Poet Of The Week

Kiran Bath

     January 8–14, 2018

Kiran Bath is a lawyer, poet and essayist who currently resides in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in NAILED, Live FAST magazine and the Bridge. As a self-proclaimed coffee snob, she is permanently searching for the perfect macchiato. This past fall, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Jason Koo’s workshop on writing to different audiences, Dear Readers.

20-Something

 
I can’t get these girls out of my head.
They’re twenty-something sirens
stenciled
from the bravest part of me.
A paper-doll chain
shaded in my hue, burning faster.
Unfazed by any good Indian girl bullshit.
Unperturbed by blood-ink honor rolls.
These wildflowers mount thorns,
hell,
they eat for two and grow them thick within their buds.
How else to weapon within.

They blossom with subversity:
Here she is riding the L train—
unapology streaming from her armpits.
There she is wearing her mother’s dowry jewels,
her Sunday best, she calls it blood sweat and questions inherited.
Here I am,
whitewashed,
a parental dream in pant suit and pearl studs.
My culture has a time and place,
my sexuality a single designation.
I pull the vine of them from my bra
and scatter them into tiny squares on my screen.
And now I stalk them,
incessantly.

My alter egos
dart from digital dollhouses
and into my sheets,
pussy-pussy-pussy-marijuana
blares from my mind’s eye.
My head is pounding,
I’m already a half hour late.
I exhale the J with everything that’s left in me
and ask one of them—“How do you do it?”

She’s all toe rings and faded henna
(oh that brown girl shit is the thing over here),
pressed up to my ribs.
“It’s falling in reverse,” she mews,
traces temple to navel:
“Start flattened, finish hungry
for a new ending.”
“Or new beginning,” I offer.
“What’s the difference?”

I’m lost in her nose piercing,
I want to know about the men.
A cameo of pale-limbed artisans,
fishing rods over their shoulders,
marching into Bushwick bedrooms.
“We’re never hunted,” she corrects.
I reach for her wrists
like, let me wear you.
She holds a lighter to her hair instead
and it’s the fastest I’ve smoked anything.
“See, now I’m inside of you,” she teases.
I’m trying to be a pro
but I choke.
It’s too late for me.
I can’t contain any poison not of my making,
I’m too big on self-medicating,
my way of being helpless.

Maybe when I see them as sisters, not tragedies.
Maybe when I’m not threatened by their silk throats
or thirsty for their mistakes,
or when the starkness of my curiosity against their cool apathy fades
and I’m done bridging the gap of our girlhoods.
That is to say, the cracks in my selfhood.
Until then,
daughters of new world colonialism,
wait for me.

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I was about to turn thirty and was going through a pretty difficult transition in my life. The poem isn’t particularly about aging and comparing myself to younger women at all, it’s more about celebrating how my South Asian counterparts here in the States are, among other things, much braver in their self-expression and really embrace their heritage in a way that I never gave myself permission to back home in Australia. There’s also a sensation of the self-interrogation and relearning of values and attachments that can happen when you’re at a turning point.

What are you working on right now?

Many things! As well as poems I’m working on a number of critical essays and thought pieces on topics that span from the Rohingya crisis to the starving/tortured artist complex. I’m also trying to piece together the final iteration of a photo essay series on cultural appropriation.

What’s a good day for you?

An unrushed morning with time for coffee, headlines and sky gazing. At least one moment in the day where I laugh out loud, a long-distance call with my sister, pilates, comfort food and hitting my head on the pillow with a sense of gratitude.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I’m really big on energy. Before moving to Brooklyn I had lived in the East Village and SoHo, both lovely and quirky in their own way, but the vibe I got from being around some of the neighborhoods in this borough just felt instantly comforting.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I’m in Clinton Hill, on the fringe of Bed-Stuy. It’s a really interesting neighborhood because gentrification is raging through it at a pace of a new vegan café each month, but it still retains a strong sense of its original charm. Within one block you’ll have the classic bodega with cats, an old barber shop with kids running amok, and then an organic wine shop with purple-haired kids eyeing the Pinot offerings of the $12 table. It’s odd to know that you’re part of the gentrification and then still be hypercritical of the disruptions that it entails.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

One of my first times visiting Brooklyn was in the dead of summer, when I attended a screening of mini-documentaries by UnionDocs in DUMBO. It was a picnic set up under the Brooklyn Bridge. The whole evening was just an overload of raw talent and just to be surrounded by artists of so many different mediums was super inspiring.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

Everything. There’s such a stereotypical association of lonerism with being a poet, and while there’s something really sacred about solitude in a writing process, the most enriching part of poetry for me has been the sharing. And not in a publishing sense, I mean the energy of a room just as an open mic is about to kick off; or the Sunday afternoons of peeling through another poet’s thought process in a workshop. Even digitally, the very first place I shared my poems was the Bridge. A writing community is like an intellectual organism, I’m stoked to have found it and am still wading through it as I keep meeting inspiring people all the time.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

So many! I’m just going to rattle off the ones that come to mind: Jason Koo and Jay Deshpande—I took their workshops and have followed their work for a while. Jason’s poem “Model Minority” was one of the most triggering poems I’ve read. I continue to be in love with the work of Morgan Parker and Ocean Vuong, and I saw Natalie Eilbert at a reading a few months ago and am really excited to read more of her work. Special mention for Arthur Russell too, he’s a fellow lawyer/poet and I think it’s hard not to learn something new when reading his work.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

My mentors are poets long dead like Anaïs Nin and Audre Lorde, as well as really young and contemporary poets like Safia Elhillo, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib and Kaveh Akbar. I feel like these poets conquer the balance of being profoundly philosophical and poetic in their work.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Kaveh Akbar—Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I’ve been meaning to get through all of Salman Rushdie’s work and am currently reading The Satanic Verses. I’m also going back and reading the unexpurgated diaries of Anaïs Nin (fascinating stuff!) and up next will be Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

It’s completely piecemeal and unplanned. I definitely prefer physical books that I can underline and annotate and roll up in my hand when it’s finally my stop. I discover my next read via anything from Twitter comments to covers I can make out on an elevator ride where the reader looks completely lost in the pages.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

An epic poem.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Anywhere with large windows and good espresso.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Real estate eye-candy: Walking down Greene Ave in Fort Greene and marveling at the brownstones.

For food and writing: Neighborhood gems like Olea, Urban Vintage and Bedford Hill.

Village feels: The quaint line of shops and cafés down 7th Ave in Park Slope.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate hedonism,
And what I make of my endings you conspire with constellations,
For every star is optional to see and only as good as the sunlight
     in
you.

Why Brooklyn?

Space, culture, cute dogs.