Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Klue Magazine, June 2007
There's a bit of a disconnect when reconciling the image of Sharanya the person and Sharanya the poet. Onstage, she exacts a commanding presence, her reading voice and image sensual, lyrical, literate and emotionally charged. But the first thing that strikes you when you meet her in person is how diminutively statured she is. She's small!
But such impressions say nothing of her body of work, already substantial for a 21-year-old. Or of her experience as a spoken word performer, already a veteran of the local poetry scene, regularly reading alongside other acclaimed poets such as Bernice Chauly and Rahmat Haron at poetry events such as Wayang Kata, Readings@Tempinis and Doppelganger. It didn't happen overnight, of course.
No wallflower, the India-born Sharanya has been cultivating her love of poetry for the past 16 years, growing up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. "I loved books before I could read. I even remember the first poem I ever wrote sitting with my mum on a veranda. It was two stanzas about a cat," says Sharanya, reminiscing about the first awkward steps it took to be a writer. These days, however, the writing has moved on to more adult themes: love, loss, longing, plus the occasional swipe at the male ego. Some of these works can be found in her self-published chapbook of poems, entitled Iyari (a Huichol Indian concept of "heart-memory").
Asked to describe her work, Sharanya puts it simply. "My work is very simple. I don't try to be abstract. I try to write about what I feel. And I feel very intensely. Every poem I write is about distilling an experience or emotion I've had." It's hard to argue with that summation but anyone who have seen Sharanya on stage can easily attest to the fact that what she does is not easy at all. There's a winning combination of rawness and finesse in her work that's quite astounding for such a young pup.
Currently editing an anthology of women's writing for a publisher in India, working on a novel, producing a series of large-scale paintings and expanding Iyari. Sharanya is getting ready to stage her first solo spoken word show entitled Ochre As The Earth at No Black Tie (on 3 June, 9pm, RM15 admission). She'll also be appearing in this month's Words & Tunes at MPH Bangsar Village (on 9 June, 3pm, free admission). Those who haven't met Sharanya before, this is a plum opportunity to witness a great poet in the making.
Klue is a Malaysian print magazine focusing on the arts, entertainment and lifestyle in the Klang Valley.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in India, but did not actually live there until I was eighteen. I grew up in Sri Lanka, where my mother is from, and later in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
Q: Was poetry and writing part of that mix?
A: Very much so. I loved books even before I learnt how to read. My parents say I looked at books on the potty! I have a memory of one morning when my mother put my books on top of the blades of the ceiling fan, so I could not have them until I brushed my teeth. I devoured books! I started to write at the age of seven, and immediately decided it was my life’s vocation.
It was poetry first and then, by age eight, a novel, which I abandoned after a point because I thought too many people were interested in it (my parents showed it to the principal of a school they were applying to enroll us in, and that was the end of it. It was a total violation). But the real role of writing in my life was something that only set in around the time I entered secondary school. I was very shy, and had very few friends.
But writing gave me an identity. I was the smart girl, you know, the one who was probably going to be famous. It was the only reason my peers had to even know my name. It was the one thing I couldn’t be denied. Being able to write, particularly because it is an act for which isolation is an advantage, tided me over many things, many painful things about growing up. Writing was sometimes my only friend.
Q: Who are your poetic influences, favorite poets, writers, artwork, other things that inform your work?
A: My work and my life cannot be separated, so what inspires one always inspires the other. I am inspired by strong, idiosyncratic women. I am inspired by food. I am inspired by music. I am inspired by spirituality. I am inspired by films. I am inspired by nature. I am inspired by bad moods and good ones. I am inspired by mythology. I am inspired by India. I am inspired by Sri Lanka. I am inspired by the Spanish language, Latin American culture and flamenco. I am inspired by the concepts of iyari and duende, and live mindfully because of them.
My favourite writers include: Michael Ondaatje, Sandra Cisneros, Isabel Allende, Ai, Dorianne Laux, Arundhati Roy, Louise Erdrich, Shyam Selvadurai, Junot Diaz, etc, etc, etc… It is a very long list. I am very easily provoked into a state of being inspired.
Q: When did you ‘become’ a poet?
A: What’s funny to me now is that I didn’t think I was a “poet” for a long time. I thought I was a writer who sometimes wrote poems. I think it only occurred to me that I am a poet when other people started using the term, because it is after all what constitutes the bulk of my creative work. But poetry was how I started writing. Poetry is the easiest thing to write for a nomad like me. It’s far easier to write poems through chaos than to balance the intricacies of a novel.
Q: Where were you educated? Was this important?
A: I went to about eight different schools and three different colleges, in three different countries. So it was important – the constant shuffling around. I always did well in school, and exceptionally well in college, but somehow nothing ever got completed. That kind of moving around – I should mention that I have lived in perhaps twenty different homes, also – really affects the psychological make-up of a person.
Q: How do you form a poem?
A: I don’t. Except when I work within a structure, say a tanka, haiku or ghazal, the poems are usually intuitively created. I like experimenting with structures because they keep my sense of syntax and vocabulary in shape, it’s like exercise. But I also find it tedious. I prefer free verse.
Q: Is poetry an organic or synthetic process for you?
A: Organic, absolutely. I believe the poems come from elsewhere. I am only a connector of dots.
Q: Where do you write?
A: Symptom of my generation – I am keyboard-bound. But I can’t just sit in front of a computer and bang away a poem or a passage. I need to get my energy from elsewhere, and then channel it.
Q: Is ambience important?
A: Yes. Procrastination is my worst habit, so I’m very sensitive to things that upset my energy. It just gives me an excuse to stop. So it’s important to me to be in the right frame of mood, the right place. I can be inspired anywhere, but to create from that source is much more difficult.
Q: Do you have rituals or habits when you write?
A: I pray before I start. I usually have music on, I find it much more difficult to think without music. Those are the two main things, I think.
Q: What major projects are you working on now?
A: Mainly: Constellation of Scars, a novel, and Witchcraft, a collection of poems. Witchcraft is very close to completion, and I am looking for a publisher. I’d like to have an audio CD with it, maybe even some video. As a page and stage poet, I should take a multi-medium approach to the final package. I’m a very hands-on person – okay, I am a control freak, why do you think I self-published the chapbook? – so I need to be as involved with the process as possible.
I am also beginning to conceptualize a book of essays on bharatnatyam and flamenco. I hope it’s safe to talk about it so early on. I have other projects, too, including a series of paintings. I wish I could talk about it now, but I think I should be further into the project before I can.
Kenny Mah is a multi-hyphenate: writer, designer, illustrator, fitness enthusiast and full-time head-hunter amongst other things. This interview was conducted for his blog.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Q: Your solo show, Ochre As The Earth, is a pioneering event in the
A: I don’t know about setting the standard. I’m not that presumptuous. But I think that it’s possible that other poets will start thinking about solo spoken word events. Here in KL, solo prose readings (from, say, a novel or collection of essays) are not uncommon. But poetry events so far don’t focus on individual bodies of work. I am the guinea pig for this format. I may not set the standard, but the show will certainly get other people thinking about whether they can do the same, if it is feasible for a local audience and milieu.
Q:Having lived in several countries, how do you think this multinational experience informs your writing?
A:Absolutely. I am a gypsy, you know? I can’t seem to settle down, my fate doesn’t allow me to. So my roots go exceptionally deep, I am not the kind of person to drift out of orbit because of this sense of exile. And I am always reaching deeper, all my work is a way of reaching deeper.
Q: I A:
Q: Indran Amirthanayagam comments that your poetry encapsulates 'modernity flowering in tradition's gardens'. What do you think that means?
A:You’ll have to ask Indran what he means. :) But what I suppose that he means is that my work draws heavily from classical literature and culture, particularly classical Tamil literature and Hindu and other mythologies, yet it is contemporized in what I strive to have be a non-superficial, non-bastardizing and non-trivial way. I am one of the most traditional people I know. And I am also one of the least conservative. “Traditional” and “conservative” are not synonyms, as many people seem to believe. I believe that to be truly traditional, to truly be in touch with the fabric of one’s own cultural composition, one has to question, test boundaries, learn. The difference between a traditionalist and a conservative is that a conservative cannot defend their position with anything other than “That’s the way it is, that is society, that is our culture” – all narrow-minded and meaningless statements. A traditionalist, on the other hand, should be capable of expounding why they believe what they believe.
Q:Your poetry is known to be 'sensual'. Do you think such a stereotype delimits/ demarcates the style and content of your future works?
A:That’s an interesting question. I agree that stereotypes about my work do limit it in many ways, but this is something that all artists face, more so if one is prolific and certain over-riding themes surface continually. I have the most trouble with the “sensual” label. Other labels, like feminist or Indian, bother me less, although they can and have been restrictive in their own ways. What do they mean, “sensual”? My work is not erotic, I cringe at the thought. But I am a really decadent person – I live like a bohemian, but I am incurably bourgeois – and I love food, I love fashion, I experience things very intensely and a lot of drama comes to me unbidden (that’s the unfortunate part). Is that richness, that appetite for life, sensuality? By definition, it should be. If that’s what people think, then I don’t mind so much.
Q:Are there any difficulties faced in working on a novel and a collection of poems at the same time?
A:Yes, actually there are. A novel requires a very different kind of mental space. You are holding people’s entire lives in your head. A poem is a microcosm, you can turn it over and over in your palm and see different things, but it still fits right there. A novel is a labyrinth you wander in. It takes a different energy, a different discipline, a different frame of mind. Alternating between the two is difficult. I’ve found that I need to consciously demarcate the periods I work so that there is no spiritual sapping, which is what happens when I try to overlap the two. Stylistically, also, I have my concerns. My sensibilities as a poet inform my novel, and I am fully aware that my style is not necessarily going to appeal to a lot of people. A novel is about the fibre that links the beautiful passages, and that’s something I have to be very conscious of when I write, to keep that perspective, to not get lost in moment and emotion. The collection, called Witchcraft, is more or less complete, almost. The novel, Constellation of Scars, is some way away from completion. I am looking for a publisher for Witchcraft.
Q:Your biodata refers you as a writer, dancer, painter, actress, photographer, journalist and activist. Which few do you see yourself less of, and how important are they in complementing the other professional titles?
A:Most of all, I am a writer. But my first love was dancing. I was trained in Bharatnatyam, on and off, since I was four years old. Bharatnatyam is my big heartbreak, because in this country it is so sickly political. I never had the kind of bitchiness it takes to stay in that scene, and after one particularly horrible drama, I realized that it’s simply impossible for me to keep pursuing it for the time being. Which is fine. It’s deeply entrenched in my body, and it will never go away. I look to Rukmini Devi Arundale for inspiration; she did not even start learning how to dance until she was 32. I allowed for a period of mourning, a period of letting my body turn to flab, and then took up flamenco, something I had wanted to do for a long time. Bharatnatyam and flamenco are intimately linked to me, both in the movements and in their shared history – the gypsies were originally from
Q:Your launch of Iyari, a hand-made, limited edition chapbook, in December 2006, was a huge success. Which three poems from the collection do you recommend someone new and interested in your work to read, and why?
A:“Poem”, because that’s my number one crowd-pleaser. “You Bring Out The Sri Lankan In Me”, because it is very definitive, very honest about the motivations that make me the person I am. “Karna Considers Yuanfen”, because it’s quite complex, actually. It’s biomythography, almost. Karna doesn’t end with that one poem. Karna will recur in my work again and again. She holds a key to something quite esoteric.
Q:A line from one of your poems has to been chosen for launch into space with the intention of preserving for humanity, which do you think it is?
A:“Sometimes I think you would have to be absolutely androgynous to not want to make love to me”, from “Poem”. I mean, what else could it be?! It’s the most recognizable poem – something which you yourself have tested out (Note: Nicholas Wong recently wrote and read a spoof of it, which garnered laughs immediately, with no introduction whatsoever. Tshiung Han See has also performed it, without any edits). No other line I single out would have the same effect.
Nicholas Wong Yoke Hin is a prize-winning poet, pianist and photographer.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A: The element that I am most connected to is the earth. In a very organic sense, I think the body is the earth and vice versa. There is this word, in Tamil, mannvasanai. The scent of the earth from which you come. The closest English equivalent might be petrichor, which is the scent of the earth after rain. I am drawn to these things. I am rendered both divine and humble by these things. I live between borders, so my roots reach deep. They have to. On my most recent trip to Madras, where I was born, I collected some beach sand in a small pill container, and I keep this with me at almost all times. It's not the red earth that Cempulappeyanirar wrote of so beautifully, but it is coastal -- and I see god in coasts.
Q: How long has OaTE been in the works? Why did you pick now to have it?
A: Last year, I was extremely distraught during a reading due to a personal crisis, and when I went offstage I met someone in the audience. He/she was named Freda, and because they were such a wonderful and insightful person and because I have a real weakness for synchronicity, I took that as a positive sign (I think of Frida Kahlo as a spiritual ancestor). Freda suggested that I do a solo event. That was how the idea began. Later in the year, I got involved with the theatre company The Oral Stage, and we threw around the idea of TOS producing my show early this year. At the time it was going to be called sizefoursandal, a sort of step-into-my-shoes invite (too cutesy, which I can be, but it's not the soul of me). Nothing quite panned out, and then Evelyn Hii of No Black Tie wanted to discuss making poetry a more regular part of NBT's events. With my favourite venue in town interested, the details just sort of fit together. I knew I wanted to change the name of the event before I knew what I would change it to. The phrase Ochre As The Earth came to me when I went to my favourite beach, a place I regard as a temple because its energies are so palpable to me, every single time.
Q: What can people who know your work and who aren't familiar with your work expect from the show?
A: People who know my work will see some familiar pieces, the staples, and some newer work as well. I would hope that people who know of me are there because they actually like my poems, and so that's a real luxury, knowing that the audience is there for you and you alone. I have a responsibility to make it worth their time. I don't know what people who aren't familiar with my work may think. I can't predict or control what people might think, I can only do what I do and hope that somewhere along the line, someone is moved.
Q: What are you expecting from the show?
A: Personally, I want to come away moved, to be more grounded in the self I am working toward. I want clarity for myself and for the direction of my work. Sometimes you think you're working on one thing but you're really paving the way for something else. Like when I was putting together my chapbook Iyari I thought I was doing just that -- putting together a chapbook. I didn't realise until I was done that what I had actually done was to have given my work a structure, I had set the bones of a proper book. Professionally, too, I hope Ochre As The Earth opens new doors for me, in terms of both creating and sharing my work.
Q:. How will this show be different than the dozens of readings and events you've done in the past?
A: The main difference is time. There is so much that you can do with an hour. You can illuminate the knots between individual threads, reveal the tapestry that you try to create with your work. To read for ten minutes or so, as is the case in most events I have done, is different and almost effortless. The audience sees a glimmer of something which might interest them, but it is in snippets here and there. It's like listening to a couple of singles but not the album. A solo show is the hardcore stuff. A friend said she thought people would need a cigarette and a cold shower after mine. I suspect some people may need to vomit and rinse their palate with Plath though. It's that intense -- and so it can fail horribly, or not.
Q: Why should people come and watch you?
A: For regular readings audiences -- Ochre As The Earth is a new kind of literary event in Malaysia. I'm sort of devirginizing the solo show format (Francesca Beard's Chinese Whispers last year, which a prior commitment meant I had to miss, unfortunately, is the closest thing we've had to it in KL, and not having seen it means I don't know if it's quite the same thing). It's an experiment, potentially risky, but it should be interesting. For those who are just curious -- come because you are curious. I write with an open heart and an open mind, and I hope you will receive my work in the same spirit that I share it in.
Syar S Alia is a student and journalist. This Q+A was originally conducted for a national newspaper.
Monday, May 28, 2007
“Ochre As The Earth”
a spoken word performance
Sunday June 3rd 2007
No Black Tie, 17 Jalan Mesui, Kuala Lumpur
Entry fee: RM15
Ochre As The Earth is a 90-minute long spoken word performance of original writing by Sharanya Manivannan, a Chennai-born writer, painter, dancer, actress, photographer and
Ochre As The Earth will be the first full-length feature performance in Kuala Lumpur by a poet residing in Malaysia. No Black Tie is one of KL’s most vibrant and eclectic venues, and has hosted some of the city’s most exciting performances in recent years. Featuring a gifted young woman in the first local event of its kind, Ochre As The Earth promises to be a breathtaking performance unlike any so far in Kuala Lumpur’s independent literary scene.
About Sharanya Manivannan
Sharanya Manivannan was born in India in 1985 and grew up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Since 2001, Sharanya has been a rising figure in the local literary scene, having performed at dozens of readings, at venues including No Black Tie, La Bodega KL, MPH Bookstore, Silverfish Books, 67 Lorong Tempinis Satu, Darling Muse Gallery, Indie Scene Café, Liquid, Food Foundry, Galeri Seni Lukis Negara, Tamarind Springs, 1901, The Substation and Singapore Arts Museum. She has shared the stage and the forum with international writers including Francesca Beard, Roger Robinson, Malika Booker, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Yang-May Ooi, and was invited to be a panel speaker at the 2007 Kriti Literary Festival in Chicago. In late 2006, she self-published a handmade, limited edition chapbook of poems and images, Iyari.
At only 21, Sharanya has established herself as an artist of great promise. Her writing is intense, sensual, earthy yet ethereal, negotiating all her dualities: her mother tongue and her language of expression, her sense of wretched exile and her gypsy soul, her melancholy and passion for life.
Her writing has appeared both in print and online, and has been published or is forthcoming in Softblow, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Poetika, Project For A New Mythology, The 2nd Rule, Poetry Chain India and the anthologies Yellow As Turmeric, Fragrant As Cloves, Off The Web and Collateral Damage. She keeps a blog at http://sharanyamanivannan.blogspot.com, which was nominated for a Koufax Award and was given a Thinking Blogger Award. In 2001, she was a guest editor for Poetika's all-female issue.
Sharanya is editing an anthology of writing and artwork on the female body, featuring the talents of South Asian women contributors between 18 and 24 years old, for Women Unlimited, under their “Maiden Voices” series. Women Unlimited is an imprint of Kali For Women, India's first feminist publisher. Other future writing-related projects include a musical/spoken word collaboration with US-Pakistani band The Kominas, editing another anthology of international poetry, and inclusion in a multimedia project featuring recordings of women poets reading their work.
She is the founder and executive producer of the CRESCENDO: Raise Your Voice series, which uses performance to raise funds for organisations supporting women in crisis. The first instalment of the series, in 2003, raised funds for All-Women’s Action Society Malaysia (AWAM) and featured performers including Pete Teo, Saidah Rastam and Joanna Bessey. She has previously been involved with various NGOs in both staff and volunteer positions. She has been a journalist since the age of 16, and has had her nonfiction appear in over a dozen newspapers and magazines. She was recently invited to be a columnist for United Press International, the global press agency. Additionally, she also teaches creative writing and storytelling, particularly for children.
She is presently working on a novel, Constellation of Scars, and a collection of poems,
Acclaim for Sharanya Manivannan’s writing:
“Sharanya Manivannan is the Sri Lankan womanist poet I've been waiting for—a writer with guts and passion and precision, brave enough to tell all the Sri Lankan women's stories that have been needing to be told for too long. Incredibly fierce!”
—Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Consensual Genocide)
“I am moved by Sharanya's poems, excited by the worlds she describes— modernity flowering in tradition's gardens, the yoking of different and sometimes irreconcilable experiences. Her poetry springs from loss, separation, sometimes union. I like the catholicity of her tastes, her broad embrace of literature and experience from cultures far from each other on the planet, yet side by side in her poems.”
—Indran Amirthanayagam (The Elephants of Reckoning, winner of the 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize)
“I love Sharanya's poems: they are breathtakingly beautiful. They're very musical and her imagery is not just rich but has the sort of precise tactility that's hard to come by, not at all sentimental.”
—Laksmi Pamuntjak (Ellipsis, a The Herald [UK] Book of the Year 2005)
“Sharanya Manivannan can make you weep. She moves in mysterious ways. She fills in the blanks.”
—Francesca Beard (Chinese Whispers tour)
“Sharanya is one of those writers who reaffirm your belief in the creative future of poetry. Her poems excite at the same time with the burst of youth and the slow seep of old wisdom. Her images are physical and thought-provoking. They often startle with their unexpected aptness. They are erotic, sad, disturbing. She is equally at home with poetry and prose. I think Sharanya, given the space to grow, will zoom.”
—Shreekumar Varma (The Lament of Mohini)
We would be grateful for any promotional assistance, including interviews with the poet, that your publication, programme or website may be interested in.
For more information, please contact:
Evelyn Hii (No Black Tie)
Friday, May 25, 2007
Once upon a time there was a poet named Karna. She was a very sad creature, but she sung her poems from the bottom of her belly, where all magic begins. She sung them softly, because she did not know if she could sing. But the wind took hold of her voice and carried it. And carried it. Before she knew it, she heard her voice being echoed back to her. She heard her voice return with other voices -- voices that soothed, nurtured, encouraged. Fortified, Karna learned how to sing louder. And louder.
Karna's temple was her secret beach.
She went to this beach when her soul was at its saddest, because being there distilled her sadness into something clear, and capable of creation.
We shot the pictures on a rainy day. We were frustrated. I worried that the beach did not want to be photographed. When we could shoot no longer, we left. I decided that if it wasn't meant to be, then it wasn't meant to be.
We had wandered, literally, the entire length of the country in search of objects. I could not do it without a snake. We found one by accident, taking a long route by foot. I needed a basket. We could not find one. They were too big, too small, too shallow, too deep, too square, too different. We found vessels instead. Pots made of clay, made of earth. Pots cambered like women's bodies. Rounded.
Leaving, I left the pot for my beach. It was an offering. Keep this, I said. Keep this in exchange for what we have just done.
In the end, we found that there were only two pictures we could work with. I did what I could. I toyed with the colours, the light and the dark. I cropped.
A month later, I went back to my secret beach. I went to pray, at dusk and alone. I walked down to the beach, I walked through the trees. Within moments of stepping onto the sand, I saw something orange-ochre coloured. I bent down.
It was a piece of the pot. The lip of the vessel.
A month from when I had offered it, the sea had returned to me a piece of it. Blessed. In the days and nights since it had been offered, despite what had happened to the rest of the vessel, despite how many people had seen it, of all days for it to wash up in the shore... Blessed.
I have always had a weakness for synchronicity.
Today, I found this. Thank you, Sze, for taking it.