What is poetry?
Can I ever know for sure?

What is This Book? (The Wind in a Seashell)
“A windy seashell/ Murmurs in the sand’s ears/ Slowly the secret”
After shoveling through my poetry to establish a title, reading and re-reading it in order to find a singular connective link between the several poems, I found reflective links. These are the links that emerge when one reflects. They are the general small truths that are most common to me and somehow find their way into my poetry. These are like the links between the shifting rays of the sun (streaming in effortlessly) and the window. The window is an opening that allows sight and wind. It is visual, olfactory and kinesthetic. The window creates reflex, reaction, but also response. One can actually stand at the window and perceive. Sensation is the first effect but perception is a leap that comes thereafter when one has been standing there for some time. The window and the sun are not static and are forever changing. They have a history and future. They both look on and what they look on changes. The shifting and the waning face of a setting sun collaborates with the dark and hidden concreteness of an inward night that readily allows penetration but allows expression to come only in a veiled or camouflaged form. This book’s poetry is a  chameleon of sorts—a multi-pigmented being, a cold hibernating organism, clinging to wood and leaf till it is itself no more and changes—a geo-morph and climato-morph. Biology and geography come synched through paint and pigment.
Poetry is like trailing over a magma space where rocks melt into fire that glows unseen—a hidden remnant of the earth’s history—and floats plates that crack like eggs into a shudder. Only, here is birth and in every birth is some unsaid death of what remains unsaid. The poetry in this book captures the essence of what remains in a state of hibernation awaiting a silent eruption in the wispy night—a crater amongst the clouds. It is far from civilization, lone and undiscovered. It is as if hibernating in the far recesses of sensible earth, between the awake and the asleep. My poetry is like this hibernation. It is dreamy, but also a defense mechanism. It dreams and is born in the fire hiding in the winter fog: “I freeze/ Soon after the first dead fog/ Has lit the winter on my pyre.” Here, life erupts in death and vice-versa.
How complex is this process and how overtly spontaneous! There is thought that comes entangled with images and images that come printed on the brain like flashes, like still photographs that can exist only momentarily and one can see these only once. Poetry kills the spontaneous by making it exist in an alternate form. Poetry records the singularity of the moment, its flash, and extends it and exemplifies it in words that torture it into becoming an organism with skin, blood and bones. What kind of an organism is poetry in this book? It is an unleashing of demons—with foot paint—stamping around a city, playing havoc with lives and demolishing mirrored sky-scrapers. And yet it sees nothing but itself reflected everywhere. And yet, it has to leave colored footprints. Not as a stamp that proves that s/he was here but as a fingerprint, a form of individual signature that adds some quirk to this destruction. She wants to say that every demolition is not the same. She wants to reiterate and record what she has seen all along her maniacal tread around the city—her own self. This is an emphasis and not merely an expression. It has a unique wind trapped within that says this name with so many different sounds. It is a thesaurus that has several versions of the truth and several ways of naming that somehow converge even in the act of divergence of meaning because ultimately meaning making involves inclusion as well as exclusion, writing and deletion, and limits.
            Poetry becomes an act that seems to overlook limits and assimilates rather than relegating certain ideas to the peripheries and wildernesses. And because of this a poem is never accurate. And because of this it evades definition and bordering impulses. There is open-endedness in a poem, and there is measureless and continuous death. In this anthology there are several poems about poetry towards the end of the second section, “Thought.” No poem is complete and none is all assimilating. They can only point an index finger to mark a territory in the air like a horse in an Ashvamedha ritual but the sun never seems to set, and the horse keeps running endlessly till death by fatigue, or what may be called a block or more poetically a “Swan Song,” “‘Sing these songs,’ it says around my deathbed/ And orders, I leave its branches/ How I wish to wilt into its spectra/ And rise like a cube of sugar dissolving/ In its trunk of yore,/ Forget the forgetful bubbles/ Streaming, now down my eyes/ ‘Wake up,’ it says, itself almost in ordeal/ And an apparition rises.” Apparitions are smoky, hazy entities and time travelers. They know more than us who seem to be travelling as we stand within a singular space, trapped within the trunks of our bodies, insensible of the tempest outside. Poetry taps the pulse of this outside world. It is a signifier of some form of immensity that seems to forever escape through the fist like sand. Poetry is the singular layer of sand that stays stuck to sweat.
            This book is assembled in three layers of “Haiku”, “Thought” and “Love,” or correspondingly gravel, sand and humus. The haiku is hard, it bends roots. And yet it allows a different growth by letting water through and filtering it. It gives life but alternatively by storing resources for some other life. The tree wilts in it but farms utilize the water (that it filters), for crop. This water is put to other uses. Haiku utilizes a single image that resonates with multiple sounds. Its echo is far-reaching. It comprises a simple image but is actually complex and has a measureless basin of water lying under it. Above this gravel is a layer of sand. It is thought that provides a base for plantation while the gravel provides the basin. The tree utilizes the basin underneath to grow even in a desert and the sand is what binds the tree to the land before it becomes strong enough to reach the basin underneath. And then the humus—the inveterate beginning of things, oddly coming from death. A plant or animal dies and its remnants make another grow. Love is like the nourishment where images and emotions entwine like nitrogen and carbon—here in verse. My most poignant poems I keep realizing are those that are written around love. It is the topmost layer of sensibility for me. As a writer it is the most accessible imaginative layer. It is ironically close to the surface of my consciousness, given the general understanding that love lies within. And yet, despite the fact that I write more affectively on love than thought, I use the images of unearthing, unraveling and emerging repeatedly in my love poetry, “That wind was butter/ On a stony sky/ Frisky  fingers unpacking a gift/ Of dry leaves red at the margins.” Or another poem, “Tonight you open the soles of my feet/ And rise in the capillary tubes of my bones/ The grains of years drawn on them like circles/ You keep rising to the deserts/ And blind silken winds meet/ The woman under your iris.”
Throughout the poetry in this collection that is hypothetically divided as above is an element of mystery, an indentation of the unknown and evasive. Throughout is a tumult that comes from treading on plates that are ultimately molten in their roots and a tree that grows till it finds sunshine and water, stretching both ways, traversing the troposphere and the lithosphere, itself becoming a link between these incomplete spheres, connecting them and cracking them through contemplation and spontaneity.
Mohineet Kaur Boparai                                                                                      13 November, 2015

A 2014 Manifesto: The Poem Awake
The poem is a pondering on a hallucinatory image, that is there and at the same time not there. This, keeping in mind, the susceptibility of the vision to be forgotten or, relegated to the unconscious before it can transcend the airy conscious and enter the realm of the tangibility of the page. This vision in the mind that attaches itself almost immediately to language is a strange phenomenon. It is like the apparition that ushers us into Hamlet. There is a straightening of things seeming to begin at its disheveled core that in the end never comes about. This straightening itself carries a sense of oedipal ambivalence, a love/hate for what controls poetry like the unseen patriarch. This is an inverted presence that seems to control from underground. Poetry stems from it, grows up from this root that travels inversely to hide the meanings that manifest themselves in the latent content of the image of poetry. It is this latent content, the maze that forms around the image that gives poetry its soul. It is a revenge on the unknowingness of the world, and the very ambiguity of presence in the vastness of the universe. Is it that every miniscule existence is on a larger level, a largeness in itself? Are the miniscule things only relatively miniscule? Does the burden that the miniscule thing carries of the large universe make it large in the combat? Is the miniscule large in the fact that everything miniscule actually carries the symbolic heaviness of something large? These are open ended questions. They need much thought and heart. In our scientific world that requires reasons, poetry resides in a corner that only sees. Sees perhaps just like an expressionist, in dashes of paint, as a cubist in shapes and lines, through a vintage telescope without automatic settings, or a slide under a microscope that now has movement where earlier there was only a smear or a spot. This seeing is the amazing part of poetry. Everyone is a seer in some way and we all believe that we are seers, creators of our thoughts and actions, even creative witty conversations. In that and more there is some poetry in us all; a little poet tosses and turns in the space between our seeing and thinking and then the thinking that comes almost instantly after seeing ends the poem before it can come to light. This happens to poets too, much more often than they write. A poem comes when the space between seeing and thinking remains vacant over a certain period of time. This vacancy makes one write from the queer saturation that exists within. When one writes a poem, one is filling in the vacancy in the universe, with one’s saturated self. The poem reveals something about the universe in the ongoing process of its creation that was hitherto hidden or existed in a vacancy. Poetry begins as sight and becomes an image but there is no end to the multiplicity of new sights it triggers. And in the end, when the poem has been written the blindness is still there, only a hallucination of light and color had been generated and as soon as the hallucination in the mind is over, the universe is again dark and the next poem comes. The writers’ block is an occupation of the place of vacancy with obviousness. Art is like science in that both begin from this vacancy, the emptiness that confronts us time and again as we go about our ordinary lives in the extraordinariness of our situations. Suddenly this extraordinariness of life comes to sight and one stops. In this stopping poetry is born and science gets rolling. Directions change here, movements begin and newness is born. Creativity, to be, must stop in the middle of things. It must give chance to chance, find something out of the blue and see something as what it is not.
A diminution of a streak of chemical in the bloodstream can quake up the world, shed the veneer of life and make us confront the trembling death walking past us into the dark street. In life too, we feel this confrontation several unwanted times. We see its face and we see ourselves but the encounter is postponed, as if forever. One can see only parts of this face and there can be a conversation that is too obvious, so it does not happen and the mystery remains in the shroud. Poetry comes at this moment as a diversion but leads to the non-obvious direct speech of the poem that must become the reported speech at some point during the readings of it. Poetry is a confrontation with one’s twin and yet the twin is only a fragmented phenomenon that is made into a mystery one wants to approach. Poetry then is an attempt to see the fragments that are outside and yet quite intimate.
What the poem does is like sitting on one’s shadow. One is as close to it as one can be and yet there is no holding it. Poems are evasive in their simple ways. They present themselves and crawl out of their lair at the first call, but will not tell you the formula because there is no formula. Poems are watery, they open windows to the ocean and when one puts one’s face to the water to see, the eyes are already feeling the heaviness of this new world. One pulls out oneself, takes a breath and ushers into the poem again. When the poem has ended it has not actually ended because the window is there and the ocean is there and who knows a star fish might be talking to the sky and we might be missing the conversation.
MKB                                                                                                                 The summer of 2014


its soft beginnings roaring in a shell...

From the Preface of the book
Windows to the Ocean begins from hints. Immensity never burdens us. The universe never becomes a weight, because it comes to us in bits and pieces and through windows. What would it be like if we experienced and perceived everything at once? Life is about minuteness, about our minuteness, which ironically makes us moving- we think- to immensity. And yet, in our day to day life, we are aware somewhere, instinctively of our vulnerability and littleness. Life is all about escaping this littleness. When I write poems, I try to get over my minuteness. I try to become immortal. And yet immortality is only cultural. We can never know if we are always already immortal. Thus, poetry in a big way is cultural but tries in a misinformed way to be universal. Not only writing poems, but every kind of human attempt at knowledge is a jostle with our minuteness and an attempt at immensity. In this sense, poetry is like any other occupation. Only, it is not so conscious. There is more serendipity in poetry than in ordinary knowledge. This is what creativity is like. It is sudden, is a stumbling over, a chance meeting, and has a flow like dreams.
            This book is an impression of the minuteness that infuses life with meaning through its meaninglessness. Poetry comes from what impresses on the mind and the spirit making it both imaginary and prophetic. Imaginary poetry does not mean that it is limited to the inborn and inherent creativity of one’s self. Prophetic poetry, on the other hand, does not mean that it is merely a communication from without; it can very well come from the prophetic voices that are inside a person’s being and life. The poems in this book are based on the minuteness of day to day life as perceived by limited human perception. In an age which is philosophically scientific, but is becoming philosophically imaginative, I indulge with poetry that is a mix of the two. It is universal in tone and hence speaks to humans in general. On the other hand, the poetry in this collection uses images that are personal and hence also exudes personality of the author in particular. This collection lies somewhere between confession and universality in its extent. Humans in general create the world (that is cultural) to understand the universe. This book, too, is a world. This world is both cultural and pseudo universal because the universe is seen through the microscope of culture and hence is never a firsthand vision. The world is a human creation to understand the universe. Thus all books are a world in themselves. Something is always left out but isn’t the world essentially incomplete?
The frailty of the body, the limitlessness of the soul, the idea of the relation between the body and the soul, but also the reversing of the ordinary notions of both the body and the soul, I found later are some of the movers of poetry in my book. The soul and the body of life come up in accidents. If there were no accidents, we would not know either body or soul. How does the body and soul emerge in life, is the root also of the emergence of poems in this book. The love poems in “I Keep Realizing Love, Dispelling My Own Fears” begin from a personal experience of love, but are not personalized. They move away from the soul, “the body is pulled from the soul” and they open “windows to the ocean” where life began.
This book about the bits and pieces of life ironically seemed complete in its sweep as I walked to each poem. And after writing every poem, the world was suddenly incomplete all over again. This kept the process of writing going. The poems came not because I knew the truth but because I knew nothing about the truth. Every time I was intimidated by a tree in a photograph, an empty cup or even colours, I wrote a poem to record my awe. In these recordings, sometimes, I reached the understanding of the objects and experiences I wrote about, but this understanding was always partial because before I understood the universe, I had to understand the sweep of language and what was in the human and universal unconscious, and hidden from direct view.
My poetry from the first collection has moved to this one in one major way. It has become philosophical rather than merely perceptive of physicality. It has attempted to enter the sphere of the unconscious more consciously. Often the meaning in poetry does not come prior to writing, but after it. When the complete poem, if there is one, is read, it seems that new meanings uncurl and the author’s meaning becomes not ‘the’ meaning but ‘a’ meaning in the several meanings that the poem takes on. A poem is inexplicable and has no edges like the constantly expanding universe that we live in. For the author to contend that the poem has specific meanings according to her and that she knows all the meanings of the poem, would mean an arrogance that surpasses patriarchy and colonialism. Such an author must be thinking that she is Divinity. On the other hand, all humans in their respective professions are nanotechnologists. We are all shoveling some kind of nanotechnology in our lives and trying to reach the immense through the minuteness. Immensity is formed of molecules, oxygen is molecular, and emotional arousal is cellular and molecular in essence. The smallest bone in the human body is the stapes that is in the ear. Catch the poetry, sprinkle it on the grave of the invisible and enter the mirror palace that stands on the end of the world.

Mohineet Kaur Boparai
April, 2012
Another window looks on at the other end, the rolling sea...

excerpts from my interview- India's Rising Star-published in ZYMBOL Magazine

it can be found at:

Surrealist painting "Revolution by Night" by Max Ernst

Zymbol: You have said about “Man Eater at Our Table” that the poem stirs the inhibitions and insecurities in my mind about my subalternity in several situations and at a larger scale my vulnerability as a human on a Darwinian competitive earth, where one is attacked not only outside one’s comfort zone but within one’s own home. That sounds like there is a political edge to it. Will it be fair to say that “Man Eater” is a reaction to attack on a local scale as a woman in a literary industry that continues to be male dominated? Or do you believe there are global implications to subalternity and competition?
Mohineet: Being vulnerable and being driven to some form of inability to act in affirmation with one’s subjectivity to some extent spells out my experience of subalternity. Poetry is for me affirmative action and is beyond the field of inhibition. It is not a transcending, counter-reaction or an act of desperation. Rather, it is an action complete in itself, replete with a distinct sensibility and thought (that may be clear or unclear, conscious or unconscious). Even after the poetic act, subalternity resides in my existence. Poetry is only like a quantum leap out of my body. The electrons of subalternity suddenly step out of my being in space and time and enter the page, computer screen or my finger tips. They are, however, at two places at the same time. All the time that I think subalternity has now flown out through my poems, it is still very much present in me. This is a form of double existence to our slow human brain. When I talk of my subaltern experience, it is in the wider sense of being a human or a woman. As a human, the constant struggle with nature, my environment and the malice of my body, the constant learning of survival and the endless encounter with failing to survive make me get a taste of what subalternity means for those who exist at the lowest levels of society. As a female I feel powerless in another way, in a much stronger way, in the form of cultural constraints and the culturally conditioned role playing. I find myself outside this attitude and want to establish my own, and not merely counter roles. Women take on patriarchal roles and consider them almost universal. Some form of patriarchal ideology and an ingrained inferiority is at work here. I find myself in double trouble as a woman who thinks differently from both men and women who have internalized patriarchal values. There is no fitting in and an endless uncertain space that I must traverse as a human being different from anyone else. Ordinarily speaking, the solidarity one feels with women and other humans comes from the similarity of our experiences and the collective experience of being a subaltern. For me, the very act of being different from everyone else constructs bonds of solidarity because in viewing my difference I also view that everyone else is different too and hence they must be respected for it. Ultimate difference seals our bond because it makes us all the same. For me sameness ends solidarity because it is superficial and hence short-lived. The idea of solidarity can only exist in the consideration and acceptance of difference.

Zymbol How has your academic interest in subalternity and literature affected your choices as a poet? Do you often address social issues in your poetry or do you find your work to be more personal? Do you consider yourself a cultural ambassador for Indian literature in your international publications?
Mohineet: Subalternity is over-apparent in the landscape in India and hence is not apparent. It is as if too much of it makes it invisible. Being a part of the subaltern world, there are, nevertheless times when one actually sees the subaltern from a distance and speaks about her or for her and in this sense gives her a new garb. The body, however, disappears from the table before one can dissect it. Or it is too dissected already and one does not want to put another knife to it. The subaltern is in a zone that is far from being comfortable. When one exits one’s comfort zone (which is initially the womb), one is bombarded with questions that must be answered. These may be about what undermines one in life; what is the meaning of these events? How to come out of one’s subaltern status and prevent the undermining events from occurring again? Some of my poems are initiated by these questions and the larger question, “what is life?”
            Subalternity resides in a pallid space, in what is discoloured for us or we are colorblind to it. Subalternity is difficult to speak about because for the subaltern the answers to it are evasive. It is something that we as humans cannot include in our personal framework of justice. This jostling with life at the mental level is like a Big Bang theory that merely simplifies but does not answer. Hence there is an endless theorizing; the theories of oppression can momentarily satisfy us, but in the long run, we must look for more answers. Oppression initiates a process that goes on till infinity. Agency is never final and must be continually recreated and reestablished. The trauma of oppression changes one forever and there is no turning back. Oppression is at one level as constriction of voice and even when the subaltern becomes an agent, her voice has changed, for better or for worse- we cannot decide. The voice is unfamiliar and the subaltern “cannot speak” as before.
            A residue of subalternity resides in me and I am moved towards finding a voice in life and as a poet. The subaltern does figure in some of my poems, but my poetry is more about the miniscule in life, and the experiences of different things and beings, in a complex world that however, seems simple as we go about our routine lives. My work is not personal in the traditional sense of the word, though I love to write poems on love and other personal things and events. My third book, Lives of My Love (2012), was largely personal, but even in these poems the metaphysical thought does enter and sometimes even becomes ontological. Thus, even the personal moment in my poetry has a strain of philosophy entering the unconscious of the poem. Poetry then operates at several levels. There is never a clear demarcation between social issues, the personal and philosophical because they coexist in my mind and are not clearly demarcated.
            My poetry might have qualities that make it closer to the style of Indian literature than American or British but it is not limitedly Indian. Both American and British literature have had a great influence on my writing because I grew up reading and still read English and American literature. My American publisher told me that my poetry has a sensibility that is more soulful and balanced and carries a sense of wisdom, than American poetry usually does. In one sense, then, I might be carrying the burden of Indian literature as a literary ambassador. I enjoy the feeling that I am representing India in my international publications, but I cannot say that I have been only molded as a poet by being an Indian. The Indian sensibility does come in, but so does the global. There is something in poetry that makes it transcendental and not limited. The very moment of its production is free and is not limited to a cultural expression. Someone who writes novels based in India can more readily become a literary and cultural ambassador than a poet because the cultural effect even if present in poetry is ultimately diminished in its universal voice. I speak from a place, nevertheless; I am sitting here and writing and I cannot just say that I am nowhere or that I am everywhere when I write. And this here, where I sit is what comes into my poetry. How I see this place can be affected by what I know of other places and how I juxtapose the global with the national. In the process, the place India has been changed. Since India is culturally a sprawled country, even as an Indian ambassador, there are several sub ambassadors I can consider myself to be. Indian literature is a complex formation that has several sub-formations over time and space. Historically and spatially speaking, there is no single Indian literature, but Indian literatures. To unify these under one head is impossible and to gain from all its forms is impossible too, because it is written in several languages. This deters a tight theorizing of Indian literature. This is where comparative literature departments come in. Thus, I am only a part ambassador because the very definition of Indian literature is ambiguous.

Zymbol: In the states, poetry journals are not what the average person buys at her local bookstore. But, even though poetry is not mainstream, there is a very active literary industry and a proliferation of publications, conferences and readings. It can be a cliquey and exclusive scene. What is the poetry scene like in India?
Mohineet:  Poetry is not what the average booklover will read in India and therefore the bookstores that are usually overflowing with prose, particularly novels, have a handful of poetry books. The literary industry on the whole isn’t very active in India for poetry. There are a few well acclaimed poets writing in English like Jayanta Mahapatra, Arundhati Subramaniyam, Jeet Thayil, Keki N. Daruwalla and Adil Jussawalla etc. There are I believe many more poets writing in the English language but they are backgrounded into oblivion and never make it to the view of the literary public because of the dearth of opportunities to learn, publish or be recognized. There are few poetry readings and there is hardly the opportunity to be exposed to the actual poet. Also, there isn’t any university that I know of in India where creative writing courses are offered. On the whole, the very focus of culture is on other art forms, like music, dance or films that are more performative. The poet in India is neither an icon nor a celebrity for the larger public that nevertheless sees the poet shrouded in mystery. This is because poetry remains less talked of and less acknowledged as a form of artistic expression. There is at the same time a reforming of the writing scene than what it was like in only the last decade. With the writing scene being globalized, there are now several journals and publishers both home and abroad which provide an opportunity to Indian poets as never before. The internet keeps one “in touch” with the global literary scene. Also the easy availability of several translations of poetries from around the world provide a range of reading experiences that help in widening one’s poetic sensibilities. That Indian poets read these is another story. There is a wide space in the poetry scene in India where one can fall and keep falling without something to hold on to. The channelizing of one’s poetic ability is tough in such a scene without any solid ideas on how to write well.

Zymbol: On your blog, you highlight quotes by Frida Kahlo. Andre Breton famously said, “The art of Frida Kahlo is like a ribbon around a bomb.” Is this the effect you aspire to when you write? What about Frida draws you in?
Mohineet:  The confessional and personal strands of Frida’s painting draw me in as do the unruly images which are her very own. Their everlasting freshness, the coming together of Frida and nature and at the same time her questioning of nature that constrained her motherhood are all bold attempts to come to terms with her incompleteness. In one painting she is a wounded deer. In another she grows roots and stems. What her body puts on is terrible and yet so colorfully portrayed. It is almost like she carries on her pain into her paintings but refuses to let it overcome her vivid sensibility. The pain that ticks on towards its outburst on the canvas is not aesthetically presented but is starkly ugly. There isn’t much of aesthetic representation in her work. Her art is an art for a reason, for representing some deep feelings and attitudes. The depth makes it disruptive of a clear confined idea of life. Her surrealist art tries to shock the public out of their readiness to accept life as it is. It is the very bursting of ideology and provides a counter and closer experience of routine life and at a deeper level the bourgeois culture itself. My poetry, I believe has some form of shock value too and the images I use are for a shattering the mirror effect. It tries to exaggerate the normal and to see it in a new form as being far from normal.

Zymbol: “Man Eater” has the images of the gothic and the grotesque about it. What would you say is the purpose of the grotesque in poetry?
M:  Poetry and some form of imagery are inseparable. The influence of poetry depends on how images relate to the voice and ambience of the poem. The form and content in good poetry have a dialectical relation. The form comes from the content and the content comes from the form. They create each other. For instance an alliterated phrase does its work through the image produced by it. Grotesqueness is an exaggeration of images to produce a heightened and sometimes comic effect. Grotesque images are preeminence, also, of the content over the form, because the very intensity of grotesque content makes the form less prominent. It is as though the form is carrying out its work under the covers.
            The world we live in is not seen as such to be grotesque, though in reality it is. Grotesqueness of our lived day to day experiences forms a blurry background. It seems to be ordinary and natural, till it is foregrounded by art and regains its shock value. Poetry operates at a certain level of heightened consciousness. There is a certain pleasure in poetry and it’s not merely the pleasure of beauty but the pleasure of discovery, the pleasure of finding something in the image or through the image. Poetry transports us from our terrestrial worlds, as if, into the realm of the aquatic or even the universal. It takes us beyond our limits into new territory and yet that territory may not even be directly inscribed in the poem. Poetry is therefore, endless creation. It is like meiosis. It keeps on disintegrating into parts that in turn become complete wholes. The grotesque is a transporter in poetry and other art forms to the hither to unseen-ness of the world. It unveils the ugly and irrational part of existence. It seeks the unrealistic or even magical and juxtaposes it with ordinariness. It places these two together on the same canvas.
            The grotesque in poetry has existed since a long time I guess. It has existed even before it was possible to record it in the written form, perhaps even before the Hindu and Greek mythologies. The Mahabharata and Ramayana feature grotesque action, images and characters. Their very religious power on the masses comes from the magical and inexplicable in these epics. The grotesque actually explains the unexplainable in daily existence. The grotesque and unworldliness of these epics is actually a reason for their credence. There have been several projects to prove that these texts are historically set and their events can be proved scientifically. This can be seen metaphorically as a juxtaposition of facts with the imaginary in the “witches’ cauldron”. There are several examples of grotesqueness, both comic and not so comic in English literature. There have been Shakespeare’s clowns and fools, Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Coleridge’s use of grotesque imagery in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The purpose of grotesqueness has been to unveil some folly, or to draw moral conclusions from the grotesqueness in the narrative. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is replete with grotesqueness, though at a serious level. It can be seen as a move towards the deep-seated and unconscious. The grotesque, thus, also brings out the animalistic in human existence and in this is a move to undo the binaries.

Zymbol:  “How You Found Me”, a love poem contains an interesting mix of natural imagery, and technology (oxygen mask, sonar). Were these metaphors an intentional juxtaposition on your part?
Mohineet: This poem sees two worlds in the same frame. It dashes into the space between separation and union. It is about how two people came together and how their union was waiting for them in the background. At the level of the background there is a coming together of two worlds like the two lovers. It is as if a page that must be torn into two neat parts is kept as one. One part of the page has a tree and birds while the other has technological and artificial symbols like ships and an oxygen mask. Binaries are nullified in the process. The bird too, is seen as a part of a series of metaphors and not as a single self. There is a stealing and reclaiming. Distances are bridged in imagery and simultaneously between the lovers as they come together. The nullification of binaries that props up in the poem becomes a structural technique to substantiate the theme of union or unison that is already present even before the union. The union that comes about is superficial because the inner harmony was always already present between the lovers.


Coffee with the Poets; WITH Christina Finlayson Taylor

Hi, Mohineet! Congratulations again on your relatively recent marriage. It was evident to me in publishing two poetry collections for you in quick succession that your life currently is full of love and poetry.

MKB: Thank you Christina. I published two books last year with you and it was the first year after marriage so it was full of discovery and loads of newness and freshness. My book Windows to the Ocean is dedicated to my husband Guramrit and my brother Fateh, because I felt they were most important to me at that juncture. After marriage one begins a whole new life; the past suddenly becomes more clear and important because it is something we’ve been somewhat misplaced from. At that point, my husband was the discovery and my brother was the nostalgia; I had always felt that Amrit and Fateh shared something but I couldn’t pin point it, maybe it was how they lived their lives and hence, my dedication “Who carry a tune in their hearts when they walk”. The second book Lives of My Love is about how I experienced my love life with Amrit and is dedicated to my niece Abeer. Her name means “fragrance” in Arabic and “festival color” in Hindi. My dedication reads, “When you blink your eyes, a solitary leaf dances in the wind”. On the surface, it is about her eyes, but the impetus behind it is more than description. Her eyes are natural, they are innocent and the movement in them is patient, almost like the effortlessness of the seasons.

Thank you for sharing that heart-warming personal insight. I have been intrigued by India for a few decades now as it seems like a place of such creativity, color, beauty, vitality… What is it about your culture that sparks such fine creative expression?

MKB: I believe that living in India has given me an experience of living in diversity. The number of languages spoken in India is 438; there are several religious beliefs, and cultures living under a homogeneous governing system. There is so much to learn and observe, not only in people but also in the geography. There are the Himalayas, Ganga-Brahmaputra plains, the vast Deccan plateau that covers most of southern India and the Thar desert; Tropical, alpine vegetation and xerophytes; maritime climate as well as the severe seasons of north India; metropolitan malls and slums; local artisans and foreign brands. Living in such a space, there are so many different things to experience. I am particularly drawn to the landscapes and the colorful tribal people. The diverse cultural intermingling motivates creative expression because there are so many different cues to catch when one goes about perceiving the land.

You are India’s gazing bright star. How do you define poetry, and who or what inspired you to understand what poetry is, what makes it poetry?
MKB: Poetry is an overflow, and hence it begins from some kind of containment of what is within. And because it is within and accumulating, it has a certain impetus to come out. At
the same time it is fluid, liquefied and must be solidified. I believe, in this process something is always lost, something is gained and something is revealed. So poetry is in many ways is a discovery of the self, society and the universe. A discovery also of a certain type of emotion that I think poets only experience when they are writing. I believe that it is an emotion that feels like some form of saturation and then slowly it begins to disappear and when it is finally lost, there is nothing more to write. It is like playing hide-and-seek. First you face the wall and count (one faces the commonplace); then you begin your search (which is the challenge, the looking about and looking for) and the search involves some chemical secretions in the body, maybe a little bit of adrenaline too (and you are enjoying the whole process). It is a process that involves the head and the heart that ultimately lead to some hidden acumen and acuteness. And the whole time that you are writing, you are also being insightful and imaginative, and the hidden is being revealed one by one, coming out of the hiding place it inhabits, into the scorching heat of the summer holidays that are past with childhood.
To the second part of the question, I think I’ve been writing poetry since a very long time, since I was a teenager, but in the beginning it was not even perception, it was merely a rhyming of lines and a collection of images. But I store my poetry in diaries and on the computer and therefore I remember the poems I wrote as a twelve year old. One was about birds, another one was written after I saw the movie Titanic, and another one was about a scary night in a palace. So as a child, what inspired me to write poetry were my childhood whims, all the things that somehow caught my imagination and loaded me with their immensity. The inspirations have been the same ever since- things that are massive and mysterious, things that I must understand. The inner inspirations, however are never all intrinsic, there is always another side to them- the overt, the things we catch from the outside like birds who later want to break open their cages. The external inspirations are events and people. There must be a long list of people who inspired me. My parents firstly, because they were always the first ones I took my poems to and the fact that they were excited and overwhelmed by my obscure, childish attempts at poetry, they encouraged me to write on. Then, when I met my husband he and our family became the driving force. His patience motivates my pen and my second collection is about what I feel about him and what turns my life took after meeting him…he dives into my work, he takes it on his tongue and plays with the sweet sour lollipop that my poems are. Metaphorically, it’s as if we plant seeds together, not in the soil but grafting them in the roots themselves. Inspiration comes from observing the spontaneity in people, their venerations for different things and an acceptance of their idiosyncrasies. Then there are so many friends and mentors who’ve motivated me. That is all how I get spontaneous, involuntary inspiration. But poetry is also a conscious process and hence I must look for inspiration. This I find in the environment and other poets. I search for it, by being open to observation and discovering new poetries. I have been inspired by the unfussy depth of Wislawa Szymborska, Sylvia Plath’s immense heart and the metaphoric life of her poetry related to painful realities, poems by Siegfried Sassoon, A.K. Ramanujan, R. M. Rilke, Pablo Neruda, and most recently I am discovering the German expressionistic poets like Gottfried Benn and Else Lasker-Schuler. These poetries are like riding a giant wheel, like going up and coming down in a circle, dangling your feet that won’t touch the ground and being awed by the enthusiasm of these poets.

I must say I find your poetry awe-inspiring! When do you feel that you write your best poetry?
MKB: My most satisfying poems come from phases when I’m vexed. I think it is because we usually indulge in masking our emotions. When I experience strong emotions that have not had an outlet, I sometimes write poetry. My most cherished poems ironically belong to such phases. It might be because at that time I’m true to myself, or maybe because my brain is working in a different way. But emotions alone cannot generate poetry. There has to be something in store in ones perceptual space and philosophical core for the poem to shape up. When I write a poem under the influence of emotions, I usually don’t know what I’m writing about. The first few lines are spontaneous jottings and then the poem automatically begins to shape up into a more or less coherent whole. Then, I come to understand what is within me and after the initial spurting beginning, I get a middle and end that I can use to shape my poem. It is here that I understand what is most prior in my thinking. Talking of a poem, we usually don’t divide it into a beginning, middle and end. These categories have been traditionally reserved for drama and sometimes prose too. Poetry is a breaking of barriers. It is free and hence it should not have structural constraints. The beginning, middle and end in a poem for me, does not mean a sort of structural division, but a division in the change of mindset when one is writing. The workings of one’s psyche shift and reshape as one writes a poem. This reshaping has a flow and hence the allusion to Aristotle’s dramatic beginning, middle and end.

Excellent. We could go in a hundred directions with that. Would you care to share one of your own favorite poems?

A door in a frame lies by the roadside,
Twisted at an angle, like a convex glass,
Only, it is too full for the sun rays to pass
But somehow the air focuses its lens on it
And burns it from the inside
People see and think that it is termites eating wood
This door is sans house, or hands to open
It, or footsteps to walk through it
Now and then some wind comes
And opens a crack between the door
A smile twisted into smoke
Comes out and the wind mourns
Dust collects on it, it endures rains and
No one comes to fix it back
Because it is skin shed from
Muscles and bones
But there is always something left behind
Here is a door with its eyes waiting to
Thread dreams walking through itself

Very nice selection from Lives of My Love. Something unique about this particular collection is that you included a few of your own bright symbolic watercolor paintings to accompany some of your poems. Do you find it more likely that your poetry inspires you to create visual art, or is it more likely that your art inspires a poem as you paint it, and why do you think that is?
MKB: I think in my case my poetry usually inspires art, rather than the other way round. I paint the image in the environment that triggered the poem and at the same time try to bring in the thrust of the poem into it. When I paint an image after writing a poem, I have dwelt on it, given it a linguistic form and solidified it; then only the space and colors need to be consciously thought of.

Your poetry is alive and blossoming with imagery. What do you consider most inspiring visually or otherwise, what sprouts your imagination?
MKB: In writing my poems I lay a lot of emphases on figures of speech. It’s probably to do with my painting; because when one paints one begins to observe. Somehow I think we derive pleasure from beauty. In the case of poetry this pleasure is extended to the not so apparently beautiful. One begins to see beauty in many ordinary things. I incidentally find some works of literature very inspiring simply because of the beauty they infuse into the images. To name a few that come to the mind: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Toni Morrison’s novels- especially Tar Baby and Sula, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland”, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, the expressionistic poets etc. Images whether in literature, movies, paintings and most commonly in day to day life, are very inspiring for me; they somehow infuse me with imagination because as a poet suddenly I’m reading new meanings into things that were not even in my creative radar.

What I respect about your poetry, even beyond your fine natural balance of heart, mind and soul, is that it contains genuine depth - it rings true to your truth with nothing hollow. (I trust that you can elaborate on this; choose your angle.)
MKB: Poetry cannot be shallow, because then it will lose its strength. It is jam packed and heavy but has lightness enclosed in its heaviness as its other Janus face. I think the natural balance we are talking about in my poetry comes from spontaneity, from scribbling the first draft completely from within, without much second thought; and yet it’s not like free association. Then, when I read what I have written, I understand it from several perspectives- from the original perspective, but also from several other viewpoints that have unconsciously propped themselves in the poem. This makes up for one truth leading to another. And because the truths are mine, they are interrelated. The truth, and the voice in poetry go together. And since the truth is so difficult to comprehend, since it is always transforming, evasive, its immensity engrained in minuteness, it is deep. When I tap immensity or the minuteness that carries it, the poetry automatically gets its depth.

You’re right, and your response brings a few thoughts to mind: Firstly, some of your poetry sounds dream-inspired. Do you pen your dreams into poetry? If yes, then how important do you feel this is, and why?
MKB: I feel poetry is inter-textual and like other literature, it is connected to other disciplines, because it is related holistically to our experience. Your question reminds me of psychoanalysis, especially Freud’s dream interpretation. There have been several studies I believe on the coexistence and relation of art to dreams. I do pen my dreams into poetry, parts of them, if not the complete dream. In my poem, “The Years without You”, from the book Lives of My Love, I remember a dream from early childhood that I could not forget because it was almost like living paradise:
There is a fairyland, in a dream I have not forgotten
Flowing slow fountains on its body
Where flowers suspend from the sky in a rain
The grass is blue and there is a tinge of pink in the sky
Every monsoon I relived the dream
Until your eyes blinked open in its sky
And the colours came back to their place

Lovely; my mind sees something akin to a Joseph Parker painting…
MKB: I feel myself lucky if I remember my dreams and if they are emotionally intense; but that is occasional. My poetry is dream-like because maybe it has a lot of symbolization and that makes it like a collection of anecdotes which is also true for dreams. Also, my poems are somewhat less than  natural. They aren’t what reality is to our usually busy senses. Rather, they are like an unconscious delving into the superficiality of what we take to be reality. Beneath the superficial, reality has another life. It is almost like delving into the unconscious that is deep-seated and like an iceberg, is beneath the surface and only a tip of it is available to sight. What lies beneath the ocean is massive and that is what poetry should fathom. This reminds me of my first collection with Middle Island Press, Windows to the Ocean; maybe that is where my poetry follows dream and trance.
Responding to the second part of your question, I think all poetry essentially requires mazes and incompleteness, a middle of the road termination too, so that we are almost always ready to relive it. Like dreams, our poetry is spontaneous and effortless. It just comes to us, sometimes, we feel, from nowhere. This birth from nowhere is like a seed hibernating in the soil. We don’t see it unless it props up like a shoot. Also, if a poem speaks too directly, either without symbolism, imagery, metaphors or such devices, it loses an essential part of its suggestiveness. Thus dreaming literally or metaphorically is at the core of good poetry.

Exquisite, Mohineet! Thank you. Secondly (back up a few paragraphs), I am drawn to your statement “…because the truths are mine, they are interrelated.” My mind sees a web with you at the center, reminding me of the creative arachnid symbol, and I feel that you have justified yourself as a poet in the most beautiful subjective way in what you so naturally stated. Your poetry is a solidified matrix of you. Would you mind sharing another poem?
MKB: Thank you for the wonderful observation Christina. That’s true I believe. The self, establishes my poems on a plinth of the external. Thus what is within and what is without come together when a poem is being written. The ‘I’ can never really exit completely in a poem, and some amount of deep role playing while writing a poem happens. It is like drama; you play a role but every actor would play the same role with idiosyncratic stamps. Coming to truths, I believe that there is no single truth over time and space that is true for all human race. The truths of a poet while writing are much different from the truths we carry with us in routine lives. This is because, as I have mentioned earlier, the truth of poetry is very intrinsic and deep-seated. I would love to share a poem with you:
A Love Story
You birthed me an organ from your arms
You endured the pain of the sky pushing its way out
-The infinite- that once hibernated under my tongue
Now wishfully enfolds me into a fire ball
You carried the heat on your back
To rejuvenate the dying winter
Its juices seeped into your spine and
Collected into an ocean
From where a story may emerge
Suddenly, in a whirlwind
And sweep the city clean
But we’ll always be in its single monster eye,
Rooted; while the city floats, cracks like a dream
In its gorilla embrace
All stories come glowing out of your sun
With you, my shadow widens into a shade
Then into a dream with no ends

The dream of sunburnt soil begins from the feet
And now we realize, only to forget again,
“The garden is never grown from above,
It is always waiting below with closed eyes”

You have a list of honors and awards to your credit that is no less than astounding. What do you feel has been your greatest academic or literary achievement?

MKB: Thank you Christina for the wonderful applauds for my literary achievements. I believe there is still a long way to go and my achievements are merely a brushing of some archaeological pits in me. The big achievements are still to come as (I hope) my poetic side is slowly and continuously revealed to me. I am always extremely happy on publishing a book. I published my first when I was 21; and though it was highly experimental, I was so enthused by it that I slept with a copy under my pillow for several days.

That’s adorable. :) What is the title of your first book, and can it be found online?
My first book is Poems That Never Were, published in 2007. I’m sorry, it’s not available online for purchase.

So Poems That Never Were is unavailable. How humorously apropos, the title. I can respect that, though. What are your long-term literary aspirations?
MKB: In the coming years, I plan to publish more books of poetry and get some more strength and sound into my poems. I want my poems to be enthused in a reflexive, relaxed way. At present I feel my poetry has more pace than I love. I also plan to complete my PhD in the next four years; it would make me more critical and give me a wider evaluative space to understand poetry.

Certainly, and I wish you the strongest wings for your developments. Your ambition is incredible and I am certain that you will arrive where you wish to be, that you will continue to dream your dreams into reality.

MKB: Thank you Christina, it was such an insightful talk.

[Christina raises her mug to Mohineet who takes her cappuccino “…with extra chocolate powder on top.”]

No comments:

Post a Comment