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Carolyne Wright spent four years on Indo-US Subcommission and Fulbright Senior Research fellowships in Kolkata and Dhaka, Bangladesh, collecting and translating the work of Bengali women poets. Volumes of these translations published so far are THE GAME IN REVERSE: POEMS OF TASLIMA NASRIN (George Braziller, 1995), ANOTHER SPRING, DARKNESS: SELECTED POEMS OF ANURADHA MAHAPATRA (Calyx Books, 1996), and the anthology, MAJESTIC NIGHTS: LOVE POEMS OF BENGALI WOMEN (White Pine Press, 2008). Wright's most recent collection, A CHANGE OF MAPS (Lost Horse Press, 2006), was nominated for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Award, and was a finalist for the Idaho Prize and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America. It won the 2007 Independent Book Publishers Bronze Award for Poetry, and was reviewed in THE IOWA REVIEW, 38/1. Her previous book, SEASONS OF MANGOES AND BRAINFIRE (Eastern Washington UP / Lynx House Books, 2005), won the Blue Lynx Prize and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Wright moved back to her native Seattle in 2005, where she serves on the faculty of the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program, and serves as visiting poet around the country, most recently as 2008 Thornton Writer in Residence at Lynchburg College, and Distinguished Northwest Poet at Seattle University.
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- by By Kajal Mukhopadhyay and Mousumi Duttaray

How do Bengali women love in times of social transition and political upheaval?  How do Bengali women tell their truths of the heart and mind through the prism of their struggles for equality, opportunity, and recognition in a changing society?  Award-winning poet, translator, and scholar Carolyne Wright recently spoke to Urhalpool about these questions, her travels in India and Bangladesh, the challenges of writing and translating poetry, and her time with some of the Bengali language’s great female poets.

Urhalpool:  We are talking about the name, so let’s start with the name.  We read the first three lines of the very last poem that you have here, “The Majestic Night.”

 Carolyne Wright:  “The Majestic Night,” right.

 Urhalpool:      The majestic night, the dark of night,

The thirst-allaying moonlight.

In the forest of long grass, white flowers bloom… 

 Now, you chose the title of this book from this last poem. What was the significance of the title?  I mean the use of both the word majestic and the word night?  To underscore the underlying love in the poems?

 Carolyne Wright:  Right.  I chose that name, and I took it from Dilara Hafiz's poem because it seemed to me that this would embody in English… the sense, of course, of   love as being regarded as a nighttime—the lovers will meet at night, certainly in Bengali culture and Bengali society, especially even more in traditional society.  I remembered that married people, especially newly married people, would not really spend any time together except at night.  And during the day, they almost—at least in the most genteel families—they would almost not speak or not have much interaction with each other because it was regarded as rather—it would be immodest to show affection out in public, even in front of other family members.  So, as they say in the blues, nighttime is the right time to be with the one you love—I’m quoting some blues singer here--that would be the rural Southern equivalent of the Bengali sense of modesty:  that nighttime is when lovers are together and the fact that it is the majestic night, it’s a beautiful night, this is a night of triumph.  And in the story of Radha-Krishna, this is the night in which they are reunited, in which they come back together and have resolved their conflicts with each other, at least for this particular cycle.  And since the story is immortal and the god, Lord Krishna, is immortal, I believe the story is cyclical:  it occurs again and again and again.  So at this point, when they are reunited, it is of course when those time-bound and sequential literary forms, such as novels and movies and any kind work of literature, end on that climactic moment of resolution.  So that’s where I wanted to conclude the book.

 Urhalpool: The next question is, as we move from epic time to the preface of the title, you mentioned “in a time of transition.”  What was this transitional element you were referring to?

 Carolyne Wright:  Well, I was thinking of the society, of the cultural transition that had been going on in Bengali culture throughout the subcontinent, really throughout the world, but in the period of time in which the poets translated here have lived.   The eldest in this book are poets like, you know, Radharani Devi, who was born in 1904, and Begum Sufia Kamal, born in 1911.  So, starting really at the end of the 19th century and going up until basically pretty much the end of the—Radharani was born in 1904, and a few of the other writers I translated who are not in this book because they are prose writers were born at the end of the 19th century.   But there’s been so much change, technological change, social change in the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century; women began moving out of purdah, they began acquiring education, they began working outside the home, holding jobs, and moving from arranged marriages to something more approaching making one's own choice of a marriage partner.  I remember reading about how, in the Bengal Renaissance time, young men began to want educated women, educated wives.  They began to announce, “I don't need a dowry.”   So, there has been a great deal of movement and so that’s the sort of transition that I was thinking of.   I was interested in how these poems looked back to the traditional cultural values, the traditional social norms   for women, and also, the more traditional Bengali literature where those sorts of norms and values were part of the content of the writing and forward to now.   There has been a great deal of change, and the women are now freer in certain ways, so that was my thought in this particular collection.  And I also tried to talk about that in the introduction.

Urhalpool:  I was going through some of the other volumes, and they are a very interesting collection of compilations.  What inspired you to take this journey, bring these collections of fine love poems from another part of the world?

Carolyne Wright:  Oh yes, well, there are several ways to answer that question.  On the practical level, the reason this particular volume was published by White Pine Press in this series was that I had known Dennis Maloney--the editor of White Pine Press—I had known him for several years.  I had been in correspondence with him, sent him other work of mine that had not been accepted for publication, but he and I had been seeing each other at various writers' conferences and the American Literary Translators Association conference, and at one point, he invited me to submit a small collection of my Bengali translations for this series of pocket-sized books called “Companions for the Journey.”  He said it would be very interesting to have this collection of love poems.  And so, he invited me and… I went through the hundreds of translated poems that I had, from all the poets I had translated from both West Bengal and Bangladesh and thought, “What I’m going to do is find all of the poems that have to do with love and then organize them following a sort of narrative arc” that the volume traces.  This is a sort of  trajectory through the stages of love, first love, then marriage, separation, aging, death, and finally, the so supreme universal love… The romantic love reflects imperfectly what you could call divine love or universal love, and that was what I thought I would do.  And since I had a limited number of poems that I could include, I wanted to make the volume as comprehensive as I could and I was careful to choose—and fortunately it worked out that of all the material that I had, of all the poems translated, a fair number of them are about love, and I was able to find enough that sort of traced this trajectory    from first sight, first love, all the way through to the final poem, “The Majestic Night,” and also pretty much divided evenly between poets from West Bengal and poets from Bangladesh, so—

Urhalpool:  So, it was really a huge job, you brought a large number of poets, translators, and it was an enormous task, how did you manage it?

Carolyne Wright:  Oh well, this is only part of it, you know, there’s the big anthology… my original project.  When I first went to Kolkata more than twenty years ago to do this, I had proposed to the Indo-US Subcommission that gave me the fellowship that I wanted to do collaborative translations of the work of Bengali women poets and writers.  So, because my grasp of Bangla was still pretty rudimentary, still pretty basic… I wanted to work collaboratively with Bengali literary people, native speakers of the language, and other writers and also to be able to meet all of the writers and poets whom I translated.  So, when I went to Kolkata for that purpose, I had a one-year fellowship, and I stayed on it for two years, but it was a very generous amount of money for the time, I was amazed at the amount.  It was all paid in rupees, and I lived very modestly; I stayed in the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture—

 Urhalpool:  Golpark—

 Carolyne Wright:  In Golpark, right, and I did not stay on the expensive air-conditioned side.  I stayed on the Gariahat Road side, so I had only ceiling fans and, you know; I could hear traffic noises and buses outside, and bus conductors pounding on the side of the buses, yelling “Gariahat, Gariahat, Rashbehari, Rashbehari, Park Street, Park Street” and I’d hear all the noise of the street life outside. And of course that was much more interesting.  I didn’t want to be  insulated from the real life of the country, and so I just worked for two years on translating every day, working with poets and writers and my collaborators to choose this material and then render it into English.   So I was working, din raat k’ore, day and night; and then when I returned to this country—in fact, even while I was still there--people were saying to me, well you know, what about our Bangladeshi poets?   You know … you need to translate them too.  And I went, “Oh, that’s another whole fellowship.  That’s another whole visa, another whole time.”   Because you can’t just, you know, if you are not from the subcontinent, if you are not a citizen of India or Bangladesh, you cannot move freely back and forth.

 Urhalpool:  Yes, yes.

 Carolyne Wright:  It’s complicated because you have to fly, you can’t take a bus.  So, when I returned to the US, I applied for a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship, and I received it and I went to Dhaka and did the same thing.

 Urhalpool:  Oh.   Actually now things are a little bit easier.  Now we can take a bus.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, if the rivers are not flooded ! :)

 Urhalpool:  So, you stayed in Dhaka also?

 Carolyne Wright:  Yes, I did the same thing.  I got a year-long fellowship this time from the Fulbright Commission.  It was a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship, and again I stayed two years.

 Urhalpool:  Talking in this line, when you were selecting or looking into these poems or working with collaborators or translators, did you have any criteria for selecting the poems in this collection?

 Carolyne Wright:  Well, for this particular collection, yes.  Of all of the work, for example, that poem we were just looking at by Dilara Hafiz’s, “The Majestic Night,” that’s a love poem.  She has other poems that have other subject matters.  About exploited women and her own girlhood, etc.  So… for this collection, I chose the poems that had to do with love.   And when I had the whole manuscript put together, I submitted that, I mean work by Nabaneeta Deb Sen, I chose poems; she has a lot of love poems because that is more of her main subject.  Interestingly enough that is also that is also one of the subjects for Tasleema Nasrin, the very controversial Taslima Nasrin.   I was able to choose quite a lot of poems from them, and then once I submitted a manuscript to Dennis Maloney, the editor, he suggested… that I remove a couple of poems that he didn’t particularly care for as much, or a couple of that he thought were perhaps too obscure for non-Bengali readers.  So I removed a few poems, substituted a few others that I also had, and I tried to make sure that almost every poet I translated was represented in this collection by at least one poem.  The only person whose work I did not translate--you know, I did not work with that poet herself and with my translator collaborators--was Ketaki Kushari Dyson, who lives in England and really does her own translation.  I mean, what does one call a poem if you are the poet and you have written it in one language, and then you write it again in a second language, in another language?  Is that a translation or is that something else?  I started jokingly to call it translanguafication because it’s not exactly translation:  the poet writing her poem again in another language can make it a new poem, she can give it the same title and make it somewhat different in the other language if she wishes.  A translator does not have that permission, the translator has to be as responsible to the original language as possible.   

 Urhalpool:  Yes, like the literal translation, but when the poet writes her own translation, it’s kind of a new poem coming out of it.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, right, Ketakidi can do that, and so her poem “When There Was Land”--that was her own translation.  I guess we just called a translation--she called it translated by herself.  She’d sent me a number of her poems, which I had had for some time, and this was the one chosen for this particular anthology.   But these fifty poems here, represent… maybe  about one-tenth of the work that I have translated from Bangla…

 Urhalpool:  So can we see many more volumes to come?

 Carolyne Wright:  I hope so!  And you know there have been two other volumes already, two individual collections.  The first one to come out—and that was because of her celebrity or notoriety at that time—was the volume of poems by Taslima Nasrin, which was called The Game in Reverse.

 Urhalpool:  Okay, yes, yes, yes, yes.

 Carolyne Wright:  That came out from George Braziller in 1995.  It’s now out of print and Dennis Maloney of White Pine is very keen on… doing a new edition from White Pine and maybe including some of Taslima's—those Nirbachito (Selected) Columns that won her the Ananda Puraskar and more or less launched her on her literary career.  And so, that’s something that may come out at some point.  With this current economic situation, it’s kind of, what should I say?  It’s a bit difficult to know.  I think a lot of these presses are cutting back on their numbers of titles per year, so Dennis said to me, the last time I saw him a few weeks ago in Chicago, “Well, you know, don’t rush to contact Braziller about making certain that I have the rights to do a whole new edition with a new publisher.”   I do not think Braziller is going to reissue that particular collection.  But that collection of Taslima's poems, The Game in Reverse, that was the first work of hers that was available in English worldwide.  At that time, 1994 and early 1995, I was getting a lot of calls from journalists and interviewers, asking about Taslima, asking for samples of the writing that had gained her such notoriety,  so  Braziller put that collection out pretty quickly.  In fact, I had to translate more of them--I had had about twenty of her poems translated when I left Bangladesh, and then when this major case, human rights case happened for her, I had to translate several more, so there are about forty some in that book.  And then following year, in 1996, a volume came out from Calyx Publishers, Calyx Books, of the poetry of Anuradha Mahapatra, called Another Spring, Darkness.

 Urhalpool:  So, those were not like the theme of love per se? 

 Carolyne Wright:  No, no, those were individual collections of poems by those two poets.  So, kind of like a volume; for example, William Radice did that volume of selected longer poems of Rabindranath—

 Urhalpool:  Rabindranath Tagore—

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, and so the poems covered many different subjects.  And so I have other individual collections by other poets like Nabaneeta and Bijaya Mukhopadhyay, as well as other Bangladeshi poets.  I’d like to do a whole book of the poems of Ruby Rahman, but  I’m not sure at this point… rather than doing individual collections, maybe to do collections of, let’s say, three poets together…  I was thinking of doing Bijaya, Nabaneeta and Kabita Singha.

 Urhalpool:  Yes, because they’re contemporary also.

 Carolyne Wright:  Yeah, and I would be interested in doing another one with Sanjukta Bandyopadhyay, Mallika Sengupta, and somebody else.

 Urhalpool:  And I think Mandakranta would be a good choice.  Mandakranta is a little younger; she kind of followed Mallika Sengupta, and you could choose Dabarati and Mallika Sengupta along with her.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, right, right.  I’ll get Debarati, Debarati Mitra?  She’s more of the generation of Kabitadi and Nabaneeta and Bijaya.

 Urhalpool:  Yeah, yeah, a little younger, but almost the same.

 Carolyne Wright:  Yeah, a little younger, yeah,  She was born in 1946, and I’m thinking about the generational concerns and the use of language and everything--these do change, and of course that’s  another aspect of the business of translation, that the younger poets have grown up in a different era—

 Urhalpool:  Yeah and experiences also—

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, right.  So I think that’s kind of fun…  Now, is Mandakranta in New York?

 Urhalpool:  No, she is from Calcutta.

 Carolyne Wright:  Oh! She’s living in Calcutta?

 Urhalpool:  Yes, she’s living in Calcutta.

 Carolyne Wright:  Okay, okay, because my challenge at the moment is getting there.   You know, I had those fellowships etc., but now I’m married, and I don’t go away for a year or two years.

 Urhalpool:  No, but this, the internet or video conferencing or audio conferencing, has become much cheaper and easier also.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, that would be a possibility.  Or even just working through email.  So you know, I have this feeling… life is long, I hope, that I’ll be able to all of this work.   The final, the big volume of course would be the big authoritative anthology that would include a generous selection of all of the poets I’ve translated, you know, the eldest being Radharanidi and the youngest being maybe Mandakranta...

 Urhalpool:  Yes.

 Carolyne Wright:  And there are other poets, Apabrita Lahiri, I didn’t translate because she was just starting to come along and publish in the, I think, early 1990s.  And I know Anuradha had talked about her, recommended that she be someone I should translate, but I think that came right toward the end of my time in Kolkata, and then I was in Dhaka, focusing on the Bangladeshi women.  And I’m just, as I would say, I’m just one person trying to encompass this whole huge literary movement.   Yet it’s only one language, and all those languages of the subcontinent and of the world.  Yet I focus only on writing by women, and I know the men have very felt short-changed.

 Urhalpool:  Definitely.

 Carolyne Wright:  Several men have said, “Oh! You know, you really should be translating us.”  And I said, “You know, we need a male Carolyne.”  We need someone who will be interested in  focusing on the wide range of male poets as well, but my reason of course for choosing the women poets is that I am a woman.  And I was so interested in women's experiences as expressed and described and as they can be perceived in the writing by women.  So, that’s why.  And it was also easier to approach women.

 Urhalpool:  I think women also have seen the most dramatic change in this century or even quarter of a century.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, right, and I think embodied in the life of Radharani Devi or somebody like Sufia Kamal…  You know, Sufia-amma was born in purdah, her first husband was a cousin, and she was married to him at age eleven.  That enabled her to get out of the house, out of her parents’ house—well, her mother’s house because her father had wandered off or gone off on a pilgrimage and never returned when she was quite small.   But she married her first husband, by the name of Hossain.  They went to Kolkata, and she began—he was very encouraging and very supportive of her—going out and doing volunteer work and social work with women.  She met Gandhi, and had to dress as a Hindu wife in order to meet him at that point, she had to put on the sindoor and the pala, sankha, and tie the sari the correct way for a married Hindu woman.  And of course she went up to Gandhi, and it did not matter to him--he said to her whatever he said to her, sister or daughter whatever, and what is your name?   And she told him her real Muslim name and he said, “A-ha!  I understand,” but he gave her his blessing.   She was a real social reformer and very much working with women,  especially the welfare of women.

 Urhalpool:  For women's education—

 Carolyne Wright:  Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely, and these are wonderful, wonderful examples of how much transformation took place in the lives of women at that time.

 Urhalpool:  We actually are excited because, in a way, you have answered so many questions that we wanted to ask you.  At this point I wanted to tell you we have a few more questions that go beyond the book, general questions—I hope you have time.

 Carolyne Wright:  Oh!  Yes, I have, I have time.

 Urhalpool:  Did you meet Sufia Kamal?

 Carolyne Wright:  Yes, I did meet Sufia Kamal.  I used to see her quite frequently in Dhaka, and of course I also know her son, I mean both sons—Bhaiya, her elder son, I don’t recall his actual name—he still lives in the family house there; and her elder daughter, who has a tea plantation in northwest Bengal, northern Bangladesh, and then her younger daughter, Saeeda, the painter.   She came to the US once and had a fellowship, a residency fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center--I met her there.

 Urhalpool:  Wow!

 Carolyne Wright:  It was amazing.  It was same month[s] that I was there.  So, we had a wonderful time together, you know, taking walks some afternoons and speaking in Bengali about life back in Dhaka, about Amma and the family.   Amma’s son Sajed also drove up to visit—in fact he drove his sister to and from the VSC—he’s the one I had seen most frequently because when I came back from Bangladesh, I had applied for a fellowship at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, so I was there in the Boston area the year after my two years in Bangladesh, and there I met Sufia’s son Sajed and his wife Rosie who is American and their son.  So, I was there in the Boston area for five years and spent quite a bit of time with Sajed and his family.  We worked together on the translations of his mother’s poetry.  And occasionally, when I was over there, they would call Sufia Amma and we would talk briefly on the phone—that was totally lovely to be able to talk with her.

 Urhalpool:  The Sakhawat Memorial School in Kolkata is one of the first schools for Muslim women; that was, I think, because of Sufia Kamal, Begum Sufia Kamal.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, right, and she was also inspired by Begum Rokeya.

 Urhalpool:  Yeah.

 Carolyne Wright:  Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain.

 Urhalpool:  Yeah, yeah.

 Carolyne Wright:  So, there was a great deal of influence there, you know, because Sufia met Begum Rokeya as a girl.

 Urhalpool:  Before we move to some general questions, just one last thing about Majestic Nights.

 Carolyne Wright:    Yes?

 Urhalpool:  Whom do you wish you had included in your book, but for some reason ended up leaving out on the cutting table?

 Carolyne Wright:   Ah! Oh! You mean which poems or which poets?

 Urhalpool:  Both.  We would like to know the poets who were not included, but who, in your thoughts, might have been interesting additions to this book?

 Carolyne Wright:  Well, if there’s another edition, I would probably want to include some work by Qazi Rosie.  I tried to include—there were a few other Bangladeshi poets, another one I translated named Jahanara Arzoo, an older poet who had some interesting poems, but that was one poem that Dennis Maloney suggested not to include.  And probably some of the younger people whom I didn’t really get to translate because they had come along after that, five years after the time when I was doing most of the initial collection of material and then most of the initial translations between1986 and 1991, and of course, some more of Taslima's poetry after that.  In terms of this particular collection, I’m pretty satisfied with it, in terms of its length and scope.  But of course, I’m thinking ahead now to the big anthology, the really big one; and the working title of that is A Bouquet of Roses on the Burning Ground.

 Urhalpool:  Wow!  Yes, you mentioned that somewhere in the back of the book.

 Carolyne Wright:  Yeah, yeah, and that anthology, it’s going to be a couple of years more for several logistical reasons--one of which is time, and the other is that Majestic Nights is just out and I would not want another book to compete with it.  But I also have to just assemble it--I mean, I’ve got all this work assembled, but need to decide on the final selection of poems for each poet, and then write the introduction, etc.  I actually have done most of that, I could put it together pretty quickly, but I think I am just going to wait a little while.  Oh, and I did find the Majestic Night poem by Dilara Hafiz--it’s called “Jomokalo Raat.”

 Urhalpool:  Jomkalo Raat.”  That’s really nice.

 Carolyne Wright:  Yeah.  So that’s “Jomokalo raat, raater kalo,” I can read this here, “Trishahoron, chander aalo, kashbone phul sada,” then “birohalaye achen radha,” right?   Yeah, I have to practice this a bit.  But what I have is this--a rather dark photocopy of the poem from when it appeared in a magazine.  I do not have it in one of her books.  In fact, I even have a question here written in my Bangla handwriting, “Kon patrikai ei kobita chapa hoyechilo?”  What magazine was this poem published in?  And what do I have written here, dainik… oh!  Dainik Desh.  It was originally published by Dainik Desh in Bangladesh.

 Urhalpool:  Bangladesh, Dhaka.

 Carolyne Wright:  Somebody has handwritten and then crossed it out, “The night is pitch black and the—” and that’s the end of it.  And then I started to write, “Radha is pining alone in wait,” etc.   And so, that’s where there’s the birohalaya aachen Radha, the wonderful word biroho—we do not have a word like that in English.

 Urhalpool:  English, yes, like there are some words which are somewhat difficult, like abhiman, that’s another word.

 Carolyne Wright:  Abhiman, there is no word for abhiman, although that state of emotion exists in English.  I could tell you, I could name people with whom I am in a state of abhiman !!  But you know, I think what has to happen is Bengali-Americans--you know, Bengalis living in this country--need to introduce the concepts embodied in these terms.   I include myself because I have been called an “American Bengali” by one of my wonderful poets who passed away (I was so sorry about this)--Nasima Sultana who was a journalist and a poet and married to another journalist.  They were a modern couple, she was even two years older than he was—or is.  But then she—after I departed Bangladesh, I was in touch with them, not via e-mail, they didn’t really have e-mail until later—but she got cancer and died in 1997.  And I was so sorry about that because they were sweet couple, they worked together, and they were happy together.  I used to go over to their house and sit and talk, and other poets would come over, and we had a wonderful time.   But she had called me, she had interviewed me just before I was departing Bangladesh and the title of the article about it was “Bidai, Markin Bangali Carolyne.”  Oh! I cried when I saw that… Bidai… you know—

 Urhalpool:  Farewell—

 Carolyne Wright:  Yes, it was farewell.  It was very sad, you know, I didn’t realize it would be a bidai from her, that I wouldn’t see her anymore.  So, that was very sad.  And of course Sufia Kamal has passed away and a few of the other poets… I was surprised in a few cases, they did not seem—Kabita Sinha passed away in Boston when she was visiting her daughter.  I used to see her a lot in Boston.  In fact, we worked together on more translations of her work and on some of the Taslima columns that I needed to finish.  And then Farida Sarkar passed away.  In fact, it was Farida who had first urged me to translate Taslima Nasrin and sort of arranged for Taslima to come and meet me.  So, it was all very interesting how all of that happened.  And I did meet Radharani Devi also.  I met her in Nabaneeta's house—

 Urhalpool:  Bhalobasha.

 Carolyne Wright:  Yes, Bhalobasha.  What a great house!

 Urhalpool:  A great house, yeah.

 Carolyne Wright:  Great, tall house.  In fact, Nabaneeta, if you ring the doorbell—I don’t know if you’ve been there—she pulls on this cord, this sort of a wire, and it pulls the door open and it’s almost like a, you know, one of those scary movies where the door opens: rrrrreeee

 Urhalpool:  Screeching sounds.

 Carolyne Wright:  And nobody’s there and you hear Nabaneeta's voice from the top of the stairs— “Opore ashun, upore ashun,” you know:  Come on up!--that was the Urhalpool of the day, you know!

 Urhalpool:  Regarding Kabita Sinha, I referred to her, I think, as the most wonderful poet that inspired me.  Like “Iswarke Eve,” that Aami Prathama, “I was the first.”

 Carolyne Wright:  Oh! Yeah, yeah, “Iswarke Eve,” yeah, yeah, that’s a very bold poem.

 Urhalpool:  Bold poem, yes.

 Carolyne Wright:  I really loved it, and it was fun to read that at the reading at the Bowery.

 Urhalpool:  The Bowery Poetry Club, yes.

 Carolyne Wright:  Right.  Because I preferred to read it in Bangla, and I wanted to read it with some of the same emphasis that she had, so I think I sort of did.  I’m not as tall as she was and not as forthright, but I just tried to read it with her tone of boldness.

 Urhalpool:  Do you find there’s any connection between the US poets as well as poets from West Bengal or Bangladesh, a kind of connection during this time?

 Carolyne Wright:  In what sense of connection?   That people were in communication with each other?   Or the poetry?

 Urhalpool:  The poetry.  Because I think that Nabaneetadi, Kabitadi, and all of these, Debarati Mitra, they were also from the 60s and when the movement, feminist movement of the 60s took place—

 Carolyne Wright:  Right, absolutely.  Oh!  Yeah.  I think there are a lot of common themes in the poetry of women from… Bengal and from the West.  I think that the feminist movement actually moved around the world quite quickly, and this was before—things were not globalized as they are now, but nevertheless, there were enough, enough news media outlets and literature being published and people becoming aware, and you know, a lot of travel back and forth, people coming from the West to India and Bangladesh and people from India and Bangladesh going to the West.  And you know, there was a lot of immigration at that point also from there to the West, and so a lot of communication back and forth.  I think that that had influence on, certainly on the subject matter of a lot of writing as people's, as the circumstances of lives changed, the subject matter of what writers write about also will transform.  And I think that that started earlier with Radharani and with Sufia Kamal--less so with Sufia Kamal--but you know, writing in this, these words of urban colloquial Bangla still in rhyming couplets, of Radharani’s “Aparajita” persona, I think that’s just amazing.  And Sufia Kamal, of course, writing about Bangladesh's struggles for freedom, and all of the work that she did outside of the house and then working with people, resisting the soldiers from Pakistan, etc.  And it was amazing how that kind of experience transformed their subject matter, but what was interesting with Sufia Kamal is that many of her poems are still written in rather traditional form, actually rather Persian form, and of course her first language actually was Urdu, although she wrote in Bangla…  Of course the younger poets are much more influenced by this sort of global youth culture.   I think that there is a lot more Western influence or access to the West now, and there is access to the rest of the world for poets of the so-called West.

 Urhalpool:  Some of the Western women poets of the era that you have covered—from Radharani to, I think, who was the last, Taslima—

 Carolyne Wright:  The youngest was Taslima— 

 Urhalpool:  So, could you name some of the poets from the West who wrote about women's feelings, about love, even here also, the women came out and started to have their own identities in the later part of this century?

 Carolyne Wright:  Oh yes… I think there are a great number of common semantic threads through poetry written by women here, let’s say in the US or other English-speaking countries and the poetry coming out of West Bengal and Bangladesh.  And I think also that there has been a lot of formal exploration moving from free verse to poetry in form…  Much of this poetry in Majestic Nights is in fairly free verse.  I think there are some poems that pay attention to  syllable counts and things that are much more prevalent as formal devices in Bangla than in English—I know Anuradha does that at times—but I think a lot of the work is free verse.  Some of it is formal--one poet I think of is Mallika Sengupta.  Mallika has written quite a lot of poetry in form, which is interesting because at that time there was not so much poetry being written in form, and she was making use of Western forms like the sonnet, which is really interesting; it’s very interesting to try to translate a sonnet from Bangla to English.

 Urhalpool:  Yes, it’s very difficult.

 Carolyne Wright:  And it’s so much easier to rhyme in Bangla.  And I think this  “Jomkalo Raat” by Dilara Hafiz--this poem is in form, I just looked at it, it’s all rhyming.  I haven’t really studied to see if it has a syllable count, but it probably does.  This “raat kalo, alo sadha, radha, chiranjani” and then “prem kahini, kobi, chobi” etc.  She’s got rhyming couplets--it’s easier to do that in Bengali.  It may not sound distinctive to rhyme in Bengali just because it’s easier to do than… in English.  I can’t say because I can only read these poems from my own experience and not if I could magically turn myself into a Bangali kobi.  And then read these poems with that whole set of memories and experiences and education, learning everything, reading Sahoj Path as a three-year-old, etc.  Going through the whole educational system and then reading these poems and how would they seem to me?  “Oh, this is amazing, a poem written in form!”  Or would it be just be, “Oh, yes, yes, this is a good way to do this.”?  Anyway, so those are my thoughts about the  fact that it’s easier to rhyme in Bangla than it is in English.  So I think there’s been—back to the original question—I think that there seems to be this sort of zeitgeist (a German word for Spirit of the Times) that runs through literary culture as well as all other aspects of the culture and the sorts of concerns that people have.   In this case the concerns that women have in one part of the world, concerns that women are facing everywhere--I think that certainly is the case between the women who write in Bangla and the women who are writing in English.


Part 2 of our interview with Carolyne Wright will appear in the next issue of Urhalpool.