#DesiBooksDiscourse: Being an Editor and a Poet: The Dichotomy and the Communion

Desi Books Ep 74 w/ Kashiana Singh, Ralph Nazareth, Indran Amirthanayagam Desi Books

(available at Youtube, Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 74 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. Thank you for tuning in.

#DesiBooksDiscourse is available as video on Spotify, Anchor, and Youtube, and as audio on the rest of the platforms. Please see the links above.

In our second #DesiBooksDiscourse episode, we have the poets Kashiana Singh, Ralph Nazareth, and Indran Amirthanayagam discussing what it’s like to be an editor and a poet and the various dichotomies and communions these two roles enable for them as creatives. In particular, they discuss how they bring the concept to life and living in their poetic “work”, editorial “work”, and the dailyness of other aspects of their lives. Their conversation looks at the Poet and the Editor and the relationship between the poem and prayer/worship. Some of the questions they explore are as follows:

Kashiana Singh, Ralph Nazareth, and Indran Amirthanayagam discuss the dichotomies and communion involved in their dual existence as both poets and editors. #DesiBooksDiscourse @DesiBooks


Kashiana Singh calls herself a work practitioner and embodies the essence of her TEDx talk, ‘Work as Worship’, into her everyday. Her chapbook, Crushed Anthills (Yavanika Press, 2020), is a journey that unravels memory through ten cities. She proudly serves as a Managing Editor for Poets Reading the News and her voice be read and heard on various international platforms. Kashiana’s first poetry collection is titled Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words. Her newest full-length collection, Woman by the Door was released in February 2022 by Apprentice House Press. Kashiana lives in North Carolina and carries her various geographical homes within her poetry. Her poems have been published in various venues including Rattle, Poets Reading the News, Visual Verse, Oddball Magazine, Café Dissensus, and others. Besides practicing the art of poetry, her latest corporate assignment of fifteen years was as Vice-President, Health and Benefit Operations with Alight Solutions.

Ralph Nazareth is a poet, teacher, and publisher. Author of four books of poems—Ferrying
(2005); Cristal: Poemas Selectos (2015); Between Us the Long Road (2017); Dropping Death with Duane Esposito (2018). His poetry and prose have appeared in books, magazines, and journals here and abroad, including Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry and Multilingual Anthology: The Americas Poetry Festival of New York 2014. His poetry has been heard and read at venues in El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia, Palestine, India, and other countries. He has taught for over four decades in schools, colleges, universities and maximum security prisons in the U.S. For the last sixteen years, he has led a weekly group of poets at Curley’s Diner in Stamford, CT. The Managing Editor of Yuganta Press, he currently serves as chair of the advisory committee of GraceWorks, Inc., an international nonprofit. He lives in Stamford, CT.

Indran Amirthanayagam writes in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. He has published twenty-one poetry books, including the just released Blue Window ( translated by Jennifer Rathbun; Diálogos Books), Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant (Broadstone Media, 2022), The MigrantStates, Coconuts on Mars, The Elephants of Reckoning (winner 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize), Uncivil War, and The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems. In music, he recorded Rankont Dout. He edits the Beltway Poetry Quarterly, co-directs Poets & Writers Studio International, writes a weekly poem for Haiti en Marche and El Acento; has received fellowships from the Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, The US/Mexico Fund for Culture, the MacDowell Colony. He is a 2021 Emergent Seed grant winner. He hosts The Poetry Channel.


KASHIANA SINGH: But is there a poem, either your own, or a few lines? You almost were going there already, Indran, with, with the ones that have stayed with you, right, as you walk, as you have a shower, as you cook, wherever that may be. But is there a poem that serves as your guiding light, right, or an anchor that you keep coming back to, and it could be your own, or it could be somebody else’s. If you want to read a few lines from that, I think that would be a wonderful way to wrap the discussion.

RALPH NAZARETH: All right. Thank you for that. Thank you for the whole, this podcast, Kashiana. And this opportunity to share with you a few ideas and learn from you. I have a long poem in my first book called ‘The Water Path’. And I’m just going to read to you the last stanza of it. And it is spoken by a woman, an old woman apparently on her deathbed, but she’s full of words, you know, she can’t stop her talk, of course, which is not unusual. She has a lot to see at the last minute. But what eventually happens in the poem is that she invokes an image, which I think is important for me to think about prayer, or this form of attentive attention that I speak about, as being a communal experience. You see, that I stand before the mystery of the universe alone. And that would be, in some ways, lacking grace, it could be a hellish experience. But when I know that I’m standing before this mystery together with people, there is a potential for liberation and possibility for light. Right. So let me just read to you where she ends up. And there is this creeping spinach in Mangalore. We had spinach that was coiled. I don’t know you must have seen it in north India. It is coiled. And the leaves growing out. Okay.

The Water Path (excerpt)
Together we trim the creeping spinach,
string the jasmine, sprinkle it moist,
stir the rice, saying our beads,
standing in line
with those who came before us
and those who will follow,
all devoted to a life of God
waiting, watering the sheep
waiting long after the darkness
has fully fallen.

KASHIANA SINGH: Just beautiful. And a beautiful reading too. Indran, let’s hear it. I’m waiting. Indran reads so well.

INDRAN AMIRTHANAYAGAM: A poem, you know, Kashiana, from the new book, Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant. And it’s, it speaks to some of the themes we’ve been discussing.

Soul Rising
I miss you something fierce;
I have to tell my bones to
stop shaking, to calm
down, that there is something
called work, poetry, cleaning
the room, getting food
together, attending to mother,
reading fine print in polling,
picking up the phone, cold-calling
a Texan in the name of
participatory democracy, the
nation’s and the earth’s soul,
and the Dream, jostling about
in the coffin thinking the time
is now to break down the
wood, pierce the earth, slide
out to walk abroad again
through these United States.

KASHIANA SINGH: So beautiful. I’ve read that multiple times. But it’s always nice to hear it from you, yourself. I’ll read a portion like Ralph. A portion of a poem. It’s from Woman by the Door. And the title of the poem is ‘Parents’ because I think, I believe, parents are the largest or the best form of worship or prayer. And if we can all, if we’re all lucky enough to be able to do that well, that’s as good as meditating in the Himalayas. But anyways, this portion’s from ‘Parents’. I’m going to read the beginning and the end of it to get the essence of what we’re talking about.

Parents (excerpt)
they made me
sinew and flesh
and mind as
well as barriers
they still stay
an incense
as if to
remind me, in
its lifelong scent
that I will make
my children who
they become, and
so, this curse will
never leave me of
being the parent
(and I move to the end)
their presence is persistent,
blisters in my mouth,
a constant twitch.
In honor, I repeat
the rituals of being a
parent. I insist on
doing what they
did for me, I pray.

Kashiana Singh, Ralph Nazareth, and Indran Amirthanayagam discuss the dichotomies and communion involved in their dual existence as both poets and editors. #DesiBooksDiscourse @DesiBooks

You’ve been listening to or watching episode 74 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiBooksDiscourse episode was with Kashiana Singh, Ralph Nazareth, and Indran Amirthanayagam. They were discussing what it’s like to be an editor and a poet and the various dichotomies and communions these two roles enable for them as creatives. Thank you to all of them.

Episode 75 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Sign up for the free, weekly newsletter and you’ll get all the updates you might have missed as well as some new stuff. And please share this via social media to help raise the tide of South Asian literature. Thank you.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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