Rajiv Mohabir, an Indo-Caribbean American poet, writer and translator, is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize; Eric Hoffer Honorable Mention 2018) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (Kaya Press 2019) which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award and the 2020 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the American Academy of Poets. His memoir Antiman (Restless Books 2021) received the New Immigrant Writing Prize in 2019. He received his PhD in English from the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa and his MFA in poetry from Queens College, CUNY. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College and lives in the Boston area.

Mohabir’s warmth and wit, his fluidity between languages and evocations of desire, are inflected by a biting critique of violence from the perspective of an immigrant to the United States. His forthcoming collection of poems, Cutlish, (Four Way Books, 2021) will be the focus of discussion in the following conversation with JC Holburn.

JC Holburn: For those who have not yet read Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir, it is a narrative and poetic account of finding your own way to honor and reconstruct your Hindu heritage by evoking the songs and stories of your grandmother Aji — a singular presence and ongoing influence in your life, all while being outed by a cousin and subsequently shunned by your father, prompting a move to New York to find a more accepting community. There is continuity between your memoir and this new collection of poems, Cutlish, another remarkable body of work beginning with this dedication: 

For crossers of land, sky, rivers, sea.  

For crossers of flame.  

For all queers and antiman kind—  

I should point out to readers that “antiman” is a Caribbean Hindustani slur for gay men, though you are reclaiming a nuanced ownership of this term. Antiman also conjures the notion of antimatter, in the sense of something extraordinary and uniquely antithetical, yet corresponding to ordinary matter. Like Jericho Brown, I also loved this early verse in “The Po-Co Kid”, so full of gravitas and wit:  

Let’s get one thing queer—I’m no Sabu-like sidekick, 

I’m the main drag. Ram Ram in a sari; salaam 

on the street. I don’t speak  Hindu, Paki, or Indian, 

can’t control minds, have no psychic powers.

As in Antiman, your title Cutlish has several layers to it. Early on you set up the definitions of a cutlass conventionally known as a knife, adding the vernacular adverb also gives it an approximation of meanings. An English-saturated brain with a scrambled eye will initially read it as “cultish.” There are a few passages that reference the cutlass in terms of breaking apart, but also of knives or machetes (which you describe as “the son of macho”), splitting and slitting, openings, erotic and otherwise, throughout the book. One of the first images is your Aji unscrewing a cream soda bottle with her teeth—a sense of opening, flowing and alchemy. It gradually becomes apparent that, as with Antiman, you’re telling of an often brutal experience of “becoming prey” in America and expressing very tangible wounds. Could you talk more about the dimensions and the significance of the title? 

Rajiv Mohabir: Thank you so much for this thoughtful question about the titles of these two books. I think you’ve captured what I was trying to do with the title Cutlish and how it can be read as cultish—in fact, all my writing devices want to correct the word as the more recognizable English word. Doesn’t this make an easy metaphor of the ways in which we are told that non-Standardized languages should conform? Like there is a normalizing/normative-izing eye watching us in all of our steps and small revolutions.

I think the cult of this correction to cult-ish could be read in many ways—the one that I have the sincerest wish to counter is that of the white cishet-patriarchy and the toxicity that it inspires in men. The cult of the cishet white patriarchy is one that this community of poems come toe-to-toe with.

The word cutlish is the way that my father told me that people from his village pronounce the word cutlass which I found in some academic writings to corroborate his instruction. Funny how I needed an academic source to lend credibility to the lexicon of his childhood. I see this as a mirror that reminds me of my own colonized mind.

The object itself: the machete or cutlass is one of work in the Caribbean and is a stand in for the violence of the forced migration my great great grandparents had to endure. It also represents the postcolonial fallout of deadly misogyny (from the cutlass being the weapon of choice for wife murders in my ethnic community) as well as deadly trans and homophobia. It is an object that has deep cutting associations—so much in fact that there are many Caribbean artists (such as Andil Gosine whose “Cutlass” jewelry from his “Wardrobes Collection”) who interprets and reinterprets this object of labor and murder.  

The United States murders brown and Black folks with normalizations and imperialism, the actioning arm: the police and anti BIPOC legislation in all its incarnations. Coming to the United States we have become prey, it’s true. The systems of our government are designed to keep us out—or better yet, to extract our labor and to keep us dying. For me, poetry and writing is the way that I can bring together the mixing streams of my diasporic Caribbean-ness that blends my family’s languages and inheritances.

The alphabetic intervals between poems are an important aspect of language as an entangled ancestral spectrum throughout this collection, beginning with Guyanese Bhojpuri, then moving between Caribbean Hindustani, Creole, Sanskrit, Hindi and “broken Hindi” — incrementally leaning into palimpsest. Can you describe your feelings about Guyanese Bhojpuri being described as a “dying language”?  Have you felt there’s an aspect of self-fulfilling prophecy in describing it as such or is it necessary to describe them in this manner in order to salvage them? 

Could you also here perhaps talk about one example of a concept or an emotion that cannot be simply translatable into English? (I’m thinking, for example, of Spanish’s “saudade”, which can not be easily converted…)

The section dividers were absolutely meant to show language attrition and the slow ways in which our language left us to live and love in the realm of the ancestors. There is so much at stake in calling the language “dying” that I think perhaps calling it “unused” is a way to image it as a bellows that just needs stoking before it roars again in our throats. The sad fact of the matter is that in my family after my Aji (and her generation) passed the language fell out of our mouths—and for those interested in history and South Asian language, the language that was learned was Standard Hindi. Even I started to learn Standard Hindi before my familial Bhojpuri/Hindustani. By calling it dying maybe lends its relearning and reusing some kind of urgency though makes it seem like it is completely out of our grasp. I am certainly interested in reusing it as much as I can in my writing since it was demeaned and derided for being “broken” and not worthy of learning. 

The language itself is a South Asian American language as it was forged from various North Indian, European, and African languages with a Bhojpuri grammar in the sugar colonies of South America and the Caribbean beginning in 1838. As such the language has a structure that resists assimilation and colonial pressures to conform to English only. It’s another species of what Kamau Brathwaite calls nation language. This is a koineized language.

There are so many examples of things that do not translate simply into English and they are to do mostly with worldview. Here’s one example that I can give that elides simple word to word substitution that also holds similar/parallel power in the Creolese of my family (other than the words cutlish and Coolie, of course): jhare. To jhare literally means to broom or sweep (jharu lage) but metaphorically it means to do it with another person. But the most important use of the word for me is the ways in which people remove najar, bad-eye, or the evil eye from their beloveds. It requires a jharu broom (a pointer broom) and the circling of the person with it. Sometimes there’s a surah or mantra said. Sometimes you burn a stick with pepper and salt. 

The whole evil eye removal is really a window into a worldview. The idea that negativity can pass either knowingly or unknowingly to someone and that there’s a particular way of removing it is important to me. There are so many good reasons to have a jharu in the home. My Aji had her own way of evil-eye (she called both bad eye and najar) removal but it wasn’t with a broom—but rather a different process called ounche but in the same family of rituals. To Americans it seems superstitious and silly—but see how much the younger generations are flocking to WitchTok? 

How did the beautiful rusting copper patina textures of the cover design for Cutlish by Maisonneke come about?

I’m so glad for the cover coming out as it did. I like the idea that the rust is from disuse and also from overuse. Maybe it’s from the salt of the sea or from human sweat. Maybe from opening water coconuts on hot days. It’s old like our languages, born of the plantation. It also looks like dried blood, which also reflects what this poetry book is attempting to do. It’s an image that reflects forced migration, violence, and then also joy. 

Lexical variations and inventory making are a part of this collection, with poems such as “Guyana” and “Kalapani” that have a rhythmic vigor of rolling, expansive meanings, as well as humor. They become incantatory when read aloud, too. As you are a descendant of indentured laborers taken from India to Guyana more than a century ago, this poem can read like the voice of a drunk imbecile asking of your heritage and constantly bungling it. On the other hand, it could also be an internalized extension of etymological and topographical links. In your notes, you define Kalapani as a black water ocean that when crossed erases caste class systems and kinship ties to India. (Side note for readers: Kalapani is also a region under Indian jurisdiction; the government of Nepal recently laid claim over the area and issued a new map).  In “Coolie Oddity” you conclude with: 

My body’s a packet of Demerara 

on a Jaipur table. Rip me split. 

Queer me open with your teeth, 

a cane stalk spits from my lips.

This images are beholden to your great-grandparents and your great great grandparents who worked the British sugar plantations after the Empire abolished (officially but not in practice) the slave trade in 1834. The action of splitting is literal and metaphorical, there are also bifurcations and kinds of devouring taking place. It feels like you’re finding less prescriptive and more descriptive ways of conveying ancestral trauma without naming it as such, because your lineage is so winding and complicated, there’s no way of nutshelling that history. Could you talk about caste erasure and how you seek to convey the continuations of class systems and your relationship to slavery in this work?

I love this question! Thank you for seeing this in this poem that was a complete experiment for me in thinking through the ways that memory layers itself through learning, forgetting, remembering and writing especially in “Coolie Oddity” a play on the David Dabydeen poem “Coolie Odyssey.” I think that erasure of caste is a wonderful thing but unlike the academics who study the Indo-Caribbean, in my own lived experience caste still very much exists. There were prescriptions of who should marry whom and I remember my Aji and my Nani’s sisters instructing us to “marry you own Nation / aapan jaat bibah karo”—the word “Nation” referring to “aapan jaat” or our caste. If only caste could be smashed and demolished, its memory obliterated and buried like the radioactive waste that it is. But this also means America needs to do this as well—to end its own caste oppression.  

Dovetailing in this organization of people is class as well as racism. While race is a fiction, the materiality of racism and its injurious avatars are real enough through the state sponsored violences against Black folks, immigrants, Natives, people of color, and queers. The spectres of slavery and caste haunt every corner of this “nation”—the production of viability and independence are measured against this kind of bondage and stolen labor. Even in the world of poetry these markers are ever apparent. 

The idea that diversifying one’s poet-roster pits of “quality” against “diversity” as though “good” work can only be written by white people. This also concerns whose ideas about “craft” are important–how we collectively value BIPOC writing. I am consistently mis-read in space having a history that many people call “interesting” as though I am an object for a museum. I’ve found that most folks need easy answers so they can begin to understand a history of colonization that comes from the colonized instead of the colonizer. For example: I have been invited to read for “India Day” when I’ve not been Indian for over 130 years. BIPOC people are required to mine our affective reservoirs for pain and suffering so it can be consumed by white readership. I remember Frantz Fanon here: the destabilizing effects of dance and wild joy.

But to say these wraiths don’t haunt me and my understandings of self and speaker-self in the poems would be disingenuous as I’m still trying to figure out how to survive despite a hostile, racist world. I also think that these poems are more assured than poems that I’ve written before–confident in their positionalities and certain of the stakes. These poems emerge like dandelions from pavement cracks, my body policed and denied access.

Following on from this question, your writing engages the senses, emphasizing lineage and limitations in preparing traditional food (“I do not know how to grind masala”) and “Trader’s pre-made lentils”, comparable and contrasted with eating white food, sex with white men. There’s one scene you paint, sitting in a cafe in Jaipur, ordering coffee and a bourgeois chocolate muffin, to your surprise encounter of Unrefined Demerara among the condiments. Could you talk about the complex relations and co-minglings of cooking, consumption, colonization, erogenous zones, and sex within your poems?  

One of the last things to leave the colonized person in the face of assimilating into the great white West/North is food, according to Subramanian Shankar, a professor that I had of postcolonial literature—himself a novelist and translator from Tamil. I find this to be very true of my own family: even the most self-hating of us enjoy the foods of our mothers and their mothers. This poem “Curry Powder” tries to evince this through the question of the “authentic” as it pertains to food. Maybe echoing here is the anxiety the speaker feels about being “South Asian”—whether or not they are authentic as a brown body or even authentically human. 

While sitting in Anokhi Café in Jaipur I saw myself in a sugar packet! The surprise was one that showed me how the products of my ancestral labor profited the world as Demerara is a county in Guyana, my parents’ birth country. Is the sweet typically understood as sexual? I wonder about this and if this is an unconscious connection that I made while miring through the dense forest of sexuality for this collection, complicated by Grindr, living in New York, and being in constant motion. What does that make sweet extraction? Sometimes the speaker fucks to find himself, sometimes to pass time, sometimes for the sheer joy of it. This feels like anti-colonial consumption but what if it’s not? What if the sex act is the performative field of colonization?

I hope that these poems do not have answers but give rise to thinking around the sets of problematics in the mixing of sweat, spices, sucrose, and languages where the act of consumption evinces history archived in the body. The senses in this way become spirit guides and the speaker is led into complication. Every performance (sex act, eating, colonized thinking, anti-colonial action) becomes its own answer.

I began conceiving of your poems and motifs as having companions. Cane stalks, scorpions, cobras, birds, feathers, knives, steel, milk, water, are recurring motifs. Your poem, “Dove (Tell Me the Number of Your Plane)” takes its title and half of the first line from an upbeat Chutney music song by Sundar Popo “A Scorpion Sting Meh.” This effusive “Chutney poem” speaks to your legible, beguiling directness, in combination with your devotional sensibilities. Birds compete with planes, and deep time competes with modern space. You tonally shift into an alluringly darker confluence of desire—a poisonous pleasure/pain jouissance. This poem and its companion, “Falling from a Plane,” take positions of flight, crashing, frustration and longing. Love is far from rose colored and often associated with wreckage in this collection, as love occupies complex feelings of beguilement, seduction and abandonment. In Bollywood Confabulation you write: 

“Love brings ruin and ruins lives—”

Can you talk about the relationships between love, symbol and song in your work? 

I am very much guided by what I see as themes in chutney music, and part of this formal creation was to show a different avatar of their poetics in my poetry. These are chutney poems, afterall, derived from the song structure of Sundar Popo’s music, specifically “Kaise Bani” and “A Scorpion Sting Meh.” I wanted to have a form that could support the complicated, nuanced history of Indo-Caribbean communities. 

I’ve been astounded by the lack of scholarship on the original Bhojpuri/Caribbean Hindustani lyrics of these songs that I cherish so dearly and have devoted my academic work to translation and laying bare their poetics. These themes: love, longing, separation and symbols: scorpions, doves, water, and certainly knives/machetes do resonate with the songs. But the funny thing is that while writing these poems I didn’t hold too closely to the directives I set for myself around symbol and theme but they erupt from my poems. I allowed my subconscious mind the space it needed. 

Love is a theme, ancient and contemporary as are the ways we can see and commit love or unloving. What brings us fulfillment and pleasure can also destroy and hurt–same for the people that we tangle our bodies into and with. Love is the forebearer of specific pain—something that these songs really latch on to. A scorpion bite leads to death—a metaphor for being stung by a lover. This is an old Bhojpuri (maybe even South Asian?) trope that feels both fresh and ancestral in English. This is all the poetic karma accumulated through the generations of these songs that I bring into poems in the United States. 

The poem “Angreji Ke Sarap (English Curse)” is a confrontational poem but also a poem of deep mourning and sorrow, in which English “forgets the fields it clears”, it is “an invasive species choking out the native plants and birds” and a “language that sows silence.” (As I was reading I kept thinking “ooph—right on!”)  

You then say:

“hamar aji angreji nahi bol sake rahe, uu khali aisan baat bol sake rahe, sab mix-mix karke”

(“my aji could not speak english, she could speak like this, by mixing and mixing.”)

In terms of accessibility, I don’t think it’s on you as the writer to explain or justify yourself, nor to spoon feed translations to anglophiles, do you think that perhaps there should be some passages and thoughts that are simply not for them? 

I’ve thought of whether or not to translate some of these things and came to the idea that I would allow a transformation of a lot of the words in Guyanese Bhojpuri since I also want people from my community who do not know our languages to have access to them. I want to tell the stories I’ve inherited, but they are not going to be easy for everyone to understand. The way I see it: those who don’t have the patience to read or consider or engage are not the intended audience. That feels risky since poetry readership is already considered “niche.” It’s not my intention to alienate readers themselves, but to build a house where nuance and complexity can live—that people like me can live. I would never want to stamp out any language the way that English commits this very hate crime.  

These particular passages in “Angreji Ke Sarap” are not rendered in English for the very mystery of their meanings to bear their weight on the text. I want the reader to feel destabilized with the poems pointing to something just out of grasp. The alienation. The silences. The outsideness of language. 

Accessibility is a funny thing, really. People want windows into others’ lives until they see what they don’t want to see. This poem is a searing curse that I hurl on the English language as its violence has distorted the mirrors in which my family saw (and still sees) itself. I was so close to my grandparents’ language but because of christian education in the colonies, and the particularities of British rule, this language evaporated from their generation. I’m just glad I was able to know at least one of my grandparents’ incredible worldview.

In some ways holding space for this language, writing in it, and believing in it is a way of singing down peace to my past–that through my voice I can change the corrosive legacies of colonization.

Your Aji’s spirit flourishes through your language. You write:

After Aji died I could speak her language to no one.

English is silence where once we taan-sang.

They believed her tongue broken and like some dark spell it broke off, a trident splinter in my mouth.

I tie a bundle with disappearance: a compact at birth.

Talk straight, Coolie–witch, let me hear.

I open my mouth and scorpions shimmer out.

Do you set boundaries for what you want to share of your Aji in writing? And do you set boundaries for what you want to share about yourself?

Telling the truth of our lives is difficult. The silences that my kin have cultivated around their own narratives are often at odds with my own personal freedoms. Many people I’m from would see things differently than I do—about what is okay to share and what is not, especially about my Aji. As far as boundaries go, they work in service of the poem. I’m interested in connecting my own subconscious mind to the page and the ways they relate to language for me require my Aji as she was the instructor of her Bhojpuri. I am far from being a native fluent speaker but I think about this language all of the time and it lies inside of me in various states of animation. 

I feel like so often I am trying to show the kind of affective reservoir that the speaker draws from for their reactions to and against the provocation of the poem or the poem’s liftoff into association. Getting enough fuel—the way I see it sometimes–requires potential energy. It’s also the Shiva/Shakti principle: Shiva is the body (the form and line structure), Shakti is the movement (the kinetic energy, associations, affective enlivening, reader response). For me the Shakti of the poem is the personal detail, that part of the speaker that people can latch on to before the Shiva of the poem is animated. Without both the Shiva and Shakti is it a poem or a writing exercise—though the exercise may still be important and has the potential to seed the energy?

I believe it’s necessary to enliven the poem with an emotional truth rendered through a detail which for me is usually personal. In this way the boundary for me is often risky or personally expensive. Writing about my Aji, she is with me even though she died in 2010, feels urgent and fulfilling to me because her own non academic knowledge was invisible.

There’s so much overflowing grief, sorrow and pain, in personal and collective terms, concerning violence and white supremacist massacres. Poems such as “Inaugural Poem with Silence”, “Terrorism in Manhattan”, “Massacre Ballad” are grappling with communal mourning in very visceral ways. Men and their false ideals about purity (of identity, of women and men) are the most dangerous. “Outcry (In memoriam of Rajwantie Baldeo)” is one among several poems that have no false illusions about hope in a world running on cruelty, bad faith and viciousness. This poem morphs into a mythological fray with an inversion of the tale of Goddess Sita: 

“swallowed by the earth proving her chastity / to Ram who betrays her.” 

You then write: 

“it’s too late to chant / sarve bhadrani pashyantu / may all be free of suffering”…  

There remains a need to sustain a flickering flame. The poem becomes a form of imperfect protection, through which you are also striving to capture the horror of what happens beyond the dehumanizing news headlines of such events. How do you consider the role of mythology in terms of processing these traumas? And how do you clear enough psychical space for yourself to begin these poems?

In the notes section of Cutlish I quote the poet/activist Nadia Borne who said in Repeating Islands about the death of Rajwanti Baldeo, a recent woman murdered by her (man) partner, “And where was the outcry from our community?… Did we hear anything at our kitchen tables? Did we hear anything at our mandirs [Hindu temples]?”

This poem “Outcry” was to be in concert with and to respond to the fierce Indo-Caribbean women and queers doing this work of changing the cishet patriarchal violence in the United States—be it the Jahajee Sisters, SAKHI for South Asian Women, or the Caribbean Equality Project. These I see as ongoing effects of colonization and our migration into the United States as does poet and writer Elizabeth Jaikaran who wrote in the Huffington Post, “This is a trauma that our parents have inherited from the first indentured laborers and one that keeps re-emerging, for this is how trauma operates. Its head bobbing up and down amongst the waves, re-appearing to remind you that it is still there.”

These poems in Cutlish that reiterate traumas against femmes, women, queers, and South Asian Americans are just a few that join in with other voices who process them. Sometimes I stand on their shoulders. I have the space to write these poems because of the people—mostly women including my Aji, my mother, and my sister—who I come from have had to do this self-advocacy work from the times they first encountered the English language, bondage, and the refusal of silence. I now work in the sphere of my own influence (poetry) to stare these demons down, to give them names, and work to banish them back into our colonizers.  

This is often asked of writers in interviews, but could you talk a little about your process? Do you write poems daily or have a ritual or routine approach to writing? 

The poems in Cultish came to me in a new way. They came first with the Hindustani couplets as I walked. The translations came next. Then using the couplet as a springboard I jumped into image and sound. After I collected the raw material of the poem did I turn my editor’s eye toward the formal constraints that I was trying to work with. If the poems wanted to be chutney poems then that’s what they became. If they needed something else, I welcomed them to take their space as well as their time. This was the drafting stage that began in 2012 in Queens. 

The routine would also include listening to chutney music and there were a few albums that I played and replayed as well as some old Bollywood film soundtracks. The music I listened to included: Sundar Popo, Dropati (the original singer of “Gowri Puja” and not the contemporary one), Ramdew Chaitoe, Rikki Jai, Rasika Dindial, Babla and Kanchan, and others. The Bollywood music I listened to include songs from the movies, “Qurbani,” “Teesri Manzil,” “Sangam,” “Mughal-e-Azam,” “Waqt,” “Sahib, Bibi, aur Ghulam,” to name just the most frequently listened to. I did this because I wanted to live in the soundscape of these songs—the phonemic spell of their languages. I wanted my heart to beat with the dholak, keeping rhythm.

These days I do have a ritual for writing poems: I give my mornings over to poetry. I read poems and draft. Editing occurs in the afternoons. I am currently astounded by What Noise Against the Cane by Desiree C. Bailey, Curb by Divya Victor, and There Is No Good Time for Bad News” by Aruni Kashyap. I look at form, at the stakes for the speaker and yes the stakes of the content. I am interested in what the poem is about and its political life and afterlife as I believe these are important. I don’t have the privilege or luxury to imagine that “the political” doesn’t belong in poetry. 

To be quite honest, I think that I try to have each book have a particular voice. I know the poems go together based on the voices of the speakers. I get a lot of pleasure from tracing the voice. It’s aural as well as bodily. I like the taste of words—the feel of the rhythms. Since these poems are so connected to their ancestral musics, the pleasure is more readily and easily queer and embodied. 

Some readers will be able to identify influences in your writing, such as Mahmoud Darwish. Who else do you consider among earlier poets and your peers as most influential on this particular collection, in tandem with your Aji?

There are so many! But for this form in particular I chart my thinking of form to Agha Shahid Ali and his formal mastery in general and then to this migrating of the ghazal form into New England. Sure others wrote ghazals in English before Ali did but who did it with such panache? Every time I return to Call Me Ishmael Tonight I see new layers and connections. His words taste like magic. 

Kimiko Hahn is also one of my influences: her formal play and structural thinking about closure have been instrumental for me as well as her bringing her touch to the zuihitsu form in English. A lot of these poems were written under her watchful and mentoring eye–in fact she helped me decide the name of this collection which was something tacky that I won’t tell you! She liked the word cutlish for its outlandishness yet similarity to words known in English. 

Jericho Brown has been important to me as have Meena Alexander, Patrick Rosal, and Kazim Ali: these poets are attuned to the weight of the line and the connections between sound and sense. 

The poet Nicole Cooley also is someone whose work I look to. She once told me to write what scares me, and I did with making this form and these poems. 

The work of Andre Bagoo, Hari Alluri, Adeeba Shahid Talukder, Barbara Jane Reyes, Tarfia Faizullah, Mureil Leung, and others are doing work that I am paying close attention to. 

In your conversation with Dr. Kadji Amin (Radical Thinkers: Asian American Writers’ Workshop), Amin talked about the process of writing about their experiences not being pleasurable. Do you feel similar discomforts about writing? 

I think that writing about sexuality and writing about trauma can be deeply unpleasurable when thinking about reliving the trauma. I can understand how reliving these moments can be, to use Kadji’s words “deeply disorganizing.” For me the pleasure in writing comes from control and revelation: about knowing when to release the poem’s Shakti to transform the poem into an axis mundi for the reader. Maybe it’s this control that allows me to be in charge of the event or occurrence that allows me to change the way that I embody it or the ways in which I am changed by it. 

JC Holburn has work published in Art Agenda, The Brooklyn Rail, The Drunken Canal, Fence, Filthy Dreams, JMWW, Soft Punk, Topical Cream and others. She is currently based in New York. Her first collection of poems, Dribs, will be out via Pitymilk Press in August 2021.

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