In Conversation: Blog Editors

Following up last week’s blog, our Blog Editors are back with a conversation on questions about who they write for, what they write about, how they write, when and where they write and, lastly, why they write. Read on for more provocative insights.


Maria Prudente: Hi Joanna! I know we are both busy gearing up to begin our fall semester, but it seems there is no time better than now to go back to basics and discuss who, what, when, where and why we write. For whom do you write?

Joanna Cleary: Hmm… that’s a difficult question. I’ve written for teachers, mentors, friends, ex-friends, unrequited love interests, and complete strangers, but I think first and foremost I write for myself. I’m sure you can relate to the fact that students often don’t have a lot of spare time and those interested in writing have to really, truly want to write in order to make time for it. There have been times I’ve stayed up to 3:00 AM writing when I really shouldn’t have, usually because I only have time to write at odd hours of the day (or night) when on school terms, but I’ve never regretted it the next day. Writing is a joy I give to myself; it reminds me that I’m human, that I feel pleasure and pain, happiness and despair, and all of those more complex emotions in between the aforementioned binary opposites. I write to understand who I am, and I hope what I write occasionally helps those who stumble across it do the same for themselves. What about you – for whom do you write? 

MP: A Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, wrote this excellent op-ed for the New York Times where he attempted to answer this great question. He said, “[w]riters, write for their ideal reader, for their loved ones, for themselves or no one. All this is true. But it is also true that today’s literary writers also write for those who read them.” I would agree with all of this. I think we create people to write for and other times we answer directly to people we know will read our work. I find that affects how I write. My writing frees up when I write for a dreamed-up “who” as opposed to an audience of a particular publication but, because our culture demands content quickly it can be tricky and, in Pamuk’s words, perhaps stifle our writerly “desire to be authentic.”

What do you write?

JC: I like how Pamuk acknowledges that all people for whom writers write are valid, as I think the wish to write is too nuanced to be defined in simple terms. I strive to cover a multitude of different topics when I write — from feminism to the body to the landscape around me — in order to continually challenge myself as a writer. In order to do this, I need to write for a variety of people. In terms of tangible projects, however, I want to eventually write a collection of poetry. I find the idea of bringing individual poems together so they can make meaning as a single microcosm fascinating and would love the opportunity to delve extensively into a particular topic or poetic style. And you? 

MP: What I strive for is to write about what it means to be human. My non-fiction and playwriting seem to have this shared obsessive quality in exploring the young female living a creative and precarious life.

The content of what I write significantly affects my approach. If what I require the kind of research I can’t pull from my own experience, I find that writing within an outline is beneficial. How do you write?

JC: I pull up a blank Word document, stare at it for awhile, type a bit, get distracted, type a bit, get distracted, edit what I have, and eventually (hopefully) have a rush of creativity that leads me to produce something of substance. I’ve learned about various ways of combating writer’s block over the years, such as writing stream-of-conscious without stopping, but I also think that writers should recognize when to let their ideas come slowly. Often, I quite literally need to lie down in bed and do nothing but think for a solid fifteen minutes in order to make sense of what I want to write. However, I’m always trying to try new techniques, which is why I’m curious as to the ways in which you write.   

MP: Whether I think an idea is good or not, if it’s pulling me toward the page, then I write it down; anything is writable. Inspiration doesn’t strike as frequently as I’d like, but when it does, if I can, I will drop when I’m doing, sit down and, write. I’m a firm believer in staying in the pocket and not coming up for air until there’s nothing left to put onto paper. For me, writing requires a particular kind of silence that I can only find at my home.  When and where do you write?

JC: I’m actually quite the opposite at times, even though, like I said, sometimes I stay up until 3:00 AM because of a burst of creativity (usually at home, though once in the library on campus during exam season). I find that sometimes it works best for me to leave an idea partially unrealized so I have something tangible to work on when I return. Doing this also motivates me to come back to a project instead of abandoning it for something new, as so much of writing is editing. Reminding myself that I always have material to add to a project helps me remember why I’m passionate about it. Speaking of which, why do you write? 

MP: I think of this Henry Miller quote often: “[d]evelop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Unless what I’m writing is a memoir piece, I try to use that as my compass. The why of my writing rests in my desire to make connections and arrive at some truth. I write because I need to. Why do you write?

JC: I write because it feels right. I imagine writing, for me, feels like how hitting a home run, or cooking a perfect fillet mignon, or re-organizing a messy room feels for others — it takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of work, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as fulfilled doing anything else. Like you, I suppose I need to write. I feel as though people can contribute most to the world by making meaning in the ways they are most passionate about, and for us, that’s through the written word. 

That said, hopefully we’ll each have time to do activities besides writing essays and reports in this upcoming term. I wish you all the best as we head into another semester, and I’m excited for the conversations we’ll surely have before 2020 arrives!


To know more about our blog editors, visit our Masthead page here.

Experiments with Reading / Writing

The idea of finding oneself as a writer in what one reads is an attractive notion. And as difficult as it is to answer larger questions about what we write and why or how, our readership and experiences or experiments with reading can help us find answers, however changeable they may be, to some of those questions. The Inklette team tried answering some of these questions by flipping through the pages of books we are currently reading or books near us, kept an inch away from our grasp, and copying sentences or two that answer the questions of who we write for, what we write about, why we write, when we write and where. We hope you enjoy this blog, not only as a potential reading list to kick off the fall but also as an experiment in reading ourselves in what we read.


Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief 
from Neapolitan Chronicles by Anna Maria Ortese (trans. Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee)

 

Who do you write for?

He must have left Milan some time ago.

What do you write about?

Silence, swift memories of another life, a sweeter life, nothing else.

Why do you write?

Much like the previous evening in Chiaia, although it wasn’t yet the same hour, here, too, there was a great commotion, a feeling of extraordinary excitement, as if something had happened– a murder, a wedding, a victory, two horses breaking loose, a vision– but then drawing nearer I saw it was nothing.

When do you write?

On the evening of June 19 (evening in a manner of speaking, since the sky was bright and the sun was still high over the sea, its glare intense), I boarded the #3 tram, which runs along the Riviera di Chiaia to Mergellina.  

Where do you write?

This cafe is at the intersection of Piazza Trieste e Trento and the tortuous Via Chiaia. 


Angela Gabrielle Fabunan, Poetry Editor
from Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker

 

Who do you write for?

“For you, someone was waiting up at home. 

For me, I might dare more if someone were.”                        

– from ‘Runaways Café I’

What do you write about?

“I broke a glass, got bloodstains on the sheet:

hereafter, must I only write you chaste

connubial poems?”                                                             

– from ‘Eight Days in April’

Why do you write? 

“Now that we both want to know what we want,

now that we both want to know what we know,

it still behooves us to know what to do:

be circumspect, be generous, be brave,

be honest, be together, and behave.”                                   

– from ‘Runaways Café II’

When do you write? 

“Hello, sweetheart, it’s seven-twelve AM.”    

– from ‘International Women’s Day, 1985’

Where do you write? 

“Where I see only you, where you can see me.”

– from ‘Having Kittens About Having Babies III’


Sophie Panzer, Prose Editor
from The Slow Fix by Ivan E. Coyote

 

Who do you write for?

So far, Kirsty and Mouse are my favorites. 

What do you write about?

I am a collector of stories, a connoisseur of character, so for the most part I love the random way that traveling strangers enter and exit people’s lives. 

Why do you write?

I can still work in my underwear, but I hardly ever eat soup right out of the pot anymore. 

When do you write?

Was it when all the cute rock-climber girls went back to school and the rednecks didn’t?

Where do you write?

Like I said, I love Amsterdam.


For staff bios, please refer to our Masthead page here. Amazon links to purchase books can be accessed by clicking the titles. 

Interview with Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

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Joanna Cleary: Thanks so much for your willingness to have a conversation about your writing with us and congratulations on the publication of your most recent collection of poems: The Sea that Beckoned. According to the book’s description, these poems are “an exploration of all those places we’ve sought to call home.” Could you elaborate on that? 

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan: I’ve always yearned for a home. My childhood spent in the Philippines did not feel like home because my mom and dad were always abroad; my mom came home every six months, stayed for six months, then left for six months. Even now, I live in Manila, while my mom lives in Olongapo City, Zambales, which are two different places in the Philippines. I travel for 3-4 hours every weekend to see her. 

Place is very different from home. There are many places I mentioned in The Sea That Beckoned, and yet, I feel I am always searching for home, which is why it is an exploration. My home is a place, but not just a place, it is a place of comfort, where my loved ones are. Home is difficult to articulate, for me. So I thought this search for home might lead somewhere, and it did, to The Sea That Beckoned. Each place I’ve been in is ridden with memory and emotion, and I thought it might be interesting for me and for others, if I were to write it down. 

Maria Prudente: At the end of your poem, “Midway,” you land on this beautiful line: “I am the mango heart left beating in your hands.” How do you approach imagery in your work? Where do you find your inspiration?

AGBF: I am a bit of a mystic when it comes to poems. I believe that the poem itself will lead me to where it wants to go. Once I have the first line, or the first image, or the first rhyme, it will take me on a journey. I have been schooled in the technical aspects of poetry, and can tell what form or meter I should use, but I wouldn’t want to manipulate the poem into what I want. I want what it wants. So the deeper into my schooling about poetry that I get, it seems the more faith I have in the mysticism of poetry. There are times, however, in revision, where I have to tweak, and I suppose that’s where my formal training comes in. But for a poem such as “Midway,” it came fairly easily, without much manipulation. The images of the foreigner is interwoven within, as are my longing to come “home” to the Philippines. I was in New York then, in 2017, and I was torn between a love and a place. I loved New York, but I had already built what I call a home in the Philippines, with my loved ones. And I thought there might be a poem there.

That image of the mango heart seems like generic Philippine imagery, and indeed the mango has been used many times in folklore or even in contemporary literature. But there’s a bit of background with that—my mom owns a mango farm in Balasiw, Zambales, and that’s where I often visited and ate delicious mangoes. I recently sold some mangoes to friends in Manila this past harvest, and they couldn’t help quoting that quote that you mentioned while I was giving them their mangoes.

I think the most artful images are those that have a back story that you don’t necessarily have to mention. I didn’t mention that my mom had a mango farm in the poem, but the remnants of the emotion I feel when it comes to my mango heart is felt because of that background. So I guess write images of what inspires you, even if it’s something as mundane as mangoes on your kitchen table.  

JC: My favourite stanza from “migration story,” a poem in this collection and also published in Eastlit is: 

laying down my back to the bamboo

i would count the leaves 

above my head, dreaming 

of snow, and my dad was bright and alive 

then, there in the hot, humid december,

decades ago before he would die

in a frigid hospital while the snow fell.

In this poem, as in your other poems, you mix such intimate details of individual life with universal images of searching, longing, and home. Can you speak to the parts of The Sea that Beckoned that you found the most personally difficult, and/or personally rewarding, to write about?  

AGBF: I believe that poems crafted from the heart are those most difficult to write, because it comes from a synergy of the heart and the mind, of the intricate connections between emotions and intellect. You sort of have to find a way to be able to mix the two gently. The silly love poems in the latter half of the book were, personally, because the trauma of love for me is still ongoing. The love poems such as “Murasaki,” and “To the Man Who Claimed Me” and “Visit” did not come to me as effortlessly as did the poems of place, such as “Midway” and “Abò,” perhaps because I am always thinking of place, of home, and of my tender regard for these places. 

The poem you mentioned, “migration story” is an ode to my dad, and although he’s been gone for more than 10 years, every time I revisit the story of his life, it’s both difficult and rewarding. It’s the epitome of the synergy I was talking about earlier and of plumbing through loss. 

MP: What advice do you have for writers interested in publishing their collection of work? What was your process for The Sea That Beckoned?

AGBF: My advice for young writers is just to read, read, read and write, write, write. One of my poetry professors always told me never to rush the poem. I always take it to wherever it leads me, and some poems take minutes and some poems take years. The poem always has a mind of its own (a muse, maybe?) and thus it can tell you if it needs to be a sonnet and a pantoum, if it needs to be in rhyme or meter, if it needs to be published now or later. 

As for publishing, I have the same advice: submit submit submit. Never be afraid of rejection, because it will give you the strength to work harder to be accepted. I submitted through the regular submission cycles at Platypus Press, and the editors Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather were kind enough to choose my work amongst many others. If I had been afraid of submitting then, The Sea That Beckoned would never have been published. 

MP: We cannot wait to read more from you! Can you tell us what you are currently working on? 


AGBF: I’m working on a second manuscript, for the moment called As Memento, As Imagen, As Woman. It’s a work inspired by mythology and feminism alike, and inspired by the works of Carol Ann Duffy and Louise Glück. In these poems, I give voice to women of myth, from Greco-Roman to Philippine mythology, such as Medusa and Bakunawa, bending these myths along the way to reflect the context of the modern-day Filipina. It still needs a lot of work, but it’s getting there. Thank you for your questions and this interview! 🙂


To buy Angela Gabrielle Fabunan’s book, The Sea That Beckoned, click on the link here.


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Art by Rayji de Guia 

ANGELA GABRIELLE FABUNAN was born in the Philippines and raised in New York City. She graduated from Bowdoin College and attends the University of the Philippines MA Creative Writing Program. In 2016, she was awarded the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation Awards for Poetry. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Cordite Poetry Review, Asymptote Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Eastlit Magazine, and New Asian Writing, among others. She is one of the current poetry editors at Inklette Magazine. Her first book of poetry, The Sea That Beckoned, is available from Platypus Press.

 

Conversation on ‘REJECTION’

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Joanna Cleary: Rejection: it’s awful. Unfortunately, however, artists– regardless of medium, experience, and to a large event, even talent– have to face rejection on a continual basis, which is why I’m so excited to have a conversation about it. Since we live in an increasingly progress-oriented world, rejection has become equated with failure and failure with shame. However, when I received my first rejection letter at the age of twelve or thirteen, I felt proud. Even though my poem wasn’t accepted by the magazine I’d submitted to (and for good reason– it was terrible), I was thrilled that somebody other than me, literary editors no less, had actually read what I’d written. I’d given something – a perspective, perhaps, or a story – to somebody else. I learned that being an artist is about giving; as long as you try to do that, you’re on the right path. Even though rejection is undeniably discouraging, I’ve learned to never be ashamed of offering my work to others. Now over to you– tell me about your first rejection.

Maria Prudente: I didn’t get a part I wanted in my high school musical. I was a sophomore, and I had my heart set on playing Velma in “Chicago,” but this senior who was known for doing beauty pageants and had never done theatre before walked in and nailed her audition. It was between the two of us in callbacks, but the director loved her; and the next day when the cast list went up I was, as expected, devastated. I think it’s common to compare and self-loathe in the first moments of rejection. I kept thinking, “If only I was older and sexier and more tan and had longer legs…” the list kept going but it was all superficial. Within a couple of hours of feeling sad about it, I realized what I had that this senior didn’t have was experience, knowledge, and a deep curiosity and love for performing.

Consequently, I ended up not only taking a small part like Mona in the “Cell Block Tango” and making my monologue land a big laugh every performance, but I ended up being an assistant director for the show. Deciding to turn the pain of that particular rejection of that role into a new role where I could contribute to the theatre in a new way was incredibly empowering. But, as you stated earlier, experiencing rejection is ongoing for artists. How do you cope?

JC: I think the key to coping with rejection is not letting it define you as a person and artist.

Whenever I receive a particularly difficult rejection, I make an effort to do something I enjoy, such as having a cup of hot chocolate or going for a run. By investing energy into who I am as a person, I don’t feel as if my self-worth relies on who I am as an artist. However, I also use rejection as a motivator when it comes to my identity as a writer – for every rejection I receive, I try to send out one or more submissions into the world so that there will always be a glimmer of possibility for me to aspire towards. Again, over to you – how do you cope with rejection?

MP: I think you have a really healthy outlook. Creating routines to feel connected to our sense of self or reciting positive self-talk is an ideal way to deal with rejection. It’s also a really hard thing to practice. There have been days where I have found out from several publications that my work hasn’t been accepted. Sometimes I’ll read that my work was being considered but wasn’t quite right for their issue and I obsess over what thing it was that kept them from putting my piece in the “yes” pile. I think tailoring work for certain publications is important for writers to improve their chances especially if they are trying to build a body of work. Submitting work and finding out what people like is so subjective and completely out of our control. All we can do is revise, rewrite and re-wire the way we accept rejections and instead use them to, as you say, motivate us. When I’m looking for a win, I write something that I feel really good about and I save it to my documents for my eyes only. I think sometimes having something in my back pocket helps me to feel confident. Returning to a piece and cutting it or building on it can be really satisfying because it isn’t being judged by anyone but you, the writer. I can tell a story and chip away at the truth the way I want to. What’s important for writers to remember is why they write and for whom they write. This helps me keep a grip on reality and reminds me of what I love about writing in the first place.

An acting teacher of mine always said: “tell the story simply and clearly”. The same can be said for writing. I often remember this phrase when I feel caught up on using flowery language or I’m inside an overly stylized piece and I fall away from what I’m trying to say. Have any mentors from your past or present given you advice that you’ve found valuable in your writing?

JC: A creative writing mentor of mine once told me not to think of rejection as a lost opportunity, but as an opportunity to give meaning to hardship through growth. Like you say, we need to revise the way we accept rejections so they enhance our ambition instead of draining it. It’s all about finding a balance between controlling our stories and accepting that, oftentimes, we can’t control everything in our lives. I’ve learned to tell myself that I can control what happens to me, but I do have more say over what I make happen.  


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.

149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is a college student double majoring in English Literature and Drama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cicada MagazineInkletteGlass Kite AnthologyParallel Ink, Phosphene Literary Journal, HIV Here and Now, and On the Rusk. Poetry has been a long-time passion of hers. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, eating various forms of chocolate, and, of course, thinking about writing.

 

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.

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.