Leave a comment

Spotlit at last: Asian American writing’s new generation

After years on the peripheries of US fiction and poetry, Asian American authors have stepped into the spotlight during 2017. Books by writers of east and south-east Asian heritage are one of the hottest trends this year. Led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong, it marks the emergence into the centre of the US literary world of a previously marginalised group.

Transcultural writers, born to immigrant parents in the US or immigrants themselves as children, they are channelling their experiences into writing that, with perfect historical timing, challenges readers to resist attacks on immigrants’ rights and to see refugees as individuals with unique stories.

The experiences of displaced people are central to the work of this new generation of Asian Americans, and their books cross genres and forms. Vuong, who recently won the Forward prize for best first collection, arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam in 1990. His poems in Night Sky With Exit Wounds mix migration with myth and eroticism. Early in the collection, the narrator of Telemachus pulls his father from the sea, dragging him “through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail / the waves rush in to erase”. Such images stick in the reader’s mind and, though it is never said explicitly, feel as if they are etched in the memory of the young gay Asian man navigating the 21st-century US in subsequent poems.

Read More

Advertisements


Leave a comment

PEN Myanmar: Pushing free expression reform and revitalizing literature

…….

What is a project that you have been working on in recent months?

PEN Myanmar always strives to find a balance between revitalizing Myanmar literature, and defending and promoting freedom of expression. All of our projects fall into these two categories. In 2016, for example, we released seven statements urging the new government – specifically the News Media Council, the parliaments and the military – to respect the media freedom and to ensure free expression as a fundamental human right. Responding openly to the assassination of U Ko Ni, the senior advisor of NLD, in January of this year was another big call for justice made by PEN Myanmar.

On top of that, we have been working on a media development legal reform to the News Media Law 2014 and sent our comments and recommendation to the Citizen Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee under the Upper House (the House of Nationality). The Committee is reviewing our comments and will pass it to the Bill Committee. PEN Myanmar will be involved throughout the amending process as one of the stakeholder. Also, our Publishers Circle has been working on the repeal of the Printing and Publishing Enterprises Law.

Moreover, PEN Myanmar legal review committee is working on amending country’s other repressive laws and tools that undermine free expression, which includes advocating for the abolishment, editing or amending with public consensus of the following:  the Telecommunications Law, the Electronic Transaction Act, the Privacy Law and encouraging the formation of the Right to Information law.

A free expression environment that fosters informed dialogue, protects open debate, and promotes government transparency and accountability is a crucial foundation for democratic reform. In mid-November 2016, PEN Myanmar got together with experts from partner organizations to reflect on the state of free expression in Myanmar midway through the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s first year. As a result, we produced The Freedom of Expression “scorecard” aimed to assess the progress – or lack thereof – by the new government in the key areas of free speech, media freedom, information access, and freedom of assembly. The scorecard report was released on 3 December at PEN Myanmar Annual General Conference. The one year report will be released in early May, 2017. This will be the yearly activity and PEN Myanmar will extend its networks and invite more media organizations to make the assessment report more inclusive.

Read More


Leave a comment

How do you define ‘Home’?

Our roundtable with authors from “Go Home!,” an Asian diasporic anthology of fiction, essays, and poetry grappling with the true meaning of “home.”

“Is home a real place? Is it a memory?” asks Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, editor of the new anthology “Go Home!” (out from Feminist Press, in collaboration with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop). “Who gets to decide when you’re at home? What does it mean when you lose a home? How do you respond when someone tells you to go home? What if you don’t know where that is?”

In “Go Home!” — a collection that feels particularly timely in the midst of attacks on immigrant families and communities — Asian diasporic writers are both thoughtful and generous in their reflections about who they are, where they have been, and where they belong. Their stories will provide illumination and hope to readers grappling with their own questions about family, identity, and belonging. Shondaland reached out to Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (editor of “Go Home!” and author of the novel “Harmless Like You”), Viet Thanh Nguyen (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer,” who wrote the foreword to “Go Home!”), and contributors Alexander Chee (author of the national bestseller “The Queen of the Night” and “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel”), Karissa Chen (editor-in-chief of Hyphen and author of the chapbook “Of Birds and Lovers”), T Kira Madden (editor-in-chief of No Tokens and author of the forthcoming “Long Live the Tribe of the Fatherless Girls”), and Esmé Weijun Wang (author of “The Border of Paradise” and the forthcoming “The Collected Schizophrenias”) to discuss this powerful and timely new anthology.

Read More


Leave a comment

Book Excerpt: Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual & Erotic Longing

Love and the Turning Seasons

Jayadeva

The twelfth-century Gīta-govinda of Jayadeva has a reputation as the last great poem in the Sanskrit language. It holds two other distinctions. First, it appears to be the first full account in poetry of Radha as Krishna’s favorite among the gopis or cowgirls of Vrindavana. Secondly, it seems to be the first historical instance of poetry written with specified ragas or musical modes assigned to its lyrics. The poem-cycle occurs in twelve cantos with twenty-four songs distributed among them, about 280 stanzas in total. It presents the love affair of Krishna and Radha as an acutely human love affair, from initial “secret desires” and urgent lovemaking to separation — nights of betrayal, mistrust, longing, feverish anguish, strange Imaginings — and finally to a consummation as spiritual as it is carnal. Jayadeva’s birthplace is uncertain — some think Orissa, some Mithila, some Bengal. Accounts make it clear he had carefully trained himself as a poet in the Sanskrit tradition, learnéd and in command of classical metrics, when he took a vow to wander as a homeless mendicant, to sleep no more than one night under any tree. On this endless pilgrimage he passed through the coastal city of Puri in Orissa State, one of India’s cardinal pilgrim destinations and home to the huge Jagannath Temple. There in Puri, the chief priest and administrator of the Jagannath Temple had a vision. In it Krishna told him that Jayadeva should marry his daughter Padmāvatī, a dancer dedicated to the temple, settle down, and compose a devotional poem of unprecedented beauty to Krishna. The result was the Gīta-govinda. At one point while composing his poem, overwhelmed that he had to write words that belonged to Krishna, Jayadeva, unable to continue, put down his stylus and went to the river to bathe. When he returned he asked for his meal. Padmāvatī exclaimed that she had already fed him. Confused, Jayadeva looked at his manuscript; the words he had felt unable to compose sat inked onto the palm-leaf page. Krishna had visited in Jayadeva’s absence and taken a hand in his own poem—then, mischievously disguised as the poet, stayed on to eat Jayadeva’s lunch. Meeting Padmāvatī wakened in Jayadeva the bedrock emotion, the rasa, of love. What had been distant accounts of spiritual grace, a familiar theme for poetry, or even a set of metaphysical abstractions, came alive in his own body: the merging of spiritual and erotic ecstasy. Under Padmāvatī’s hands Jayadeva learnt that the old tales, the yogic teachings, and the cycles of loss and longing were no far-off vision. They are tasted through one’s senses. You could say that all the metaphysics and yoga practices of India—heady, magnificent, intricate, contradictory—return in the end to a single imperative: love. I think it the genius of Radha-Krishna poetry to take the hair-splitting metaphysics of India, lift them from our easily bewildered minds, and relocate them in the glands of the human body. Krishna devotees say that in our current dark era, the Kali Yuga, not everyone can practice meditation; few can wrap their minds around subtle doctrine or follow the eight stages of yoga. Everyone can taste the desolations and ecstasies of love, though; this is where one finds Krishna. Some centuries after Jayadeva’s death, the Jagannatha Temple instituted the Gīta-govinda as its sole liturgy, with Padmāvatī’s dances performed in the sanctuary. All day and into the evening loudspeakers mounted on poles around the temple send the poem in loud song across courtyard and roof top, out to the cashew groves and semi-arid scrublands threaded by jackal and cobras.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Book Review: Hills of Slow Time by Ananya S. Guha

By Namrata Pathak

Hills of Slow Time

 

Title: Hills of Slow Time
Author: Ananya S. Guha
Publisher: Dhauli Books, Bhubaneswar, 2017
ISBN: 9788193546703
Price: ₹ 250

 

“The hills I have known, paraded with / my destiny, the hills that moulded clay into my mythic doll. Yes these were the hills I knew. Molten clay, shrapnel hirsute legs the hills were/ not man made” (“Hills of Slow Time”).

What strikes you first when you take up Ananya S. Guha’s latest collection of poetry is the incongruity of time – time is a snail-paced, animating, pulsating organism that crawls backwards and eats its own trails. As the title tells you, all the poems are steeped in the “hills of eternity”, a place that does not boast of the usual synchronicity of time – it seems the poet has hijacked time and stolen it away. Time is a keep. Here are Guha’s “hills of slow time”, mostly the pine-shrouded, icy, and pinkish Shillong, a city that dances bare foot on the poet’s dreams, lifts his spirits, rigorously kneads his thoughts – a place that is born again and again in Guha’s verse with a new skin, a new throbbing propensity. The poet contends, “There must be a story in these”, but the hills also reflect a grim vehemence, especially at times when they “lie comatose/in disappointment”, in total abandonment. Guha is more than aware of the Janus-faced hills; this is a facet that is dualistic – he has pinned the hills down as both utopic and dystopic; partly the charm of the poet lies there.

There is “a story” in the hills that Guha excavates, digs deep, to unbare for you. Mark that the “bluish strokes of the sun’s haze” matches with the agility of a “quiet bird” plummeting to pluck at “an oceanic vastness” – mind the movements of escalation, the act of zeroing in to the ground, giving in to the gravitational pulls, also defying it, flying high in the sky – mind the game of physics here. As evident in most of Guha’s poems (that are published elsewhere), Shillong, for him, is nostalgia. It is that viscous desire that drips from the pine spikes in wintery nights, those one, two, three droplets of incandescent light. Shillong’s sky is an empty vessel. You fill it up with whatever colour you choose. Sometimes it is leaden; at times it is tangerine; also a dash of florescent green of the hills that it mirrors; and it can also be the colour of the onlooker poet’s eyes – dreamy, probing, and deep. Guha’s representation, the imbrications here, transports us to a realm that is an admixture of contrary traits or opposites – we have the meeting point between the living and the non-living, the biotic and the abiotic, the mass and the matter, the universal and the specific, not to mention the subjective and the objective.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Kaveh Akbar is poetry’s biggest cheerleader

Ever eavesdropped on two poets having a conversation at a coffee shop? Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar has created an online space that lets you do that without leaving your bed.

Akbar runs DiveDapper, which focuses on interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. It’s packed with profiles of writers like Morgan ParkerOcean VuongWendy Xu, and Max Ritvo — to name just a few. Every other Monday, he posts a new interview transcript.

The site grew out of Akbar’s own life in poetry, and his struggles with addiction. “The oldest recognizable poem in my book ranges back to when I got sober,” Akbar says; his debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, came out this past September. “I suddenly had 16 hours a day to fill with something new. My entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience. When that was uplifted, I had to find something else.”

Writing became his path out of that old life. “I was so hungry to be having conversations about the poetry that was exciting me, so starved for that sort of dialogue” as he worked towards an MFA and split 60 hours a week between different jobs all while beginning his recovery. “DiveDapper became a way for me to manufacture those dialogues directly with the sources.”

When Akbar started out, he says, he was worried that if he cold-called someone like the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, she’d be rightfully confused. Now, DiveDapper has become the way Akbar approaches great poets — but what he didn’t expect was that the interviews would turn into real, substantial friendships.

Read More


Leave a comment

Contemporary Nepali literature: Fiction — the short story

Nepali short story has achieved its present state of development in shorter time than other genres. This area of literature has already been enriched by a number of classic world-class short stories. The contribution of the figures such as Guru Prasad Mainali, Pushkar Samser Rana, Posan Pande, Indra Bahadur Rai, Biseswor Prasad Koirala, Bhimnidhi Tiwari, Bhawani Bhikshu, Paarizaat can hardly be exaggerated. The short story writers like Ramesh Bikal, Parashu Pradhan, Sanat Regmi, Dhruba Sapkota, Shailendra Sakar, Nayan Raj Pandey, Benju Sharma, Sita Pandey and their peers are those well esteemed writers who join the past with the present. These writers have written stories of artistic intent with themes related to Nepal and Nepali’s cultural life and have made short stories even popular among Nepali people.

In the ’60s Nepali stories saw a change in their characterization and tone. It was the most influential movement Teshro Aayam (The Third Dimension) that has its impact on short stories too. Indra Bahadur Rai, one of the trios to launch the movement is a very innovative short story writer. Although the Third Dimension triggered an intellectual debate in literary circles and provided a stimulus to Nepali literature, it could not produce a generation to follow it. So its impact gradually wore off. Indra Bahadur Rai has come up with Leela Lekhan (Leela Writing). It’s a literary theory to approach literary works and a philosophy in itself. His Kathputaliko Man (The Heart of a Puppet) is the first collection of short stories based on Leela Lekhan. Some writers are putting it into their works successfully.

Realism has been the sustained base of Nepali short stories from the past to the present. Other trends include progressive ideology, psychological realism and experimentalism. Leela lekhan and other post modernist experiments operative in the latest decade seem to shake realism. Writers are breaking away from the established norms and values and are seeking to explore new heights and new horizons. This group of writers has been providing Nepali readers with thoroughly new texts. Village life, life in Kathmandu and Darjeeling, the lives of women in a male-dominated society, caste, class, and ethnic relations, the Gurkha soldier, poverty, corruption and most recently the impact of technological development on life have been the recurring themes of Nepali short stories.

Read More


Leave a comment

Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage?

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided, the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani.

Read More


Leave a comment

Could Eco-Literature be the Next Major Literary Wave?

Eco-literature includes the whole gamut of literary works, including fiction, poetry and criticism, which lay stress on ecological issues. Cli-fi (climate fiction), which deals with climate change and global warming, is logically a sub-set of eco-literature. Most of the current writing under this genre looks at human activities that have been killing nature slowly.

Cli-fi often ventures into the realms of sci-fi and/or speculative fiction when the narrative gets rooted in future or in an imaginary geographical locale. The litmus test is how far such fiction evokes in the reader a sense of urgency towards an action to save the environment, or, if they are capable of leaving a deep impression to humans conscious of their role in saving the earth.

The crux lies in ensuring that such literary works do not sound like propaganda and should necessarily carry with them deep literary values. Authors need to ensure that they do not artificially structure their plots or introduce characters in their narrative to justify their labelling as eco-literature, which they have largely failed to do. This is why the eco-literature wave did not reach greater heights, though the modern eco-lit wave started in the 1970s. Authors could induce a tendency in the readers’ minds to dismiss them off as a kind of “moral literature” dictating the dos and don’ts towards the environment, albeit in a subtle way through a structured ‘moral’ story.

The genre of cli-fi seems to have given regular novelists just another platform and locale to shift their storytelling from the normal world’s heinous crimes to ecological crimes perpetrated by either villainous individuals or corporations. Such crimes include causing massive glacial ice melting and flooding cities, resulting in huge disasters with heroic characters rising up to the occasion to save humanity. But such plots, more often than not, make uninteresting reading.

The real ecological issues lie elsewhere. There has been a rapid loss of ecological species with the progress of time. Natural habitats keep shrinking due to human activity. Wildlife poaching has resulted in species becoming endangered, pushed to the brink of extinction. Illegal largescale mechanised fishing has resulted in the erosion of ocean biodiversity. Large scale deforestation across the world has led to displacement of tribal populations and consequently, loss of their culture and languages.

Read More


Leave a comment

What we can learn from multiple translations of the same poem

Translating a poem into another language—its content, its form, its tone, its nuance—is, as almost everyone who has done it knows, a difficult business. But it also has enormous rewards: for the translator, for the reader, for poetry itself.

Some years ago, I was asked to teach a workshop about this impossible process. Among other materials, including essays about translation, I gave the participants two side-by-side English translations of a poem by Pablo Neruda, along with the original Spanish. Those translations proved to be the most valuable resource I offered. Seeing what different translators have done with the same poem immediately eliminates easy assumptions that beginning translators often make: that there is a single way, a most correct way, or a best way to translate a poem.

The packet of materials began to grow. Soon I had made several compilations of translations, illustrating different kinds of choices translators invariably make, whether they do so consciously or not. Sometime after that, I began asking the students themselves to compile multiple translations of a single poem for class presentation. Their compilations, added to mine, became our most essential “textbook,” and gave us an excellent basis for asking important questions about literary translation.

We might begin by asking where, on a continuum ranging from the most “literal” to the most “free,” a particular translation lies. Where, on another continuum between most loyal to form and most free of it, does a translation of a formal poem lie? What is gained by attempting to replicate meter and/or rhyme, and what is lost? What about levels of diction? More generally, what is the stylistic “register” of a translation, ranging from formal to colloquial, or is there a mixture of styles? If the latter, does this reflect the original poem, or is it an unfortunate (or deliberate) result of the translation? If the poem isn’t contemporary, what is gained and what is lost by moving the poem toward modern and even contemporary English? Beyond style, does a translation substitute contemporary references for original ones? At what point does a translation become (in a term introduced by John Dryden in the seventeenth century and used by Robert Lowell in the twentieth) an “imitation”—or, beyond even that, a poem in its own right that might make reference to the original by inscribing “after Pablo Neruda” (or whomever) beneath the title?

Read More