Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In Conversation: Interviewed by Syar S Alia

Q: Firstly, why Ochre as The Earth? What special meaning does that phrase have and why did you pick to name your show?
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.

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