Poet Of The Week

Vijay Seshadri

     May 20–26, 2013

Vijay Seshadri was born in Bangalore, India, in 1954, and came to America as a small child. He is the author of four collections of poems, Wild KingdomThe Long Meadow3 Sections (all from Graywolf) and The Disappearances (Harper-Collins India), and many essays, reviews and memoir fragments. His work has been recognized with a number of honors, among them fellowships from the NEA and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award. He is currently the Myers Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

Wolf Soup

 
In the version of the Three Little Pigs
that I’ve been given to read my child,
the first two pigs, after the wolf has blown
their houses down
(“Little piggy, little piggy, let me come in”),
find refuge with their perspicacious brother.
The wolf, for his part, displays no motivation,
only an impulse arrested
from his body’s churning electrolytes
to demolish architectural follies.
He doesn’t chase and corner the pigs.
He doesn’t have a grudge against the race of pigs,
nor is he in the mood
for pig’s knuckles or a nice pig’s-ear taco
or even a simple ham sandwich.
And when he comes down the chimney
of the third pig’s house—the one he can’t
blow down, the one made of brick,
with its dormer windows
tricked out in blue, their trim
decorated with orange daisies—
he suffers for his motiveless malignancy,
in the soup pot waiting for him,
the lid of which has been removed with a
timely flourish, nothing worse than a scalding,
and runs back to his lair
somewhere over the hill.
Everyone has survived their lessons.
Everyone, as in the Last Judgment of the Zoroastrians,
is saved, even the wolf,
today exterminated
across much of the world, and almost so
in the forty-eight contiguous states.
The real story, which is locked in my desk
while I write this encryption, goes,
as you all remember, differently.
In it, the wolf eats the first two pigs,
but the third pig, the smart pig,
the shrewd, shrewd little pig, eats him in a soup
flavored with the turnips gathered
in a memorable prior episode.
Long did that pig rest a pensive trotter on the windowsill,
as he looked down the dusty road
travelled by the wolf.
His brothers were dead, his mother
unapproachable in her grief, and for weeks
the taste of wolf, at once unguent, farinaceous, brittle, and serene,
touched his mind with a golden fire.
In a pig’s eye, he thought,
as his molecules began to recombine . . .
My son might be ready for this version of the story.
Like most four-year-olds,
he’s precocious and realistic and bloody-minded.
He already knows, for example, that Jack
was nothing better than a common thief,
and has at some point observed
that giants let their fingernails grow,
sometimes to hideous lengths.

 
–From The Long Meadow, Graywolf, 2004.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

One of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a dad was re-encountering the classic fairy tales (and stuff like Dr. Seuss) by reading to the kid. The poem sprang from the fact that the first version of “The Three Little Pigs” we acquired, inadvertently, had been bowdlerized–that is, sanitized so that there was no death in it. All the pigs live, and so does the wolf. I found that silly, and also suggestive, and was thinking about it when my son Nicholas noticed while I was reading him “Jack and the Beanstalk” that the giant in our illustrated edition had long fingernails. I wrote the poem that night, after he went to bed. Somehow the fingernails fit in perfectly–in my imagination, anyway–with my indignation at the altering of “The Three Little Pigs.”

What are you working on right now?

I’m finishing a book of prose, which I guess I could characterize as a memoir. I’m also working laterally on ten or eleven new poems. Today, though, I’m writing student evaluations for my classes at Sarah Lawrence.

What’s a good day for you?

One where I wake up and work productively until three or so and then make it to the gym.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

My wife and I (though we weren’t married then) moved here, to Carroll Gardens, in late 1986, when Smith Street was kind of cracked and desolate and the neighborhood was largely Sicilian.

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

Sam, who is long gone, and who was always out in front of his house in the morning when we were new to the neighborhood, would say to me, invariably, “Have a good day in town,” when he saw me walking to the subway to go to Manhattan. I always loved hearing that from him.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Other than the obvious, W.H. Auden, who lived in Brooklyn Heights for awhile.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

None.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

None–I only read and write at home.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

The Botanic Garden, when it’s mostly empty, in the early morning.

Last awesome book(s) you read?

Antony and Cleopatra, in the Signet edition, which I taught to my rhetoric class this past semester. I’d forgotten how spectacular it is, and how radical.

Why Brooklyn?

When we moved here it was cheap.