I have four poems in the October-December issue of The Indian Quarterly. Thank you to the most amazing poetry editor, Sampurna Chattarji, for the attentiveness with which you read these poems!
(I was invited to write a guest post by Zoe Tuck.)
Sometimes I wonder about the resistance to poetry or art perceived as inaccessible. Part of art's job is to not be accessible - at least, not immediately; at least, not to the consciousness arising from the noise and frequencies of the modern, capitalistic world. I am gesturing here to places that are outside the hum of activity - hum of the ordinary - as places where poetry can linger.
I also want to discourage our tendency to want to turn our world into text that makes sense - and for our texts to complete a human supremacist arrogance that we may fully know and control the world. Poetry, at least, must escape the grasp of the Cartesian thinker.
Instead of the commonplace definition of accessibility, where we the readers want to be served a clear soup - pre-digested if possible - I wonder about a different definition for accessibility. Does the poem have doors through which we can enter, or chinks through which we can slip in/something can slip out - to mutually interact - changing our very bodies? Is the being before us translucent? Is she dark, savage, deviant, other? If she is not immediately accessible, is there something in our linguistic ecology or onto-epistemological paradigm that is not allowing us to know her?
The binaries of accessibility and inaccessibility can restrain the poet in the exercise of her occupation. (Though, really, I like certain kinds of restraints.) To stay with "the perpetual ignorance of poetry, the induced chaos from which a poem begins" (Derek Walcott) is wisdom of a different order. Then something beyond graspability can move within the poem, reach for us, allow us to become our own other.
Even as many of us are beginning to agree on the centrality of engaging with our planetary ecological moment, we that are modern still sometimes find ourselves assenting to dominant cultural assertions of rationalism and materialism.
In a world where we know the nonhuman to be inextricably linked with the human, Earth-based enchantment and myth, folk belief and practice need not present themselves as phenomena opposed to the rational realms of policy and action—of activism. The revolution we need today needs both/and—all of it, all of us. Western-influenced secularism's othering of folk or "nonmodern" discourses is not the answer the world needs today, as we find ourselves on the brink of the human turning into something it may not recognize itself as/in. Answers will be found in deep interconnectedness—in visions that lead us into our own humanity, while securing that of others. If the Earth is alive, so are all of her inhabitants--visible and otherwise--and this multicausal universe asks of us responses and interventions that are both complex and inclusive.
As I was lighting dhoop and incense for my daily practice, I was thinking about all that fire teaches us. How it teaches us about warmth and clarity and transformation and vision and control/being out of control.
I was thinking about the smoke in Sao Paulo. The smoke, last year, during the wildfire season in California. Skin pricking, thirsty, unable to breathe. Eyes. Masks.
I was thinking about the deep medicine in the Amazonian forests - so ancient that modern man cannot hope to get it even by force. To get it, the modern man will need to change - into some other kind of being - someone who has deeply sensed their own part in the ever-emergent medicine of the world, in the wheel of reciprocity. The many emotions this will ask the modern man to get in touch with.
Instead, the modern man burns the medicine, the trees, and the forest. The modern man thinks AI will get them there, into the heart of the mysteries.
But the mysteries scare them, really. So they burn them down. They think they can come up with their own definition of man, nature, intelligence, interaction. Cut off from where they find themselves - on Earth.
I was thinking about philosopher V.F. Cordova, who wrote that even when languages are lost, the concepts they embody survive as pattern systems of “forms and categories.” No, the mysteries will never really be lost. The medicine will never really be lost. It is here, it is here on Earth, it is here in our bones, and our bones know how to shift the spark of life running through our bodies into new pattern systems that the modern man may or may not recognize. Life always remembers.
What is being lost is something irretrievable - modern man's ability to return unto an alliance with life. The rust taints all of us. It is in me. The selfishness. The pettiness. The greed. The inability to open our palms and claim our own largesse, so full, intricately connected with the finest weave of dark and light.
I've had a rock of misery inside my heart. No more. I will choose to remember and feel, I will ask to right my relationship with fire, I will go to the waters and grieve.
Our species learnt how to tend fires. How to quench fires. We are made of the balance of elements. Balance is always ours to learn/relearn. Our ancestors are in us. The quicksilver of spiral is within us. The phoenix is an ally of human spirit. Our very nervous systems encode the secret.
If we say, then, that love and healing and renewal are ours to make possible, we are not far from what is right and true.
I am working on a new poetry manuscript based on older poems written in Delhi, Notre Dame/Mishawaka, and San Francisco. The length of the volume is no problem. Yet, I am finding myself judging this MS-in-incipience somewhat. It feels (though really is not) personal--not that there is anything wrong with poetry that is personal! These poems perhaps do not have the same reach towards the divine, or the imperative for change on earth, which I want to bring more and more into my writing.
I also know I am harshest on what I have already created.
And, that it is not honest to just dismiss these poems. They tracked my growth, my consciousness--my becoming who I am today. So, to honor the journey—to honor, too, all the different poets I have been so I could arrive here. Mine has not been a linear love affair with poetry and literature. I have needed to work through what it means to my life, to my gift and purpose.
Even my going away from certain poetry/writing communities was about acquiring new perspectives and values, about arriving in a place within myself where I would connect to Source, and belong. Having answered the call and made these travels, I can incorporate this signature frequency in what I bring/how I relate with these tribes.
Perhaps what I considered "false" belonging is not so much inauthentic as calling for wisdom to be brung unto it.
My favorite part about a video call with Polish photographer Karolina Gembara—who titles a photo series and a forthcoming photo book after a line from my poem "Capacity"—was how years ago she came across my poem in an anthology at The Bookshop in Jorbagh, took a photo, and kept it with her as she lived and photographed in Delhi.
These are the moments. All heart.
(Though I remain mystified which anthology this must have been, since I don't remember this poem in the anthologies of Indian poetry I know as anthologizing my work!)