Tag Archives: poetry

Interview with Athena Kashyap

The following is an interview by Thomas Hesketh, Poetry Editor of Forum, with Athena Kashyap.

What’s it like to be named after a goddess?

Well, the thing is it’s not just any goddess, it’s a Greek goddess. A lot of Indians have the names of goddesses. Growing up in India with the name of a Greek goddess is kind of unique, but I think that my mother liked the name and she also liked to do things that stood out. I have a whole essay devoted to what it was like growing up with a Western goddess’s name.

Can you bring us up to date as to what your present situation is?

I grew up in India and I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to study. I lived here for twenty years. My husband and I then relocated back to Bangalore. We’d never lived there as adults. We were there for seven years. We thought it was going to be just a year or two, but it ended up to be seven years. Then we came back two years ago and have been here ever since. We moved back into the same house we lived in before. So, it’s all back to square one.

Do you consider yourself bicultural?

Oh, absolutely! I was in India until I was eighteen. I turned eighteen, and a day or two later I left to continue my education here, and I’ve been in the U.S. most of the time since.

How do you begin your poems?

You know, with poetry, I actually work on a computer, but my advice to young poets would be to just find a poet they really like, and study them, and maybe try and write a couple of poems in their style. That would teach you far more than any other thing, to really get inside the head of one poet. They say that really good poets find one poet that they can learn from, and then are able to do their own thing, to have their own voice. So I think finding that one person is a key point and then learning the craft well enough so that you develop your own voice outside of that.

Do you write for a particular audience?

I would like to that I say that I write for a general audience, but I find that when I went back to review my choice of titles, and what I put underneath those titles, and then definitely in my recent book itself, Sita’s Choice, I had to keep in mind that the audience does not have any background in Indian culture. While writing the poems I didn’t do that, so then I had to add in relevant background information.

The Glossary at the end of Sita’s Choice was very helpful when I was reading the poems. As the title suggests, it is evident the collection revolves around Sita, the Indian goddess, and her story. Is this a prominent theme in your writing in general or just true in this collection?

That’s true just in this new collection. My earlier collection, Crossing Black Water, was about borders, and all kinds of borders, actual physical geographical borders, borders of mountains, rivers, political boundaries, such as Pakistan versus India, and also psychological borders between life and death. So, in both these books, I took on a big idea as a theme and linked poems, which is why each of them has taken me so long to complete.

I notice you used the term “linked poems” in both your last response and in your Introduction to Sita’s Choice. Did you decide on a theme for the book and then write the poems or did you write a collection of poems, and then cull those poems to include ones that matched a theme?

That’s a really good question. I think with Crossing Black Water I had a number of poems already and I saw an underlying theme, and that’s when I pushed that situation a little bit more to complete a book. With Sita’s Choice, I had a couple of poems about women. I had about three of four that I had pulled out from my first book before it was published, because I had this idea I would write a separate book about women. The second book took me a little longer. I’m not sure I would do that again, because these books take so long, because you cannot manufacture poem about something on demand. Some are a little more manufactured or constructed that I would ordinarily have liked!

How do you practice your craft as a poet, and what themes interest you?

Well, for me it’s the idea, I get an idea about something, like in my first book, Crossing Dark Waters, I have this poem about the new wilderness, and this is a poem about how we lost the wild. I always write a lot about nature, but we’ve lost the wild in us. There’s no wilderness anymore; the only wilderness there is, is in our minds. Books have taken the place of woods and trees. I’ve had this notion for a long time, and I didn’t take notes on it. I didn’t take anything. I just had it, you know, permeating in my mind, and then finally one day I wrote it. That’s after I had been thinking about it so much. I think that some of my good poems, without question, some of my better ones have been a result of that process.

Another example is that I have a poem about my father’s death when I was nine years old, but that poem came after so many years of letting the emotions sit, and then I wrote it in one sitting. Some of my better poems happen after an idea or emotion has percolated for a while. I find since I just started writing again, my poems are very different than before, and I’m very excited about them because I’m working more with tone. I feel a lot of my older poems are very serious poems and are not very playful. Now, I’m working more with tone and play, but also issues such as, what does it mean to be an ex-pat in India, and then, vice versa, a Westerner really into yoga. These cultural juxtapositions are really interesting to me now, and I feel that I can really play with them.

To the extent that your poems speak broadly about women’s rights and the women’s situation in India, are your observations meant to be limited to India or do they extend worldwide to the status of women?

I’ve taken the example of India, but I think all women can relate to the feeling, maybe the burden, of taking care of the house and children just on her own. Certain gender roles, and violence against women, are universal, which I tackle, and I also think the village-city dynamic that happens, that is very pervasive in India. You can look at it in a universal light. Farms have been becoming non-existent for a while now in the U.S. I think they have been dying out at the rate of several hundred every day since the fifties. They are still a part of life in India, but they are on the verge of contracting. So, I would like to think that my poems are universal to the condition of women.

Who do you claim as an influence in your poetry, starting you to write?

While when growing up, we went to English inspired schools, British inspired schools, so we had a very heavy Shakespeare curriculum, and a lot of the old classics. I particularly liked Shakespeare’s beat, the iambic pentameter. When I first started writing, I would have that beat in my head, and I really liked the poetry we were reading. When studying in the U.S., I liked Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I liked a number of the American poets as well, such as Sylvia Plath, but now my interests are turning to Indian writers who also write in English, and I’ve found that I’m particularly drawn to the ones who are most solidly bilingual. I’m looking to them more for inspiration.

I really like Arun Kolatkar who spoke only Murathi until he was about 15 or 16 years old, and then picked up English on his own. That’s what I mean when I say bilingual. They have a very Indian kind of world view because they’ve spoken their regional language, and then they’ve embraced English.

Your themes have some political connotations to them, don’t they?

Well, it’s political in the sense that everything has become political when it relates to myth and religion and in India. Myth is still religion, so people had fought and killed over Ram’s birthplace, Ram from the Ramayana. They have been trying to prove that his birthplace is actually Ayodha under a Muslim mosque. It has created a lot of unrest and murders.

The poems that I’ve read in Sita’s Choice include settings that are both rural and urban, and women in both contexts.

My Leela poems. She comes from the village and moves to the city. I was looking at the Leela poems and Leela as a modern day Sita because she has connections with the land and I was thinking that about that connection.

I’m entranced by the adoption of the goddess Sita as a pivotal point or point of departure for your poems and I’m interested in whether you wrote poems about life and about women and then adopted Sita as a common unifier or whether it was the reverse?

I had some ideas and Sita seemed to fit into them. I do feel that the idea of going back to the land, which Sita represents, is a universal kind of movement happening right now. We’ve gotten so distant from the land and our food production. I think this idea in the Bay Area is very big, right now, the whole movement of going back to the land, and even in the Obama White House, everybody having a back garden. Consciousness of getting back to the land and being close to the source of our food, was an idea already here, and Sita happened to be this wonderful person in mythology who pulled it together. She was born of the earth. Her mother is Mother Earth, and she goes back to the land. I kind of saw that as a great rallying cry for not only women, but for people, the human race, to go back more to the land as opposed to getting further and further away, the way we eat being distant from the actual way food is produced, so I’ve always been interested in food and how it is produced. I think that some of those ideas were percolating. When I teach a class here at CCSF, in one of my classes here I focus on food, so I always have that at the back of my mind. Sita has brought it together.

In Sita’s Choice, you’ve divided the collection into several different groupings: “Sita’s Septet,” then there’s “Body,” “Seed,” and “Soil.” I think you’ve just spoken to that, but did you write the poems thinking of those topics, or did that arrangement occur to you after you had reviewed the poems that you had written?

Well, I had number of pregnancy poems and then poems about little children, and one thing Sita is really revered for is her being this amazing mother. A lot of Indian Hindu women really look up to her for being an amazing mother, so I had these children poems, a Seed poem, and then I had poems that were more cultural. Actually, the Theyyams poem was a major part of the Soil section; because it is coming back to tradition, part of Soil means coming back to tradition, some aspect of it. And, then I had Body, like the physical manifestation of sexual harassment. It has to do with the physical differences of body and gender. So, I had these, but coming back to your question of whether what preceded what, I think I had the poems and then I tried to write one poem that spelled it out. It was Body, Seed, and Soil. Might have been too deliberate!

You have graced us with allowing us to publish “Theyyams” and you have said that you had intended to include it in Sita’s Choice and you did not. Is there a particular reason for that?

Well with “Theyyams,” I had labored on it, done a lot of work on it, and I was going to have it with my Soil section in Sita’s Choice because it’s coming back to the land, but it’s a very interesting poem in other ways because you have male actors dressing as females and seen as female goddesses. They’re very empowering female goddesses, so much so that, you know, everybody bows down to these goddesses, and like Markkam, who I write about, she was subject to total sexual harassment. In the myth she was accused falsely of adultery, just like with Sita, and then they murdered her, but she came back as a goddess, so I thought these were wonderful poems that would kind of highlight the themes in Sita’s Choice, but I felt the book was just getting very unwieldy. It’s got a number of poems, of pages already, and I didn’t want “Theyyams” to become too lost in it. If I had to do it again, I would have included it, because, as I said, I had put a lot of work into it.

Is there any practice you would advise students to avoid?

Yes, I would tell them not to write when they are not inspired. I’ve written many a bad poem when I’m not inspired (Laughs).

What are your sources of inspiration outside of poetry?

I love history. I was a history major. I read a lot in terms of magazines, now. I always enjoy reading literature, fiction, so I read a lot. I find I actually start writing more poetry when I just do more general writing. So, I think writing begets writing.

What would you recommend to community college students studying if they had an interest becoming a writer in general, perhaps with an emphasis in poetry?

When I think for a poet, a general round education is a really good one, because poetry deals a lot with ideas, and I think having a background in history, taking a number of courses across disciplines, and then also reading the newspaper, getting up to date with current events, and generally broadening the mind. All of this helps in becoming a poet. Reading about science, anything that matters in our world today.

Poets were the original philosophers. Poets deal with really tough questions, with life and death, with science and matter, so depending on what area you focus on, you can get really deep in that. You can take a lot of sociology and anthropology classes to talk about the culture, the clash of culture, but a poem can do that just as effectively.

How do approach organizing your poems for a small collection?

I would suggest there are two ways of doing it. One is to do it in a highly regulated, organized way, the way I organized Sita’s Choice, with Body, Seed, and Soil. It was very systematic. The other way is completely arbitrary; you simply toss up the poems and let the randomness speak for itself.

I’ve organized thematically. I’ve also used what I would consider the stronger poems initially, followed by the . . . you can look at it as a musical score. You want to entice people, initially with some stronger notes, and then you can vary it; you can sometimes ask yourself am I getting too heavy, so then I would intersperse it with lighter poems.

What draws you to the prose poem?

I just find more intense writing that is not really in a more common poetic form, because it’s not condensed enough, but it’s a little more intense than I find myself writing within my prose writing. So I would consider that in a prose poem every line is weighted, and so it is not condensed enough to be a poem. I think a poem is reductionist, in a way. When that doesn’t happen, but the writing is distilled more intensely than regular prose, that’s what falls into a prose poem.

When you edit and revise your poems, do you work with a group of people that you trust?

I have a poetry group that helps. My husband was a big support because he has a really good knowledge of mythology, so he was able to provide some missing information that I needed. My poetry group has been helpful as a first response and it’s helped me a lot to have someone respond to my work, to see how what’s working and what’s not.

Photo courtesy of Athena Kashyap

Athena Kashyap
Athena Kashyap is the author of Crossing Black Waters (SFA Press, 2012) and Sita’s Choice (SFA Press, 2019), both collections of linked poems exploring borders and women’s issues in India respectively. She was born in India, but currently makes her home in San Francisco, where she teaches English at City College of San Francisco.

Birch – Matt Luedke

The wind is too cold to smell like anything.
All it carries now are secrets.

Not the kind of secrets everyone thinks of first:
Forbidden lovers
Spies with disguised loyalty.

Instead, the secrets of tiny, perpetual revolution:
Skepticism lodging in the slums of the stomach
Unsatisfied yearning driving the eyes
Unfaceable loneliness turning a warm night cold.

The emotions that other emotions hurry to soften.

The trees in the frozen forest
Where you left me
Are masters of these secrets.
The humans are
Wandering servants of them.
Which am I?

When your words seep
Fearfully into the snowy ground
Contaminate the water
Find their way to my roots.
Which parts of me
Bend without breaking?
And which parts
Break without bending?

Matt Luedke
Matt Luedke is pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate at CCSF. You can often find Matt either hiking, heading up a steep hill on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid bike in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.

Prisoned Nature
Theresa Cruz

The Boys I Like – Edisol Wayne Dotson

I like Jewish boys with Jesus tattoos

And the ones who challenge Christian taboos.

I like nasty boys who always smell

And the ones who promise not to tell.

I like pretty boys who cannot dance

And the ones who hurry to take a chance.

I like angry boys who carry guns

And the ones who pray like old, pious nuns.

I like goofy boys with faces big-beaked

And the ones who beg to have their nipples tweaked.

I like lost boys who don’t want to be found

And the ones who leap dreams in a single bound.

I like skater boys who are baggy-jeaned

And the ones who like to get tag teamed.

I like butch boys with their legs in the air

And the ones who pretend not to care.

I like pimply boys with overused brains

And the ones who wear underwear with stains.

I like queenie boys with swishy hips

And the ones who don’t declare their tips.

I like risky boys with jagged scars

And the ones who believe in life on Mars.

I like wasted boys who cannot stand

And the ones who roll over on command.

I like naïve boys who swallow my load

And the ones who get kissed and remain a toad.

I like rejected boys in a lot of pain

And the ones who run naked in the rain.

I like corrupted boys who like roleplay

And the ones who have nothing to say.

I like hungry boys who are skin and bone

And the ones who get drunk on their own.

I like muscle boys with butts well-bubbled

And the ones who remain deeply troubled.

I like funny boys with tear-stained cheeks

And the ones who fall in love with freaks.

I like damaged boys with hearts of stone

And the ones who go to movies alone.

I like nerdy boys who love to read

And the ones who know how to safely bleed.

I like sissy boys who are total tops

And the ones who will question where gender stops.

I like gifted boys with a hairy crack

And the ones who break hearts and never look back.

I like handsome boys with low self-esteem

And the ones who dare to live their dream.

I like blue-collar boys who act like fools

And the ones who live to break the rules.

I like intelligent boys with bald spots

And the ones who remember camps and cots.

I like hopeful boys with open hearts

And the ones who like to smell my farts.

I like crazy boys who are confused

And the ones who laugh at being abused.

I like Buddhist boys with their shaved heads

And the ones with AIDS who refuse their meds.

I like chaste boys who always have boners

And the ones who get off on poems by loners.

I like faithful boys who blow their brothers

And the ones who grow up hating their mothers.

I like lanky boys with size fourteen feet

And the ones who order their Scotch neat.

I like shy boys who cry in the shower

And the ones unimpressed by power.

I like straight boys with a wandering eye

And the ones who let it all out and cry.

I like lonely boys with wise, old souls

And the ones who finger their own holes.

I like Bi boys who have secret friends

And the ones who know when a story ends.

I like honest boys who know what’s right

And the ones who walk away from a fight.

I like wicked boys with devilish grins

And the ones who ask God to forgive their sins.

I like desperate boys who need to steal

And the ones who have layers I need to peel.

I like quirky boys in black knee-high socks

And the ones who think outside the box.

I like addicted boys lost in rehab

And the ones who vomit words that stab.

I like poor boys with no definition

And the ones who love without condition.

I like rent boys who will pay for sex

And the ones who cheat with their wife’s ex.

I like caged boys with mental illness

And the ones who find a needed stillness.

I like strong boys who sometimes cower

And the ones who smell a little sour.

I like surfer boys who are purple bruised

And the ones who have tempers and are short-fused.

I like writer boys who tell a great lie

And the ones who look forward to when they die.

I like dainty boys with jungle red claws

And the ones who sip their drinks through straws.

I like scary boys in camouflage shorts

And the ones who have genital warts.

I like ginger boys with pubes of fire

And the ones who call God a lovely liar.

I like pasty boys with skin so pale

And the ones who rejoice whenever they fail.

I like rich boys with library cards

And the ones who make a living mowing yards.

I like shifty boys who know their bliss

And the ones who have died and I’ll always miss.

I like any boy who thinks like me

And the ones who close their eyes to see.

I like any boy who loves like me

And the ones who make me their fantasy.

Edisol Wayne Dotson
In addition to Forum, Edisol Wayne Dotson’s writing has appeared in Christopher Street and Art & Understanding. He is the author of Behold the Man: The Hype and Selling of Male Beauty in Media and Culture.

LastHour1
Mixed Media Photography and Digital
Jalil Kazerooni

Jalil Kazerooni
Jalil Kazerooni is an Iranian artist. He infuses his art with his passion for archeology and history. He sees his work as a way to reveal stories that lie all around us, hidden in cracks and rust. you can find more of his work at https://www.instagram.com/jalilkazerooni

Fleeting Life – Charlie Amore

It took peeing on a stick
Everyday
For weeks
To confirm your place
Inside of me
But souls have a way
Of rushing through
Blood streams
Of superimposing on cells
Acting as platelets
Healing scars
All that to say
No stick could prove
I had two souls
For a short time only
It was proof for his eyes
As they scanned mine for you
Unable to see
What I already knew
Unable to feel the kind of joy
That comes from two
Worlds colliding
In one shattered home
Not one part of you was for him
And I knew that
As we used his cream
As a necessary ingredient
My body the mixing bowl
The oven and the gloves
My body the teeth that would eat
to continue the cycle of nourishment
it was cloud walking
knowing I was two
instead of the one
the world took me for
knowing I had this window
of time
to walk stronger
stand taller
feel wiser
until at two in the morning
you rushed out of me
as if you were running
from a broken home
and I couldn’t put you back
together
because I hadn’t become acquainted
with your form yet
and anyway,
you were too wet
too slippery to cup and hold
you were soaking in
the fucking bedsheet that
was decades old
and time seemed to
lose its mind
because it couldn’t comprehend
the loss
my love, I thought we had time
I thought I had time.

Charlie Amore
Charlie Amore is a Jamaican British Queer Non-Binary Writer. They were born and raised in South-London and currently live and work in San Francisco. They write about Queerness, Relationships, Trauma and grief – with trickles of humor. Their work is informed by personal experiences as they strongly believe in owning your story. Find them on Instagram: @wordsofcharl

Spring in Japan
Photography
Nadine Peralta

Sonnet 1: Lost – Gary Kwong

When we seek everything that we have lost,
Back traveling to old, but finding new.
Not knowing if those steps were worth the cost,
So slowly did Time shift our precious view.

Thine eyes do fail to see thy fated wrath,
As if the unknown would be obsolete.
The pain of loss brought by the aftermath,
That lovely sight so quickly gone–so sweet.

O Time doth grow, till all we know is true;
What has been lost by you is lost no more.
Till this inconstant stay like changing hue,
When all is done, Time doth ensure…restore.

When all is found, thou shalt hold true indeed,
All is returned: no more the need for greed.

Gary Kwong
Hi, I’m Gary and this is my first full semester at CCSF, and I plan on obtaining a degree related to mathematics. I would like to thank David Hereford who helped edit this, as this was my final project for his high school Shakespeare course.

Doorway
Photography
Matt Luedke

Matt Luedke
Matt Luedke is pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate at CCSF. You can often find Matt either hiking, heading up a steep hill on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid bike in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.

into salt again – Katie Seifert

the love I know has tasted salt-

let it seep into its wounds.

sting until the burn is the same as it’s always been

recognizable, mundane almost.

I fear I will become an immovable pillar of salt among the waves

forget home

cease to hear the drumbeat on the sand

become a woman who no longer needs a name,

just strong footing.

evaporate into the very body that is meant to carry me to comfort

become everywhere and nowhere

like salt amidst the tide

stinging when I mean only to collect myself and shelter another.

left with no one to hold me

with nothing to hold onto

there is no road

only water

everywhere water.

I’ve no proof of life here in the middle of the ocean.

It’s here

among the thieving current that threatens my hold on myself that I must remember

that the women in my family are born of water

dripping in blue and brine.

circling ourselves

rock

salt

pillar

dehydrate. rehydrate. rinse. repeat.

tread.
tread.
tread.

we allow men to claw for us

attempt to grab hold briefly

while we sink into murky waters unmoved.

unafraid

I know have always known,

none of us are never not alone.

but we need to scream into eyes that are not our own

if only to feel heard to feign togetherness for a time

I find myself tossing in blue

always coming back to it

restless on land-

swollen and writhing.

water rising

throat rising

readying the retch.

wretched release of dryness.

expulsion

I am nervous that to expel anything

is to expose everything.

keep my contents within

me all water and secret belly.

breakfast behind my eyes

trying to escape

turning indigo to the attuned watcher

but no one sees no one plays the right tune.

so my hazel changes tone and my voice doesn’t tremble when I lie

I am okay.

just can’t taste anything anymore-

need to add salt

Katie Seifert
Katie Seifert is an Oakland-based writer and artist looking for the truths between the things we say. Her art focuses on the intersection of the beautiful and untamed, with an emphasis on the masks women are forced to wear each day. Her visual work can be seen at https://www.evilkittydesign.com/.

Primrose
Ceramic and Acrylic
Nicole Bosiy

Nicole Bosiy
Nicole is a ceramic enthusiast from San Francisco. Her interest in art began as a child, and she began fully exploring ceramics in high school. Alongside art, she enjoys working with animals, crocheting, and writing.

RIOT – Henri Jacob

We wrote a letter after he died
We made t-shirts as memorial
We began a social media campaign
We asked the murders to take an eye exam
We called our neighbors and formed a cop watch

No one heard us
Our efforts muted

We grew restless
We saw red
We marched
We had a sit-in

Still

Nothing

We unified
We protested
We rioted

They heard us then

We were meet with the same force that took his life

       “We are here to keep the peace”

Is what they said
As they pointed their pieces in our face & yelled

RUN!

Henri Jacob
Henri Jacob is from Placerville, CA. Poetry found him at an early age but his work did not begin to truly flourish until he moved to San Francisco. Most of his poems are written in Alioto Park of the Mission District. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Poesia Libre & Poetic Tremors.

Dr. Joy Degruy
Mixed Media
Chiara Di Martino


Chiara Di Martino
Chiara Di Martino was born on January 17 1987 in Rome, Italy, where she spent also most of her life. Her passions have always been Poetry, Literature, and Art. Growing up, she put her dream to be an artist or writer on hold, choosing instead to become a Psychologist. In 2015, she moved to San Francisco to study English. Along the way, she decided to open herself-up following her old dream, joining City College’s Design Department.

Jane Underwood Poetry Prize

thewritingsalon_logo-2

The Jane Underwood Poetry Prize Open to Submissions!

Currently in its inaugural year, The Jane Underwood Poetry Prize was established to celebrate and memorialize Jane Underwood, both founder and long-time director of The Writing Salon, who passed away in 2016.

Open to all California poets, the prize is awarded for a single poem. For a fee of $15, contestants may submit one entry of up to three poems. The submission deadline is November 1, 2017 and the winner (and finalists) will be announced in January 2018. The prizewinner will receive an award of $250, publication of the winning poem at The Writing Salon’s website, and an invitation to do a featured reading at The Writing Salon in San Francisco. The judges for this year’s contest are Julie Bruck, Alison Luterman, and Kathleen McClung. To submit to the prize and for more information, visit https://www.writingsalons.com/awards-resources/jane-underwood-poetry-prize/.

The Writing Salon, founded by Jane Underwood in 1999, is a creative writing school for adults. We run creative writing courses from two locations, one in San Francisco and one in Berkeley, in addition to online classes.  With our faculty of highly skilled and knowledgeable writers, The Writing Salon offers classes across a wide range of subjects, genres, and experience levels. (The Writing Salon)