Nishi Chawla and Kathleen Hellen are the feature writers at the October Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Nishi and Kathleen as well as other open mic readers for a free, virtual reading on October 12, 2021 from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. See details about the event below.
We asked Nishi and Kathleen our favorite six questions about their reading and writing, and here’s what they had to share.
Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?
Nishi: There is no specific person whose image gets repeated in my writings. I would suggest that the theme of what I write is what ‘shows up most often in my writing.’ The theme assumes a persona, a kind of living personality. This is often a ‘recollection’ kind of figure as it holds together moments and memories, important aspects of personality along with other parts, like traits of temperament, goals and objectives. This thematic persona assumes the shape of a recent history. It gets wrapped in the web of some urgent questions of the present and future that I try to focus on.
Kathleen: My mother, and more recently my son
Where is your favorite place to write?
Nishi: The solarium is my favorite place to write as the morning rays plunge the room with its unique and faultless solar energy. “Drought became us / Turned us into grains of sand / The blithe breeze that poets sung of / Weren’t that kind to us / When they were done caressing their faces / And having their way with the locks of women’s hair, / They turned a new leaf for a new story” – A A Surin
Kathleen: Anywhere–in the car I write on backs of envelopes, receipts, any available scrap of paper, on walks, in parking lots, on the La-Z-Boy beside the statue of Lord Shiva, on the couch with a legal pad and staring out the window, in bed on unlined tablets beside the pile of books, at the computer in the morning, at the computer at night, in front of the tv on yellow Post-It notes, on beaches with my pocket-sized spiral notebook, in hotel rooms on guest notepads, on planes and waiting at the airport …
Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?
Nishi: My writing process is like an implosion within me. I wrap my mind around an idea that bursts into me and sometimes, surprises me to my own inner self. I do not often see clearly where I should go with it. When the way forward seems nebulous, ideas creep around me from behind me, almost my stealth, and crowd my other thoughts out. Sometimes, the outburst seems too condensed and waits to be fleshed out. The flow of words gets blocked, and the dialogues come out broken and need some agility. The sounds and rhythms, the breaks in logic, any unnecessary verbiage, the indiscriminate voices of the individual characters, the hunger in my belly for the right word, the right way to convey my message or project my vision, are all important rituals of my pre-writing process.
Nishi: As soon as I wake up, I put on coffee, stretch, write my dream thoughts in the black-and-white marble composition notebook, then I get to work.
Who gets the first read?
Nishi: My own lonely self. “I saw an otter lying dead at the edge of the creek, / body flaccid, scaled like that of a bird’s. / That was also the time we swung our palms loose, / heading down February over a speed bump, and our mothers- / calling us out, yet the distance too large and the gravity too strong / for us to hear their voices. / It was the way we slid over frozen ice – the carelessness, / the tangling of bones, that reminds me of how / this time and that time was all but a series of endings.” – S Verma
Kathleen: Usually, it’s just me.
What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?
Nishi: I have read many books multiple times. I have found Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth quite mesmerizing even as I try to understand the flawed human being behind the mask of a great and flawless human. “everything comes around from water / to dust, betrayal to trust / you have to recognize the small alphabet a and distinguish it / from the capital A observing the pressure on the fingers that write / trace you must contours on the bark you lean on to / and it will all come to you / Do not look for us when we are not around for we are the moon quivering / upon the night’s lake and the puppet shadows appearing disappearing / beyond us / we are the trees that long for the roots as much yearn the high sky.” – Shelley Bhoil.
Kathleen: Thich Nhat Hanh’s No Death, No Fear
What is the most memorable reading you have attended?
Nishi: A striking and indelible reading that I attended was at Politics and Prose. Amitava Ghosh read from his novel, A Sea of Poppies. Ghosh’s ibis trilogy blew my mind at the level of in depth research he has done. And what a contrast to “Sea Poppies” by H.D.: “Amber husk / fluted with gold, / fruit on the sand / marked with a rich grain, / treasure / spilled near the shrub-pines / to bleach on the boulders: / your stalk has caught root / among wet pebbles / and drift flung by the sea / and grated shells / and split conch-shells. / Beautiful, wide-spread, / fire upon leaf, / what meadow yields / so fragrant a leaf / as your bright leaf?”
Kathleen: Most recently, Tin House’s online reading and interview with Arthur Sze