BENGALURU: Subhashini Kaligotla, a poet who left her career in engineering to pursue her study into verses and art history, released her first poetry collection ‘Bird of the Indian Subcontinent’ recently. It was awarded the Emerging Poets Prize by city-based The Great Indian Poetry Collective, and one of its advisors Arundathi Subramaniam says of Subhashini’s poetry: “…the poet invokes the age-old theme of desire - its delirium, indignity, desperation and capacity for sudden, unbidden equanimity”. City Express had a chat with this poet and architectural historian, who did her masters in poetry and PhD in art history from Columbia University.
Why poems on desire? What inspired them?
Desire is the engine that drives human existence; the poems themselves are a way to try to make sense of this driving force.
Who is the bird of the Indian subcontinent?
Birds, including the titular bird, are metaphors. They help me say something about the internal landscape of the speaker.
Is your poetry on the slippery nature of desire or an attempt to capture its essence?
It is rather more the former than the latter. I am not sure its essence can be captured.
Does your study into history inform your poetry? If yes, what aspect or period of history has most influenced your work?
I believe my writing is informed by my experience in general, including my study of history. My study of art history has given me a particular attention to form and materiality, which, might come through in the poems.
When did you decide to switch from study of technology to arts? Why?
I made the change over in 2003. I left my job in Silicon Valley to begin an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. The why is a long story, but in short: since we spend so much of our waking hours working, I wanted to be excited by my work. Technology and engineering did not excite me the way poetry and art history do.
What do you think of spoken-word poetry? Do you think all poems were anyway written to be performed or read out?
There is a place for (and value in) all modes of poetic expression including spoken word. I believe poetry says a great deal through sound.
People are rushed for time and losing interest in abstractions. How do you think a poet could draw readers back to this form? Would humour help?
Yes, I think humor definitely helps, and caring about communicating with the audience/readers also helps. And I believe this can be done without compromising one's poetics.
Books/poets you would recommend to a beginner?
That is a tough one. I myself was drawn in by the Japanese haiku poets like Basho, Buson, and Issa. Haiku is able to be small and incredibly capacious at the same time.
Who are the poets who inspire you?
This too is a tough question to answer as the poets I have gone to have changed over the years, depending on where I was in my own practice and on the kinds of writing I was doing. While writing this book, I was reading the Indian bhakti poets and Sanskrit poets like Amaru (in translation) just as much as I was reading American and English poets like Bishop, Gluck, Lowell, Brock-Broido, Graham, Auden, and Larkin (to name just a few).
Which is your favourite poem on desire, written by another poet?
So many have written beautifully on desire. Again, India's bhakti poets were masters of this. But two sources that I drew on were Louise Gluck's work (Meadowlands and Wild Iris, in particular) and also the Amaru Shataka.