THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH RAVI SHANKAR
The Rumpus: Can you tell me how the anthology, Union, came to be published, in print?
Ravi Shankar: Drunken Boat [of which Ravi is the editor] is one of the first literary magazines to be published in digital format. And while a lot of poetry is published that way now, poets can move print runs up to the thousands in Singapore. Alvin was really helpful, because when DBbegan such a vast undertaking and decided to publish poetry from Central Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, we of course couldn’t be experts in all of those regions. We had to find translators, arts organizations, and people who could help us know what was happening in the world of contemporary poetry in their particular countries. Alvin was that person from Singapore. We became friends and I invited him to curate a folio for DB on contemporary Singaporean literature. In the course of doing that there was so much work that we couldn’t include, and it just so happened that the fifteen-year anniversary of DB coincided with the fifty-year anniversary of the Singaporean national congress. They’re odd bedfellows—a literary journal and a sovereign nation state—and yet we wanted to do something to celebrate this momentous occasion. Why not try to put together this book that traces the threads? Singaporean literature is localized and comes from four distinctive traditions; English language, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. Yet it’s also influenced by being exposed to American literature and international literature so we thought that by bringing together the work we’ve done at DB alongside the Singaporean work, we could create interesting resonances.
Rumpus: Your own family from is from the Tamil language group, right?
Shankar: That’s right.
Rumpus: Are you very connected to that culture and is that one of the reasons for your interest in Singapore?
Shankar: Yes, well, Tamil is my mother tongue. It’s the first language that I grew up speaking, and that will relate to the next project I’m going to tell you about [Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess]. I had been to Singapore a handful of times and had the wildly disconcerting experience of being in the subway when all of a sudden I heard this voice that sounded like my Tamil grandmother […]