May 10, 2010

To Love, To a Justice of the Heart: Ruminations on A Feminist Poetics of My Own | Purvi Shah

Because my words drip with arzoo as much as longing.

Because the ocean is full of tanhayee as much as thirst.

Because the heart’s drum insists on beating, in this language, in that language, in the quiver of wind, in the heat of destination, in the certainty of journey, the uncertainty of migration.

In our circles, love poems have gone out of fashion. Being a feminist has gone out of fashion. Beckoning justice has gone out of fashion. Having faith, believing in something has gone out of fashion.

This world so large, our hands so small. What changes can we mortals make? What yearnings can we transform even to partial satiation? The coal of this earth is yet coal. And yet, somewhere the revolutionary, the housewife, the poet sees carat in coal, sparkle in surrender.

These days it is easy to believe love – especially the writing of love poems – has very little place in our post-modern, post-colonial, post-structural, post-secular, post-financial collapse, post-nation-state, post-cynical, post-poetic world.

We reside in irony. Which is to say, we do not reside at all. We only travel and trade in ambivalences.

Having been one who has journeyed – from India to the U.S.; from the U.S. South to the U.S. Midwest to the U.S. Cosmopolitan Capital – I find my home in poetry that speaks to the troubled questions and injustices of the world through a language which, I hope, evokes beauty, love, consanguinity, and feeling.

I do have poems that speak to domestic violence, female feticide, unbending gender roles, the labor of immigrants, being South Asian in a post-9/11 world, being South Asian in a pre-9/11 world: in sum, a world’s convexed inequities. From what I have witnessed, these poems often leave readers or listeners stunned, immobile, in grief, pensive, outraged.

It is my love poems, though, which I believe often leave my readers and listeners realizing that they have re-discovered a quiet part of themselves, as if they had found a dusty photo album from youth, shook off the present, and surrendered to the urge to dream, the quest to believe, the desire to hold and to be powerful. In short, the longing to love and be loved.

Perhaps it is Bollywood of me, or Dickinsonian of me, or Whitmanian of me, but in this longing, I find joy. I find justice. I find home. And together with my audience, in this longing shared, a conversation, a living with, a keeping company with, a vision

of the world as

we want

it, the world

as we dare

to dream it, a world

as we seek

to live it.


We could listen to the way flowers

open like thunder, the bold unfurling

to begin, the spreading, a drum

scatter, the wet wash.

As much as your hands, thoughts

make me tremble. You banish

the light because you want

me to come to bed. Images

of fields, opening

like an accordion, sweet sonnets

of wheat, I am dreaming, not just

of you or the tight warmth

of your fingers when the hand turns

around body, but also of harvesting, bending

a back to retrieve the tall

fruits of rain and soil. I reach

my favorite spatch

of skin, the nexus

of hip and waist, the curve

an ellipsis, like a song on its way

to higher notes. The window open

and beyond the city grime, the smell

of soil waiting

to be overturned, and seeded,

a body to be explored.

(from Terrain Tracks, New Rivers Press 2006)


Purvi Shah’s debut volume of poetry, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award in 2007. She is preoccupied with the many facets of love, including its temporality and mathematics, concepts she explores in her current poetry project, Love Time(s).

Shah, who holds an MA in American Literature from Rutgers University, is a former poetry editor of the Asian Pacific American Journal and the recipient of a Virginia Voss Poetry Award from the University of Michigan. Born in Ahmedabad, India, Shah lives in New York City, where she recently served for seven and a half years as the executive director at Sakhi for South Asian Women, a community-based anti-domestic violence organization. She is currently consulting on the issue of violence against women and working toward a second collection of poetry.

Shah’s poetic lineage stems from the seeds of inspiration of her family and friends and the world around her. During college, she came to brew poetry through a shared exploration with poets Gabrielle Civil and Julia Cole while taking workshops with Thylias Moss, Marge Piercy, and J. Allyn Rosser. Through the Kundiman poetry retreat, a necessary community bloomed: she interfaced with Marilyn Chin, Sarah Gambito, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and the wide and deep Kundiman community of women poets, sojourners, and truth-seekers.

Photo by Willi Wong.


Unknown said...

Touched me!!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Shivi, for responding! If you want more poetic ruminations, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook. In the meantime, thank you for reading and responding!!

Cynthia Arrieu-King said...

So so beautiful, Purvi!