As you already know if you are my Facebook friend, I recently found out that I won the 2011 Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize (and I know that means nothing to you if you aren't a literature geek in India, but trust me, it means a lot. To me anyway). I've been away from the computer for a while after a couple of eye surgeries and lots of related madness, and away from the blog for longer, but today I found some conversation on another blog about whether I had indeed won the prize for the year since there is no mention of it on my blog. So, first off, just need to come here and shout out "yes! it's me! yay!" ;) (If you don't want to take my word for it, you can check here or here)
Ok, now that we have that out of the way, gosh, where do I begin? The announcement came as such a wonderful surprise smack in the middle of a bunch of eye surgeries that had made writing impossible for a while, which in turn had made me not really feel like a writer at all. In general, the last few months have been overwhelming at so many levels, and I haven't succeeded in putting pen to paper, or keyboard to screen, very much (and when I have, I haven't liked much of what I've ended up writing). This award came as a wonderful, much needed reminder that I am a poet. That I write poems. And it inspires me to pick up the pen again, little at a time as it may be.
It also brings up another question that has been on my mind for a while now. Everyone wants to know whether I've published poetry. It isn't just with the prize; even when I go to teach workshops or tell someone as random as my doctor that I have an MFA in poetry, the first question is always: "So, have you published?"
Just for the record: Nope. Not poetry anyway; prose, yes, here and there, but not poetry. Also for the record: I have never sent out a poem for publication (well, not in the last 5 years anyway; if you find that I did publish some poem before that, remind me, but don't let that make me a liar here!)
Now, the harder question: Why?
I could give you fancy answers; I've had to concoct them for interviews. One is true: While pursuing my MFA, I got a little scared by how easy it is for writers to mould their writing to what the world of publishing wants; similarly, in the Spoken Word scene, I became wary of how easily poets seemed to bend their work according to the audience (even more so in Slam, for obvious reasons). I didn't feel sure enough in what I was saying to be able to resist that pressure to say what people wanted to hear, and I definitely didn't just want to say what people wanted to hear. So I told myself I'd hold back until I was surer, and I feel surer only in the last 6 months or so, which have been too crazy for me to think about publication.
So that answer, like I said, is true, It definitely isn't the whole story. it's just that the whole story, the main story, sounds lame: I've just never made the time to look up journals and magazines and make packets of work to send to them... I'm lazy. Ok, so I know I'm not lazy in general; when I care enough about something, I am one of the hardest workers I know. I guess that's the thing, though: for some reason, I've simply never cared enough about publication.
I do enjoy sharing my work, especially since I most often write poems to a specific person or group of people; they may never know who they are, but i find I write more honestly to a specific rather than a general audience (which coincidentally is what my MBTI inventory also says about me as a writer — never mind, Pravah inside joke ;) ). I often give them copies of those poems. I also like to periodically make little hand-bound chapbooks and give them out to people. I've also gradually become more comfortable performing at Open Mics and the like. And I love when my words reach someone, come back to me via someone else; nothing beats that thrill.
But I haven't published. I haven't even tried. I guess it's a sort of perverse, unconscious rebellion against a world that determines too much about the worth of writers by asking who has published them. Then, why enter a contest, right? isn't that even more judgmental than publishing? I guess it is in some ways, but to me it feels less so... unlike in a poetry journal, where you research the kind of work they publish and send in work accordingly, the contest felt like more of a "here, this is my work, se if you like it!" (an anonymous jury helps tremendously with that sense — no way of knowing beforehand what they like). I don't know. I can't really explain that. I think my biggest reason for entering two contests this year was that i wanted to see if my poetry could still speak to people here in India, where I have returned after all that travel and all those Spanish words and Latin America references. In an odd way, it was a sort of testing the waters for my identity as an Indian poet, even though I think in some ways I will always be a global poet (whatever that means). And I am so, so honored that the answer seems to be that yes, it can, I can.
But there is something perhaps more powerful that has come out of this process for me. When I post a poem online, and a random stranger googles something that leads them to a page that leads them to a page of my poetry... and that that poem can speak to this random stranger... means everything. I've had this experience before to some degree, when a friend of a friend writes to me after reading something on my blog, and that is wonderful, but it seems to get more wonderful the further that person is removed from my life. How can one not be moved by the fact that words I wrote to a very specific someone, after losing another very specific someone, at a little desk in the middle of the night last year, can mean something to another specific someone with his own life story and a path that has never crossed mine except for the fact that he is reading my words? There's something in that relationship that says so much about who we are as human beings... and it says that powerfully enough to make me want to broaden my audience.
i.e. to publish.
Especially because, as I write this post, I realize how mad I would be at my favorite poets if they hadn't published the poems that came to me in little books and hugged me and befriended me and angered me and tickled me and were there for me when no one else could be. I owe it to them to send my own words out into the world, in the hope that mine can do for someone a little of what those others did for me.
So, will you be reading my work somewhere other than this blog soon?
Will I try to make that happen?
Once I can get myself to research literary magazines in India and get my act together enough to start submitting! Until then, thanks for stopping by and reading this long ramble, especially if I don't know you! And big big thank you again to everyone at the Rayaprol Trust for your confidence, and to everyone who comes to this blog regularly anyway for your love.