What do you enjoy about the collective process the most?
Vidhu: The collective model for GIPC was very seductive to me — as a way of thinking diasporic practice across nations. For me it was a way to think out a transnational modality around publishing and where so often the conversations are within the confines of nation (for me the U.S.) — connecting with writers in India and across the diaspora, which may include (for instance) Caribbean nations, Europe, Africa, and South Asian seems most exciting for me.
Minal: I agree, Vidhu, and for me a lot of the excitement of the Collective is also about not having to buy the idea of being a marginal voice, but really centring our own voices. In the U.S. as a queer woman of colour etc. etc., it’s easy to feel like a non-entity in the publishing world which is still dominated by cishet white men (though some aspects are changing). In India, what I’ve experienced is almost the opposite, a lot of openness and welcoming of new ideas in publishing. As a Collective we’ve become a known part of the poetry ecosystem and we’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful, much more established poets work with us and welcome us. So there is power in shifting the centre and opening up to the possibility of many centres.
Ellen: I agree so much with what the others have said, about the Collective as empowering. I want to add a piece to this that was the real sparkle of the Collective for me, and that was the mentorship model of the press. I began a writing workshop in Bangalore a few years before the Collective was born — it was out of a need to write in community and not in isolation at home. This writing workshop grew and I realized there was a thirst for mentorship in writing here, where there are no structured MFA programs and only a few (but growing!) options for writers to improve their craft. It seemed to me the work of the Collective would be about growing the skills of poets outward, by mentoring the new voices and asking them, in turn, to mentor as well. Helping to edit and work with poets on their manuscripts in process is one of my deep loves.
What books are on your nightstand? Which Indian/diaspora poets should we be reading?
Shikha: I get asked this question a lot. Until 6-7 years ago, it was very hard to find books by Indian poets in bookstores or online. I think ‘60 Indian Poets’ by Jeet Thayil is a great introduction to Contemporary Indian poetry in English. It’s a beautiful mix of emerging and established poets and shows how multifarious Indian poetry in English is. It was a landmark book in bringing so many poets together, many of them out of print, along with their biographies. It was where I first discovered the work of Gopal Honnalgere and Srinivas Rayaprol. Jeet’s essay in the beginning captures the struggles and triumphs of Indian poetry in English and is a must read to understand how Indian poetry has claimed English as their own. I think it’s very important for those aspiring to be part of the Indian poetry scene to understand India’s poetic history and the growth and migration of Indian poetry in English.
My nightstand is a chaotic mix of genres including ‘The English Patient’ by Michael Ondaatje (a very poetic novel), ‘Seam’ by Tarfia Faizullah, ‘Citizen’ by Claudia Rankine, Jeet Thayil’s ‘Collected Poems’ as well as Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s ‘Collected Poems’.
Minal: Poetry-wise, I am reading ‘Bodymap’ by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Living in India for the past five years, it has felt important to me to try to understand the politics and specific forms of disenfranchisement and oppression that are present here. To that end I’m reading two powerful nonfiction works: an anthology from Zubaan press called ‘Landscapes of Fear: Understanding Impunity in India’, and B. R. Ambedkar’s classic ‘Annihilation of Caste’.
Vidhu: I want to mention Rajiv Mohabir who is a U.S. based poet — and who addresses in his work the complications of identifying as “Indian,” if your family has lived in the Caribbean for generations — coming over as “coolies” during the Raj era. Rajiv also translates the work of Lalbihari Sharma, an indentured worker in the cane fields of Guyana whose book of poems ‘Holi Songs of Demerara’ came out in 1916. ‘Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture’ is a non-fiction book on my nightstand in which Gaiutra Bahadur traces the story of her grandmother and other “coolie” women in Guyana.
I also have been reading and rereading the work of Bhanu Kapil — ‘Ban and Banlieue’ and ‘Humanimal’. Kapil has a wild and expansive transnational diasporic consciousness. In her work, not only do national borders break down but also the borders between poetry and prose, human and animal — all types of fantastic and painful interspeciations. I also love the interspeciation between her latest work, ‘Ban and Banlieue’ and her blog. She has an ongoing, non-corrective sense of writing —accumulative like the architecture of an old city.
I’m also astounded by the grief-language of Prageeta Sharma.
Ellen: It’s my last day in India tomorrow and I’m visiting a bookstore where on my buy list is ‘The Autobiography of a Goddess’ translated by Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar, Jeet Thayil’s ‘Collected Poems’ and Meena Alexander’s ‘Atmospheric Embroidery’.