Pulitzer-winning poet Vijay Seshadri will appear in a number of panels at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016. When approached, he kindly agreed to give Arts & letters an interview via email. Here’s what he promptly sent back:
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m rereading Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Motives. Also, Mark Strand’s Collected Poems, for an essay I’m writing. And in preparation for my trip to your profound country Richard Eaton’s The Rise of Islam on the Bengal Frontier, which is a model of scholarly excellence.
What are you writing at the moment?
The essay I just mentioned. Mark Strand was a good friend of mine and one of the great poets of our era. He died in 2014, and I’m writing in celebration of him and of his generation of poets.
Which poet has influenced you the most?
I couldn’t reduce it to only one. I think middle-period Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop–they were dominant mid-century American poets, who had much in common with each other–most influenced my technique. Auden and Yeats gave me a sense of what the semantic field, the terrain of the poem, is. And a host of contemporary American poets showed me the way to a voice–Strand, again, John Ashbery; James Schuyler; Galway Kinnell, when I was first starting out; Gary Snyder.
If you want something succinct about my work, it might be this: I don’t know if I’m an American–that seems to up to others to decide. I do know, though, that I’m an American poet.
Tell us in short something about your poetry.
I write very much at the center of the American tradition, though that might seem a little strange, because I came to America as a small child, in the late nineteen-fifties. I’m an immigrant, I wasn’t born here, as so many Bangladeshis and other South Asians are now. As you might know, immigration is particularly controversial currently in the States, but it has always bequeathed to me a complex and problematic existence. I’ve often been seen as a stranger here, however assimilated (and I’m pretty thoroughly assimilated). If you want something succinct about my work, it might be this: I don’t know if I’m an American–that seems to up to others to decide. I do know, though, that I’m an American poet.
How much of your diasporic experience has shaped your poetry?
I think it gave me an outsider’s consciousness, and an outsider’s consciousness, richly and complexly conceived (and, of course, people who are otherwise very much a part of their society can also possess such a consciousness) is I think at the heart of what makes an artist an artist. Socially, being a part of a diaspora is difficult; imaginatively it is strengthening and vivifying.
How are you feeling about attending the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016?
I’m very eager to see the country, about which I have read much over the years, and meet the writers and the thinkers, or as many of them as I can.