There’s a new collection of poetry out, and it’s the first of its kind. Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry has poems by 49 American writers who trace their roots to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In its preface, the editors write that they chose the title–that word you might recall reciting daily as part of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance–”in order to reflect some of the tensions that exist” between unity and pluralism. The anthology’s editors, Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam, also agreed to take a few questions; I’ll post their responses in Part II.
Before attending one of the Indivisible readings in San Francisco, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the annual Artwallah festival is the only venue where I’ve heard readings by desi poets. As it turns out, some of the poets included in the anthology are familiar from that arts festival, from fiction, and past SM posts on poets. The contributors come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds and include award-winning writers with well-established careers in literature or poetry as well as contributors who work in other fields like medicine, education and journalism. I tried to find interesting links for each writer to share below, including personal sites, samples of their poetry, videos of readings, or other general information. The tension between unity and pluralism alluded to with the title may be most obvious in the way Indivisible is arranged. Intentionally avoiding thematic, geographic or chronologic groupings, the editors placed the contributors “back-to-back,” challenging themselves to “find new and surprising connections in their writing.” These are not made explicit, so one of the engaging features of the collection involves pondering those connections as you read poems by poets with different styles, themes and forms of writing. Vikas Menon’s found poem, Urdu Funk: The Gentle Art of Subtitles, for example, offers the style of intense movie dialogue with unexpected humor, while the next selection by Summi Kaipa, from A Personal Cinema, melds her personal recollections and reflections on Zeenat Aman and Firoz Khan in Qurbani.
A brief introduction and a one-sentence personal statement come before each poet’s work. Taken together, these 49 concise statements offer an interesting cross-section of South Asian American identity, ranging from straightforward and simple to whimsical, political and well, probably as many styles as there are writers in this anthology. Here are a few:
“Through ten childhood migrations, it was living and working in a ‘Patel Motel’ that rooted my Desiamericanism.” – Sachin B. Patel
“A South Asian in New York, I am also a sixth-generation Trinidadian, descendant of jahajees; I think of the Caribbean as my blood, India, my inherited bones.” – Sasha Kamini Parmasad
“A Mangalorean Catholic, I pray in Konkani, count in Kannada, swear in Tulu, sing in Hindi, write in English, and dream in American.”- Ralph Nazareth
The videos below include readings from a few of the anthology’s contributors.
Reetika Vazirani | Vandana Khanna | Mohammad Faisal Hadi | Maya Khosla | Tanuja Mehrotra | Vijay Seshadri | Bhanu Kapil | Vikas Menon | Summi Kaipa | Minal Hajratwala | Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Sejal Shah | Neelanjana Banerjee | Amarnath Ravva | Mytili Jagannathan | Srikanth Reddy | Prageeta Sharma | Sasha Kamini Parmasad | Vivek Jain | Ro Gunetilleke | Amitava Kumar | Sachin B. Patel | Bushra Rehman| Shailja Patel | Sudeep Sen | Aimee Nezhukumatathil | Ravi Chandra | Ralph Nazareth | Meena Alexander | Faisal Mohyuddin | Dilruba Ahmed | Pramila Venkateswaran | Bhargavi C. Mandava | Reena Narayan | Homraj Acharya | R. Parthasarathy | Purvi Shah | Kazim Ali | Monica Ferrell | Ravi Shankar | Vinay Dharwadker | Aryanil Mukherjee | Indran Amirthanayagam | Swati Rana | Subhashini Kaligotla | Mona Ali | Agha Shahid Ali | Pireeni Sundaralingam | Jeet Thayil