A few articles about the reading at Spaces last week.
Here’s a very thoughtful one at myLaw.net.
Thank you, everybody, who came or sent good wishes.
Sharanya Manivannan’s first book of poetry, Witchcraft, was released in 2008. It was acclaimed in The Straits Times as “sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife”. Since then, Sharanya has been working on two different manuscripts of poems. Bulletproof Offering, explores the impossible loves of Sita and Lucifer, the earth and the earthbound angel. Cadaver Exquisito takes as its central motifs dismemberment, grief and the sights, smells and scenes of the city of Chennai.
While some of the poems in these manuscripts have found homes in journals including Drunken Boat, Pratilipi, Dark Sky Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown and Superstition Review, many are yet unpublished — and most have never been shared with an audience.
You are warmly invited to an intimate evening of listening to new poems by Sharanya Manivannan.
Because I love you, here is a poem that (though a couple of years old) has never been published. In my voice.
I hope you will like it. It’s called “Holding The Man”, and it was partly inspired by a photograph by Leonard Freed (NSFW).
I’m sorry for this being on such short notice, but I will be reading (possibly with percussion interludes) at Touchwood Studios/Bindaas Cafe, Needarajaprayar Street, Pondicherry, today at 6.30pm.
Here are two videos of me reading my poem “First Language”, which appeared in Witchcraft (and before that in the journals Ego Magazine and Istanbul Literary Review).
At How Pedestrian, a website that brings poetry to random places, a simple single-shot video of me reading the poem while sitting inside a cycle-rickshaw, early one morning in Chintadripet, Chennai.
And here, a longer companion piece of me reading the same poem — this time from within both a cycle-rickshaw and an autorickshaw — which captures more of the sights and sounds of the city, and includes one of my other favourite things to do here: buying flowers from the curbside.
Both videos were directed by R. Rathindran Prasad.
There is only one video of me in the entire universe that I like. It was shot, handheld and without me noticing it, in April 2007 at No Black Tie, Kuala Lumpur. Some people lose count of their lovers — I lose count of the places I’ve read at, but count I did recently, and realised that in the past eight years or so, I have read at an approximate fifty venues. No Black Tie remains the one closest to my heart.
Now, in the years of the drought — I feel like a jaded thing, but once, I read in jazz bars. I could only afford rhinestones, but there were stars in my eyes.
(About the poem – here.)
Jasmine Low, who has run the gig series Doppelganger KL since 2002, asked me recently if I would take part in their Christmas gig on December 13. Of course, there was only one way to do it – and thanks to technology, I did.
So here it is – shot on webcam and gloriously amateurish, but as I am wont to do, I put a big flower on my head to make it all better. :)
Some of you know that I lost my grandmother last October. Fewer of you, I think, know what kind of rocky ride the almost-year since has been. What you’ve probably noticed either way is that I no longer blog unless it’s to archive my journalism work, link to press about me or to poems published, or to publicize my (very few) events. I’m not going to go into my disengagement with the online life any further right now, except to say that today I came across that most rare thing: something that makes me want to blog, that I simply must share.
I’d never heard of Mayda del Valle before, but I won’t forget her name now. Here she is at the White House with a searingly powerful performance of a poem that made me cry both times I watched it, for reasons too private and too sacred to discuss now.
If you’d like to read the poem, it’s here.
At 10pm last night I was beginning to worry about whether or not I would be able to make it to the reading scheduled for this morning. I was feeling unwell, on top of which it looked like there would be only a couple of readers, and with a handful more attending. I opened up a search engine to look for pieces that fit the theme, to be distributed to random members of the audience to read in the event that there wasn’t enough original work. Immediately, I felt frustrated — spoken word organizer? Try schoolteacher. We’ve had a dozen readings so far and if I’m still going to have to beg/bully people into reading, I would rather do it in a workshop setting than at an open mic. I messaged my co-organiser to ask if they could carry on with the reading if I couldn’t make it.
By 2am, I knew for sure I could not make it. When I messaged Chandrachoodan again, he replied that he was still stuck with office work at that time. The reading had to be off.
So we got in touch with people who had rsvp-ed and let them know.
It seems that a few people messaged Chandrachoodan in the morning to ask about the reading, messages he didn’t see till late afternoon.
All this brings up something very important. These are very small events. There is no reader/audience divide because nearly everyone who comes winds up reading. They are not events to go to if one is simply interested in being entertained — we have not come to a large enough rate of attendance for that to happen. These events happen only if there is interest and support in them. Interest and support means a variety of things: it begins with rsvp-ing. This is to let the organisers know that there are sufficient numbers to hold the event. It is also so that in case of cancellation (this is the first time this has happened) or change of plans, there’s a list of people who should be notified.
This is a fledgling scene and it will fail without support. Every open mic is a struggle (at least, for me. You can ask around about the forehead vein I sported all through Madras Week). Yet, they are fun and rewarding — they are worth having.
Let’s say that all the people who wanted to come had rsvped. It would mean there would have been that many people to disappoint. Grief arrests you in moments you don’t expect it to; if I had known so many people cared about the open mic, I would have pulled myself together and not given in to it. But you can’t disappoint people if you aren’t aware that they have expectations.
I apologise for the fact that the reading did not go on as scheduled. I would like to promise that there will be many more. That, however, will depend on you.
When: Sunday December 7th, 8.30am
Where: Meeting point at Mylapore train station.
Who: You and your poems/short prose on the theme below.
What: It’s difficult to organise open mics in a city that doesn’t have venues very kind toward poetry, a point I have beaten to death often in this blog. Which is why we’ve done the outdoors thing most of the time in the past. This is a late announcement, because Chandrachoodan and I were looking at certain other venues, but with the current security issues, those were not viable choices.
You may have heard that the Chennai airport is on high alert, along with Bangalore’s and Delhi’s, for a terrorist attack. We are, of course, deeply concerned about this turn of events. We are not inspired by it, but in solidarity with all efforts taken by individuals, organizations and the government to keep ordinary citizens safe, we think it would be to good to have a reading on the theme of… .Public Transportation. Interpret as you will. :)
Seeing as Chandroo doesn’t have a private jet yet (not that I would want to fly in it anyway) we’ll be open mic-ing on a moving train.
Those who went to the first Photowalk will recall that on Sundays at this time, the train in this part of town is completely deserted. Or at least, very quiet. So don’t be shy.
We’ll meet at the station, start the reading there, and then board. Will it work? Hopefully. Who can make it work? You.
Please RSVP to sharanya dot manivannan at gmail dot com or to chandrachoodan at gmail dot com.
In the late 90’s, the singer Jewel told a reporter that singing in a studio is “like faking an orgasm”. The quote came to mind a couple of months ago during what had been presented to me as a collaborative meeting with a theatre practitioner, who chose to take the opportunity to rip to shreds the work I do as a spoken word artist and organiser.
Let me explain. Spoken word is a performance genre that focuses predominantly but not exclusively on poetry. A related, sometimes interchangeable, term is “live literature”. Performers either read off the page, with a focus on strong vocal delivery, or recite from memory.
Why “spoken word” and not simply “readings”? Because spoken word is a legitimate genre of performance – not everybody is able to read, even their own work, with panache. Those gifted in their delivery, however, are able to have careers with or without the presence of a publishing history. Whereas poetry publishing is a difficult and drawn-out process, performance allows immediate, often intimate, access to an audience. Several professionals I know establish their names through tours, CDs and chapbooks (often self-published). A book, for some, is only icing on the cake.
I knew for a fact that the theatre practitioner I was speaking to had tried to bring poetry to the stage in the past, and planned to in future – only, I couldn’t remember what poetry that had been. I remembered the stage sets, spotlights and the general dramatics of proceedings. But I could not remember a single poem. The poetry itself had been drowned out by the production.
He claimed that his events had crowds of 200, to the dozen average mine have seen in the past six months. Strangely, these crowds seem to have evaporated. Forget my little efforts – where were they during the fortnight-long poetry festival last year that saw attendances of five and six? An audience whose imagination was genuinely captured would continue to be curious and supportive.
Most events I organise follow an open mic format, which allows anybody to read. I like its democratic nature, its value in uncovering hidden talents who may not otherwise have been given the chance to share their writing or their flair for delivery, and its spontaneity. In a city like Chennai, where curiously enough a successful English-centric poetry movement has never taken off, it is also a necessary format: very few people have the confidence or experience to be crowd-drawing professionals.
The bad taste left in my mouth from my exchange with the theatre practitioner was because of his remark that in eschewing rehearsals and encouraging spontaneity, I “disrespect the audience”. His way of doing it would be to select pieces, have selected people rehearse them, and then put on a show.
I’ve been on stage since I was four years old, first as a dancer, then an actor, and finally in the skin I wear the closest: as poet-performer. I’m a professional, just as the theatre practitioner is. Unlike him, however, I am committed to building community. My open mics are intended to seduce potential performers first, and then the audience. I do not believe in the elitism of the stage.
There is one more thing. Remember what Jewel said? I don’t put the Word in the hands and mouths of novices because I don’t see it as sacred. Rather, I do so because I, unequivocally, do. I love to watch it come alive, surprised into bloom, in the unlikeliest people as they tap into that immense power – what in flamenco is known as the duende. And no amount of theory or rehearsal can help you fake that convincingly.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.
P.S. PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING POST ON TEMPORARY COMMENTING SHUTDOWN
I had a lovely Sunday morning. For one thing, I woke up early — I’m a heavy sleeper and am always inordinately proud of myself when I catch the sunrise. Also, it was the last day of Madras Week — phew! And although I was late, I managed to make it to Eric Miller/The World Storytelling Institute’s Living Statues event at 7.30am. Spoken word in the form of soliloquys in persona in front of six statues that punctuate the main road along Marina Beach. And then the beach itself, with two friends, and breakfast at Rathna Cafe in Triplicane… I fucking love Madras, from the bottom of my silly little heart. :)
Eric asked me to read his soliloquy for Auvvaiyar, as well what I had written the night before for Kannagi. Or as Kannagi, rather. I’ll write more about the Living Statues event when I recap Madras Week on the whole.
And how could I forget the lovely little synchronicity that met us as we got into an auto to leave the beach? The driver’s address, painted where Narain’s knees met the back of the driver’s seat, was Nedunchezhiyan Colony.
If you are not familiar with the story of Kannagi and Kovalan, please see this.
The Burning Breast: Kannagi to Kovalan
What is it to me if there are good women
or good men or gods in this city, now
that you are gone.
When you kissed me I remembered
all the lives that poured out of us,
and I remembered how to honour water.
When you kissed me I remembered
what death felt like, and
I remembered how to honour air.
When you kissed me I remembered
the clay of the body, and
I remembered how to honour earth.
When you kissed me I remembered
that my sins would turn to cinders, and
I remembered how to honour fire.
Listen, husband. Only the sky will
take no side. Let them call me
bitch, witch, menace, terrorist.
Let them call me mad, bad, vindictive,
frigid. Let them name me, claim me,
blame me and defame me. Guard their
coast with stone dolls in my likeness.
Beat their women so their bruises
sting and rhyme with my acclaim.
Let them. Let them think they have me tamed.
But with this burning breast, these bloodshot eyes, I raise
my voice, and I say to you now, all I want, all I am is this:
- – -
I had shared this poem with friends as soon as it was written, and I thought it might be good to share this exchange, in case you have the same question in mind:
Q: excellent, but
All I am is this; wife
surely not all, but – I am this; wife
SM: Thanks! I’m curious — are you familiar with the Silapathikaram? In context, the idea of Kannagi as simply human, a woman mad with grief, is something very much overlooked. Here in Tamil Nadu, she has been co-opted into various other roles — worshipped as a goddess, held up as a bastion of conservative chastity, as a bastion of radical feminism, a role model for citizen rights, criticized for weakness, glorified for strength… any number of grand meanings have been read into this character. But the commonplace anguish of a widow, extraordinary as the events told are, is what interested me when I set out to write this.
I’m exhausted — and we have one day left of Madras Week! Expect long recap with pictorial evidence sometime in the coming week, but for now just wanted to announce a spoken word event tomorrow morning IN ADDITION to our final sinful reading (Lust for last, obviously).
As you may know, I love persona poetry, and I love the coast, and I love any morning when I wake up in time to see the sun rise. So am looking forward to this.
Living Statues of Marina Beach walking tour.
Sunday August 24, 7.30am at the Kannagi statue.
Featuring brief performances and talks at the statues of
1) Kannagi, 2) NSC Bose, 3) Thiruvalluvar, 4) GU Pope,
5) Bharathidasan, and 6) Avvaiyar. English and Tamil.
90 mins. Free. Facilitated by the World Storytelling
Institute, 98403 94282.