Please join me for the book launch for Bright Parallel at the California Institute of Integral Studies on August 24 at 2PM. I will be reading from the collection and be in conversation with Carolyn Cooke.
Free and open to the public. Desai | Matta Gallery, CIIS, 1453 Mission St, San Francisco, SF 94103.
My thanks to The Arts and MFA Programs at CIIS for hosting the launch.
The poems are beacons for me too.
They hold in them the gentle, fiery guidance of transformation and the remainders of maps. Make your own map; you are the key. They track the unraveling of self, identity, identifications. They trace a becoming—how the ancestors, the motherline opened its embrace wide and invited me in. These are the poems in which I stepped all the way in—I was not pretending. The trail leads me yet again to Her eye, unclouded and clear-seeing, where life begins.
Then it is not unusual at all that with its publication, the book has searched me for all the ways in which the ego holds one in trance: Do you compare well to others? Do you please others? The trance still has a bit of hold on you, the poems laugh at me. They have already counted my deaths and are ready to witness me die again, be reborn, here for the long game. The spiral moves, still.
But a bit of thanks also (beyond that acknowledged in the book). To Jeet Thayil, who may not remember this, but who—in the way he can be blunt, in the way he does the work of art—chided me, when he heard about the poems in my dropbox, for not putting them together as a book, for not already working on my second book. That nudge over dinner was what got me to move through my alienation from certain anthropological practices in spaces that produce and promote literature, to begin working on the manuscript that became Bright Parallel. The earliest unwieldy draft started right then, in Bangalore.
A second thanks to Ranjit Hoskote. I had begun communication with the amazing Ashwini Bhat in March 2022—I knew I wanted a woman artist from South Asia on the book's cover—just like for my chapbook Ordinary Annals, for which Palija Shrestha was kind enough to let us use her painting—isn't it true that the worlds we are a part of even now are defined and ordered by the hegemonies of masculine subjectivities—and Ashwini's work is exquisite, she is exploring some of the same faultlines in culture, nature, and spirit I have been trying to put my finger on. It was Ranjit who went through her oevre and found "Fainting in Coils 5." He said, "I like it for the same reasons as you do - the relay of material difference, the interplay of past and future, the mythic resonances of coils and (un)coiling." I said, "I love this image. The contrast of ceramic and thread, continuity/fragment, history/future, susurration..." "And the evocation of mossiness..."
I have been reading The Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago and remember visiting The Dinner Party in 2017, as well as how I made the visit happen when I only had a few hours in New York. (I was returning from an Association for the Study of Women and Mythology Symposium held at Pendle Hill.) I remember taking the subway to Brooklyn Museum, bags in tow, before making my way back to The Moving Center New York for dance practice, then to the airport. But I did not remember how the ancestors had given me persistent, unmistakable signals about The Dinner Party until I reread the community letter I had sent the day after my visit.
During this phase, I was still in an early movement of birthing my PhD dissertation, and seeing this amazing installation art—ceramic, porcelain, textile, embroidery, text, weaving—nourished and awed me in more ways than one. I had several readers write to me after I sent that edition of the community letter about the impact DP had had on them and their work.
With this in mind, it is quite extraordinary to read in her autobiography how Judy Chicago became Judy Chicago: how she confronted—internally, at first—the norms that constituted being taken seriously as an artist; how she gradually came to make the connection between her own struggles with the struggles of other women artists across the ages to express their ways of being, doing, and seeing the world; how she gave herself permission to move out of forms and processes that would be validated by art-men; and how she created the frames of references that would make her work visible—through making, research, and teaching. In the first quarter of the book, this becoming is a core theme.
There were points in my reading during which I was struck by the resonances with some of my own path. For instance, the struggle to give myself permission to move out of the frames of reference I learned during my literary studies, where serious writing focuses on ‘form’ and not on the ‘content’; where focusing on ‘content’ compromises the art. Or giving myself permission not only to write 'slant' or conceptually, but also to write with 'sincerity.' Chicago's self-telling of how she came into her own is reminding me of all the ways one grows as an artist.
I have an essay titled "When Yoginis Appear With Animals: Animistic Relational Elements and the Non-Dual Matrix" in the "On Tantra" issue of Tarka Journal.
This was an important essay for me to write into and from the borderlands of lineage and memory in tantra, earth-based spirituality, and theory as healing.
While the text was written as a cross-genre invitation—and accepted by the journal as such—only the first part of the article appears in the print issue. As I write in the introduction to the text:
"The text brings together the academic and artistic modes in a process of a praxis that engages complexity and a both/and orientation towards epistemology. Its invitation to multiple perspectives becomes a stimulus to the reader to open a space of being that can mediate the gap between concepts and experience. The casting of the language of poetry enables meanings and responses to emerge that cannot be generated through academic prose alone."
Distinguished scholar of Indian art Vidya Dehejia had written to me about the poem sequence: "The poetry scares me—it is so powerful."
While reading the academic essay alone will bring forth only part of the meaning, gnosis, and critical knowledge I had intended when bringing two ways of writing in conversation, I hope you will still be stimulated by it.
Likewise, I hope one day poetry will receive its due recognition in mainstream academic conversations for the ways of knowing and the epistemic encounters it enables and fosters. I hope poet-scholars will continue to create from that exigency.
UPDATE: I heard back that Tarka is working to make the article available in its totality in the online version of the issue on tarkajournal.com.
In Rahul Rawail's Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work, you meet a filmmaker who trusted and followed through with his creative instinct, vision, and direction completely—not letting himself be stopped by obstacles. You meet a perspicacious and generous mentor. You meet someone in touch with his inner child—a lover of fine things, a prankster. He was who he was unabashedly. He was Raj Kapoor. Beloved auteur, artiste, actor.
In the Prologue to the book, Kapoor appears to Rawail in a dream, and reminds him that "using your creativity, intelligence and the human feel" were "the most essential ingredients for making a film." The second half of the book narrates episodes from the making of the film Bobby—and, towards the end, we read of incidents from Rawail's own filmmaking process, in which he shows how he handled problems by applying what he had learned from Kapoor.
Somehow—beautifully, magically—the book lets you be mentored by Raj Kapoor himself.
At least, this was the smidge I was left with—presence and blessing lingering. What a beautiful gift, and to me its arrival felt unforced, flowing out of the deep respect and affection with which Rawail himself received—and shares—what he learned from his mentor and teacher.
It is such a delight to have been invited to be featured on The Beat, a poetry podcast from the Knox County Public Library!
Along with two of my poems, I recorded two linked sonnets in English from a public domain poet who was also an icon of the Bengal Renaissance: Michael Madhusudan Dutt.
Choosing to read from the work of a nineteenth century poet from the non-west allows me to expand our imagination of who was writing in English in that period. It allows me to hint at the legacies and contradictions that shape literature in English—including colonialism and anticolonial resistance. It allows me to reflect on the ways in which the 'center' and the 'periphery' are unconsciously reproduced, still—such as in the bios of Dutt found online!
I hope you enjoy these readings.
Transformative Power of Art Journal has kindly published my peer-reviewed article, "Arts-based Practices: Research and Transformation in the Academy" in its Volume 1, Issue 2 Winter 2023: individual transformation through the arts.
The article can be read in the digital journal here or is on academia.edu as well.
Arts-based Practices: Research and Transformation in the Academy
As we move away from a materialist, objectivist, Cartesian-Kantian worldview to one based on the psycho-physical reality of psyche (human and nonhuman, collective and cosmic), the academic world must engage with the different ways in which we create and integrate knowledge and, indeed, must reconceptualize what it is to know. In this paper, I explore how art can be practiced as research, and its epistemic potential: what can art inquire into and what kind of knowledge might its practice and creation bring to the practitioner? I examine arts-based practices vis-à-vis participatory theories and argue that arts-based inquiries are utile in excess of representational or dualistic/disenchanted political and intellectual utilitarianism, and that they offer methodological resources for scholars to resacralize and transform our relationship to ourselves and the world.
Hello all, I am sharing my talk at From Trauma to Catharsis: Performing the Asian Avant-Garde, a symposium hosted by the MFA Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2014.
The talk is titled "Trauma of the Avant-Garde and Intercession of the Waters: A Future Possible." (On Academia.edu; on Humanities Commons CORE)
In 2014, my research focused on the poetics of speech stemming from indigenous/earth-based traditions I was studying and engaged with. This talk arose from the tension I experienced while negotiating with the alienation and skepticism embedded in most understandings of the avant-garde. (Many strategies of the avant-garde have, of course, been coopted from indigenous contexts, after conveniently trimming away the complexity of the worldview within which these gestures live.) My burning question then was: Could the western avant-garde come in conversation with non-western, sacralizing ways of seeing?
This was a couple of years before the vision I had of the ancestresses changed the trajectory of my research. But you will find in this talk some of the same borderlands concerns animating the later work, which utilized Anzaldúan frameworks. I believe a couple of sentences from here also make their way into the methodological discussion in my doctoral dissertation, "Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-secular South Asian Borderlands."
"Homing Instinct," I am very pleased to say, has been published in volume 2 issue 2 of the online edition of the other side of hope, the UK’s first ever Literary Magazine of Sanctuary. Take a look. The long poem can be read in its entirety here.
In 2021, I needed to root deeply into both "home" and "migration." As I wrote, I connected not only to my experience, but also that of my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents. Ancestors and future generations.
I wrote the first version of this poem for installation at the multidisciplinary art exhibition Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision. In this early version, the poem was composed through prose lines. Gradually, to hone in the sharp music in the lines and to better tell its stories—the poem functions as a collective score—I found myself moving to a lineated form.
I find that in writing a poem such as this, I myself am moulded, shaped.
the other side of hope
volume 2, issue 2, winter 2022
The YA movie The School for Good and Evil (based on books by Soman Chainani) gets something very right: when "good" assumes a moralistic, holier-than-thou stance, seeking to keep people in line and scapegoating/punishing those who fall out of (what has been prescribed institutionally as) the line, there is probably a version of "evil" masterminding the subtle inner corruption of "good"—its degeneration into conformism to ideology rather than a context-sensitive, empathetic responsiveness.
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