In but a moment's time, our lives have become hyperlocalized. Sheltering in place, we become intensely aware of where we are, and with whom. Bringing together poets in the neighborhood is one way to reimagine place, belonging, and how we make these. The map of poetry often allows us to lose restrictions of time and space. In another way, place seeps through all that we do—all that we are.
Here, then. Presenting the Shelter in Sunset Reading Series, edition one, all the way from the Sunset District in Yelamu (San Francisco).
Russell Reza-Khaliq Gonzaga
Organized and hosted by Monica Mody
Date And Time:
Sat, May 16, 2020, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM PDT
You will be sent the details of the video conference 90 minutes before the reading.
(This event will not be recorded.)
My poems, essays and translations have appeared in a number of lit-journals, anthologies, small press volumes and chapbooks. From 2009 through 2012, I was a twice yearly contributor to, the Los Angeles poetry magazine, Rattle‘s, since discontinued, e-issues with a series of essays on translating poetry under the byline The Impertinent Duet.
Monica Mody is the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press) and two cross-genre chapbooks. Her poetry also appears in Poetry International, Boston Review, Indian Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, and Immanence Journal, among other places. She holds a PhD in East West Psychology and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her awards include the Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology for her multi-genre dissertation, the Nicholas Sparks Postgraduate Writer-in-Residence Prize from the University of Notre Dame, Naropa's Zora Neale Hurston Award, and the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing. Monica was born in Ranchi, India and lives by the ocean without a cat. More at drmonicamody.com.
Pireeni Sundaralingam’s poems have appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review and Ploughshares, and been translated into five languages. She has held national fellowships in poetry, including the PEN USA Rosenthal Fellowship, and co-edited “Indivisible” the first anthology of South Asian American poetry, winner of the Northern California Book Award and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award.
RUSSELL REZA-KHALIQ GONZAGA
Russell Reza-Khaliq Gonzaga has hosted and organized events and workshops including the Sierra Poetry Festival, the Center Camp Spoken Word Stage at Burning Man, and the weekly ELYSEUM Writers Workshops at Harbin Hot Springs. Russell is Poet Laureate Emeritus of Lake County and has represented San Francisco for 3 years at the National Poetry Slam and served as Reno's first Poetry Slam Master to bring a team to Nationals. As an Arts Educator he has worked with several organizations including YouthSpeaks and WritersCorps. He is also recipient of the Certificate of Honor from San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and a declaration of Russell Gonzaga Day. Russell has recently returned to San Francisco after a firestorm destroyed his home, business, and property at Harbin Hot Springs. He is the current Poetry Editor for The Fabulist literary website and has been working at the Sunset Andronico's market during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Sarah Heady is a poet and essayist interested in place, history, and the built environment. She is the author of Corduroy Road (dancing girl press, forthcoming 2020), Niagara Transnational (Fourteen Hills), winner of the 2013 Michael Rubin Book Award, and Tatted Insertion, a limited edition letterpress chapbook with artist Leah Virsik. Sarah is a co-editor of Drop Leaf Press, a small women-run poetry collective. She is also the librettist of Halcyon, a new opera about the death and life of a women’s college, currently in development with composer Joshua Groffman and producer Vital Opera. Her manuscript “Comfort” was a finalist for the 2019 Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Poetry Prize and the 2017 National Poetry Series. More at sarahheady.com.
On this Earth Day, here as a small offering is a poem I wrote in apprenticeship to the Earth and her craft and ways, The Witch on My Grandmother's Mountain.
Mama Earth, you astound me! You bewitch me. Your teachings never cease to remember me to life. May every path I walk be guided by your honoring.
The poem was first published in Wyrd & Wyse #4 (2018). Read or download it below.
I spoke to Chantal Noa Forbes about my doctoral research, covering topics such as decolonial and postcolonial frameworks in the context of South Asia, feminist spirituality, writing from the body and writing for the earth, multi-genres, relational modes of knowledge production, and being indigenous at the borderlands/as a transnational person.
You can listen to the podcast on Soundcloud.
My article, "Serpent, Earth, Healing, Initiation," appears in The Land Remembers Us: Women, Myth, Nature--Proceedings of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology Volume III, edited by Mary Jo Neitz and Sid Reger. More information about the volume, along with purchase links, can be found on the ASWM website here. You can also read/download the article at academia.edu, or download a PDF below.
This drawing by Rita Hillman beautifully depicts Nagadevi, who started me on this serpentine journey!
In short, the article proposes reconnecting with and decolonizing earth/snake energies as a way for the borderlands feminine to heal her pasts, presents, and futures. Serpents are our co-dwellers in an ecological real. Priestessing Nagadevi at a small temple in Bangalore and visiting a renowned serpent temple in Kerala presented me with two distinct models of relating with sacred serpent energies. I conjecture that the access to psychic borderlands once enjoyed by serpent priestesses is now controlled and patrolled by patriarchal authority. Still, serpents come from a part of us/the world that is wild and untamable. These ancient energies can be unlocked by transforming the trauma and stress stored in our bodies, spine, and nervous systems. Remantling the serpent liberates a new arc of the possible for the body, intimacy, and futurities. We shed old identities, agreements, and codes, and renew ourselves into wholeness. Neuroscience research has shown memory too to be serpentine—what and how we remember changes the possibilities for the future encoded in the past. Thus, feminists at the borderlands can use memory as a resource for liberation and for reconnection with the ancestresses. Being initiated by the serpent comes with the responsibility to change the movements of energy in our own lives.
The article weaves in multiple genres—including critical prose, personal reflection, and poetry—so as to make space for epistemologies from multiple centers of consciousness. Poetry—as ars mysteria—can open access to the layers that may otherwise be hidden to or subvert ordinary consciousness. A synergistic counterplay of genres allows for a non-assimilationist, border-crossing hermeneutics.
Here is my talk at the 2020 Conference of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology right before the pandemic upcurve.
I will slowly be uploading earlier presentations and talks on SoundCloud as well.
How are you? I'm asking folks. How am I? I try to write in bite-sized texts and emails.
Yesterday, my body fell into a kind of shock as I read the news from India. It is a visceral, continuous shock—waves of fury—at the Indian government's handling of the coronavirus situation, putting millions of human lives at risk, exposed to starvation, battened about as if they did not matter. The fear that this government does not know, does not care, and will manipulate ceaselessly to improve its image, to lash down at people it sees as threats, all the while the most vulnerable people have and are risking their lives to make lives better for some.
And, when I wrote that to people, one of the responses I received was ...silence. I imagine these folks navigating the limits of empathy, not knowing what to say, titrating.
And, a part of me wonders: hasn't it always been hard for America to get not-America? And, how so many people don't understand the privilege of their ignorance—what it is to know your body-blood-ancestors to be linked to a land that is unbearably far away.
It is sometimes easier to distance from the knowing of our connectedness, given the mass illusion that technocapitalism can connect us all. The starkness of the body knows differently. I hope it will teach us differently.
Here are some ideas to honor the changes we are experiencing during these times of crisis, and to take care of ourselves as we practice social distancing, shelter in place, or realize we need to quarantine.
Spring Equinox with Starhawk: A Ritual for Loss and Renewal: Watch the replay.
Scribd is offering one free month of reading.
Tour the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico.
I will be updating these resources often.
A remark made three or so weeks ago by Jairaj Singh on Twitter gave me pause. Singh commented on a tweet from Kunal Kamra: “The Sadhguruisation of Kunal Kamra on full swing.” Singh was not a fan of Kamra’s observation about the phenomenon of relationship insecurity. And, he showed his disdain by comparing it to Sadhguru's homilies. It left me disturbed, this equation of a Modi-CAA supporting pseudoguru with an anti-establishment stand-up comedian. It seemed to echo a tradition of intellectualism in postcolonial India that considers anything less than rationality to be an excessive, unreliable intervention in the public sphere.
My objection is that such an intellectualism—perhaps rightly suspicious of possible manipulation by what Eva Illouz calls “a public emotional self”—ends up censoring any process that does not regurgitate parameters familiar to it. That, perhaps, idealizing rational expression in political and social actors too quickly becomes a shaming if these actors share their own inquiry process beyond the pale of the secular, rational ego.
Inquiry is a precursor to arriving at insight and wisdom. Sometimes, we mistake the process for the conclusion. A.H. Almaas writes, “The aim of inquiry . . . is not to arrive at conclusions but to enjoy the exploration and thrill of discovery.” I do not myself agree with Kamra’s conclusion around insecurity in relationships. And yet, he has the right to his investigation, and to be fallible in the process.
It is my contention that the very ceding away of the process of inner investigation by rationalist secularists in India may have allowed religious nationalists to co-opt it towards their insidious, insular purposes. The language of insight and wisdom is being weaponized by pseudogurus and spiritual narcissists to manipulate and deceive. Instead of letting them have it, we need to retrieve our access to the rich inner ground of meaning that gives rise to interconnected visions of humanity.
There is a difference between the performance of wisdom and the innate discrimination of wisdom. Wisdom emerges through the process of questioning of our selves and worlds, and trusting what we are apprehending through our subjugated faculties. This metaphysic of the unfolding truth of experience, of a situation, scares those for whom dogma provides the bastion of certainty upon which they rest their fortresses of intolerance. This is precisely why wisdom practices are essential today.
By instituting rites of belonging that privilege a narrow band of rationalism over other onto-epistemologies, progressives merely replicate the binaries that Hindutva nationalists want us to buy us into. Instead, let us create borderlands of belonging, and invite each other into allowance and solidarity. It is all interconnected—relationships we create between self and other, with the world we find ourselves in.
Writing helps me make sense of the world. The presentation I had proposed for the ASWM Conference—"Staying With the Trouble, Reweaving the World: A Speculative Manifesto for the Visionary/Poet" (see abstract below)—is helping me be with the world right now: line of flight to my role in these troubled times.
We live in a world where the problems before us signal no straightforward solutions. Biological systems are breaking down, forests and other living species are imperilled, oceans and soils are being poisoned—and far right regimes are displaying unspeakable cruelty against peoples they label as “other”. We urgently need new configurations of being.
Such a time may be unprecedented in human memory, but it is not out of the reach of visionary memory—where pasts, presents, and futurities fold into and emerge out of each other. Accessing and bringing to the fore—for their community—knowings from this cosmic womb was the charge given to ancient seeresses and prophetesses. In certain cultures and periods, the same persons held both prophetic and poetic functions.
Patri-kyriarchy and colonialism have sought to graft their rationalist, disenchanted ideologies upon these mantic cultures. Yet, not all modes of sibylline and creative flow have been subjugated. Throughout myth, literature, and history, prophetic women and poets have posed challenges to structures of domination, at times radically restaging history through their interventions.
Bearing this context in mind, this presentation explores how the visionary/poet today may listen to what is dying, what has died, what is emerging, and what wants to be known. It asks how the healing of the visionary/poet might tie in with the healing of the world. It considers how she may stay with the trouble, and how she may weave the disconnection within our webs into threads of connection.
See also the amazing lineup of the presenters at the conference.
While my dissertation is currently under an embargo, the dissertation defense video is available to watch via the department's YouTube channel. It can be viewed below. For those who are interested, I have also included the abstract below. Excerpts from the introduction and literature review were published in the journal, Integral Review.
Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-Secular South Asian Borderlands: a Critical Hermeneutics and Autohistoria/teoría for Decolonial Feminist Consciousness
This dissertation uses Gloria Anzaldúa’s borderlands framework to facilitate the transculturative process of shifting into a new consciousness in the border zones of kyriarchy, coloniality, and modernity. The borderlands are conceived of as an alternative to that which is written in history. De-linking from Western modernity’s assumption of universality allows me to make a claim to a modernity that acknowledges the histories of Western colonialism and imperialism. It further enables me to reconstruct meanings and practices found in transnational spaces configured as the Other: tradition, the past, nature, the feminine, the “primitive,” the household. I enact this decolonial recovery at the edges of my South Asian/brown postcolonial feminist subjectivity.
The borderlands framework makes possible a profoundly relational onto-epistemological praxis, in which I examine the configurations of voice, vitality and authority in my experiences, identities, and motherlines. I contend with the dominant narratives of brahmanical patriarchy continuing in the lives of women in India. The post-secular sacred locates as essential a critical interrogation of all forms of oppression. Engaging the self in relation to culture, I utilize borderlands thinking and aesthetics to recover and resignify complex images of female identity, and to suggest an episteme of the sacred for healing and liberation of post-patriarchal possibilities. The critical mobility of spiritual mestizaje invites me into a wholeness of sorts that forefronts the grandmothers, the foremothers, and the experiences of women of color on their own terms.
The dissertation locates itself within a transdisciplinary post/decolonial feminist research paradigm. It accomplishes its tasks of deconstruction and reconstruction through the processes of feminist critical hermeneutics (Schüssler Fiorenza) and autohistoria/teoría (Anzaldúa). Both methods of inquiry make possible a processual and relational epistemology that challenges the borders around the modes of knowledge creation.