When I am nine, the British quit
India.  Headmaster says, "The Great
Mutiny started it."  We repeat,
The Great Mutiny of 1857
in our booming voices.  Even
Akbar was Great, even Catherine,
Great!  We titter over History.  His back
turns: we see his pink spotty neck.

Sorry, the British leaving?  we beg.
"This is hardly a joke or a quiz --
sit up and stay alert," he spits.
"It is about the trains and ships
you love and city names.  As for me,
I'm old, I'll end in a library,
I began in trade." But you must stay,
we tell him.  He lived here as we have lived

but longer.  He says he was alive
in Calcutta in 1890.  He didn't have
a rich father.  A third son, he came with
the Tea Company:  we saw a statement
in his office.  The company built
the railroads to take the tea "home
to England" so that Darjeeling and Assam
could be sipped by everyone, us and them.

They sold our southern neighbor Ceylon,
silk, pepper, diamonds, cotton.
We make a trade of course.  In England
there is only wool and salt and
snobs and foggy weather, Shakespeare.


* * *
These poems strike me as being, above all, extremely honest. They are about the experience of living between cultures, and all of the difficulties and rewards that go along with it. The book forms a tapestry of experience to such an extent that it forms a complete impression upon the reader as a whole -- not from the consideration of any one verse. So at first the verse are not impressive, but with repeated readings, the individual parts come together to form a cohesive whole in such a way that a single poem couldn't express, so it is understandable why Ms. Vazirani egards it as her first novel -- it conveys much the same impression as a well-written story would. Most of all, there is little or no feeling of regret or loss or a "feel sorry for me" ethic (something of a rarity in modern poetry) in being a part of two widely differing cultures -- a feeling of enrichment is conveyed instead -- a type of enrichment that cannot be gathered by living in a narrow little corner of one's own. These verses, by the way, will not only be understood by travellers, but also by "outsiders" of all ilks, to use Colin Wilson's phrase. A most impressive collection. With any luck, Vazirani will be publishing more of her poetry in the very near future.

-- Randy LeJune (on White Elephants)

* *

Recipient of a 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her second book,World Hotel (Copper Canyon, 2002), and a Barnard New Women Poets Prize for White Elephants (1996), Reetika Vazirani was educated at Wellesley College and received her MFA from the University of Virginia where she was a Hoyns Fellow.
She was a recipient of a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Poets & Writers Exchange Program Award, and the Glenna Luschei/Prairie Schooner Award for her essay, "The Art of Breathing," which appears in the anthology How We Live our Yoga (Beacon, 2001). She was a Contributing and Advisory Editor for Shenandoah and was the guest poetry editor of two issues. She was a Book Review Editor for Callaloo and a Senior Poetry Editor of Catamaran, a journal featuring work by artists from South Asia.
Born in India in 1962 and raised in Maryland, she had served as writer-in-residence at The College of William and Mary and part of the core faculty of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. Reetika Vazirani died on July 16, 2003.


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