October 3, 2019

MADHUR ANAND: POETRY & COLLISION


SUSAN GILLIS: How did poetry come to you? You've written eloquently about some of your early experiences with poetry; are there other aspects of beginning you could talk about?


MADHUR ANAND: I've written for TNQ and Poetry in Voice about the conscious beginnings—the first poem I recall being asked to read, or the circumstances of my life when I started writing poems, that I was already a practising scientist. I will use this space to acknowledge unconscious ones, as well as the fact that there are a multitude of them.
How far back should I go? How many parallel existences and identities could have started this trajectory towards poetry? Should the things I remember be weighted more than the things I don't remember? That seems unfair. There is a lot I don't remember.

Let me just pick out quickly the first couple of things that come to mind of, say, my grade school experience, Grades JK (where I locate my very first memory) to 6. My memories are often reduced like this to one or two most distinct ones per year.

JK: Premium Plus crackers and peanut butter (for everyone), apple juice. Believing that the Grade 6 girl helping to hand them out looked exactly like

me, but older (and white).

SK: The water play station

Grade 1: The very Germanic-looking teacher (whose name I forget)

Grade 2: Desperately wanting and getting a certain brand of jeans, the ones with the rainbow patch on the back pocket

Grade 3: Playing Connect Four with Steven Axesmith (sp?) whom I had a huge crush on. Miss Stewart reading us Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

Grade 4: I skipped Grade 4

Grade 5: Going to a French restaurant in Toronto with our enrichment class and ordering escargots. Playing a dog in a skit directed by a blind drama teacher. Making a hideous marine landscape out of clay (it's still at my parent's house somewhere). OK, three memories.

Grade 6: Learning how to play Hearts. Latkes on Jewish holidays.
 
This all sounds relatively unremarkable at the surface. But, to get back to your question (How did poetry come?), let's examine that belief, that when I was in junior kindergarten I had a doppelganger who was a) older and b) white. That first memory, to me, is a very plausible beginning. Poetry forces you to project, to imagine, to create worlds, to see the similarities among the differences, to allow for simultaneity, to find the impossible to be true, to become another. I decided very early in life, it seems, I needed these things. That my most vivid memories after that include water play, sternness, rainbows on our behinds, having connections and crushes, year-long gaps, eating in other languages, being led by the blind, modelling nature, games of chance and cunning, and recipes, suggests I remained open to everything poetry might have to offer.

But even all this is conscious and only limited to my experiences within the classroom. So much more of course happened outside the classroom. On the playground/battleground. On the daily walk to/from school, or the front door between Indian and North American cultures. Secret piano lessons. Some corrupt adult posing as a family friend, or as the family doctor. I cannot say it is always a pleasant encounter, the one between me and poetry.

These days I admit I’m a bit resentful about how poetry continues to consume me, whether I like it or not. I realize more and more that the beginnings are not actually in my own story, but in the untold stories of others, and of my parents or ancestors. I am trying to draw these stories out, but I will not succeed completely. Because maybe poetry goes back as far as when the Himalayas were formed, when the Indian Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate. Maybe even before then. 

Madhur Anand's debut collection of poems A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland and Stewart, 2015) was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and named one of ten "trailblazing" collections of Canadian poetry for its blending of art and science. Her debut hybrid creative non-fiction book ('a memoir in halves') This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart is forthcoming in Spring 2020 (Strangelight/Penguin Random House Canada). Dr. Anand is a Full Professor of ecology and sustainability in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph.

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