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Feast | Feast[ing] | Thirst[ing] | Text[ing]

Feast | Feast[ing] | Thirst[ing] | Text[ing]

Sudeep Sen

… sit here. Eat.
— Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

— Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry”

Coming from India, a country where food and love are a mutually paired construct—at least the way love is shown via feeding and feasting—it is not surprising that when commissioned to curate this feast-themed FUSION issue of Prairie Schooner, I accepted it happily with mouth-watering anticipation at the prospect of savouring its taste, its poetic aroma, and visual shape.
Food and feasting are everywhere in India—at home, in communal spaces, and as part of social events and religious festivals. Feasting is an expression of love—parental, filial, even romantic. The Indian cuisine is known worldwide, and the feasting patterns and cooking styles within India and the Indian subcontinent vary enormously. I myself have not been impervious to this aspect of food and feasting. In my poem “Indian Dessert,” ostensibly about gajar-ka-halwa (carrot pudding), I enjoy the sensual connection between food and desire:

“Clumps of smoke simmer in the pan, and slowly
lift to caress the outline of your breasts

as you cook, stirring spices in carrot, milk,
and cream—ingredients that conjure

recipes of hunger and passion.”


This “feast” issue of FUSION gathers poetry by two dozen contemporary women poets from India, most of whom write in English, but also a few who write in Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Assamese, and other languages. The accent has been largely on younger poets (though not all of them represent that demographic) and those who are part of the vibrant Indian performance and publishing poetry scene.

One of the leading younger Hindi poets, Anamika, in her poem “Salt” takes on the difficult issues of hunger and anti-feast, of poverty and oppression. Annie Zaidi’s cleverly titled “Chicken Claws at Midnight” spins the food-love binary into the “eternally hungry”—it is an apocalyptic take on a night-time devouring of the familiar bird claws. Anuradha Majumdar’s “Handful of Grain” is a vignette, an oblique comment on malnutrition and the barter one has to perform to obtain food. Mango and figs in “Fruits” by Athena Kashyap plays with the prose poem form with economy and cheeky delight: “Curved like a woman, her lesbian lover, the mango kissed her lips.” Another prose poem, “Feast of Sunshine,” by Bina Sarkar Ellias weaves the imagery of life, of “tea water,” of imagination, and of journey.

Deepti Naval’s “Untitled” poem makes us probe below the sub-layers of ice for the idea of food as her sojourn makes “roots in ice.” As “the vinegar in the water simmers / invisible as margin white egg poach,” Himali Singh Soin playfully toys with the metaphor of writing as a type of hunger. In contrast, Janice Pariat evocatively paints a Lisbon scene in her poem “The Saint of Lost Things” on his feast day, while Lekshmy Rajeev takes on a more traditional view of “The Last Supper” in deliberate deadpan prose-speak.

Mandakranta Sen, in her Bengali original, shakes and stirs the whole idea of lesbian love and lust with panache and voracious energy: “blood between her legs—/ This wild smell of blood has made me crave …”. Meena Kandasamy in “Eating Dirt” retells the childhood story of the Hindu mythical hero Krishna and his mother Yasoda where “famished tongue feasted on dreams.”

Minal Hajratwala’s finely executed poem “Leftovers” is at the same time tactile and sensuous, as it is cleverly wrought: “Goat curry tickles the rice / dryly. Styrofoam // lip lock tight” as “mirthless / cold stales in.” Nabanita Kanungo’s poem is about longing, remembrance, and memory of intimate things of taste. She says, “I will carry this helpless bridge / of dark, olfactory roots in my head”—and it is also a poem in which she wonders what she would take with her if she left her hometown replete with local food—fruits, dried fish, sesame, and tree tomato.

“Of the red soil of coiled fists,” an echoey refrain, punctuates Nabina Das’s “Nrityagram: Uru Habba for the Red Soil” where there are “no grains of their dream nor brine.” The “crust” and crux of Navkirat Sodhi’s poem “Bidden For” acts like a flash flood that lingers and disappears in a moment. Nitoo Das’s “Paas Phuron” evokes the “five spices” so crucial to Eastern Indian cooking—we can feel each aroma’s “temper” vividly.

“Feast Time” by Rati Saxena plays with the binary-duality of time and timelessness, of food and lack of it, of the mixing of milk and mango juice, and that of the two timetables. Savita Singh’s “Fruits” is a conversation, a dialogue between fruit characters that is a witty and folk-tale like. Sharanya Manivannan’s “Benediction for a Feast” has a seductive oral quality to it—it almost urges you to be anointed through her wordplay: “Bloom fierce / and wild and splendorous.”

Shikha Malaviya’s poem is a straightforward take on “Feasting, Fasting.” In “Traffic Signals,” however, Sukrita powerfully and movingly uses the metaphor of food and poverty that ultimately becomes a social comment. On the other hand, Sumana Roy’s poem, “Spit Feast,” is a wonderfully sexualised take on the concept of the “rude.” Tanya Mendonsa details the “Morning after the Festival,” as Uddipana Goswami’s “Feasting for the Dead” has this brilliant opening: “She died, he died, they died—/ And we all went for a feast.”

“Feast” in this mini-anthology is celebrated both directly and obliquely—it is physical, tactile, cerebral, sexual, religious, theoretical; or simply, it is a “recipe for hunger” and taste. This is just the appetizer—for the main course and dessert, I invite you to what unfolds, a narrative of life, feasting to its brim, taking you through the inner and outer psyches of the human condition. And for that, you need to read the individual poems.


Working with the artist Manisha Gera Baswani on this project has been a real pleasure. I have been familiar with her work for more than a decade. Her work engages a lot with communal spaces of family and the everyday, and aspects of dining and food are important elements in her work. Manisha was also part of my Rain book of prose poems, to which twenty top Indian artists contributed their visual work. Recently I wrote a poem, appropriately titled “Feast,” inspired in part by a stunning installation at her recent Emily Dickinson-based solo show, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers” at Gallery Espace in New Delhi. My poem “Feast” begins, “That final focused / piercing ray, // that sudden flash / of pin-pointed light // that sparks love, / sex embalming, // cracking open—/ feasting a new birth.” Light, birthing, the egg, sensuality, and feasting are themes that seem to explode from her work, almost begging a poet to write in response.

Savour this mini-anthology, eat it, and feast on it.


Sudeep Sen has been an international writer-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. His two dozen books include Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Distracted Geographies, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Letters of Glass, Ladakh, and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor). Blue Nude: New & Selected Poems/Translations, 1979–2014 (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Award) is forthcoming. His poems have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. His words appear in TLS, Newsweek, Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, and broadcast on BBC, PBS, and CNN IBN. He is the editorial director of AARK arts and editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian to be honoured with an invitation to participate at the 2013 Nobel Laureate Week, where he delivered the Derek Walcott Lecture and read his poetry. A special commemorative edition of his work, Fractals: New & Selected Poems|Translations 1978-2013, was released by the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott in the presence of H.E. Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General (President) of St Lucia, in January 2013. Read more here.

Sudeep Sen

Sara Bowman