An Artist Of Language


With a performance that kept the audience enthralled Tishani Doshi launched her new book of poems Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods amid SHE – an art exhibition of women artists at The Cube gallery. The internationally acclaimed poet talks to curator Samira Sheth about her unique craft

Samira Sheth
TISHANI Doshi is a poet, and an accomplished and well acclaimed one at that. But it is her lineage in dance, with the legendary Chandralekha as a mentor, that really transforms her text into something else entirely. She takes the written text of the poems – beautiful in their distilled power – and adds elements of the spoken word and dance to perform them. Every gesture, every word comes together to convey a stunning clarity and purity of emotion. The sheer grace, strength and power of this enactment have to be seen to be fully experienced. Luckily, for audiences in Goa, they were privy to this deeply moving performance at the launch of Tishani’s new book of poems Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods held in an unusual venue – amongst the artworks at SHE.

Here, she speaks to the curator about dance, poetry, the new book and how living on a beach between two fishing villages in Tamil Nadu with her husband and three dogs shapes her distinctive practice.

How did
Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods
come together as a collection?

I never set out to write about certain themes, so there’s always a moment of wonder when I realise I have a critical mass of poems, and that they make up a book. The wonder I suppose has to do with realising that these are my concerns, these are the things I think about subconsciously. With ‘Girls…’ there are some old ideas that I return to – the body, what it means to be a woman, leaving and returning, the sea. But there was also a shift outward. Somehow I needed to connect my personal experiences to the news I was reading every day, to the world outside which seemed to be getting madder by the minute, particularly the stories of violence against women in this country. And I must have internalised the stories because the poems came later, after sitting for a while in my body, as a kind of reaction, as a way of trying to transform all that is difficult and unbearable into something lucid and bright.

While it is so diverse in theme, is there a thread that underlies it all?

The poet Carolyn Kizer said that poets are primarily interested in death and commas. I think she was right. The thing that connects all the poems is this questioning of mortality. So it’s not just death, but the opposite of that, what does it mean to be alive? The two things always go together. I don’t see it as being morbid. I see it as examining the very idea of what it means human, and for me that means the fear that we are going to die. We have been fearing this forever, and we still fear it. Until we discover the pill to everlasting life, or ‘amritham’ the nectar of the gods, we are mortal. And that makes us human with all our faults and beauties. That is what I’m interested in.