Interview 14- Chandramohan S.

Interview 14- Chandramohan S.

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Chandramohan S. is an Indian English Dalit poet and literary critic based in Trivandrum, Kerala. He is part of the P.K. Rosi Foundation, a cultural collective (named after the legendary, pioneering Dalit actress) that seeks to de-marginalize Dalit-Bahujans. His poems were shortlisted for Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2016. His second collection of poems is titled “Letters to Namdeo Dhasal” is just published. A few of his poems have been used at many protest in addition to being  anthologized in LAND: An Anthology of Indo-Australian Poetry (edited by Rob Harle) and 40 poets under 40 (edited by Nabina Das and Semeen Ali). He was instrumental in organizing literary meets of English poets of Kerala for the Ayyappa Panicker Foundation and for Kritya Poetry festival.


This interview was conducted by e-mail. Chandramohan’s latest book ‘Letter’s to Namdeo Dhasal’ is out. Here we discuss his poem ‘The Immigrant Experience’ from the book primarily. 


 

The Immigrant Experience

The immigrant word in a poem

Sounds like “Prufrock”,

To be as conspicuous

As a fly in buttermilk.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is accompanied with a footnote

Like a GPS tag

On the ankles of the poems

The immigrant word in a poem

Is the paper boat on the

High tide of strife

Washed ashore like the corpse of a toddler.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is locked up in a solitary confinement

In the prison of syntax.

The immigrant word in a poem

is a dysfunctional mating call

Tethered to a stable of phonetics

The immigrant word in a poem

is in the dock

for outraging the modesty of a poetic form

The immigrant word in a poem

Is entombed on a desecrated tombstone

at a war memorial.

 


(i)                 What inspired you to write on the ‘immigrant’ theme?

CS: I think the notion of syntax of poetry becoming a prison for an experimental poet struck me as an interesting notion. This poem sprouted  from it.. Also the image of toddler washed ashore had haunted me just like many others. To use language tropes to describe worldly scenarios fascinated me. Hence this poem.

 


(ii)               I found these lines the most captivating:

The immigrant word in a poem

Is accompanied with a footnote

Like a GPS tag

On the ankles of the poems

 –

Why do you think writers choose to have footnotes at the end of poems as explanations even amidst the existence of Google (You do it in the first poem)?

CS: Footnotes are meant to ameliorate cultural differences. The poet fears that his reader may misunderstand him and hence the compulsive need for a footnote. Observe that this is more prevalent in translated poems. This GPS tag on the ankles of a poem was inspired from a real life event where a US university had closed down and the erstwhile students had a GPS tag on them to prevent them from escaping or falling off the radar of the emigration dept or so. Secondly a simile linking “footnote”  and “GPS tag on the ankles” of a poem bring a smile to my face.

 


 (iii)      In this poem, you have captured the contemporary meaning of ‘immigrant’ with references made to the Syrian toddler, overseas couple calls and more. Any comments?

CS: Yes. Definitely. I was happy I could capture the situation with these lines.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is the paper boat on the

High tide of strife

Washed ashore like the corpse of a toddler.

Geographical as well cultural dislocation has been amply documented in poems of Meena Alexander to name one of the many.


 (iv)    In your bio I noticed that you identify as a ‘Dalit’ poet just like some writers identify as ‘immigrant’ writers. Why these labels?

CS: These labels signify priority. It is that experiences that characterize such labels have been felt first hand by them or us. Dalit knows the pain of social exclusion and other kinds of trampling on their dignity just that the geographically or culturally dislocated writers speak of the “immigrant experience” . It could interest you that the recent collection of poems by the acclaimed poet Vahni Capildeo is titled “ Measures of Expatriation.”

 


(v)                You have used the repetition technique for emphasis here. Why?

CS: Just like a Dalit individual is under pressure to prove his “merit” , there is a pressure on the immigrant word to rhyme with the rest. This repetitive phrase of “The immigrant word in a poem” could grate on the reader of this poem just like an immigrant word with obscure connotation could irritate people.


 (vi)      The first poem from the collection, you talk about Dalit suicide with Rohit Vemula as case in point in a footnote. Just like the immigrant poem, it is very current. Why this need to sound current and political? Do you think you will be read more if your themes reflect current affairs?

CS: It is not sounding current and political. They “are” current/contemporary and political( everything is political in a way). I do aspire to be read widely even if my poems are not on contemporary themes since some of the issues I raise may transcend literature. Dalit psyche is politicized from time immemorial.


(vii) An excerpt from this poem was included in an article by Nabina Das recently, for Scroll. You have been published in online journals. How do you think online journals make new voices reachable to others?

Yes. Very much. I think social media and online poetry portals have contributed in a big way towards democratizing our discourse. A lot of margin-speak has gone mainstream due to this. The single largest civil rights movement in India could be the Dalit movement for social justice be it Rohith Vemula protest, Una or Jisha murder case. Our voices are getting heard . Recently Cordite Poetry Review based in Australia had hosted a collection of Dalit and Tribal writers from India.


*  * *

Thank you!

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