Poet of Honour: Tishani Doshi

Tishani Dishi Photo by Vifick Bolang

Poet of Honour is a series of Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation’s celebration of some of the best contemporary poets who have become iconic and a major inspiration.


Meet Tishani in a place between her playful disposition and our exigent reality. She puts god in the middle of our chaos, our storming contradictions, our cosmos. As a rare treat, here are three poems from her collection: ‘A God at the Door’ Tishani Doshi is a tempest of talents. With her playfulness, her use of poetic forms and teasing beliefs, she summons up a vast array of images to create a universe in every poem that is never alien but very much anchored in reality. Tishani has also performed with the choreographer Chandralekha who created contemporary work using the traditional forms of Bharatnatyam, kalarippayattu and yoga. Her arresting grace and intense expressiveness in dance transfer well to her writing.

For me, it is a rare pleasure to honour and present Tishani to you. There are few poets of Gujarati heritage who have garnered such international recognition for their writing in English as she has. As you will see in these poems, whether they are about refugees, macroeconomics, or the cosmos, Tishani scoops up the social context and moulds it into poems. This is not a poet in the wilderness; though as a poet she pulls nature into her grasp! ‘It is not always a war between celebration and lament.’ she says with a yogic pause in her poem. But the hiatus, in fact, filled with hope.

A God at the Door is available to order now from Bloodaxe. 22nd April 2021 is the official launch of the book.

-Yogesh Patel MBE


Photo by Carlo Pizzati

Three Poems by Tishani Doshi

Survival

Dear ones who are still alive, I fear we may have overthought
things. It is not always a war between celebration and lament.
Now we know death is circuitous, not just a matter of hiding
in the dark, or under a bed, not even a slingshot for our loved
ones to carry, it changes nothing. Ask me to build a wall
and I will build it straight. When the end came, were you
watching TV or picnicking in a field with friends? Was the tablecloth
white, did you stay silent or fight? I hope by now you’ve given up
the fur coat, the frequent flyer miles. In the hours of waiting,
I heard a legend about a woman who was carried off by winds,
a love ballet between her and the gods, which involved only minor
mutilations. How I long to be a legend. To stand at the dock
and stare at this or that creature who survived. Examine
its nest, marvel at a tusk that can rake the sea floor for food.
Hope is a noose around my neck. I have traded in my rollerblades
for a quill. Here is the boat, the journey, the camp. If we want
to arrive we must push someone off the side. It is impossible
to feel benign. How many refugees does it take to build
a mansion? I ask again, shall we wait or run?
Here is winter, the dense pack ice. Touch it. It is a reminder
of our devastation. A kind of worship, an incantation.


Photo by Vifick Bolang

Macroeconomics

One man sits on another if he can.
One man’s heart beats stronger. One man goes
into the mines for another man to sparkle.
One man dies so the family living at the top of the hill
can eat sandwiches on the lawn. One man’s piggy bank
gets a bailout. One man tips over a stranger’s vegetable cart.
One man stays home and plays tombola till all this blows over.
One man hits the road like a pilgrim to Shambala, child
on shoulders. One man asks who’s going to go out and buy
the milk and eggs? One man’s home is across the horizon.
One man decides to walk there even though it will take days
and nights on tarmac with little food and water.
One man is stopped for loitering and made to do squats
for penance. One man reports fish are leaping
out of the sea and sucking greedily from the air.
One man eats his ration card. One man notices how starlings
have taken to the skies like a toothache,
a low continuous hunger, searing across the fields.
One man loads his gun. One man’s in charge of the seesaw.
One man wants to redistribute the plums. One man knows
there’s no such thing as a free lunch. One man finally sees
the crevasse. One man gives his blanket to the man
sitting in the crevasse. One man says there should be a tax
for doing such a thing and takes it back. The ditch widens.


Photo by Carlo Pizzati

Cosmos

Each night I take my boat out to you, asleep under
the oaks. I thought I saw a lotus creep out of your navel,
which means you got my cable. Remember when we were
young and the end was a black hole at the edge of forever,
a million light years away. Now we’re in the thick of it.
See how it swallows everything—a jungle leopard feasting
through our bloodline of mongrels. Have you noticed,
lying there as you do in moonlight, how a hurricane viewed
from outer space looks like a wisp of cotton candy?
Or how the seagull nebula resembles a section of rosy
duodenum? Down in the market a man speaks of finding
anger in his left armpit. Another talks of space debris
drifting into the River Lethe. No one can tell me
why we paint demons on our houses, except it has
to do with entries and exits. The monsters are never
far away. I want to believe the earth is a single breathing
organism. I want to keep going with this bronze body
of mine, turning and turning the gears. You left no note,
so I must assume you woke in the middle of a dream
and took shelter in the forest. Maybe you’re already
in the beauty of that other world, growing planetary rings
and gardens of foxglove. You know this skin is a thin
partition, citrus and bergamot sealed in. It’s always
ourselves we’re most afraid of. Take this vellum
and pin it to your bodice. Let it say we were here.


T<strong>ishani Doshi</strong>
Tishani Doshi



Tishani Doshi is an award-winning writer and dancer of Welsh-Gujarati descent. Born in Madras, India, in 1975, she received a masters in writing from the Johns Hopkins University, and worked in London in advertising before returning to India in 2001, where a chance encounter with the choreographer Chandralekha led her to an unexpected career in dance. She has published seven books of fiction and poetry, the most recent of which are Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award and a Firecracker Award, and a novel, Small Days and Nights, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the Tata Best Fiction Award, and a New York Times Bestsellers Editor’s Choice. She has interviewed over a hundred writers about the craft of writing, publishes essays in The Hindu, Granta, The National, The New York Times, The Guardian, Lithub and Corriere della Sera. She is a visiting professor of creative writing at New York University Abu Dhabi, and otherwise, lives on a beach in Tamil Nadu, India. A God at the Door (Bloodaxe Books), her fourth collection of poems, is forthcoming in spring 2021.

(Photo by Vifick Bolang)

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen