80 We are Not Digested: Rajiv Mohabir (Ulka Anjaria, JP)

Rajiv Mohabir is a dazzling poet of linguistics crossovers, who works in English, Bhojpuri, Hindi and more. He is as prolific as he is polyglot (three books in 2021!) and has undertaken a remarkable array of projects includes the prizewinning resurrection of a forgotten century-old memoir  about mass involuntary migration. (If you don’t need to read any further, Listen to the episode here).

He joined John and first-time host Ulka Anjaria (English prof, Bollywood expert and Director of the Brandeis Mandel Center for the Humanities) in the old purple RtB studio. During the conversation, Rajiv read and in one case sang poems from his wonderful recent books, Cutlish and Antiman.

The poems Rajiv reads are reproduced here (and here) so you can take him in by eye and ear together.

Ulka asks Rajiv about multiple projects with intertwined roots: are they experiments or containers for “coolitude”? He proposes that the written the oral and the aural are separate manifestations, so that the printed, recited and lyric forms, an “archive of sound” “coded in our bodies in different ways” cross over before reaching the page.

A discussion of amnesia and cultivated forgetting leads Ulka to ask Rajiv about being the one among 42 grandchildren who did in fact learn his grandmother’s language and her songs. Rajiv describes the difficult project of reconstructing the Guyanese Ramayana (as many Ramayanas as there are people) by way of his grandmothers tellings: he had to fight though the belittling “folklorization” of her work. Ulka praises Rajiv’s capacity to find both anger and joy; he invokes the durable satisfaction of poetry as a way of proclaiming “we are not digested.”

Mentioned in the episode:

Dorothea Lasky, Poetry is not a Project

Seamus Deane (not Seamus Malin!), “Silence and Eloquence” The Guardian (12/12/91)

Voices from the Cane field (a Library of Congress lecture)

Read all the poems together here

Read transcript of the episode here

Listen to the episode here

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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