A poem, “Beachwalking“, in Cordite.
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including Drunken Boat, Pratilipi, Dark Sky Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown and Superstition Review, many are yet unpublished — and most have never been shared with an audience.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.
In which I talk (mostly) about my Siamese twins.
Read it here.
The 50 poems since Witchcraft was published two years ago are perfectly halved into two different manuscripts. Which means I am either halfway through or almost finished with them, depending on whether you take the view that it’s 30 poems or 50 that make a volume.
Maybe I could tell you more about them.
The part about this manuscript that is easy to talk about is its mythic element. Set in what is essentially the Jungian forest, the poems deal exclusively with this suffering, an anguish so deep that one can hardly keep from burning down the forest herself. The sufferers here are Sita and Lucifer. Sita spends most of her life in exile, in the wilderness — and at one point she is exiled in paradise, the most beautiful garden on earth. Lucifer, in the Persian myth of his fall from grace, is exiled from paradise for refusing to bow to any other than God. Both suffer because of an impossible devotion to their divine beloveds. Both are demoted divinities – Sita is named in the Rig Veda, which predates the story of Rama, not as the earth’s child but as a goddess of fertility and harvest in her own right, and Lucifer was the most exalted of the angels. Both enter the underworld, walking through fire.
At some point, perhaps when the book has come out, I would like to tell you about the odd cosmic synchronicity (and hilarity, a counterpoint to the cosmic heartbreak at the centre of all this) that helped my research. The Ramayana found me in multiple incarnations, in multiple moments, often in incredible scenarios. The motifs in the Sita poems are (naturally) of the earth, the trees, light and shadow, mirrors, and a mysterious place in the forest where she is loved and left behind. The Lucifer poems have a cosmic angle in the literal sense — Lucifer is the Latin for “lightbearer”, and is associated with Venus, the morning star, the planet of love. Before I began to work with this archetype, I had been pondering the pulsar, the dying star that emits a death song, imprinted in the universe for light years after And so the motifs in these poems are astronomical.
I tell people that Witchcraft is a very depressing book but many have told me they read it to cheer up (and as an aphrodisiac, in which case, happy to help and cheers). I think Bulletproof Offering is a very depressing book that is likely to do neither. But it means so much to me — these archetypes have been necessary for my very survival over the past two years, and I’m so attached I almost don’t want to finish the book and have to let them go.
In the parlour game Exquisite Corpse (I prefer the European name for the working title, because the English one already belongs to a famous journal and many other things), a piece of paper is rotated around a room, and players take turns adding a new image or word to it without having seen the ones that came before. The simplest version might consist of three players, who divide a page into three and each draw a head, a torso and feet. The resulting creature might be grotesque or humourous — a cat’s face, a mermaid’s breasts, a chicken’s claws perhaps.
I’ve been consumed with the notion of dismemberment.
To have one’s feet in one location, one’s heart in another, and one’s ideas in a third is a sort of dismemberment. Having your life torn to pieces is another kind. Both inform this work. If Bulletproof Offering is the mythic, psychospiritual landscape I inhabit, then Cadaver Exquisito is its absolutely literal cousin, a purgatory I could pick out on a map. The soul a glass-stringed kite, tethered in this undergrowth, yearning for release. What you will read here are poems of the city, poems of inertia, poems of desperation and a displacement that cannot be romanticised (though, of course, I try a little).
You may have seen a number of pieces from both books already, though some of what I think are the strongest poems have yet to find individual homes. At this time, neither collection has been committed to a publisher. I have yet to start my search, and I find the idea daunting. One of the only things I know for sure is that this time, I want to work with folks who have their distribution sorted out.
I feel very far removed from Witchcraft, and deeply immersed in these two manuscripts. I was confiding in a friend recently about the disconnect I feel from my readership, my uncertainty about whether my poems really have one, and he suggested that I do more to meet them halfway. So here I am, meeting you halfway, with my two halfway books, hopeful.