Poetry Magazine Weekly Podcast for April 24, 2017: Sumita Chakraborty on "Dear, Beloved"
Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of April 24th, 2017. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. In The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Summit Chakraborty is poetry editor of AGNI Magazine, art editor of At Length, and a doctoral candidate English at Emory University. She hails from Boston and currently lives in Atlanta.
Lindsay Garbutt: In the April issue we have a long poem by Sumita Chakraborty called “Dear, Beloved”. She joins us from the studios of ABE in Atlanta to read an excerpt or two from her poem and tell us a bit about it. Hi Sumita.
Summit Chakraborty: Hi there.
Lindsay Garbutt: Sumita, we’d like to hear you read a little bit of your poem, but before we do, could you tell us a little bit about it? Anything that might help us take it in?
Summit Chakraborty: Absolutely. The title might be the most helpful thing to start with. “Dear, Beloved” is the English language translation of my sister’s name, a Sanskrit origin name. She died in 2014.
Lindsay Garbutt: Sumita, your poem has an epigraph by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, that says “Child. We are done for / in the most remarkable ways”. Could you talk about why that’s the epigraph to this poem?
Summit Chakraborty: Yeah, the thing that resonates with me the most about them, it’s not like child, we are done for in the most heartrending ways or the most miserable ways, it’s the most remarkable ways. Something about that word “remarkable” seems to shine with more possibility for me. I experienced the immediate after math of my sister’s death I’ve described it as in technicolor. Everything was exceptionally vivid and vibrant. It felt like reality was layered upon layers with things I was reading, things I was feeling, things I was seeing, and the saturation in a way of the world turned all the way up. The way the word “remarkable” seemed to glitter like a jewel I think is what really made that epigraph, that quotation from Pegeen Kelly stand out to me in that way.
Don Share: The first part of the poem is about a vision or a fantasy the poet has. Can you read it for us.
Summit Chakraborty: Sure.
It would be winter, with a thin snow. An aged sunbeam
would fall on me, then on a nearby summit, until a mass
of ice would come upon me like a crown of master diamonds
in shades of gold and pink. The base of the mountains
would be still in darkness. The snow would melt,
making the mountain uglier. The ice would undertake
a journey toward dying. My iliacus, from which orchids bloom,
would learn to take an infant’s shape, some premature creature
weaned too soon. My femoral nerve, from which lichen grows
in many shades, would learn to take breaths of its own
and would issue a moan so labored it could have issued
from two women carrying a full-length wooden casket, with dirt
made from a girl inside. The dirt would have been buried
with all of the girl’s celestial possessions. Bearing the casket
would demand more muscles than earthbound horses have.
The girl would have been twenty-four. This was my visio.
Sometimes I think of it as prophecy. Other times, history.
Don Share: Sumita, you talked about the word “remarkable” in the epigraphy and there’s some remarkable words in the poem and then the beginning excerpt that you read for us, there are anatomical terms like iliacus and femoral. I think the word that most sticks out in that passage is the word “visio”. Can you talk about that? I don’t think too many people have encountered that word before.
Summit Chakraborty: I was looking for a word that wasn’t really like vision, and it wasn’t really like imagination, and it wasn’t really like prior centuries use of words like fantasy. Something like a hybrid between a dream and reality. The thing that really stood out to me about the word “visio”, which is basically when a dream or a vision or something like that is recounted as if it was entirely true. I think the way it occupies a weird liminal space, and even passageways between the imagined and the real were what drew me to the idea of a visio. It also for some reason the sound of the word made it feel like something that could be summoned in a way that I don’t associated with words like vision and imagination, which feel a little more like something that happens to you. A visio sounds more like something you call upon to transport you between the real and ethereal and something more ephemeral.
Don Share: I really felt that. It’s an arresting word and it had a celestial overtone for me. that leads me to ask about the line where you talk about how the dirt would’ve been buried with all the girl’s celestial possessions. What were her celestial possessions?
Summit Chakraborty: I think I arrived at that modifier based on a peculiar article I just read. I’m probably going to mangle the science for this, about how all the organs in our body are comprised of the same substances as star dust. In this poem, in “Dear Beloved” when I was thinking about ash and what we end up becoming — at least in my sisters case — what we end up becoming when we die, whether dirt or ash or something like that. The thing that really haunted me was it was both absolutely nothing and able to encompass the whole of the universe. I think that’s where I was going with celestial there. The whole poem is about searching out trying to pin down what happened to this figure, what happened to the relationship between the poems eye and the dead beloved and other not dead beloveds. For me, not really an all encompassing connectedness of celestially but more like a more ephemeral encompassing distance or alienation. I think ephemera is possibly the best word. Those are all the things I think I was trying to signal and kick off with that word.
Don Share: Let’s hear the next part of the poem, when you talk about what happens to the visio when your sister died.
For years it was akin to some specific land, with a vessel
that would come for me, able to cross land, sea, the spaces
of the universe, able to burrow deep into the ground.
Anything could summon it — a breaking in cloud cover,
wind chimes catching salt outside my mother’s window,
a corner of a painting. And I learned how to call it, too.
This is the only skill of which I have ever been proud.
When my sister died, from the head of my visio came offspring
in the thousands, armed to the teeth, each its own vessel.
My first, their mother, lived on. For itself and its hoard
it found a permanent home in a cave at the bottom of a lake.
And it waited until I was standing on a mountain to sing to me:
You will call this mountain home until I tell you to move again.
There will always be more of it underground than you
will ever see with your eye. And so it turned out to be true.
Lindsay Garbutt: It’s interesting to me the sort of landscape or landscapes plural that this poem takes place in. There’s a lot of references to the natural world. it started in the beginning when you talked about snow and ice, and the orchids blooming, and the lichen growing. Here we hear about the mountain which we hear about a lot in the rest of the poem. I wonder if you could talk about how landscape and nature became intwined with your other thoughts in this poem.
Summit Chakraborty: The main mountain in the poem is actually Stone Mountain here in Georgia. A friend of mine told me shortly after my sister had died that he suspected that the top of Stone Mountain would be an interesting, maybe not quite comforting, place to go in that time. It turned out to be true. I went pretty much every single day, hiking to the top of the mountain, spending full days up at the top. There was a tiny rock I even thought of as a new office, it was like my grief office. I’d bring books up there, sometimes a computer, sometimes a notebook. That would be where I went to work. In that process, that mountain that in the poem becomes my new poem is this very real giant peculiar granite rock. It’s also really suffused with the things I was reading and the things I was picturing. It’s hard for me to say exactly how a particular landscape, or landscape in the more definitional sense, factors for me, because I think it too serves as one of those kinds of passageways between the imagined and the real.
Don Share: It’s a wonderful experience. It’s hard to get a sense of in an excerpt or two, but it’s a lovely flowing riveting poem from beginning to end.
Summit Chakraborty: I really appreciate you saying that, thank you.
Don Share: You can read “Dear, Beloved” by Summit Chakraborty in it’s entirety in the April 2017 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org
Lindsay Garbutt: You’ve been listening to the weekly version of The Poetry Magazine Podcast. Let us know what you thought about this program. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced by Curtis Fox.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this poem comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.