This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Prageeta Sharma’s Infamous Landscapes (Fence Books, 2007).
H.L. Hix: Do the lines “I am not sure what I have in my hand: // A hatchet, a club, or a long-winded sentiment” (10) reflect, beyond the confines of their sense in this particular poem, a more general uncertainty about poetry?
Prageeta Sharma: In some way all of my work explores a kind of uncertainty about poetry, perhaps an apprehension; but not about poetry—more about the subjectivity inherent in all personal truths or values. I’ve been really interested in having the poem look as though it’s thinking aloud, but still be fierce in some way. I also recall my first graduate poetry professor, Marjorie Welish, encouraging us to read Ashbery and Rilke. Certainly both are influences for me.
And I still remember Welish’s exercises my first graduate workshop: She had asked the class to create an abstract poem retelling some kind of event—either in third person or second person– akin to the language moves in Rilke. I think she may have even asked us to imitate Rilke. I remember reading Rilke¹s ”Blank Joy,” and thinking about the kind of event leading up to the heartfelt last lines (“If I’ve wept for you so much, it’s because / I preferred you among so many outlined joys”). I was deeply moved by the way Rilke allowed strange and forthright feelings to inhabit that poem. I think I try to hold on to Rilke’s movements, but add more uncertainty.
HH: I’m intrigued by the ambiguity of the referent of the “it” in “Our paths will cross and it will be provisional” (32). What will be provisional? the crossing of paths? the grin? the life of a talking book? the viewpoint? Am I right to see this as a significant point in the movement of the whole book?
PS: I know, I live in ambiguity! Ultimately this was a love poem about unrequited love, and the speaker is reassuring herself that any future events with this person will prove “provisional.” So yes, the “crossing of paths, the life of a talking book, etc.” Essentially, the subject of the poem is the movement of hope that oscillates throughout these poems as the same poems explore despair and a kind of defamiliarization of the speaker with others. Actually, in thinking about Rilke, this poem recalls similar turns as “Evening Love Song”: “a new chapter of our nights, / of those frail nights / we stretch out and which mingle / with these black horizontals.”
HH: Among the many lines and sentences that seem to contain much more than they explicitly say, “to claim the encounter / for the intentions of personal gain without the empire” (57) seems like it is pushing at an ideal for (your) poetry. Am I right to think so? Is the ideal one you’re willing to speak to?
PS: I do see a kind of politicized female speaker attempting to reclaim an ideal for the self rather than for a lofty public purpose; though the irony is that all of these poems are invariably lofty and take up space.
Prageeta Sharma was born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1972, shortly after her parents emigrated from India in 1969. She attended Simon’s Rock College of Bard for her undergraduate studies and received an M.F.A. in poetry from Brown University in 1995 and an M.A. in media studies from The New School in 2002. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Infamous Landscapes (Fence Books, 2007); The Opening Question (Fence Books, 2004), winner of the 2004 Fence Modern Poets Prize; and Bliss to Fill (Subpress Collective, 2000).