Mailbox Monday #335

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Gates of Rutherford by Elizabeth Cooke, a surprise from Penguin.

Charlotte Cavendish has been dreaming of her old home at Rutherford Park. It is April 1917; she is nineteen years old. And everywhere there is change. The war still rages on the Continent, where her brother fights for the Royal Flying Corps. Her parents’ marriage is in jeopardy, with her mother falling for a charming American in London.

But not all is grim. Charlotte is marrying Preston, the blinded soldier whom she nursed back to health. Her parents couldn’t be happier about this. The young man hails from a well-established and wealthy family in Kent, and he’s solid and respectable. They hope he’s the one to tame their notoriously headstrong daughter.

But as time passes, Charlotte slowly comes to the realization that she is not truly happy. And for a reason she is only just beginning to understand. A reason she dare not reveal to the family—or the world.

WET SILENCE BOOK COVER2.  Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, for review from the publisher Modern History Press.

Wet Silence bears moving accounts of Hindu widows in India. The book raises concern about the treatment of widowed women by society; lends their stories a voice; shares their unheard tales about marriage; reveals the heavy hand of patriarchy; and, addresses the lack of companionship and sensuality in their lives. This collection of poems covers a myriad of social evils such as misogyny, infidelity, gender inequality, and celibacy amongst other things. The poems in the collection are bold, unapologetic, and visceral. The collection will haunt you.

What did you receive?

Guest Post: The Magic of Poetry by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a poet and novelist, and dare I say an activist?! Her poetry books have been reviewed on Savvy Verse & Wit, and she’s even visited for a Q&A and a guest post about creativity in the past. I’ve known her for what seems like forever, and after meeting her in person more than once and chatting with her on social media and email, I can say that we are kindred spirits, poets, and friends.  Check out my reviews of No Ocean Here, Because All Is Not Lost, Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, and Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors.  Here are her interview and previous creativity guest post.

Today, she’s going to share the magic of poetry for National Poetry Month!

J.D. Salinger once said, “Poets are always taking the weather so personally. They’re always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotions.” He’s probably right.

In the first week of April, I got caught in the rain three days in a row. I love the rains and call myself a pluviophile (aside from urban dictionary, is pluviophile even officially considered a word?) While the lover of rain inside me was happy to wash away the unmentionables in the downpour, it wasn’t that simple. The wind mutilated my umbrella. The cold seeped inside my bones. My body collapsed with the onslaught.

For two weeks, I was on bed rest, fighting 103F fever and sinusitis. I had no taste in my mouth. To top it all, the strong antibiotics reacted and I had to be put on a counter dosage. Life came to an un-poetic standstill.

The only thing that soothed me at this time was a stray star that I would spot outside my bedroom window every night. I live in New York City—this was definitely an unusual and poetic occurrence. True to J.D. Salinger’s words, I started to attach a meaning to this mystical happening and wondered about the pleasant surprise.

Right about this time, my sister-in-law (husband’s sister) who lives in Singapore told me that our five and a half-year-old niece, Noyonika, had written a poem in school. It was about a star.

How To Catch A Star (By Noyonika)

I will sit on a broom
And fly to the moon
And catch my star

It is very dark when I fly to the moon
I am scared, it is so dark!

But I am brave and I carry on
To catch my star
Then I see something
Yippee, Yippee!

It’s my star!
It’s golden, pink and purple
It’s beautiful, it’s colossal
And it glows in the dark!

I reach my hand out
And catch my star
And I tell the broom:
‘Take me back to my room.”

Was that Noyonika’s star that I saw outside my window? Yes, you could say my fever-induced delirium made me imagine that. Or was it pure poetry? My niece, thousands of miles away, and I bonding over a remote incandescent body in the sky via the path of verses. The way I look at it, poetry paves way for imagination with a touch of human connection. With all due respect, in this sometimes cold, unpredictable, and impersonal world, attaching emotions in oddest of places is what keeps us sane, Mr. Salinger.

Thanks, Sweta, for sharing the magic of poetry with us and the world.

About the Poet:sweta

Sweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “One of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, Amazon bestselling author, novelist, poet, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, and a nonfiction book. Her work has also appeared in several publications across three continents. Sweta has won three Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and writing fellowships. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City with her husband and teaches creative writing and gives talks on gender studies while managing a career in digital marketing. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Guest Post: Creativity & Mortality by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Please click on the image for today’s tour stop.

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a delightful and passionate poet looking to promote social justice, but more than that she’s not what people typically picture when they think of a poet. Most people I talk to think poets are crazy, depressed, or drunk. Sweta is optimistic, cheerful, thoughtful, and passionate; I haven’t seen her crazy, drunk, or depressed, but I’m sure that there are times when she feels those things, just like we all do.

I’ve reviewed several of her poetry collections on the blog, including her most recent No Ocean Here, which I enjoyed because it made me sad and made me think. But even more wondrous for me was meeting her in person and realizing that she is the same person whether online or off and that she’s as honest as I expected. She’s a delight and so fun to hang out with for lunch or even 10 minutes.

When I was talking about the blog tour, she volunteered to talk about creativity, particularly in relation to her latest project. Without further ado, please giver her a warm welcome.

2012 was an extremely dark year for me. I worked extensively on social issues affecting women. Researching, writing, and editing such pieces required me to traverse through and unravel a lot of unpleasant situations. I was exposed to unimaginable hopelessness and pessimism. There were days when I saw nothing encouraging about humanity. And even though I am a die-hard optimist, it was hard to see even a ray of optimism inside my well of poetic darkness. Thus began my quest to understand poets and writers and the impact of darkness and mortality on their work and lives.

Mortality, specifically the finality of death, is an esoteric subject. In a paper dealing with effects of mortality salience on the creative expression, Clay Routledge et.al. stated that amplified concerns for mortality decreased creativity when the act was self-directed but not when it was community directed. This got me thinking of the fact that so many genius artists have died so young. Is it that these artists simply could not face the reality which their creations exposed them to? Or could it be a vicious cycle where artists who are forced to peel back and critically examine the layers of melancholy, misery, pain, and sorrow find themselves pushed into abject loneliness because of the gloomy vision they see the world in; and in turn find their creativity stifled to the point where their very existence becomes a downward spiral into depression and eventually death.

Anaïs Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” But the truth is that death isn’t a light subject for anyone; especially not for artists who, when they explore the dark sides end up re-living death in a myriad of ways as they bring forth their creations into the world.

Thanks, Sweta. I, too, wonder about the abyss that artists look into when they create and what enables some to re-emerge on the other side, while others fall over the cliff.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, is a collection of poems about the subjugation of women and all of its forms, across not only the Middle East and Africa, but also throughout the various parts of Asia and South Asia.  These poetic portraits are often prefaced by some facts about a particular woman’s story encapsulated in the poem or about statistics of crimes against women in various countries.  Not all of the poems are prefaced, but even those that are could stand on their own and speak for the women they represent.  Beyond the violence and inequality women deal with on a daily basis, these poems also shed light on the women-on-women violence and the silent acceptance among older women of continuing these traditions with the younger generations.

From War (page 12; which is related to Sri Lankan battles)

The sun was shining on shells
of burnt-out houses in their neighborhood.
Her mother, sister, and she were drinking

coffee, thanking bees for leaving them alone
when three men in uniforms entered

their house under the pretense of search.

All cavities of the women's trust were emptied out
when each man selected a victim:

Vikram’s poetry not only provides a story that is easily accessible on the surface, but she also provides themes and hardships that call for closer inspection.  In this way, her collection would make an excellent book club pick, which could be even further enhanced by additional materials on the subjugation of women across the globe even today. Her poetry speaks of social injustice in a way that shocks the reader, but also pays homage to those who have suffered with the deft strokes of her imagery.  Some poems are stronger than others in terms of theme and imagery, while others are more in-your-face and full of surface meaning.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a vast ocean of pain, discomfort, and horror that should make women in the modern world, including those inside and outside the United States, stand up for themselves and others. Beyond that, it should make men stand up and take notice that their actions and those of other males in societies across the world should not be tolerated — and ended.

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award-winning poet, writer, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book, and a book-length collection of poems (upcoming). Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across six countries in three continents. Sweta has won two Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and writing fellowships. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City.

This is my 6th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.


Click on the image below for today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post:

AWP 2013 Boston

Although I’m still working on a poetry manuscript and it’s taking me longer than expected, I wanted to take the time to attend the big writer’s conference for two reasons:

  1. It was in Boston, which I miss
  2. I’ve never been to a conference of this size with so many writers and I wanted to see what other people were doing and how they coped with time management and other issues.

Registration opened on Wed., March 6, and I had planned to get my registration and spend the day with my hubby in Boston, while the little one was watched by her grandparents. While I did pick up my conference badge, etc. and we did get to have a lunch at an Irish pub, Sólás, that had phenomenal smoked Gouda and bacon fondue and some great chowda and soup!  Unfortunately, that’s when we got the call that the little one was running a fever and was not eating, etc.  Let’s just say that the plan to go out and about and take photos and just explore did not happen as I had expected and we headed home.  And this was a continued issue for me throughout the remainder of the week — worry over the kiddo and balancing that with the conference that I paid for, plus a lovely blizzard!

Thurs., March 7:

My first panel was “Revival of the Literary Salon with the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop” with Jessica Piazza (whom I’ve interviewed for 32 Poems), Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Samantha Milowsky, and Jade Sylvan), which was fun.  We learned about the creation of literary salons or writing groups that mix genres and music or more to experiment with form and just have fun.  It is less about critiquing work outright and more about learning and sharing with others.  A fun environment in which to share work that may be in draft form or that may be hard to finish for some reason, etc.  It can help provide feedback without being formal.  This panel ended with a writing exercise, similar to the game of Taboo, in which groups were randomly formed to write about an object in poetry from without using a certain list of words.  My group’s poem was not as good as the others in my self-critical opinion, but I confess, I’m not really a morning writer and this was the 9 a.m. panel.  I also felt for a long time like the most “normal” person in the room, and I’m far from normal.

I did end up missing 3 panels — “Keeping Track of Your Book,” “Sources of Inspiration” with Matthew Pearl and “The First Five Pages: Literary Agents and Editors Talk” — because I decided to meet with Sweta Srivastava Vikram at her publisher’s booth, Modern History Press, for a chat that turned into a 2 hour lunch!  Sweta is as lovely and honest in person as she is online, and I really love that about her.  You can check out an impromptu photo with one of her other poet friends, Rajiv Mohabir, here on Facebook.  We had such a great discussion of personalities online and offline and how disingenuous it seems when people have separate personas online and off, as well as a discussion about pulling back from friends in need because they seem to always be in need, etc.  Was a great discussion of chowda and lobster bisque!

The second panel I attended, “What a Novella Is,” was moderated by my friend K.E. Semmel, and touched upon the hardships of writing and defining a piece of work.  The panelists talked about how difficult it is to define novella beyond a simple word count, but most agreed that there is a single line of story but that it goes deeper than a short story would.  There were questions from the audience about Novella and it was discussed that writers need to take a hard look at their longer pieces to see if it is a novel in progress or a short story with too much excess before deciding its a novella.  There were some great novella recommendations from the panel, including one of my recent favorites — We the Animals by Justin Torres.  For a more in depth recap, please check out Melville House.  For this panel, I missed these panels “Lady Lazarus and Beyond: The Craft of Sylvia Plath,” “Writing the Great Hunger,” and “Literary Boston: A Living History” — I think it would be great to split panels up between friends and compare notes, since so many panels are at the same time in different rooms.

“The Chapbook as Gateway” panel with B.K. Fischer, Stephanie Lenox, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Susanna H. Case, and David Tucker was interesting and discussed how poets can use chapbooks as a limited edition to gain audiences and readers before a first book comes out, like a preview to greater work to come.  It was touted as a possible marketing tool at readings, with poets remarking on how many copies are available in the limited edition chapbooks and that only those readers acting quickly will have the gem.  It was interesting to note that some of the poets also have published other chapbooks even since their first book and that they find they like the form as a way to reach new readers at readings and to fill in the gaps between books.  Unfortunately,this panel was at the same time as “Does Place Still Matter,” a panel with Stewart O’Nan.

“Women Poets on Mentoring” with Allison Joseph, Rebecca Dunham, Brittany Cavallaro, Shara McCallum, and Tyler Mills was an excellent panel to end the day with and circled back to the earlier discussion Sweta and I had over lunch.  Each talked about their mentee-mentor relationship and the differences between it with their advisor-advisee relationship.  It was very engaging and it was clear that the relationships between these women were mutually beneficial.  However, there were questions from the audience about how to find mentors if you are not in a college or graduate program, and the women suggested writing programs at local centers, connecting with favorite authors through letters or email and even online, and just attending events, though they cautioned that pushing work and reviewing work early on in the relationship is not advised.  The panel also talked about how to balance the mentor-mentee relationship with other obligations, like jobs and family.

After this panel, I headed home and missed the keynote with Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, even though I really wanted to attend.  There was a big time gap between the panel and the keynote and my daughter had a fever and was feeling poorly, so I headed home.

Friday, March 8‘s blizzard hit my parents area harder than Boston, so we received a lovely 22 inches of snow and getting to Boston was going to be difficult, so I chose to miss all the panels I had prioritized and wanted to see more than the others in the schedule (including Fred Marchant’s panel on his 20th anniversary of his first book, etc.) to care for my still sick daughter.  She slept a great many hours on my lap throughout the day.

Sat., March 9:

I chatted with Sweta when I arrived at the bookfair (which is an overwhelming 3+ rooms) and met a couple poet friends of her throughout our chats.  After out morning chat and a couple of stops around the bookfair, I headed to the “Lower Your Standards: WIlliam Stafford in the Workshop” panel with Fred Marchant, James Armstrong, Phillip Metres, Alissa Nutting, and Jeff Gundy.  Jeff Gundy and Alissa Nutting were hilarious, with one of them talking about their own first workshop experience and being half-naked in the bathroom crying even though they had no reason to pee.  It seemed that some of the panelists knew Stafford well when he was alive and they talked about his workshop philosophy and his hands off style of teaching, as well as his negativity toward grading and even praising students as too much guidance, etc.  It was a good panel about guiding writers in their process and remaining less focused on an outcome/finished product.  I did miss a panel with Yusef Komunyakaa for this panel about “Breaking the Jaws of Silence,”

“Bringing Poetry to the People” with Taylor Mali, Samantha Thornhill, Jon Sands, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Michael Salinger was a great panel about how to get poetry out to the community, but it also was more about providing those with stories to tell a way in which they can tell those stories that is accessible.  There were several programs that focused on needle-exchange programs and prisoners and how to get those people to write poetry as a way to cope, etc.  While inspiring, those are not things I could see myself doing, but I’d be interested in supporting those programs for sure because some of the poems these people shared from the participants were emotionally jarring and moving.  PopUpPoets showed a video of breaking down walls among commuters etc. as each poet boards a train, for instance, and stands up to begin reading poetry, and sits down before another stands up in a sort of round robin.  As someone who is incredibly nervous reading in public, this also is not for me, but I really love the idea of getting poetry greater exposure among the general public!

I checked out the rest of the bookfair and met up again with Sweta, who was my buddy this conference.  I felt like a zombie at this point and some of the people walking around the book fair seemed like zombies as well.

My final panel, “Master of None: Surviving and Thriving Without an MFA,” with Ru Freeman (loved Disobedient Girl), Rebecca Makkai, Samuel Park, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Ida Haffermer-Higgins, has given me hope that I won’t have to incur a lot of debt to get a book published or find an agent, if I get a novel done and need one.  Unless I’m interested in teaching or embarking on another profession, I have no need for an MFA unless like someone in the audience said, “I need a structured program to sit down an write.”  I love that the women on this panel are balancing family and other jobs, and though it is sad to see that they have to hold down other jobs to make ends meet and that they cannot simply write all day, Ru Freeman was witty with her quips.  She even pointed out that big publishers certainly make a ton off of the books they publish when Samuel Park said that the editors no longer edit but have other jobs and duties that they fulfill off the clock.  Freeman also said that she finds men tend to have more time to write than women who are juggling full-time jobs and family obligations, but some male audience members wonder if that’s true for all men.  I’m sure she didn’t mean all men and was just making an observation based on her experiences.

Like most other people, I left the conference after this panel, though I wanted to spend time with family and be with my sick girl, who was feeling better and seemed to be eating solid food again but was still out of sorts.

My overall impression of this conference was that there is a sense of information overload and that you have to prepare ahead of time.  Getting the registration done the day before the panels started, allowed me to plan my days for the most part, rather than wandering around aimlessly.  However, I still felt I missed too many goodies, and would rather do this again with a buddy, maybe 2017 with Anna in DC.  I did want to attend some after conference readings, but alas family life and snow got in the way.  I did like connecting with poets, etc., I know from online in person and having lunch and longer conversations.  That aspect was so much fun, and the panels were great, but packed too close together so you are either forced to eat in a panel after grabbing something quick or skipping food until dinner.  As Fred Marchant told me after his Stafford panel, it’s the nature of the conference to feel incredibly guilty about missing out on friends’ panels or readings and feeling overloaded and lost, but all of us know that we are supporting one another in spirit, and I think that’s something I’d definitely keep in mind for next time.

If you attended AWP 2013, I’d love to hear your thoughts and read about what panels you went to and what you learned.  Feel free to check out my tweets from the conference.

Mailbox Monday #214

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Chaotic Compendiums.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.


Here’s what I received:

1.  The Secretary by Kim Ghattas for review from Henry Holt.

In November 2008, Hillary Clinton agreed to work for her former rival. As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, she set out to repair America’s image around the world—and her own. For the following four years, BBC foreign correspondent Kim Ghattas had unparalleled access to Clinton and her entourage, and she weaves a fast-paced, gripping account of life on the road with Clinton in The Secretary.

With the perspective of one who is both an insider and an outsider, Ghattas draws on extensive interviews with Clinton, administration officials, and players in Washington as well as overseas, to paint an intimate and candid portrait of one of the most powerful global politicians. Filled with fresh insights, The Secretary provides a captivating analysis of Clinton’s brand of diplomacy and the Obama administration’s efforts to redefine American power in the twenty-first century.

Populated with a cast of real-life characters, The Secretary tells the story of Clinton’s transformation from popular but polarizing politician to America’s envoy to the world in compelling detail and with all the tension of high stakes diplomacy. From her evolving relationship with President Obama to the drama of WikiLeaks and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, we see Clinton cheerfully boarding her plane at 3 a.m. after no sleep, reading the riot act to the Chinese, and going through her diplomatic checklist before signing on to war in Libya—all the while trying to restore American leadership in a rapidly changing world.

Viewed through Ghattas’s vantage point as a half-Dutch, half-Lebanese citizen who grew up in the crossfire of the Lebanese civil war, The Secretary is also the author’s own journey as she seeks to answer the questions that haunted her childhood. How powerful is America really? And, if it is in decline, who or what will replace it and what will it mean for America and the world?

2.  No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram for review from the poet.

No Ocean Here bears moving accounts of women and girls in certain developing and underdeveloped countries. The book raises concern, and chronicles the socio-cultural conditions of women in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The stories, either based on personal interviews or inspired by true stories, are factual, visceral, haunting, and bold narratives, presented in the form of poems.

3.  Night Thoughts by Sarah Arvio, which I won.

In this remarkable and unique work, award-winning poet Sarah Arvio gives us a memoir about coming to terms with a life in crisis through the study of dreams.

As a young woman, threatened by disturbing visions, Arvio went into psychoanalysis to save herself. The result is a riveting sequence of dream poems, followed by “Notes.” The poems, in the form of irregular sonnets, describe her dreamworld:  a realm of beauty and terror emblazoned with recurring colors and images—gold, blood red, robin’s-egg blue, snakes, swarms of razors, suitcases, playing cards, a catwalk. The Notes, also exquisitely readable, unfold the meaning of the dreams—as told to her analyst—and recount the enlightening and sometimes harrowing process of unlocking memories, starting with the diaries she burned to make herself forget. Arvio’s explorations lead her back to her younger self—and to a life-changing understanding that will fascinate readers.

An utterly original work of art and a groundbreaking portrayal of the power of dream interpretation to resolve psychic distress, this stunning book illumines the poetic logic of the dreaming mind; it also shows us, with surpassing poignancy, how tender and fragile is the mind of an adolescent girl.

What did you receive?

Curiosity Quills Blog Tour Continues…

Hello everyone.  I just wanted to let you know that my crazy obsession with poetry is spreading to another blog this week.  Today, I’m guest posting at The Hopeful Librarian as part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour.  I hope you’ll check out my essay, which includes quotes from some of my favorite writers — Beth Kephart, Charles Jensen, and Sweta Srivastava Vikram.

Please stop by and let me know what you think.  Also, you can check out my guest interviewer for the tour, here.

2011 Indie Lit Awards Short List

After all the prodding and poking my team and I did on Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs, the nominations for poetry rolled in with over 200 nominations coming in for a variety of poetry.

But there were some clear favorites in the voting, with one short listed nominee collecting more than 70 votes alone.

I want to take this moment to thank the judging panel — Diary of an Eccentric, Necromancy Never Pays, 1330V, and Regular Rumination — for all of their help.  And as you know, with the announcement of the short list, your jobs are not over.  It is now time to read and discuss the short listed titles below.

  • Beyond Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Vikram (Modern History Press)
  • Catalina by Laurie Soriano (Lummox Press)
  • What Looks Like an Elephant by Edward Nudelman (Lummox Press)
  • Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Ramos, Emma Eden (Heavy Hands Ink)
  • Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Luckily, the individual presses of these books have kindly offered to send copies of the books to all the panelists.  I wish all of the poets luck.

Please visit the Indie Lit Awards Short List for the nominees in Fiction, Biography/Memoir, Nonfiction, Mystery, Speculative Fiction, and GLBTQ

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a small collection of poems that draw parallels between nature and women.  Reminiscent of Ecofeminism, a political and social combination of feminism and deep ecology that draws parallels between women and nature and calls attention to the misuse of both by patriarchy, Vikram develops a dialogue about the harm done to nature and women across the globe.  Dominance of both by outside constructs — whether it is capitalism or man — has belittled the importance and strengths of both.  Rather than wallow in the pain and repression, Vikram’s verse strives to cultivate women and nature’s strengths to demonstrate there is a way to overcome the oppression.

"in colonies of Armani,
singing a sad melody, attracting worker bees and wasps

to give their friends honey, the walk on burning coals.
A trap before he shoots bullets" (from "It's a Man's World", page 4)

Specifically, Vikram discusses in the preface how there are parallels drawn between women and the eucalyptus tree, which were both once integral to society and are now thought of as commodities that can be replaced.  The collection is broken into two parts, with the first part seemingly more focused on the changing role of both women and nature in society and the dire consequences that occur because their worth is devalued, such as the displacement of birds and animals when the eucalyptus is cut down in “Eucalyptus Trees” (page 3).  Additionally, the poems in this section describe how women and nature are abused by society (not necessarily just by men), like in “Unholy Men” and “It’s a Man’s World” (pages 4-5).

In part two, the secrets held by women and nature are revealed — their strengths that must be hidden from society or be devalued outright.  Women and nature here are dichotomies in and of themselves in that they must present a strong front to the society that abuses them, while at the same time hiding their strengths and internalizing the devaluation of their gifts.

"Wearing a veil over my dilemma,
the skull of questions is hidden.

What was mine? Some could argue.
To make a point bland as sand, I say,

Ask the bird that lost its nest resting in the eucalyptus tree,
Mother nature faced irony with a damp silence --" (From "Silence", page 14)

Vikram’s verse is sparse and powerful, evoking reflection and a grander examination of the world around us. Beyond the Scent of Sorrow calls attention to the depravity of human action, but also to the hope that things can be changed if we have the will to change it.  Do not be fooled by the comparisons here in to thinking that men are the enemy because they are not; the collection is more about the decisions we make as humans and the consequences those decisions have on our world and ourselves.

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is the third collection of hers that I’ve read, and since this was published in 2011, it is eligible for this year’s Indie Lit Awards.  It resonated with me for its references to Portugal, my father’s homeland, and for its echoes of a philosophy, social, and political movement I have studied and internalized over the years.

About the Poet:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award winning writer, a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, educator, and blogger. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the steel city of Rourkela, the blue waters of North Africa, the green hills of Mussoorie, and the erudite air of Pune before arriving in bustling New York. Growing up between three continents, six cities, five schools, and three masters degrees, what remained constant in Sweta’s life was her relationship with words.

Check out Diary of an Eccentric’s review.

This is my 31st book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 3rd book and final book for the South Asian Reading Challenge.

124th Virtual Poetry Circle

Today’s Poem is from Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram (page 8):

Skeletons of Women

My feet were ticklish
from the acorns sneaking
inside the pockets of large rocks,
scratching them like a dog's belly,
that's what I thought at first.

But I was wrong.
Woodpeckers conspiring with moths,
mimicking chained cries
of stripped branches dying their own death,
were asking me to put a period, not a comma, in my steps.

Too late, the fire moaned.
With feet sinking like a widow's hopes,
I stepped on a cask of ashes
only to find skeletons of women with no fingernails.
Hunger ate them.

Welcome to the 124th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please contribute to the growing list of 2011 Indie Lit Award Poetry Suggestions (please nominate 2011 Poetry), visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April.

So what do you think?

I’m Hosting Mailbox Monday #148

First, I would like to congratulate (Bibliophile by the Sea) on winning Where Am I Going by Michelle Cromer from the last Mailbox Monday giveaway.

Stay tuned for the next giveaway later on in the post, but for now, let’s get to this week’s post.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. Thanks to Amused by Booksfor hosting last month.

As host for this month, I have a couple giveaways planned, but mostly its about sharing books and the love of reading, so I hope in addition to leaving your post links in Mr. Linky that you’ll peek around Savvy Verse & Wit.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  The Time in Between by Maria Duenas for review (my second copy, look for a giveaway with the review)

2.   Twilight The Graphic Novel Volume 2 by Stephenie Meyer and adapted by Young Kim

3.  The Giver by Lois Lowry from the library sale for my daughter and myself

4.  The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis from the library sale for my daughter

5.  Who Am I? by Sesame Street from the library sale for my daughter

6.  Silly Sally by Audrey Wood for my daughter from the library sale

7. The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis for review for TLC Book Tours in early November.

8. The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White for review in November.

9. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos for review.

10. Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram for review.

11. Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison for review.

12. A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead for a TLC Book Tour at the end of November.

What books did you receive this week?  Please leave your link below to your mailbox.

Now, for the giveaway for the week.  I’m holding an international giveaway for Waking by Ron Rash.  Deadline to enter is Oct. 22, 2011.

I reviewed the book earlier in the month and is my first experience with Rash’s work.  Have you read other Ron Rash books, if so which one and should I read it?

I also posted a poem from the collection in the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Please leave a comment if you are interested in this book.

Interview With Sweta Vikram

Sweta Vikram‘s poetry has been featured more than once on this blog, and you can check out my reviews for Kaleidoscope:  An Asian Journey of Colors and Because All Is Not Lost.  I’m so glad that I discovered her work because it is not only vivid, but multicultural.  Her style is full of child-like imagination and sophistication as she tackles cultural themes pertaining to the human condition and the residual impact of grief.

Today, I’m happy to share with you an interview I conducted with her following my latest review.  Please feel free to leave your comments and questions following the interview.

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

Introductions vary depending on the audience. I usually never plan ahead of time. Whatever comes most naturally to me at that instant when I walk inside a crowded room and hold the microphone, I go with it. That said, there is something you should know about me: I am an obsessive-compulsive planner. My definition of spontaneity is telling my husband, “Let’s do something impromptu today.” No kidding. But, when it comes to reading my work, I let the moment take over.

I have an honest, secure, and grounded relationship with words. Frankly, there is a certain vibe to every reading venue. And I rely on that energy to guide me: whether humor would work or a more serious, informal interaction in a given scenario. But the objective is to never pretend to be someone I am not. The audiences are smart; they can sniff out fakes. I have witnessed a poet take that phony-route, and it wasn’t pretty. Every performer should be respectful of those in attending.

I was a radio jockey for a leading South Asian radio station in NYC. Believe me, you could never be ready for some of the questions or compliments or comments. I think it prepared me to not easily get fazed.

Aside from being a poet, I am also a novelist (first fiction novel, “Perfectly Untraditional,” upcoming in April 2011), an essayist, a dancer, an oenophile, and a dedicated-walker. I do love to cook, entertain, and play the piano. My family and friends are an integral part of my life. And yoga and meditation are my mantras for keeping my sanity and creativity intact.

How long have you been writing poetry and what inspired you to first write verse?

I grew up in a family of poets. My father, my aunt, and few others share a special relationship with words. One could say that given my upbringing, words come naturally to me.

I have been consciously writing since I was a pre-teen, if not before that. I spent my formative years in a boarding school in Mussoorie, India. I am a city person, so I didn’t take very well to the placidity of the Queen of Hills. The green mountains, the unassuming fog, the nippy air, and damp weather, though depressing, turned the place into a writer’s paradise. Every free minute that I had, I would scribble poems in my little blue diary. I often isolated myself from my peers, mentally. I could be sitting in a big group but inside my own creative-bubble. It was as if the pen and paper would call out to me, and I would relinquish the entire world.

I feel the solitude of the hills not only pushed me to express my experiences on paper but also disciplined me to write everyday. Now I go away to writing residencies, in desolate locations, in search of inspiration. Look at the irony—what I wanted to run away from, as a teenager, is what I look for as a professional.

Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

Poetry is a deeply embodied form of art and science. It can ignite passion and liberate. Poetry is about discovering yourself both as a human being and a writer.

Sure, performance poetry gives a poet the power of transmission: to add life to what’s written on paper. It’s such a personal method of narrating. But if the content doesn’t resonate with the audience, however evocative the style, it’s immaterial. Similarly, written poetry carries a different onus. The power of reach is dependent on the ink, not the act.

Ultimately, be it spoken word, performance, or written poetry, I feel the candor and fervor in the work shows through. Not too long ago, I was invited, along with half a dozen other poets and artists, to perform at an event’s launch. I was one of the last performers that night. And all other poets were spoken word specialists while I was going to read my written poetry. The pressure was high and unique. However, after my reading, two of the performers walked up to me and said, “Wow, that was awesome! No wonder you have a book deal.” Just like me, they had both assumed that only spoken word could have an impact on the audience. But none of us once considered that even in a crowded room, it’s ultimately the quality of words that hold the power.

I have a simple rule: never underestimate or insult the intelligence and emotional quotient of a reader/listener.

Oh, absolutely. I believe writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant. I think poetry can save lives and cure the world of all its ailments. A little zealous? Perhaps, but I have faith.

Poetry has a therapeutic and healing quality to it. It has the ability to take us into those dark places, which otherwise we might not want to visit or confront.

Robert Frost said succinctly, “Writing a poem is discovering.” I have been in workshops where strangers have revealed personal stories about abuse, illnesses, and personal failures. When we received our writing prompts, I don’t think my fellow poets knew they were going to open up their Pandora’s Box and disclose secrets to a bunch of strangers.

Poetry also makes you empathetic. I remember hugging and crying with my peers in my classes and residencies. And none of it was pretentious. Something inside of me felt moved with their stories. And I too trusted them with my personal, untold tales. Once you have shared your deepest fears with people, they become a part of you. There is a reason many of us suffer from withdrawal symptoms after spending a week at a poetry getaway and continue to stay in touch long after it’s over.

I recently taught a poetry workshop in Kolkata, India, to a group of children between the ages of 6-12. The idea behind the workshop was that poetry could:

(a) Help keep children out of trouble: I was amazed how much I found out about each child and his or her background through that one workshop. The thoughts lurking around the corner of minds were so uninhibitedly printed on paper.

(b) Introduce them to diversity: We, humans, are predisposed to prejudices and stereotypes. A significant amount of chaos in the world today is because there isn’t the right dialogue and awareness. I think “Unfamiliarity breeds contempt.”

Poetry dissipates geographic boundaries and brings together cultures. It doesn’t seek the ethnicity or race or gender of a writer. The written expectations aren’t pigeon-holed. For instance, one of the literary agents (When I was sending out query letters for my fiction novel) said to me that my novel was unlike other “ethnic novels.” In that, it was a happy, immigrant story, which isn’t what the market is used to. I was baffled; in my day job in marketing, I was trained to respect a unique selling proposition. But in the case of my book, given my South Asian background, I was expected to write about the challenges of assimilation and the trauma of being an immigrant. Umm, as if that’s not been written about, innumerable times. And secondly, immigration is such a personal journey. It’s unfair to add all immigrants or their experiences under the bucket of melancholy.

Times have changed and so have attitudes. The world has become global. I mean, my generation moved out of their parent country but not necessarily for money. It was to attain higher education or to experience a new culture or grow as an individual.

While my husband’s aunt, who migrated from India to the United States over forty years ago, told me when they had moved there wasn’t an Indian grocery store in Detroit. She and her husband would drive to Canada to buy their basic supplies. In today’s day and age, my non-South Asian friends cook Indian recipes from scratch at home, and I cook multi-cuisines too.

I believe, poetry makes you more understanding of issues and humanity.

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I don’t think there is one right or wrong answer. Each poet is different and so are his or her sensibilities.

When I speak with mainstream readers, they often tell me that they don’t like feeling unintelligent and poetry can sometimes intimidate them. But it also excites them. These folks explore “accessible” poetry. Take for example American Poet Laureate Billy Collins. His work is comprehensible and widely read. In my eyes, it makes him an intelligent writer, if non-poetry devotees read his poems too.

But that doesn’t mean ambiguous poets are dimwits. Not at all. It’s their style. And then are mainstream readers who enjoy complex, abstract, and open-ended works.

I have wondered if poets even deliberate how and what their outcome on paper should be. Derek Walcott once said, “If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.”

Some poems just come to you while others have to be manifested by tapping into a certain part of the brain. I write both literal and abstract poems. I can tell you honestly, often times, the poem has its own intent. I don’t even realize which path I am going to choose. It also depends on topics and my sense of comfort with them. All writers face the problem about writing what scares them.

Ultimately, it’s up to the poet to define their sense of purpose in the landscape of writing. There is space for different kinds of works. But I can’t imagine any poet would get upset if their readership increased. And people went crazy buying their books.

Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

Oh, my dentist knows when I have emerged from a pile of crazy deadlines.:-) There are tea stains visible only to her professional-eyes. I drink a lot of organic teas to get my rhythm going. The warm beverage tingles my creative-palate. I also rely on meditation, walking, and yoga to connect with my subconscious mind.

With the demands of day-to-day life, it’s easy for cacophony to enter the place where unused, creative thoughts reside. I set time aside, even if for a few minutes, to connect with myself. Just shut my brains and let go. I rent writing space where, thankfully, there is no tolerance for any kind of noise. But the days I work from home, I always have soft jazz playing in the background. Or any music that connects the mind and body and spirit.

I am extremely disciplined about my work and my schedule. I don’t treat it any differently from my old, day job. I believe, if I don’t respect my schedule, no one else will. And being a freelance writer takes a very different kind of commitment. It’s so easy to prioritize everything else but your work. I never wanted that to happen. This is my bread and butter and my passion.

I believe the only way one can overcome writer’s block is by writing every day. There might be days that I scribble as opposed to write. But that’s better than doing nothing. Ink on paper is better than blank paper. The more you look at empty paper, the more nervous it makes you about those unproductive days. It’s a destroying, self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to train your brain like Pavlov trained the dog: see the clock at a certain time and start to write.

Also, writing involves researching and reading. If words won’t come to you, go looking for them. It’s funny how many ideas come through because of one word you read in a book or magazine or a journal.

But aside from hard work and long hours, I make time for my family and friends. Personal life, social commitments, and a good glass of wine are integral to my existence. Writing is here to stay, so I have to find sustainable ways of nurturing it.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Off late I have been obsessed with hot chocolate with marshmallow at City Bakery in New York City. Of course I drink that and then walk for a ridiculous distance to burn those calories. But I find my muse in that blob of porous goodness.

Ha, another one:  I don’t allow anyone to touch my laptop. My husband, my father, and my eight-year-old niece, Sana, poke my laptop, just to bother me, and say, ‘Oh, I just touched it.”

Other than that, I can’t work (or breathe?) if there is any sort of mess around me. Cluttered space clutters my brain. Did I mention that I literally worship words?

What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

If all goes well, I have three books scheduled for release this year: One chapbook, one collaborative poetry collection (along with a visual artist), and a fiction novel.

I recently finished editing my upcoming fiction novel (“Perfectly Untraditional”). Given this is my first fiction novel; this book is incredibly close to my heart.

The novel, set in both India and the United States, is the story of one such immigrant who realizes the truth about her universe after she moves away. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a happy immigrant story about a modern, Indian family with all its spice galore. Women, families, youngsters, and others will be able to relate to this book.

I met an Australian artist at an artist-in-residence program. She and I became friends and took to each other’s work. To cut the long story short, we both decided to work on a project together: poetry speaks to art responds to poetry. A publishing house liked our concept and made an offer. Our collaborative book (“Not all birds sing”) is scheduled for a February 2011 release.

Just last week, I signed a book contract for another poetry collection tentatively titled “Clearing the fog.” I conceptualized this book while in Portugal. It’s unique in how it uses landscape to narrate the content of the book.

I hope your fine readers will grab a copy of each. And if they’d like to stay updated, they can always visit my website or follow me on Twitter (@ssvik) or join my author page on Facebook.

Thank you, Sweta, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. I wish you luck with all of your projects and look forward to reading your novel, Perfectly Untraditional.