Category Archives: witchcraft

“Kitschy Cool”, Said TOI

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Versions of this article ran back in March in three of Times of India‘s Chennai supplements. They weren’t available online, and I’m not very good when it comes to collecting or archiving press clippings, but I was given a copy at some point, and I’ve only just managed to scan it up. Here’s the version that ran on the front page of Times of T Nagar. To read, please click to enlarge.

It’s My Party And I’ll Wear Copper Sulphate Blue If I Want To…

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Pictorial evidence, as requested in the last post’s comments:

Chennai, March 13 2009

Chennai, March 13 2009

Pix: Dilip Muralidaran.

Also, I wanted to add that Eric Miller pulled a surprise that ended the event with a twist, (thankfully – in lieu of a q+a session) by reading a poem written during the launch. Here it is, reproduced with permission:

“Poem for Sharanya”

On the occasion of her reading from, and launch of, her collection of poems, Witchcraft, at the Park Hotel, Chennai, 13 March 2009.

Goddess priestess, witch, poet.
What is this public persona you are weaving?
Will you shake the city?
Will you melt it?
All the world disappears
and is reborn
in the words,
sounds,
dreams,
hopes,
daydreams,
fantasies,
meditations,
colors,
shapes,
smells,
the ideas
you inspire.
Yes, bring down the moon,
and let us all discover where to put it.

After The Chennai Launch

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I woke up the morning after the launch with some badass blues. Readings normally leave me feeling exhilarated, but I was so sad that morning that it was over. Good readings are rare in Chennai. Very rare. That I stressed out over it, instead of just savouring it, left me regretful.

That being said, it went well. I think about 50 people came. If I didn’t say hi to a familiar face and give you a hug, I apologise. There were just so many people and so much to do and the press to speak to immediately before and after.

Speaking of press — big thanks to Niladri Bose of Hello FM, who ran a pre-recorded interview with me on his weekend shows. And to Sonali of Chennai FM, who recorded something just before the launch. Also to Ponnu Elizabeth Mathew of The New Indian Express for putting me on the cover of Monday’s Expresso. And to Shonali Muthalaly of The Hindu for this article in Metroplus. As tends to happen in print journalism, there are discrepancies — for instance I have never lived in Canada and do not consider myself a Sri Lankan refugee as to do so is to undermine the plight of people far less privileged than me (I’m assuming these two things were gleaned from an extremely literal reading of a certain poem in my book), and I’d probably said witches were persecuted, not castrated (!). I know that The Times of India ran an interview in three of its neighbourhood supplements but haven’t seen it yet. I’m also interviewed in this month’s Verve magazine, which is on the stands now.

But none of those made me quite as happy as Orange Jammies’ post here.

I’m deeply grateful to Ranvir and Devika of the Prakriti Foundation. I’ve known them for years professionally but only recently have gotten to know them on a more personal level. Both of them are inspirations to me in their own ways.

I’m also especially grateful to Salma, Vivek Narayanan, Tishani Doshi and Rumjhum Biswas, who all came to the launch. The support of other poets is so important.

And if anybody cares what I wore, I wore a ridiculous copper sulphate blue dress. :)

Prakriti Foundation and The Park Present… Witchcraft

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Prakriti Foundation in association with The Park is delighted to invite you

for the launch of Witchcraft, a book of poems by Sharanya Manivannan

on Friday, March 13 2009 at 6 p.m.

Venue: Leather Bar, The Park, Anna Salai, Chennai – 600 006

Dress code: Black

Praise for the book:

“Sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife,” Ng Yi-Sheng, winner of the 2008 Singapore Literature Prize

‘Bloody, sexy, beguiling as in a dance with veils,” from the foreword by Indran Amirthanayagam, winner of the 1994 Paterson Prize and 2006 Juegos Florales

[Update: ABOUT THE DRESS CODE
I’ve been getting enquiries about the dress code. Why have one? Because we’re poking fun at the “Witchcraft” connotations. That’s why Friday the 13th and black outfits. Please remember that it’s *black* and not *black tie*, so wear a tee shirt by all means. It’s fine. :) ]

Witchcraft Is A Pick Of The Year!

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The Straits Times, Singapore, asked several people what their favourite book from 2008 was. Ng Yi-Sheng, whom I hugely admire as a poet and performer, picked Witchcraft. Here’s what he said…

(The italics are mine — that’s a line that will sit under my tongue all day as I savour it slowly, grateful  for once that I had not thought of it myself, for then it could not be said about my book)

Ng Yi-Sheng, 28, writer and winner of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize for his debut poetry collection, Last Boy

“I hardly ever read books as soon as they come out, but my favourite among the few I did read was Sharanya Manivannan’s poetry collection, Witchcraft.
Manivannan is a poet and performer, born and living in India but raised in Malaysia, where she was involved in a lot of activism against the government’s destruction of Hindu temples.
Witchcraft is her first poetry collection. She and I bonded at the last Singapore Writers Festival, so she left me a copy at indie bookstore BooksActually where it’s also currently available ($25 without GST).
The book is sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife. Manivannan manages to be deeply grounded in her Tamil heritage while also subtly digesting global iconography from the Chinese, Balinese and Mexicans.
Her voice sounds modern and ancient at the same time, supremely confident as it speaks of desire, the body and language.”

The Venus Flytrap: Earthbound

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This is how it happens. I’m on transit in Singapore for a day. It’s too early in the morning for the part of Chinatown I’m in, but by luck, Kenny Leck appears just as I arrive at his bookshop, which supports my work. We talk business while the resident kitten pounces on me and gnaws at my handbag, and then I ask Kenny what I can do in the area. I have two hours to spare. That’s when he tells me about the firewalking.

The Ubud Writers’ Festival 2008 is over, and I am returning from a blissful week in Bali. Still, it hadn’t happened yet. I had sat beside a delightful and drunk Vikram Seth at dinner, made friends with the charmingly debonair Alberto Ruy Sánchez (who never failed to greet me with two firm kisses at every opportunity), and traded glamorous gossip with one of Asia’s foremost arts journalists in an airport lounge. I had left my lipstick prints and autographs on dozens of books and brochures, was confronted by the happy emergency of the festival’s bookshop selling out my book even before my first panel appearance, and had a session discussing sexuality in India land me an improbable but sincere invitation to perform at a Tam-brahm wedding. Readings, panels, a shoot for a documentary, a handful of print and radio interviews, and the more fulfilling private conversations with individual fans. All that. But not that.

It just hadn’t happened. I hadn’t been stopped in my tracks by the egomaniacal euphoria that is supposed to overcome an author upon the publication of her first book. My ambivalence was disappointing.

I seek out the temple Kenny has pointed me toward. It’s unabashedly touristy, with a mini-arena set up around the pit and coupons on sale for photographers. I am waved through in spite of my conspicuous DSLR. The actual firewalking has just ended, and a priest turns a hose on full force across the coals, rousing billows of steam.

Sometime during the processions – figures of Draupadi, Arjuna and Aravan’s head among them – it starts to rain, and I discover that I am tearing up. Something I have been holding within me for weeks is coming loose. I’m sure nobody cares – in a corner, four people try to hold down the wild, vibrating body of a woman in possession. There are chants and drumming. What happens in this temple, commercial as it is, is electrifying.

When I have had enough, I will lay my head on the ground outside the pit and weep into the earth. I have spent my week in paradise in muted fear: someone I love is seriously ill. Somewhere in the genes we share are the traditions of firewalking and Draupadi worship, traditions I have never witnessed till now. My book is beside me, and I know now it is mine. This is what I have been waiting for: a moment when there is no disconnect between the life I have known and the one I am consolidating. Affirmation that no matter how far I dare to test the tethers to my roots, all things move in circles.

Accomplishment doesn’t taste like the otherworldly thing I expected. Perhaps the most enduring success is not that which catapults a person into an unfamiliar stratosphere, but one that brings her back to herself, that gathers up all the rudiments of her life and binds them to her like a talisman for the length of the journey that is yet to come. I understand why I cried into the hot ground beside the coal pit: what was meant for me was not elevation, but that which, necessarily, must keep me earthbound.

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.

The Cover of Witchcraft

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If you would like to see the cover of my new book of poems, out next month, please go here. And do consider this a personal invitation to join the group. On that note, please don’t add or message me on Facebook as I prefer to correspond with people I do not know over email.

I am immensely grateful to the photographer, Bradley McNeill.

Online Now: My Reading at One World Cafe

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I’m very happy to share that a specially-commissioned recording of twelve poems from my forthcoming book, Witchcraft, is up at Her Circle‘s One World Cafe Reading Series, as a feature for the month of April. Her Circle is an international website focusing on arts and activism by women. Do check out the whole website and archives — there’s some awesome work there.

I’m absolutely thrilled that it is up, with an introduction by the poet Kimberly L. Becker that’s going to have me smile to myself for the next couple of days. You can take a listen here.

Special thanks to Misty Ericson of Her Circle, and of course, my friend the sound engineer, Anand Krishnamoorthi of Prasad Studios.

Ugo Untoro + How To Eat A Wolf

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I never did blog about the Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale 2007, and neither did I blog about the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2007 — both festivals which invited me and took care of me and fed my stomach, literary appetite and ego very well in all. Blogging about the first was sidetracked by preparing to move back to India, and as for the second, well — if you don’t know what kept me distracted at the same time, leave be! Am just thinking about this now as I’m heading off to Mumbai this week for another major festival, Kitab, for which I have the privilege of doing the first event open to the public this year.

The Biennale, I think, will remain in my memory as a pivotal career and life experience. It was my first real festival, my first taste of the literary high life (as opposed to the boho cult stuff, and utter mediocrity). It brought me closer to three friends, one of whom I in fact feel like I owe a great professional and personal amount to, and made me several more. It was a spiritual, thrilling, insightful ten days. I really must blog about the whole experience.

Reading at Borobudur was one thing, visiting Candi Prambanan was another, but this — this was the moment when I realised that I really and truly was what I always wanted to be. A writer.

Ugo Untoro's painting inspired by my poem

This was a very, very special moment. I am in front of the painting “Selamat Datang” by the Indonesian painter Ugo Untoro, which was inspired by my poem “How To Eat A Wolf”. Selamat Datang means Welcome in Bahasa, and this artwork was at the entrance of the exhibit, which featured various Indonesian artists’ interpretations of the prose and poetry of the writers participating in the Biennale. This was easily one of the proudest moments in my life, and completely unexpected — it had never crossed my mind until then that so large and beautiful a painting by a famous painter could somehow be attached to any poem of mine.

The Foreword

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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.

Indran Amirthanayagam won the Paterson Prize for The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993) and the Juegos Florales in 2006 for the poem Juarez. He is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and a past recipient of an award from the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia. His other books include The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), Ceylon R.I.P. (The International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 2001), El Hombre Que Recoge Nidos (Resistencia/CONARTE, 2005), and El Infierno de los Pajaros (Resistencia, 2001). He is a poet, essayist and translator, and works in English, Spanish and French.