Published: Verve Magazine, Nerve, March 2009
Performer, poet, writer and columnist, Sharanya Manivannan has published a book of poems and is working on a novel. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh gets the writer, who has written a poem exclusively for Verve, to delve into the space and quirkiness of her works
She is small, petite and extremely self-assured. Barely into her 20s, she started writing when she was seven, got involved with ‘readings’ at 15 (while living in Kuala Lumpur) and is now in Chennai – working as a copywriter with an ad agency and writing a column called ‘The Venus Flytrap’ for a local weekly newspaper. Witchcraft, Manivannan’s debut book of poems is an effort at mysticism, picking up themes of betrayal along with “love, loss and longing”. The “spontaneous and organic” writer was awarded a fellowship to work on her second book, a novel, for three weeks in Pondicherry last December. The novel picks up on the threads of love, loss and longing from Witchcraft, and is about a young photographer in her 20s who becomes obsessed with the preservation of transitory moments because her own personal history is in shadow. As she says, “Roots, exile and dislocation are things that affect me deeply both as a human being and a writer.”
Excerpts from a chat with Manivannan:
Relevance of a spoken word artist
Why ‘spoken word’ and not simply ‘readings’? Because spoken word is a legitimate genre of performance – not everybody is able to read, even their own work, with panache. Whereas, poetry publishing is a difficult and drawn-out process, performance allows immediate, often intimate, access to an audience. ?To me, to be a spoken word artist is to channel through the voice the spirit that some call duende. As with all performance, hearing the word aloud can be a transformational experience for both performer and observer.
Quirky and unusual writing
I personally don’t think that my writing is quirky or unusual. But there are two things I hear frequently about my work: that it is ‘brutal’, and that I say things which others chastise themselves for thinking. I’m willing to excavate deeply. And in doing so, I go to places in the mind and the memory that can be painful, dark, unsettling or revealing.
Space for women poets in India
In the English-writing world, the space is not any different from the space for men. I’ve not encountered any setbacks in this regard because of my gender but I have because of my age. However, the vernacular languages are a whole different ball game. For instance, I know that some Tamil poets like Salma and Kuttirevathi have had a tremendous backlash against their work because they approach the subject of the body.
Poetry as a serious genre
There are so many poets in India today – just look at Jeet Thayil’s anthologies, or the Poetry With Prakriti Festival in Chennai. That there aren’t many, is a misconception that could arise from the fact that no matter how seriously we take ourselves, the genre itself is not taken as seriously by the public and by publishers. I also don’t think there is any real gender disparity in terms of numbers, but issues like the ostracising of female poets who write about their bodies in the vernacular certainly exist.
Life and writing
I make sense of my life through my writing. I distill my experiences. Sometimes, being able to have a poem about a situation makes me feel so much better about having been in that situation at all. That’s as simple as it gets. Things like structure and narrative are layers that come later.
Being a poet and a fiction writer
Poems are microcosms and take up much less headspace; fiction is far more expansive, detailed and demanding. All of last year, I focused on poetry. But I’m picking up again the novel I’ve been working on off and on for years…. I can only hope that it’s possible to be good at both.
Years, not age, matter
As an older writer friend once told me, I may be 23 but I have been writing since I was seven – that’s 16 years of experience in the craft itself. As for life experiences per se, age really is just a number. Look at all the musicians who died at 27, after all. I’m 23 but you couldn’t guess it based on what I’ve been through and what I know – my life is really some sort of pulp fiction film.
Afterwards, we will
both wish that it was that
Your hands. My hair.
But you cannot kiss like that
and go on pretending that life
is not something that just happens,
arresting you in its undertow,
that it can go on,
that you can go back.
A kiss like a talisman.
A kiss like memory before birth.
The heart a bridge between
Lover. Husband of another.
Lust is anarchy. Love, anodyne.
Father. Liar. Lover. Mine.
That afternoon an apocalypse of laws
we broke, our lives left spinning on
their axles. In the car I watched as
the hem of our city began
to unravel, the highway endless,
the embroidery of clear-watered
ponds, bougainvillea, as though
it was a country we left behind.
Bodies of water. Blooming.
Our city. I waited so long to
say that. I waited so long.
It was that simple.
I didn’t transcend my body.
I came into it.
A kiss like a tide I surfaced from
not knowing I had gone under at all.
A kiss like prophecy. A kiss like the
first falling star of a meteor shower.
A kiss like certainty. Like a song
roused from slumber. Like surrender.
Come back, lover.
Come back with your
voodoo, the calligraphy
of your tongue. Come
back with the night between
your teeth. Lie down. Let me
take the war out of you.
Name what is holy.
Take what is already yours.
Kiss me without
choreography. Kiss me
like the first word
of the only language
we never borrowed.
Kiss me like alchemy.
Kiss me like