Interview with Shalini Rana
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: This poem feels very grounded in personal identity, specifically in the way that your name and its meaning are mentioned twice in the piece. How do you approach the intersections of identity in terms of speaker and writer?
Shalini Rana: In terms of approach in this poem, the focus on identity came pretty naturally through other lenses or things happening in my life. I was reading Cameron Awkward-Rich’s “Aubade” from his poetry collection Dispatch when I wrote this aubade, and I think in both our poems, identity arrives out of the mundane—those everyday happenings of life. This is the first angry poem I’ve written, tied directly to this racial microaggression, but it actually arrived out of writing and thinking about my favorite tree, which used to live on my university’s campus before it got cut down. The poem’s humor arrived unexpectedly too, so then you get this interplay between humor and anger and love fueling the speaker’s voice toward something bigger. What does it mean to be cut down, for roots to be pulled from the earth? I think that’s what the speaker is getting at here about identity, and as the writer, I’m now realizing this.
RR: You offer an honest perspective into daily life as a woman of color in a primarily white, American town, and you ask the question, “What brings you back to a place like this?” In your opinion, how do your surroundings impact your sense of self?
SR: Place definitely impacts my sense of self as a person and poet. In this poem, it’s the southern college town landscape, which is one I’ve grown up in. The question always is why do we return to certain places? I believe surroundings are as much the people as they are the landscapes. These days, more and more I hope the surroundings that shaped me, the people that shaped me—and those who continue to do so—keep entering and informing my writing in new ways.
RR: We loved how the beginning and the ending use imagery based on various sounds. When you construct poems like this, do you typically start with images or something else?
SR: I usually start with a line, idea, or yes, an image. For this poem, I revised a lot toward sound, so I’m glad the sonic resonates with you all. I like when images circle back in poems, and I love any poem with solid sound, so maybe those were subconscious choices based on the poems I like to read. I wrote this aubade a year ago, and honestly, I can’t remember how it started. I want to say it started with the tree.
RR: How do you find use of your experiences as a social media editor when writing poetry?
SR: Well, I recently wrote a poem that begins with one of Gloria Steinem’s Instagram posts. I’m also thinking of “Poem Beginning with a Retweet” by Maggie Smith. Maybe that’s the prompt when you’re feeling stuck: write a poem born from a Tweet or Instagram post. I think social media can definitely fuel our writing in interesting ways if we allow it to.
RR: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
SR: Upcoming is my MFA thesis, which is a collection of poems exploring family. The books I like to read include both the super-worked-at-poems and the not-super-worked-at-poems alongside each other. I’m striving toward that. What I mean is, the poems shaped by other hands besides my own existing alongside the poems that sing on their own, without all the hands. Both are good and necessary.
Shalini Rana’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.