I have finally finished responding to all the poetry submissions from the October submission period of Uncanny. It took longer than I’d imagined. Since this was my first round as poetry editor, I had intended to read every submission myself (I did), but I hadn’t imagined just how many submissions a magazine like Uncanny receives in each submission period (400+, as it turned out), or how long it takes to read all of them.
Both ends of a set of submissions can be time-consuming for different reasons. On one hand, there are submissions that are so odd that you can’t merely hit the reject button — you stare and marvel at the henceforth unacquainted dimensions of the human mind. On the other, by the time you have narrowed down to a second tier of submissions, nearly every poem is strong, vibrant, important, deserving of publication space. I had spent many years of my early youth trying to learn to critique poetry, then shelved away that training in an unused section of my brain, since I moved on to editing and writing fiction. Never before has that training been so strongly called into application. It was exhilarating.
I have been trying to return to writing poetry myself, but moving back into that home is a slower process. Going back home is never the same as never leaving, anyway.
I have not gone back to my physical home in a long time. It occurs to me that 2017 is the first year I will have spent entirely away from home. It’s a year of no passport stamps. A first, ever since I acquired the passport.
I am waiting for many things, but solstice, and longer days, will be the easiest achieved and welcome. For the new year, I wish for more quietude of the heart, music, stories, writing, hope.
Many good things have been happening, but my Internet connection hasn’t been strong enough to keep up with them. Firstly… well, I’m not yet allowed to talk about the ‘firstly’. (I’ll post about it and put a link here as soon as I am.)
So, secondly. PodCastle put up my story on the third day of February, narrated by Elizabeth Green Musselman, who was excellent with this multilingual universe I loved the way the story sounded. (All those horrors abated.) And everyone at PodCastle – and especially editor Dave Thompson, who bought the story in January – was very nice and very positive about the story. And now I’m diligently following the story’s discussion thread on the Escape Artists forum, where other people are saying other (largely) nice and accurate things about it.
I have been building and obsessing about the Johuree universe for so long (I started writing the first story in 2009 back in UG3; never finished it) that I keep needing to remind myself that this is the first Johuree story that has actually seen the light of day. If anyone wonders what the inside of my head looks like (though I cannot imagine why anyone would), do go and listen to the story!
There was another publication, equally happy-making. On the second day of February Kindle published its latest poetry edition, and my very old poem ‘Hip-Bone Butterfly‘ finally came out in it. The poem is from 2011, but it is one of the last poems I’ve written (I hardly write poems any more), and it had won the first prize at the Poetry with Prakriti festival the winter when I was interning with Blaft in Chennai. I had this blog even then but I hadn’t mentioned it on the blog – although it was the first time I received a reasonably important prize for my writing, and I was super kicked – because back in college I was too cool for all that.
And now I’m too old to be cool, but I cannot for my life imagine that to be a bad thing. :)
A poem I wrote in 2011 was recently published, in an online magazine called The Missing Slate. Here is a link. And here‘s a link to the original, which is one (punch)line longer than the version that was published. It is ever interesting to discover how people read your writing. I’d have thought that last line essential, but the editors of the magazine found it redundant to the poem.
Sometimes, these are lessons.
Of course, I no longer feel the bruise under which that poem was written. (Other scars have covered it.) Distancing is so often a blessing.
The other, the story, is one I originally called ‘Interview with a Bollywood Screen Goddess’, which was published in the November 2014 issue of eFiction India. I have not seen this one yet, since the magazine can be purchased either as a digital or a print edition, and I am waiting for my print copy to arrive.
‘Interview’ (which the magazine no longer calls ‘Interview’) was a great story to write; it cheered me up during a period of otherwise intense depression. The story starts out as a magazine interview with a famous Bollywood actress, which is something I always find fun to fictionalize. I think anyone who’s ever been an entertainment journalist has had that thought running through their head – what if you could make up all of this, rather than, let’s say, about 60% of it? What if the person you’re interviewing literally represented those adjectives like enchanting, mesmerising, unearthly… and then, in ‘Interview’, it turns out that they do! A very generic, easygoing fantasy story, set in Delhi (the Other City of this blog, whose habits and memories are still fresh in my mind) that made me very happy.
There is something to be said for this sudden surge of publications. It is that I have finally (I think) overcome my reluctance to publish. Of course, the transformation is less sudden than it seems. I had started writing ‘Death of a Widower’ in 2011, abandoned it, picked it up again in the summer of 2013, finished and send it in to Rupa, and An Atlas of Love was published in early 2014. That’s not quite sudden. I write maybe a poem or two a year. It’s hardly enough for a sustained publishing record, and as for fiction, for most of my life I have not been able to think in short stories. Any idea I had was always the length of a novel, and I’d start writing it, and of course, I am yet to complete a novel. I wish I was prolific, but I’m not. And while I never retouch my poems after I’ve written them, I find myself rewriting my stories most of the time, hopefully making them stronger and better with each version. It is a craft I am still learning. I hope one day I will be good.
This blog is not as frequently updated as it should be. However here is a set of five limericks I wrote for the Global Day of Rage (which was last Sunday, 15 December 2013) against the recriminalisation of homosexuality by the Supreme Court of India. The limericks are not entirely about the law (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), but then a law is not entirely about the words in a law book but about people and discrimination and prejudice, and the lives lived in their shadow. I hope they are a little about the lives lived in their shadow.
There was a young lady called Son
Whose parents had but only one
Offspring – not male;
They thought she was lesser to none.
There was a young lady called Dude
Whom boys at the school found so lewd
They ripped up her skirt,
Smashed her face in the dirt
And advised her not to be rude.
There was a young lady called Mister
Who might have been somebody’s sister,
Girlfriend or wife,
But she chose her own life,
So all of the people dismissed her.
“There was a young lady called Sir.
We heard from her angry neighbour
That she had been cravin’
Some three seventy-seven.
We closed in before she could stir…”
There is a young lady called Man
Who’ll hold out longer than your ban.
She has stared at the face
Of your curse and your grace –
You have done to her all that you can.
The limericks were picked off my Facebook note and put on their website by Hollaback Mumbaihere, though please do not ask me why they think they are a ‘prose piece’. Apart from that it is a fine thing to happen, of course.
So there’s this book that’s going to happen. It’s not a big-publisher book, but it’s one of those ideas that are just too fantastic to not be published, and this one’s making me extra-cheerful because such ideas are precisely the ones that usually end up not (getting published, that is). So this book – which was created through an online project – contains 33 poems, each by a different writer, illustrated by 33 artists, one poem to one artist. One of the poems is mine, which means I make up only 1/66th of the book’s authorship, hardly enough excuse for my family to send me over to Bombay for the book launch at Wilson College next Saturday.
The book is not going to be available at regular bookstores (only at certain online stores, as far as I understand) but somehow I find myself less perturbed by this than I imagined I would; having observed that the last anthology I was part of – despite being brought out by a more conventional (but small, nevertheless) publishing house – has never particularly been available anywhere except the publisher’s own bookstore. There may not even have been more than one print run. I’ve a feeling that all poetry publication these days is a kind of vanity publication, if not directly the author’s, then the editor’s or the publishing house’s: considering that the books never seem very profitable, and I am yet to come across even a semblance of a standard (but some fanaticism, yes; mostly faulty as all fanaticisms are) that distinguishes good poetry from bad. At times when I’ve had to select poetry myself I have always fallen back on my gut instincts, my personal do-I-like-this rather than any other guideline, and I’ve a feeling that this is what most other poetry editors end up doing. (Which is not to say one person’s gut instincts are as good – or as in-tune with an individual reader’s – as the other’s, of course. Or that being better- or more widely read doesn’t leave its impression on the gut instinct.)
Anyway, not to turn this post into a long ramble on intellectual credibility (yes, to particularly not do that), this is a book that makes me happy and excited. The art for my poem, done by this very talented gentleman, makes me happy and excited and nearly dying to see what it looks like on the book! And it’s being launched next Saturday. =D