Indiegogo Campaign to Take Papercuts to Print!

My Dear Reader, 

I have not told you much about my involvement with a bi-annual online literary magazine called Papercuts. Papercuts is a publication of Desi Writers' Lounge, an online writing community for emerging South Asian writers run entirely on a voluntary basis. Desi Writers' Lounge was recently represented at literary festivals in both India and Pakistan (Jaipur, Karachi, and Lahore).

I have been editing poetry for Papercuts and Desi Writers' Lounge since 2007. With the recent development of South Asian literature, there is more need than ever before to have communities like Desi Writers' Lounge to support, nurture, and hone nascent talent. There are some very polished voices in South Asian literature, but even more more raw talent that needs such platforms to lose the rough edges. We are excited to be showcasing new writers. The countless hours our team has put into producing the last few issues of Papercuts has been well worth the effort to see our work recognized and advancing the literary industry of South Asia. 

The purpose of this long-winded introduction is to tell you about our recently launched Indiegogo campaign for taking Papercuts to print! This effort is focused on sustaining the growth of our magazine and is entirely non-profit.  I am wondering if you'd take a moment to view our campaign video and share it with your contacts and friends. I cannot describe what a rich, heartfelt, and unparalleled effort our team has made to bring our publication so close to going into print. We are spreading this campaign far and wide to those supportive of literature, emerging writers, this community, and the arts in general to ask for help in achieving our goal of taking this beautiful representation of new writers emerging from South Asia and the diaspora to the world.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your consideration. 

Photo by Rebecca McCue

What we talk about when we talk about love

For the last 5 weeks, I have been teaching a poetry course through Desi Writers Lounge. It is a basic, sweeping course, titled "Elements, Themes, and Form." We have talked about things like imagery, abstraction, figurative language, and the salient themes in poetry: self-portraits and, begrudgingly, love. This is not to say that poetry is limited to these two themes. On the contrary, I feel it is the most natural form of expression for any emotion. However, when one first starts to dabble in poetry, one is, more often than not, naturally drawn towards these two themes.

For the course, I have re-read some of my favorite poems and have had the pleasure of composing discussion questions based on the weekly reading. Last week we were exploring the theme of Love and Desire, and it corresponded with the highest number of assigned readings for the entire course. We read the following poems, which I highly encourage everyone to get their hands on, like, right now.

- Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything in It”
- Joy Harjo, “The Real Revolution is Love”
- Sandra M. Gilbert, “Anniversary Waltz”
- Richard Ronan, “Soe”
- A. Loudermilk, “Daring Love”
- Chitra Divakaruni, “Sudha’s Story”
- Sheila Zamora, “In Return”
- Nhan Trinh, “Country Love”

All three of the course participants were also given homework, which was to write an original poem on the theme of love and desire. It was an open prompt and they were told to use the week's reading as inspiration.

I got three very different poems.

Waqas A. Qazi wrote a jaded poem titled "On Love." He was also not a fan of the readings - a curious response as he has appreciated all the assigned poems in the past. "I don’t quite know what to make of this week’s readings. I think one needs to be in a specific kind of mood to read and appreciate romantic poetry. This has not been one of those weeks. Hence my interpretation of these poems may be quite subjective. I don’t think there is a poem here which has really impressed me yet," wrote Waqas. I am not going to lie - the bitter honesty in his words crushed me! Lee's "This Room and Everything in It" is one of my favorite poems and I have used it as a motif to write a poem myself, which in my opinion, is some of my more polished work.

The response from the other two course participants was encouraging. Hafsa Malik wrote, "Okay, so love is a hackneyed theme, I agree, but to sound like a bit of a cliché myself, I am a hopeless, hopeless romantic. So I really love good love poems! You should have totally included Brown Penny in this [by the way], Noor. A gem, that poem is." I agree. I should have included "Brown Penny" by Yeats, a poem that remained my signature on the Desi Writers Lounge forums for a few years. Hafsa wrote a poem about love and longing, beautifully evocative, titled "You and I."

Raiya Masroor also said something after my own heart. "The poems in this selection deal with this clichéd theme in a realistic way. Most of the poems are about real love, loss, and desire instead of focusing on the beloved, his/her characteristics, and the waiting/pining for a lover. They deal with the concept of love in real lives." Raiya really hit the nail on the head, I think. It's the simple and frightening reality of love in these poems that makes them so compelling to read, in my opinion. Raiya's own poem, a remarkably well-written piece about finding bliss in a relationship, seeing love in the simplest of acts once you discover and possess it (like the snores of your partner), was absolutely brilliant and a testament to the fact that not all thematic poems on love have to be long, torturous, drawn-out cliches. She intriguingly titled her poem "Mythbuster."

Excerpts from poems written by my talented course participants. Click to expand.

Reading through the work of these three poets, each with a very different approach towards and perspective of love and its perils, I thought about the poems I have written on the subject. They have been few and far between, but they have definitely portrayed more of the weary frustration reminiscent of Waqas's "On Love" rather than Hafsa's longing in "You and I," and they have certainly never been as obviously blissful as Raiya's "Mythbuster."

Last week we read about love, we talked about love, but I have come to believe that all poetry ever written has barely just scratched the surface of this compelling theme. In the pleasant deluge of poetry on love and desire that I immersed myself in last week, I kept circling back to the two lines of wisdom that (to me) represent a universal truth about this reckless emotion, penned by the great W.B. Yeats:

"Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny
One cannot begin it too soon."

So, in talking about love, I did not discover anything more than I already knew. And I was reminded of the fact that I really don't know much about love at all.

Looking through my work from years ago, my very first poetry workshop to be exact, circa 2006, I found two short poems in an old chapbook. They must have been written in response to a similar prompt, a prompt related to love, which is why the poems are so succinct and, quite frankly, stiff-necked, opinionated, rigid, but at the same time, they are fascinating specimens that bring to light the state of mind of the 21-year-old Noor.

I am going to leave you with these specimens now. Not my best work by any stretch of the imagination, but here it is for what it's worth. Two poems from October 2006.

Crossroads                                                              Synonyms
We are at the place                                                      He calls me,
where it is easier to hate                                             I answer,
than to love each other.                                              as much out of duty
                                                                                         as out of love.

And after the sheer humiliation that comes with posting the two poems above, I am compelled to post something recent that is more representative of my present poetic voice, loosely related to the theme under discussion.

Hand in Hand

we are on our travels with
undercurrents of conversation,
promises cracked through the middle,
wrapped in the cloth that blinds us

there are so many realities of us,
a decade full of crests and troughs,
a steady progression of waves and bodies,
flesh loosening,
the crow’s feet around my eyes,
the subtle lethargy in my breasts,
and you look new still

you have come and gone
like a song that disappears
as a car with the radio blaring
passes us by on the open road

now, after sheltering my body
in the fetal position,
broken wholly in some places
and incompletely in others,
I wonder if dignity,
(the price of this compromise)
is to be eaten for dinner
to fill up my stomach
that knows no sin,
and if the measure of my affection
is how much I have cried

let’s take a diverging walk now -
some furlongs on foot
and you will meet a small gap in the asphalt,
we can fall through it and come out
on the other side -
one lurch and a blink,
and we will cross oceans and icebergs
to be reborn -
ourselves again
in the native land,
our eyes feasting
on cotton crops and sugar cane and
tilled fields

you say nothing –
it’s just as well,
here, on our journey,
language has no power
and we haven’t crossed over yet

two thousand ears of corn,
two thousand ears
scattered in the ocean
their tympanic membranes
vibrating still,
and voices taking shape,
murmuring like ghosts lazing on the waves

the darkest place I have been to
is this ocean at night, with you,
we are on our travels still,
we are on our travels

Disclaimer: The title is stolen from Raymond Carver's excellent short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I highly recommend it!

1. If you'd like to join Desi Writers Lounge, a platform dedicated to coaching new writers and poets, please complete the registration form here. The writing sample is important. We do screen our applicants, so please be sure to provide one.
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Chai - & - Announcing 1-recipe/week from Bon Appetit

Chai has featured more or less consistently in my writing. A series of poems I have written and posted on Desi Writers Lounge is called Chai and a Poem. The poems aren't all about chai, but doesn't it create a powerful image? A cup of steaming chai next to a piece of paper with words scribbled on it that make a poem - a few phrases married to each other to create compelling meaning. Most of the prose I have written recently has chai in it - a girl sitting on her balcony sipping a cup of chai, watching the city breathing, writhing, teeming below her; a woman breaking the coat of milk-fat forming on top of her chai and wondering if this is how her relationship with her father is breaking apart - one touch of a finger and a million cracks running all over the thin wrinkled brown layer; a boy and girl on a rooftop in Lahore during Basant, the festival of kites, a teacup breaking as it slips and falls between them, a meet-cute. I use chai consistently in my poems, too. The brown ring of chai left on a glass-top table, a reminder of somebody no longer there. Burnt chai. Strong chai. Weak chai. Chai the color of someone's skin. Chai that burns. Chai that soothes. Chai that reminds you there is much to live for yet. Not long ago, my good friend, the amazing Editor of Papercuts, and humorous blogger Afia Aslam asked me, "Why didn't we call your blog Chai and a poem?"

There is something inspiring about this humble drink. It is a beverage that crosses all class barriers in Pakistan. The cleaning girl, the errand boy, the washerwoman, the driver - they may have a separate set of china for their chai, but it is poured out of the same pot as Bibi Jee's or Sahib's. It is what sells year-round on the street in chipped porcelain cups (or small narrow glasses if you're across the Wagah Border). Every home has a way of brewing it. And when guests arrive, the hosts ask, "Chai? Thanda?" (Chai or something cold?). Until recently, my image of an arranged marriage, which is common in Pakistan, was one of a demure young lady wheeling a tea trolley with kebabs, samosas, scones, pastries, and the queen of the arrangement, chai in a majestic teapot, to the drawing room.

The oft-overlooked, humble chai is quite an inspiration. If you don't believe me, just look at the pictures Rebecca took!

Chai is the first thing I really learned how to "cook." I spent a long time coming up with just the right recipe. The best kind of milk (whole milk), the right amount of Lipton Yellow Label Orange Pekoe (sorry, PG Tips), the perfect additions (crushed green cardamom), and the right length of boiling. I mastered it. It's what I did on stressful afternoons back in Davis with an exam looming in the near future. It physically made me overcome my stress, relaxed my tense muscles one by one, made me realize it was going to be OK. It was strangely therapeutic for me, this act of making the perfect cup of chai. And now I feel the same way about cooking (and maybe even baking).

This is my perfect cup of chai
And this is a great segue to the second part of this post - the announcement! I will be cooking 1 recipe per week from past issues of Bon Appetit magazine that have been accumulating in my kitchen for over a year now. Posts will be labeled with the "1-recipe/week from Bon Appetit" tag. I will be cooking on Mondays and posting pictures (taken by Rebecca), an accompanying blog post, and a link to the recipe by the end of each week - Friday-ish. Stay tuned for....drumroll please....Fallen Chocolate Cake....coming soon!

Photos by Rebecca McCue