I am delighted to announce that my new chapbook Ordinary Annals is forthcoming from above/ground press. The chapbook, which includes my poems written during 2020, should be out in the next three months. Please check back for updates!
There can never be a single solution, answer, arc to any human situation in this dreaming. We are too unique. We are too emergent. We are too much of the Earth, who is always changing, always becoming new. There is no one path. There is no one panacea. There is no classification or categorization that is universal. What works for one body or psyche (individual or collective, human or nonhuman) will not, cannot work for another. Replacing "them" with "us" is not the point (thank you to Sherri Mitchell for the reminder today to divest from conquest thinking). Getting along despite the differences, making new that is emerging from the relationship, its bed of creativity, is the point. Rooted in relationship, itself, is the sensing of boundaries, the need to protect resources, stability.
If you think you've come up with something new, it is very likely to have had a counterpart or origins or template in the past. No arrogance for novelty or universalism withstands scrutiny.
2020 was the year I:
- started in bed—after an abrupt breakup that affected my financial and immigration future—from where I wrote a January first post, determined to take back the authorship of my life.
- taught my first university class and realized how much I enjoyed the interactive, dialogic aspects of teaching, and how gratifying it was to teach what I had learned about writing and research in my PhD journey.
- was approved for a US visa I applied for after scanning countries around the world for their responses to COVID19 and commitment to diversity, and felt how much my colleagues and seniors in the field of poetry/writing valued my work and arc through letters of reference they wrote in support of my O1 application.
- fostered a kitten, fell in love with her there that first night when she sat on my lap with a cold and eye infection necessitating an elaborate herbal regimen, told her to get better if she also wanted to stay with me because I would not have the capacity to care for a chronic infection—the kitten honored our pact and got better and I adopted her and we are family now.
- was taught in loving a cat to be okay with my wanting to do a lot of loving and healed a layer of attachment beliefs.
- took responsibility for my financial well-being.
- got a professional artists' grant.
- published poems in four journals and an anthology, published an article and an essay, gave a conference presentation and two poetry readings, gave a talk, taught a workshop, and recorded poems for two digital spaces.
- wrote a book proposal to get my dissertation published as a book and got an invitation to submit from a scholar-editor I admire.
- revised a poetry manuscript.
- reread Women Who Run With the Wolves with a group of wild soul women who had accepted my invitation to form a reading group during four months of the pandemic.
- organized a neighborhood-based poetry reading, and started a salon for writers and artists to call forth a decolonial visionary paradigm.
- was held by friends and communities in the flesh and online.
- felt deeply into the heart of the mother and sat in her dark womb and felt my personal practices attuning evermore to the path of the ancient earthsky women walking in her ways on the land of my ancestors.
- started to integrate the many aspects of my being, and realized there is no need for me to figure out the exact/perfect how of being in better service to the worlds.
- had a revelation that straddling different paradigms was out of balance, and committed to a paradigm of "we/me."
I rewatched Chak De India last night. I was struck by the innocence of it all—that in 2007 it was possible to release a film in India that emphasized coming together as a team over belonging to any state or religion. This, with the foreshadowing of trials by media, by public opinion.
"Simpler times." This is the phrase that popped in my head. India is no longer the country it was in 2007. Somewhere, the fault lines that came with the postcolonial condition stretched into gaps that swallowed many claims to belonging.
I found myself aching for the possibility sketched out in the movie. Where, being inspired to cooperate for a collective goal was the only thing standing between dissension and an acceptance of unity amidst difference.
I am writing this in a sunny balcony in San Francisco. On a land with a different history. Where, I notice, my own claims to belonging have never quite settled. Even though I have been in this country through various visa statuses since 2008, that the U.S. is "home" is not a settled matter. And, we are living in times of such emergence, where chaos must necessarily be experienced so as to shift some of the dynamics that have settled our societies into unjust configurations. I am a guest here. Native indigenous protocol reminds us that those of us that are non-native are guests upon the land. I want to live as a good guest. And, I also want to experience a ground that allows me to grow: laterally, under the Earth, towards the sky. "Home."
To make home on an Earth where we as a species are dispossessing so many other species. Where the very bioclimatic conditions are undergoing a kind of transformation that will change the meaning of "home" for many species.
I turn back to Gloria Anzaldúa's notion of the borderlands. Borderlands are continually shifting. Stasis is not the point. But a better "home," more resilient definitions of inclusiveness and belonging that are engendered through collaboration and partnership. We can ask for them.
My favorite moment in The Queen's Gambit has to be (spoiler ahead) when Beth Harmon walks out of the car taking her to the airport and away from the expectations and obligations placed upon a winner, towards a group of people playing the game for the love of it. To remember the love, especially after a triumph, is to take a long draught of what will sustain you in the game.
This invocation to Vac (Vak), the primordial creative power of word, was my offering for the Reclaiming Spiral Dance this year (part of the deity invocation).
Invocation to Vac
Vac, goddess of speech
You cascaded on to Earth, irrepressible as rain--
filled with the power of creation--
bringing to life, filling with life, flow of vital expression--
May we craft through words, silence, and their weaving
justice and cosmic balance.
Show us that language, like water, is fluid
Make our tongues supple enough to call out Truth.
To name and make it so.
Flow wisdom into us, gift of intuition, power of perception.
Open our sight to insight—help us see what we must see,
bring wisdom and peace as siddhis in the world.
Show us how to imbue with dignity
everything we perceive and name.
Through our words, restore
balance on Earth, mysteries of harmony.
Winter has returned. Here in the Bay Area it is getting dark earlier. Last night I was struggling to connect myself to work I thought I needed to do right then, and instead, I ended up watching the lovely Japanese anime Weathering With You directed by Mokoto Shinkai. I realized it was time to do something different in terms of how I hold work and rest instead of setting myself up either for struggle (and burnout) or failure.
So, I am playing with a new map of the day where I set aside evenings for reading, cooking, making art (outside of writing), baking, dancing, meditating. Hygge activities. Doing ritual. Enjoying a few hours every day that are about replenishing the well, not about being productive. Nourishing my nervous system, instead of running myself hard and then feeling flat and thin and stretched.
It has been a dear wish to try to create a rhythm in my life where I don't have to do this kind of hard, breathless running (which only serves capitalism and disconnection). One way in which I work with rhythm is through paying attention to my energy as per my moon cycles—and, still, this voice within that says "go, go, go" does not let me fully pause into the dark of the cycle. I want to lean into the wisdom of the cycles more, knowing that I have only a few more years of moontime before my body changes. I would love to be able to protect this time as much as I can as more activities get added to my plate next year, what with returning to teaching university courses and initiating more projects aligned with my own direction and vision.
For now, letting my evenings be for reading, replenishing feels like a way to honor the dark of the winter, and also to recognize that life is made meaningful through more than work. And, work too is sacred!
A couple years ago, I was having dinner in the Bay Area with another South Asian practitioner of yoga and Buddhism. They were not at all comfortable when I used the word "ambition," which felt disaffirming to a part of me that is ambitious. (There is a certain understanding of eastern spirituality in which the self is seen as a fallacy, and its goals can only be dissolved into the ocean of non-attachment. May I suggest this precept too, contextually located, derives from a worldview that is patriarchal, casteist, and hierarchical?)
In this, as in all areas of life, I am striving to come up with my own both/and understandings and models. Despite being quite private and valuing my private time immensely, public engagement matters to me. For me, the key is aligning ambition with a vision and mission that are based in a story of the Earth/us that I want to help bring forth.
This alignment, on the one hand, is a way to steer myself away from perfectionism and the voice of the small self that whispers lies of not-enough. On the other hand, it also sets me on a course of internal coherence, that I am not just going through a long never-ending list of to-dos. (I can turn grim and Saturnian in that way, and how lucky am I now to have a cat in my life who teaches me to prioritize play, who comes to fetch me if I'm toiling away too long when it is our time to play.)
The sweetness of life balanced with the diamond edge of growth. A continual rebalancing. Equilibrium is found in motion!
(Originally published on the Action blog)
Before I talk about visionary poetics, as per the title, let me begin “elsewhere”—in which I find myself curious if non-Western and non-modern conceptualizations of the role of the poet/artist have anything to say to the poets/artists among us as we face the world today.
With all that has beset us recently, it appears that our world is collapsing. Collectively, we are experiencing confusion, anxiety, grief, uncertainty, shock, and waves of uncategorizable emotions. What is clear is that the linearities and meanings that had held the world together have been collapsing one after the other.
In such a scenario, the gesturing towards non-Western and non-modern frameworks and formulations is not a superficial romanticizing or fetishizing one. It embodies a desire sparked by the recognition that the links that make up “now” are broken: to call back what has been split off.
The scissions are the result of specific, historical encounters around the globe. They are born in modernity/coloniality. Western modernity, as a normative system limiting realities and representations, contrives the illusion that ways of being from other genealogies of space and time are unsound or at best unfashionable and exotic. Not only is the reality it frames incomplete, its frameworks also disempower trajectories that have their origin elsewhere.
A way of calling back wholeness is to restore and resignify the practices and configurations modern colonial matrices of power have sought to displace. We dialog with the pasts—with biological, cultural, and spiritual ancestors—with nature and the nonhuman—with the space between, the interrelational—with locations other than androcentrism, heteropatriarchy, and Western modernity—with mother-lineages and the regenerative spiral—to create new paradigms of healing and synthesis. This is how we conjure decolonial futures.
When we extend our listening into the zones of fracture, into the seemingly irrelevant or incongruous, we prioritize relationality with that which is gathered in the interconnected, fluid, untamable, polysemous pneuma.
A place where the waters of the past, present, and future meet. A place of paradoxes. Known also to the shapeshifters and shadow-seers—the visionaries of the times—those who hold/have held the roles of witches, shamans, brujas--
(Here we are, trying to access other language-worlds into English. It is okay that some things fall between languages. If we gave English the job of becoming the lingua franca for the world, we must take it back.)
(And, since I too feel my way into the world through English often, let me just say: the meanings that are easiest to make will stick, viscous-like, to language that trickles through the ports of mass availability. Then, to peer into a different world, we must make possible uncommon language, to reveal what is not common.)
This place that—for sure—poets-artists have known as Art.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if reality is a more heterogenous place than modernity/coloniality has allowed us to conceive of, then poets and artists—whose job it is to evoke otherness—have an important role to play in envisioning futures.
For, the futures that are arriving will not be like anything we have seen before. They are emerging from a different paradigm—one in which the very structures of social relations are organized to center—in the words of Irene Lara— “well-being and connection within oneself and in relationship to other people and the earth as a whole.” One in which honoring of differences becomes a key invitation into inclusion.
Under the logic of capitalism, art and literary worlds end up reinforcing principles of exclusion and scarcity. Artists and poets are pushed to/turn to the margins for a space they deem unrestricted by capitalism.
The new visionary paradigm we are calling forth asks that poets and artists retrieve themselves from marginality. That, they call themselves back into belonging. Lure themselves away from the self-interested capitalistic call of redundancy and meaninglessness. If the world is conceived as alive and filled with intentionality, the poets and artists co-imagining it (in participatory worldviews: bringing it forth) will not be confined to the margins. In such an understanding of the world, art is not art’s own business—it has something to do with a place, a community—and how each self grows into its unique expression.
This understanding of the poet and the artist as a link—as a point of connection—is what we need to relearn from nonmodern and non-Western conceptualizations of the poet and artist. How much of our own knowing of connection (regeneration) did we forget because of Western modernity’s insistence on rational linearity and disenfranchisement?
When we remember so as to transform, that which is stagnant cannot remain so.
And thus, like the fore-figures who shaped seeing—into pasts and futures—through language—who perhaps did not turn away from the task and the risk of healing—I want us to lean into the risk of claiming poetry and art as necessary, so as to carve the visionary time-spaces into this present. Art can contain messages. But, like an ecological being/eros, art cannot be socially responsible. It is the horizon of possibilities. The message is the place the future may be heading. We activate the future when we make art.
Not from hope, but from obduracy, as a responsibility. Because we are here and now.
For poets, this is not about putting our writing through finishing school, or sanding out the rough parts, or making it right—but a more complex relationship with language and with the imagination. I am thinking of the striking words of Gerald Vizenor as he conceptualizes Native survivance: "I write to creation not closure."
Poets and artists must make art because we are good at experimentation. We are good at play.
It is time to find what lies beyond refusal, and activate it.
I am realizing I need to learn to talk about my creative work better. Until now, I have mostly resisted talking "about" a poem or sequence, because what is happening in it—what has come through during the process/stages of writing—as per my sensing feels far more entangled with mystery than I want to describe. Silence then is a way to protect the space of the poem or sequence instead of sprinkling a dash of the mundane all over it.
But perhaps in this the disservice I do to the work? By not inviting into the work people whose engagement would enrich the creative work?
Sometimes, communities of practice help one make greater sense of the work by bringing their receiving of it into its cauldron—not to fill the silence around the work, but as true collaboration.
I have been feeling the need to surround myself with more practitioners who place value on what I have grown to care for, so that such a collaboration can happen organically and deliberately, through shared vision, making space for the multiple ways in which emergence and expression interact.
Rightminded collective space counter the algorithm of loneliness and, even more significantly, create synergies where reality itself can be recontoured through the connections generated.
Tarkiib Collective is such a collective space. A salon for writers and artists who believe something important happens in relationship with the sacred, and that this is an integral part of presenting—through our work and practice—transformational alternatives to the systems, structures, and narratives that further inequality and persecution.
If it calls you, I would love to hear from you.
"The poem always knows so much more than I do." - Marie Howe
I was hearing Marie Howe talk as part of the Collective Trauma Summit 2020 which has done something remarkable - invited poets to be a part of the conversation around trauma and healing.
Howe said what I had been thinking about earlier this morning, as I drafted and revised a long poem about grief and air. The poem always knows. Although it may take time for the poem's knowing to arrive fully. That is okay. Writing, reading, being with poetry is not about meeting any markers of productivity! It is about the darting silver flicker that inhabits the waters of anti-capitalism: what has not been captured, or - what has been liberated with care and struggle and stubbornness. That which is beyond an estimate.