The Shore Interview #3: Sneha Subramanian Kanta
Questions by Ellery Beck, Interview Editor
EB In this issue of The Shore, your poems “Syntaxes of Conversion” and “Displaced” use stunning diction and imagery, both of which are rooted heavily in location. How do you use place and historical elements in pieces such as these, and what advice do you have to other writers aspiring to use their poetry to tell similar stories?
SSK Thank you for your generosity. It is a gift to witness one’s work being read closely, and so well.
I have been gravitating towards ideas that extend scope to embody a multiplicity of factors, as they grow in their infinities. My latest manuscript concentrates around the epistemology of “ghosts,” and the plurality of meanings in which the word can be put into context when used. This bears a correlation to what we internalize about place: violence, agency, ecosystems, and so forth. The way I view “place” is as several doors opening into each other, into more doors, into more topography. Cognitive biology taught in school often disregards the fact that “human beings” belong to the Kingdom of Animalia. Place transcends to incorporate larger ecosystems that strive to be all encompassing, a conjoined miracle. I adore John O’Donohue, and I carry these words from his podcast interview: “the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” I often seek to re-examine mortality and our bodies in this regard.
I perceive landscapes and bodies as having the same subatomic particles within their diverse atoms. We carry these elements within ourselves. To writers interested to utilize place and historical elements in their writings, I’d say: Allow yourself to feel/see/hear/witness without synthetic insulations— this allows for a certain tenderness and surrender. Look at place as a gift: a rapture of wilderness growing through each patch, and what that may tell you, or what you may take of it in inference. Place is not reaching from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B,’ finish tasks on hand, and move on, but, to borrow from Emily Dickinson, “The soul should always stand ajar.” The questions I often process in the interiority of my spirit are: What does a changing landscape mean? What does it mean when a tree is cut down, or the mouth of a river closed with concrete and construction projects? What may that embody for a place? How does my body react, as being a part of this landscape? How do the bodies in the village/town/city react with these changes? What may I subconsciously internalize? Am I aware of any privilege(s) that these responses elicit? Ask yourselves questions, and be prepared to be amazed at the answers, even your own silences.
I have grown in stronger multitudes in engaging with place being resident in The University of Stirling, Scotland, as the current Charles Wallace Fellow. I have the rhythms of birdsong, snow, and rain in memory as I wake from slumber. I recently trekked the Ochil Hills, and returned with a sense of bewilderment, and two Scottish pine cones as gifts from the earth.
EB How has working as the founding editor of Parentheses Journal and as a reader for both Palette Poetry and Tinderbox Poetry Journal influenced your own personal writing and submission process?
SSK The work for Parentheses Journal began in December 2016, alongside discussions with Harshal, the wonderfully talented force behind our fantastic issue covers, fiction, art and photography selections, and website layout designs. I admire his work, and refer to his offerings as a transcendental, multi-genre artist interested in design and sci-fi. We are a PoC led journal and welcome a range of works from across the globe. I work closely with the process of publication for each issue, and regard each submission to our small press a gift.
I’m the poetry reader for Palette Poetry and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and the process is intriguingly diverse with each publication. These experiences have definitely contributed to engaging with close-readings of works. I’m especially thankful to two most wonderful editors, Joshua Roark of Palette Poetry, and Levi Todd of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and admire the work put out in the world by all these publications. There is a lovely sense of community, and solidarity in working together with a magnificent team. I’m thankful to be among such gifted and generous editors.
EB How do you believe poets can use their writing and platform to help with pressing sociopolitical matters, such as the conflict you discuss in your poem “Displaced”?
SSK “Displaced” is dedicated to my nani, my maternal grandmother. She once told me that the galaa, from Hindi, meaning the throat is a powerful place to form understandings. I’m going to translate the sentence from Hindi as “Exile begins in the throat.” I reckon a powerful paradigm shift takes place when our families share the stories of their histories, even ones they infer as most mundane. It is often within the folds, silences, absences, and gaps that remnants of a lot of matter remain. Nani was an incredible woman, quite unconventional. I must trace to this particular part of an interview of Ocean Vuong— “I think of Yoko Ono, a straight woman in sexuality, but to me, she is one of the queerest embodiments of art-making because she was always rejecting (and therefore always a threat to) the patriarchal standard placed upon her. Here is an Asian woman who was “supposed” to be obedient and subservient to her rock-star husband, John Lennon, and when that image was shattered, the white establishment portrayed her as the malignant Eastern succubus or witch that destroyed a global treasure called The Beatles.” My question is, how many times has a woman been the counterpoint of surveyance and censure because people interpret that she defies their ideas? I know I have been, several times in the past, and will continue to be, until someone realizes why this must not be the case, probably one person at a time. Prejudices from entitled people have caused me severe strain, but I disallow these experiences to be sole governing factors of how the world is, or must be. I seek, in widening scopes, silences and the aspects of holy, within, and in landscapes around me.
My grandmother was a refugee during the Partition, and traveled from Karachi, Pakistan, to erstwhile Bombay, India, in a huge ship. The ocean here is not a mere symbol of momentum, but shifts to being a route of passage. The natural world around us is an inextricable part of ourselves, and I sometimes read parts of texts at random, and those that resonate with my spirit, I write down in various places: mobile phone, diary, notebook, laptop, sticky notes, and so forth. The Upanishads disseminate a similar outlook: “He who sees all beings in his Self and his Self in all beings, he never suffers; because when he sees all creatures within his true Self, then jealousy, grief and hatred vanish.” This reminds me of “Gnothi Seauton” from the Greek, meaning “Know Thyself.” These intersections lead toward work in one’s inner-landscape, a sense of self-awareness, which, is the culmination point of a lot of ideas. These contribute to my evolving paradigm of looking at the world, as a part of it, as perhaps being different, but not disconnectedly disparate.
I reckon what I’m trying to say here is, everything leads to an understanding of oneself and our surroundings. The sociopolitical aspect is inextricably linked to our everyday. The personal is political. Recently, while kneading dough, I was simultaneously speaking to someone about a political theory, which I realize, now, in hindsight, may be perceived as a political act. As poets, we have the idea that our present will be a future, and it is important to be intensely aware. I’ll say that it would be imperative to listen, process, and allow yourself the silence. Your poems are, and will be forces of wakefulness, when you choose to share them with the world.
EB Are there any magazines or journals you’re currently enjoying?
SSK Several— and I know I’m not going to be able to enlist them all here, but a few names that come to mind, in no particular order, are: Quiddity, The Normal School, Waxwing Magazine, Foundry Journal, Puerto Del Sol, Flypaper Magazine, DIAGRAM, About Place Journal, The Puritan Magazine, Stonecoast Review, The Stillwater Review, Hypertrophic Literary, Up The Staircase Quarterly, BARNHOUSE Journal, Indianapolis Review, Jaggery, Lucent Dreaming, Quarterly West, Arkana, OCCULUM, The Rising Phoenix Review, Dying Dahlia Review, DATABLEED, and prior archives of FLAPPERHOUSE Journal, & & &—
EB Please speak to how two poems in The Shore (not including your own) are in conversation with each other in meaningful ways.
I’m particularly drawn towards how “An Outpatient’s Night at the Psyche Ward” by JK Anowe, and “Granddaughter Left” by Melinda Ruth navigate paths in which the narratives of these poems intersect and form discourse.
I am struck by the first line of the poem “An Outpatient’s Night at the Psyche Ward” by JK Anowe: “First, a man burns faster than his country…” Both the poems incorporate a sublimity with juxtapositions of the body and the rising action. The idea of death transcends the conventional portrayals of dying, and force us to look at life against the grain, without pre-embedded notions. I have engaged with both these poems at multiple times in the day, and they read as responses to one another about what the body, loss, and death may conjure as synchronicity. Consider the lines: “Body, you’re so thin I think you’re fleeing / yourself” in “An Outpatient’s Night at the Psyche Ward”, and “Silence / falls before dying. We are told / silence is pale blue…” in “Granddaughter Left.” There is a lingering sense of in-betweenness within the encompasses of these lines, as last lines before a gloom of taciturn. The lineation in both these poems also portray the diverse responses to melancholy and mourning. The poet JK Anowe incorporates a tightly structured stanza with shorter and longer lines akin to the lines in an electrocardiogram monitor. The poet Melinda Ruth, on the other hand, incorporates the use of a two-line stanza of short and lengthy lines that are similar of an intensifying crescendo.
Also, consider the titles: “An Outpatient’s Night at the Psyche Ward,” and the usage of the word “Outpatient,” a person who is perhaps unfamiliar with the space they are in, while they probably need a more holistic space. It may be synonymous in the wrenching line “I’m here because I want to die & have no better way / to mean it.” The title “Granddaughter Left” may have several underpinnings, and the first thought that inscribes my mind is a mourning ritual for the one left behind, and the one that “left.” These lines: “…forgive me, / I lied. Silence spills / from summit down. The space left unoccupied / by what once was.” There are ideas of the body being a finite thing, an entity that occupies space. These two wonderful poems are elegiac in their glowing silences, like the first ray of sunbeams on a pile of snow shards.
Sneha Subramanian Kanta is a recipient of The Charles Wallace Fellowship at the University of Stirling (2019). A GREAT scholarship awardee, she has earned her second postgraduate degree in literature from England. She is the founding editor of Parentheses Journal and reader for Palette Poetry and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She is the author of Land: Body / Ocean: Muscle (forthcoming with dancing girl press).