female oppression and correct the characterization of Katherine through Kat? Shakespeare is still challenging us in the 21st century. Aside from comparing modern adaptations, what do you suggest people do if they want to understand and enjoy Shakespeare’s work?

JC: I definitely agree that contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare’s work often help make the material more relatable to people who aren’t familiar with the language or the era in which he was writing. However, I also think that people should also experience performances of his original scripts in order to fully appreciate the nuanced worlds Shakespeare creates through his language; after all, he’s known for being a poet just as much as he is for being a playwright. If there are no performances of Shakespeare’s work playing, I’d recommend listening to his work via audiobook to hear his words being said aloud, which is how they are intended to be heard. I had to listen to an audiobook recording of Othello when I studied the play in my Gr. 10 English Literature class. Initially, I hated that audiobook because it moved too fast for me to keep up, as I wanted to stop every time I came across a word I didn’t understand (which was often) and look it up. However, I gradually came to understand that it didn’t matter if I didn’t understand every word because hearing the play aloud helped me more deeply emotionally connect to the world being created before me. Anyways, going back to your acting background, what Shakespeare character (regardless of sex or gender) have you always wanted to play?

MP: I’m jealous of those boys playing Hamlet. There’s even a play by William Missouri Downs called, Women Playing Hamlet where a woman cast as Hamlet has a massive existential crisis during the whole process. Because Hamlet is so consumed by his masculinity (or lack thereof), it would be fun and challenging maybe to regender him; to flip his questioning his bravery “am I coward?” and the insult of “unmanly grief” on its head. What role would you like to play?

JC: I’ve always wanted to play one of the three witches in Macbeth. Like all delightfully grotesque characters, I think it takes skill to not overdo their persona or characterize them in a predictable way that’s been already been done. Personally, I’m interested in looking at the witches as characters who raise questions on class and status in the play – what does it mean for Macbeth, a member of the upper class, to talk with witches and, later in the play, go as far as to seek them out? What does that say about class corruption? And, if one looks at the witches as symbols of femininity, what do they say about gender roles and dynamics? What does it mean for them to, in a way, seduce Macbeth? I would love to take on a role rich with the potential to explore topics such as these. I also greatly enjoy ensemble work and would relish the opportunity to work with two other actors playing my fellow witches, as it has been my experience that a show is strongest when members of the cast are united. Moving onto Shakespeare himself, however, what’s one question that you’d ask him if you two were somehow able to have a conversation?

MP: I think I would ask how much politics during the Elizabethan era influence him. I think his work verges on the political by way of his characters and it would be interesting if there were specific issues that felt so pressing he needed to write about them. We are living at a time of extreme political polarization so I would be interested to know what he would write about today.  What would you ask?

JC: Hmm, interestingly, I don’t know if I would ask him anything. I thought I’d have lots of questions ready in response to you, but nothing seems to be coming to mind. I think perhaps I don’t want Shakespeare himself to influence my perception of his work, as so many insightful and creative relationships between us and him have been built precisely because of the fact that there are huge gaps in our knowledge of his life. That said, I think today is a wonderful opportunity to spend some time pondering the many mysteries of William Shakespeare and re-read some of his poetry, be it his sonnets or his plays. And now over to you, dear readers – we hope that you too can spend some time reading Shakespeare on his 455th birthday!


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JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Subterranean Blue Poetry, among others.

155113583331125364MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

On Writing and Memory

Our blog editors interviewed SMRITI VERMA, a poetry editor for Inklette about her relationship with memory, and its relationship to her writing. The interview traces the way we navigate writing from or about memory, and how we trust it if we do.


Blog Editors: When you write, do you rely on memories as sources of inspiration? What are your favourite memories to write about?

Smriti Verma: I feel that almost all art is embedded in memory and impressions – the kind of experiences we hold near to us generally come to bear on the kind of writing we do or its thematic concerns. There really is no escape from it, given that emotions are rooted in memory itself. I feel that mine have more or less commanded not only what I write, but also how I negotiate with these memories, whether these are traumatic or otherwise. I won’t say I have favourite memories to write about as such, because those are actually to write of, but I feel my childhood and experiences in university are some of the places I draw inspiration from.

BE: Likewise, what memories are hardest for you to write about?

SV: I feel trauma and joy are really these two binaries which are hard to articulate in words. The expression of extremes become silence, perhaps due to the mountain of effort required, or the simple inability to express what may be too deep (or powerful?) for words. It can be hard to really render a beautiful experience or a painful one onto a page when the writer isn’t able to separate his writer self from his emotional self in this regard.

BE: In your opinion, how do we know if what we remember is true? Do you think that we should use memory to write what it true, or do you think that truth and memory have a more complex relationship?   

SV: Definitely the latter. So much of contemporary literary output has and continues to probe at the illusory boundary between real and imaginary, about the act of remembering as an act of constant re-imagining of the past, and how fragile the concept of truth is. A lot of literature produced since the 20th century has shown how the very idea of an objective material truth might be suspect. I once read somewhere (possibly bad tabloid claim but I found it interesting anyhow) that every time we remember a past experience, we edit one detail in it. I feel that the realms of collective and personal memory are such rich reservoirs for writing, and exploring the subjectivity of truth, the multiplicity of truth or truths, so to say. I also feel this theme holds relevance for the current political crisis going on in different parts of the globe as different versions or interpretations of these truths come into contention.

BE: How do we trust the memories of others? Does it matter?

SV: This question really opens up another area, of trust and where it arises from and whether it has any validity if all of us really are as brutally lonely as we feel sometimes. I feel the nature of memory itself is not to be trusted, but trust also arises from sympathy and compassion, which can really be markers about how “true” (to use the word with certain suspicion) or untrue something is. But it matters. It definitely does. All of our memories constantly define and redefine us and respecting those identities is a major part of being in and with the world.

BE: As a writer, what do you want to be remembered for; what to you want your artistic legacy to say about you?

SV: I’m not sure exactly – not as of now, maybe because I’m too young and also because I haven’t given the idea of being remembered much thought. It is quite a big question, and if I had to think of an answer, I would say that I would want to be remembered for doing something that merges the areas of art and social change. I’ve started questioning perhaps the kind of places art comes from, whether these are sites of privilege, and if yes, then what can we do in our role as writers to redirect these art forms towards something helpful, something that connects.


150126426218111SMRITI VERMA grew up in Delhi, India. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Adroit Journal, B O D Y, Cleaver Magazine, Word Riot, Open Road Review, Alexandria Quarterly, and Yellow Chair Review. Further work is forthcoming in Construction Literary Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2015 Save The Earth Poetry Prize and enjoys working as a Poetry Reader for Inklette and Editorial Intern for The Blueshift Journal.

Interview with Anders Carlson-Wee

This interview was recorded on March 20, 2019, at a reading in the Writing Center of the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. We would like to acknowledge the school, faculty members, English department, and Anders Carlson-Wee for their time and support.


Sarah Lao: What does your writing process look like? Where do you get inspiration?

Anders Carlson-Wee: I’m kind of a workhorse of a writer, meaning I’ll stubbornly sit down to write day after day even if I’m not feeling terribly inspired or like I’m not getting a good idea going. And I’m very comfortable, I think more than some people, drafting stuff that just isn’t good, at least in the beginning. So, if I’m on a good writing roll, I’ll just draft a fresh piece everyday. Most of those are terrible, and I throw them away, but once every couple weeks, something starts sticking, and I’m thinking “this piece might have some legs, and I might be able to grow it into something.” I’ll work on this piece for a while, and the process goes on. I’d say it takes me around a year and a half to finish a poem, and I go through a lot of different stages. I’ll show the piece to people who I trust as readers, I’ll go back to it and revise again and again, and I’ll just keep fine tuning it. Eventually, I’ll memorize it and start working on it in my head; I’ll walk around and keep doing the edits. It’s a long process, but in terms of inspiration, it’s hard to know where it all comes from. It’s really a bit of a mysterious process, but for me, I think a lot of it’s about noticing what gets me emotional and noticing what sort of things obsess my mind. Whether they’re stories or topics, I just find ways to write about it, and I’d say the majority of my attempts fail. But, I keep trying to find an angle in that will somehow bring it to life. And most of the pieces don’t work. And then finally some of them do, and I keep editing those. So, The Low Passions is a book of fifty-three poems. It took me more than ten years to write, and I probably drafted two thousand poems to get to the fifty-three.

SL: How did you get involved in poetry?

ACW: I’m dyslexic and when I was little, I didn’t really trust visuals. It took me a while to learn to read and to write, and I did what was called mirror writing which is where you write backwards, and then if you hold it up to a mirror, it looks correct. So it took me a while to learn those basic skills, and I depended a lot on the oral sounds and oral aspects of language. I would memorize long segments of dialogue, and then I was also being inundated with sermons because I was growing up in two churches with my parents. So I was around that a lot and didn’t really notice how much I was taking to it, but I think I really did have a kind of natural knack for memorizing language. But yeah I liked stories and everything but it didn’t really click as a life pursuit until I got to college. I was 21 when I started college, and I ended up in a class with a woman named Mary Cornish. She was such a good teacher, and she really brought poetry to life for me. A few weeks into that class, I was totally hooked, and I was ready to reshape my whole life to make poetry the center of it.

SL: Do you call yourself a poet?

ACW: No, I don’t really like saying I’m a poet when I’m meeting people. I think it’s mainly just the extra baggage of “poet” as a word instead of just saying “writer,” and that’s generally what I say if people ask me what I do. “Poet” seems a little loaded, and somehow it feels pretentious in a way to people—at least where I’m from. It’s a very practical culture in Minnesota. And I think my parents struggle with that as pastors, too. It makes you kind of outside of “normal” human daily life.


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Anders Carlson-Wee (left) with our Social Media Manager, Sarah Lao (right).


SL: Can you tell us a little bit about your newest book, The Low Passions?

ACW: Yeah, this collection is sort of a sequence of adventure stories. On the one hand, there’s a lot about traveling by freight train and bicycle and hitchhiking all around the country. And those adventure stories are counterpointed by these meditations on family that’s happening from the distance of being on the road.

SL: So, what does the phrase “the Low Passions” mean, and why did you pick it as the title for your collection?

ACW: The Low Passions is an obscure term from Christianity. It means all things of the earth, all things tangible, all things of this physical world, and it’s usually used in a derogatory sense to mean the things that seduce us, the things that make us feel greed or lust. It’s a derogatory term as opposed to the high passions, which would be everything spiritual and of heaven. I’m a very tactile person, very physical, and very oriented toward my body. And I think part of the project of the book for me was a desire to craft something that was lifting up those “low passions” theoretically, and the book kind of turned the term on its head and gave it a little more spiritual heft toward something more positive. Being someone who’s deeply invested in the earth and everything tangible—the tactile and the human body—I really wanted that to be considered sacred. So for me, “the Low Passions” was a term I grabbed onto because it was used in a derogatory sense, and fuck that. I wanted to find a way to honor that. Though I’m not religious personally, since I haven’t quite found a form of faith that works for me, I do think the Christian story is incredible, and one of the things that I really value is the idea that God comes down and becomes physical in the form of Jesus. And in that story, that’s the way to know God: through the physical, through the body, through the earth. To me, that’s a powerful story.

SL: How do you put your books together? Is there a specific process you go through?

ACW:  Right. So there’s so many permutations for how you might construct poems into a book. It’s overwhelming. I did have a very long stage where I spread it all out on the floor, and I stood on tables to get an eagle’s eye view just to see everything and try to trick myself into defamiliarizing it for myself. But honestly, my editor at Norton played a big role in shaping the final order. There was a good handful of poems that did a total swap from the front to the back and vice versa, and I think that really helped make the book pop in its final form. I wouldn’t have ever seen that, so that was a moment where having an editor was a great blessing to me.

SL: With how much The Low Passions captures these often forgotten, yet haunting glimpses of destitution and decay in America, and in light of last year’s controversy with “How-To,” how do you think it’s possible to respectively give a voice to those unheard without eliciting offense? Where does the line between artistic freedom and offensive speech start?

ACW: Yeah. I think art is an ongoing sequence of attempts. Artists are always kind of trying things, and all art is a leap into the unknown because art’s not something that needs to be duplicated. Like if you’re building houses, it’s fine to just build the same house twice, more or less, right? Let’s just build the house again. But with writing and with art, you’re not trying to build the same thing that artists of the past have built. You’re trying to find something new and create art into a new space. And so I think art is an ongoing series of attempts. If the attempts don’t work or don’t help the culture in some way, they fall into obscurity. People don’t need to interact with them, and that’s fine. But, if other forms of art seem to help a culture in some way, then they’ll stick around and become part of the zeitgeist and people’s imaginations. And that’s great. I think that’s healthy and good for art. People try things. Some of them work, and some of them don’t.

SL: Do you have any favorite words? Some words that you just enjoy sonically?

ACW: For me, I tend to favor the Anglo-Saxon aspects of the English language: the kind of monosyllabic words like “lake” and “rock” and “crust” that are very consonant heavy. Those types of words are very physical as far as forcing you to slow down because the more consonants you say, the more your mouth needs to come to complete rests before starting the next word. One thing that is really beautiful about the English language is that it combines those kinds of Anglo-Saxon words with a ton of influence from other romantic languages. You can have sentences that have these strong, percussive kind of consonant-heavy sounds that can be almost gravelly and very intense, and then you can suddenly have a word like “beautiful” which has a lot of flow and spreads out across a few syllables. And so in English, you can combine those two types to make some really cool sentences.

SL: So, what’s next? What are you working on currently?

ACW: Well, right now while I’m on tour, I’m just doing all the readings, but I am working on another book. I would not dare give anything away about it yet, but I’m excited to get back to it.


155448716410359295.gifANDERS CARLSON-WEE is the author of The Low Passions (W.W. Norton, 2019). His work has appeared in BuzzFeed, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry Daily, The Sun, and many other places. His debut chapbook, Dynamite, won the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, he is the winner of the 2017 Poetry International Prize. His work has been translated into Chinese. Anders holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University and lives in Minneapolis.

155448712822039068SARAH LAO is a sophomore at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. She currently edits for Evolutions Magazine, reads for Polyphony Lit, and serves as the Social Media Manager for Inklette Magazine. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sooth Swarm Journal, Liminality and the Inflectionist Review, among others. When she is not writing, she enjoys eating scones, playing piano, and spending time with her dog.

Traveling in Italy as a Poet

BY DEVANSHI KHETARPAL

I spent the last semester in Florence, Italy, which seems like a long time ago. I returned to my hometown of Bhopal, India, in mid-December still confused about my time there. I thought that choosing to learn Italian or to choose Italian literature as one of my fields of study in college was an impulsive choice on my part. In hindsight, however, given the fact that I was reading works by Elena Ferrante, Italo Calvino, Jhumpa Lahiri and Antonio Tabucchi around the time, it doesn’t seem to be such an impulsive decision now. I don’t know why I decided to go to Italy though. I was happy in New York, a city where I think I truly belong. I didn’t want to leave New York and yet I passively wanted to spend some time in Italy.

My Italian was alright when I got there: I loved listening to Italian music, I could read some short poems in Italian and I could sustain small talk in the language. Yet I never imagined what it would be like to be surrounded by the Italian language, its differences and dialects. When I first arrived in Florence, I realized what it means for a world to be somehow written and formed by a language. Squares became piazzas, train became treno, and other words permeated from the landscape into my own imagination, on to my own tongue and memory. I recalled the world differently, I came to know its greetings differently; the lens through which I saw the world began to fade away and made way for a new one. Today, as I write this in New York, I find it difficult to go back to the way in which I used to look at the world. I have fleeting thoughts in Italian more often now. This afternoon, I had a small thought in Italian and immediately found myself scribbling it onto a piece of paper: Nel mio cuore, c’è un lago.

What does it mean to have a lake in one’s heart? I am not sure at all. My hometown of Bhopal has a lake that I think of when Bhopal emerges in my thoughts or dreams. It is strange that Italian is becoming the language that carries these thoughts of home to me. It is strange that Italian is becoming the language that can so succinctly and accurately describe almost instinctively what my heart is and consists of. How did I get here? Where did this language come from? And how did it become the language of my heart? I lack the most accurate answers to these questions but I think they don’t have accurate answers either. Maybe Italian will not be the only language of my heart and maybe there is another language that knows my heart better. For now, however, I am at peace with these thoughts I harbour in Italian. As a poet, I know that my relationship with language is an intimate one. It goes beyond the realm of love or romance; it exists within the realm of friendship. For so long, Italian and the experience of speaking or writing it and thinking in it, felt strange, foreign. But I have come to realize that like any other friendship, it is one that blossoms with time. Like any other friendship, you grow to be comfortable with it and like any other friendship, a language can make you feel less lonely.

In Italy, the Italian language became my friend. I didn’t have my closest friends with me in Florence and though I now think my childhood was very lonely, loneliness is now something I find painful and almost intolerable. But, on the other hand, I recognize that loneliness is a excruciating yet essential part of writing, and of being a writer. I feel lonely when I conceive a poem but not after I have delivered it. Once it’s on the page, I have something to look at, something to hold on to. In Italy, as I reflected on this practice of writing, I realized that the arrival of language into my mind and on the page is what truly dispels the darkness of this loneliness. With Italian as a third language, I had received another friend to populate the space of my mind, the depth of my heart. Even when I was travelling around Italy, my companion, who had a different temperament than mine, made me feel lonelier at times. It was then that I was forced to keep turning back to Italian, to language and words as way to continue living and thriving. Loneliness can be depressing and isolating and the lack of words usually makes it worse. But with another language, I feel as though I have a way to look at the world even when I am submerged in the depth of the lake that is in my heart.


155389164570624267DEVANSHI KHETARPAL is a sophomore at New York University, majoring in Comparative Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. She is from Bhopal, India, and currently lives in New York. She works as an application manager for The Speakeasy Project, poetry reader for Muzzle Magazine and an intern at Poets House. Her poetry collection, Small Talk, is forthcoming soon from Writers Workshop, Calcutta. She is a recipient of the David J. Travis Undergraduate Research Fund from NYU Florence and her work has been published in Best Indian Poetry 2018, Transom, Aainanagar, Vayavya, TRACK//FOUR and Souvenir among others. Website: www.devanshikhetarpal.co.

March: A Month Rich with Writers

BY JOANNA CLEARY

March: (sort of) spring, daylight savings, and St. Patrick’s Day. Even better, however, this month also happens to hold the birthdays of several talented writers, both famous and not. While the list goes on and on, spanning from Robert Frost to Henrik Ibsen to Dr. Seuss, here are six lesser known, but equally gifted, authors born in March:

Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994)

“I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me? And wait until I reveal how truly irresponsible I am. Responsibility rests upon recognition, and recognition is a form of agreement.”

-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

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Best known for his novel Invisible Man (1952), which serves as a critical commentary on many of the social struggles African Americans faced in the early twentieth century, Ellison’s legacy lives on in the voice he carved for people of colour in a time where minority voices were suppressed even more than they are today.  

Fun Fact: Ellison’s father loved literature and hoped that his son would grow up to become a poet; ironically, Ellison never dabbled in verse throughout his writing career.  

 

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (March 1, 1892 – July 24, 1927)

“Green frog,

Is your body also

freshly painted?”

– Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, ‘Green Frog’

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Seen as “the father of the Japanese short story,” one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after this writer. 

Fun Fact: Akutagawa was named “Ryūnosuke” (which means “Son [of] Dragon”) because he was not only born in the Year of the Dragon, but also in the Month of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, and at the Hour of the Dragon.

 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806 – June 29, 1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘How Do I Love Thee?’

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Having begun to write poetry from the age of six, one of the works this English writer is best known for is her sonnet “How Do I Love Thee?”

Fun Fact: Browning’s father forbade his twelve children from ever marrying, prompting him to disown his daughter when she married her husband, Robert Browning, after a secret love affair.

Jeffrey Eugenides (March 8, 1960 – Present)

“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, ‘the happiness that attends disaster.’ Or: ‘the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.’ I’d like to show how ‘intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members’ connects with ‘the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.’ I’d like to have a word for ‘the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.’ I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

 – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

pasted image 0-3This American novelist and short story writer’s novel Middlesex, a controversial work exploring an intersex protagonist’s coming-of-age story, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Eugenides is also well-known for his 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides.  

Fun Fact: In college, Eugenides took a year away from his studies to volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.  

 

Emily Pauline Johnson (March 10, 1861 – March 7, 1913)

And only where the forest fires have sped,

     Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,

A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head,

And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,

     It hides the scars with almost human hands.

And only to the heart that knows of grief,

     Of desolating fire, of human pain,

There comes some purifying sweet belief,

Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief,

     And life revives, and blossoms once again.

-Emily Pauline Johnson, “Fire-Flowers”

pasted image 0-4.pngBecause her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was an English immigrant, Johnson’s poetry explores Indigenous and mixed race identity at a time when colonialism in Canada was at its peak.

Fun Fact: In addition to writing verse, Johnson also wrote and performed in amateur theatre productions throughout her life.  

 

Toni Cade Bambara (March 25, 1939 – December 9, 1995)

“Words are to be taken seriously. I try to take seriously acts of language. Words set things in motion. I’ve seen them doing it. Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges. I’ve felt them doing it. Words conjure. I try not to be careless about what I utter, write, sing. I’m careful about what I give voice to.”

-Toni Cade Bambara

TCB-Part-1-Box-15-Photo-Toni-Cade-Bambara-SeatedA prominent writer in the 1960s Black Arts Movement, Bambara’s 1970 anthology The Black Woman is considered the first inherently feminist collection of writing to focus on African-American women.

Fun Fact: In 1970, this author changed her name to include the name of a West African ethnic group — Bambara — after finding the name written as part of a signature on a sketchbook that belonged to her great-grandmother.


149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, andSubterranean Blue Poetry, among others.