Thursday, March 18, 2010

Monica Mody

I was going to set up a link to the blog of Monica Mody, a brilliant writer who's graduating from our MFA program this spring. But then I thought, I should give a little introduction to her work and thinking while I was at it. So I asked her to give me a bio, an artistic statement and a piece of writing to put here as a way of introduction.

Here's her bio:
Monica Mody is about to complete her MFA in poetry from the University of Notre Dame. She was born in Ranchi (India), trained as a lawyer, shifted to Delhi, and fell for poetry. In between, she edited domestic violence resource guides and travel guides, organized human rights film festivals and a poetry in performance series, and lost a cat or two.

Here's an artistic statement:
"Writing is for me a vertiginous, distended, nebulous, and exhausting process which may involve discomfort, embarrassment or failure. All of these, I'm convinced, are good for poetry which is an entirely expendable art. It is unproductive, superfluous, and dispensable. Which is why, if you want to write poems, you cannot afford not to expend yourself. Poets must be lavish, even reckless. This generosity
must extend to the writing, reading, and to their communities of poetry. They must be generous with the unknown; they must also be critically engaged with other texts as well as with contexts: lived, mediated, and theoretical."

Here's an introduction to her longer work, "Kali Pani":

"Kala Pani" means "black water" in Hindustani - what the Indian oceans were once called, since there was a strict prohibition on Hindus crossing the seas. It makes you think about all that is supposed to be lost when you leave home. But Kala Pani was also the name of a colonial-era prison in the Andamans, to which the British sentenced "hardened" freedom fighters and political prisoners. So this piece dwells in a pretty bleak space. It has six world travelers on an island of sorts, who have either been left there by the new government or are in voluntary exile. In the best traveler-tradition, they tell marvelous stories to each other, either to pass time, or because they have no other option. A lot of their stories are about two characters, but these don't appear in this excerpt. (Another excerpt from this work will be appearing soon in LIES/ISLE.)


Once it so happened that the new government sent off teams of curators to different corners of the world. Their object was to collect statistics about star-billed trees, trees with grain in hollows or wind in roots, trees that waited at the edge of desert for raw footsteps. Bittersweet trees. Curators were briefed that all such extant trees would be added to the new government's official collection. If a tree, measured, turned out too

Clamorous to fit the museum, a more sophisticated way to moisten it was to be found. A most satisfactory most hardly moss of solidarity. Not all the curators agreed with this pastoral which they considered a selfish preoccupation of the new government. But the new government controlled all technologies of power which made it imperative that they submit to its rationality.

(radio voice)
We have gathered today to celebrate trees with star billing. These trees represent five millennia of humankind's collective aspirations, and it is but appropriate that we gift them to the museum of the new world. We will lovingly track and displace them and lovingly collect or moisten them. We will love the new world. It is due to the generosity of friends and benefactors that the new government could organize the bureaucracy, the complicity, the compromises, the ideological cooption, the cooperation, the rapacity and the ethical rationalization necessary for this farsighted program, and to them we will confer appropriate rewards. Our desire is to keep everyone in the new world happy.

The curators returned with summary catalogues describing 29 or 92 million bittersweet trees. Each catalogue provided not only a compact illustrated listing of the trees, but also brief comments by curators that explained how each tree was proposed to be collected or moistened. These catalogues were ceremonially handed over to the Society for Just Plunder which launched systematic invasions in which bittersweet trees were hacked, stripped, and stifled. A few trees of monumental significance made it to the back of trucks, gagged and trussed, after the Department of Diplomacy intervened. The museum of the new government waited for the trucks, waist-deep in gelatinous expectation: its own secretions.

Gangs of tree lovers tried to mislead the Society by pasting cheap calendar reproductions on the trees, and some of them might have succeeded but all information about them is still in a secret archive somewhere. The tender minded tree minded might have washed the trees with their rainclear saliva. The tree minded might have tried to hijack some of the trucks. Some trees were commandeered by forces of the market and surfaced, years later, disoriented. Some were locked up and indicted.

Once the Society had crossed off a tree it planted a surveillance camera on the scene. The new government’s propaganda machine hooked up to the media machine and broadcast homage to the surveillance cameras. Soon, some citizens believed that the cameras had far-reaching benefits and they were safe and happy in the new world.

A play on the word “tree” is certainly possible and our team of experts has come to the conclusion that bittersweet trees, as a species, must be carved in hacking motions or transplanted to a conflict-free zone so that they don’t affect YOUR chances of survival.


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