The foreword to Witchcraft, my forthcoming book of poems from Bullfighter Books.
BY INDRAN AMIRTHANAYAGAM
“There’s a ghost of/another language/shadow-dancing/under my words,” says Sharanya Manivannan in one of the several powerful poems in Witchcraft. Manivannan dances herself both on stage and throughout these pages. By dancing I refer to all sorts of movement: linguistic, emotional, religious. Manivannan assumes the mantle of Mahadevi Akka or some other devotional poet but her betrothal goes beyond Siva to include the lives and aspirations of her self and fellow mortals.
But this slip-sliding poet, who unravels shawls as she pirouettes in front of us, insists on embracing a reality greater than India. She seizes duende from Lorca and Spain, and shows an ear for Latin migrant and Native American sounds as she constructs imaginative space from iyari or heart-memory, and from the chicano rhythms of Sandra Cisneros, one of her guiding poets. Manivannan is well-read, and in the most surprising places. Eclectic is the right word and confident: the world’s poetry is her main course. Ambitious. She will draw from all the traditions that interest her, to make the Sharanya Manivannan poem.
That poem is bloody, sexy, beguiling as in a dance with veils. “Women with/blood/glistening in the partings/of their hair, they come to me in dreams.” (from Witchery).
Or does the poet’s name matter? Is Manivannan just a vessel, actor, for a drama both female and divine, which she explores in her poems? “Beware the bard in black lace, the naiad with/the nine inch nails.” (from A Horse Named Notoriety)
This is a first book, a glorious, chilling and sensual debut, waking up goose bumps and turning the libido into over drive. I find myself muttering lines over and over again from different poems “dipping ginger biscuits in hot plain tea,” and astonished by the daring of the poet’s youthful fearlessness. In How to Eat A Wolf, the persona of the poem says “I loved my wolf./I held him tethered like/a pussycat.” And later in the poem, “he snaked a tongue so/hungry in its kiss it/turned my body to salt.”
The daring is language. There is something charming and disturbing—and liberating—in reading the various crude and sassy words that grow like hibiscus flowers in these private gardens. The daring is also curiously to be expected, as if inevitable that a young poet must set off firing from the hip and the head. India needs a Ginsberg, female poets a model drawn from Sappho through Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz to Sylvia Plath . Manivannan puts herself right in that family tree. She has the linguistic gifts to keep tilling her gardens wearing black lace and listening to too much jazz at 3 am, and she has begun here a delightful, if risqué, career.