Asian American Poets: Vijay Seshadri


Vijay Seshadri was born in Bangalore, India in 1954. He came to America as a small child with his parents. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio but has lived and worked in many parts of the United States. In Oregon he worked as a commercial fisherman and a biologist for the National Marine Fish Service. He also drove a truck for a living while being in San Francisco and worked briefly as a logger before he came to New York City to study. Regarding education, he attended Oberlin College and after that Columbia University. In 2013 Vijay Seshadri won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with his collection of poems “3 Sections”. He currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Seshadri’s poetry is largely based on his experience as an immigrant. The idea of being different is a motive that arises in his poetry as well as the need to make peace with it. He acknowledges that history with its weight, density and churning contradiction is inflected by his immigrant experience and the only way to make the peace is through poetry. In some of his poems Seshadri grapples with his complex inheritance, and in the struggle we see a sharp illumination, the ability to awaken from the nightmare of history. In his poetry he also represents a stand that only complicated ambiguous victories are worth having. A hard earned awakening is worth our while because of the hardship and chaos. Regarding the motive of awakening let us look at the poem ‘The Long Meadow’.


Image credits: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/poetry - Nick Fewings

As one of his finest poems ‘The Long Meadow’ talks about an episode in Mahabharata which turns sharply and unexpectedly into a personal moment. The center theme of the poem is a dilemma between righteousness and enlightenment which one must surpass in order to awaken. Those that praised justice are thrown to the river of fire, and the main character finds only his enemy in heaven. Almost, as the point is to accept ourselves in the cosmic play and there is no winner, only those who are chosen to play and be blessed after acceptance. The personal moment shows the reality of the myth. We must surpass the misery and contradictions of history as well as everyday suffering to be born as blissful in our lack of being judgemental. We are alone in the dilemma and the only thing that keeps us company is our overprotective dog which unlike history and the world accepts our nature.

In his interview with Jeet Thayil for Poets & Writers magazine he explains his own process of writing poems. There was a time when Seshadri actually just “willed” poems. He would see something beautiful in the world and said to himself that he would write about it. In that time he was mostly influenced by images. Later, it was necessary that the image would call forth a rhythmically alive phrase and that would help him write. The main condition that Seshadri points out to write poems is to have enthusiasm for poetry. Through the complexity of feelings and history, the need to awaken is given to us in Seshadri’s poetry. To surpass the dilemma is to be free of conditioning and of cause.


Written by: Mislav Zlomislić


References:

https://www.poetryinternational.com/en/poets-poems/poets/poet/102-18366_Seshadri

https://www.poetryinternational.com/en/poets-poems/poems/poem/103-18431_THE-LONG-MEADOW

https://www.pw.org/content/interview_poet_vijay_seshadri

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijay_Seshadri

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/vijay-seshadri


Mislav Zlomislić is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. He is a former student of Zagreb school of economics and management, Zagreb, Croatia

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