Ravi Shankar is the founding editor and Executive Director of Drunken Boat, one of the world’s oldest electronic journals of the arts. He has published or edited seven books and chapbooks of poetry, including the 2010 National Poetry Review Prize winner, Deepening Groove. Along with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, he edited W.W. Norton’s Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond, called “a beautiful achievement for world literature” by Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer. He has won a Pushcart Prize, been featured in The New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education, appeared as a commentator on the BBC and NPR, received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and has performed his work around the world. He is currently Chairman of the Connecticut Young Writers Trust, on the faculty of the first international MFA Program at City University of Hong Kong and an Associate Professor of English at CCSU.
3ER: If you could choose any three elements, what would they be?
RS: Something from the universe where “spandex” meets the “multiple” “sublime.”
3ER: Who are your favorite writers?
RS: Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Annie Proulx, Denis Johnson, Arun Kolatkar, Mary Karr, Adam Zagajewski, just off the top of my head and in no particular order.
3ER: What book/story/poem do you wish you had written? Why?
RS: Probably Nabokov’s “Speak, Memory” because of the richness of its evocation of things past in specific inflections that are utterly original and yet inevitable at the same time. I wish I had written sentences like, “Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love – from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter- to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behaviour of nebulae (whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time.”
3ER: Why do you think writing matters?
RS: Because without being able to articulate our experience to ourselves and to others, we would be no more than a transient flare of hunger and desire as blind, hollow and lost in the rich loam as a segmented earthworm.
3ER: What do you want to tell our readers about your piece?
RS: The conjunction of a tandem bicycle with its evocation of absurdity and romantic idealism with a procession with its stately, funereal connotation made me think of dark humor, grim laughter and cosmic absurdity. I thought of Elie Wiesel saying in an interview somewhere that the best answer to fanaticism is a sense of humor and I remembered this moving story I had heard about a woman escaping the Nazi occupation in Italy. All of those elements combined in my mind to create the poem.
3ER: Where can we read more of your work?
3ER: What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?
RS: I dreamt I was living in a country where the top 1% of the people controlled the great majority of the wealth, where millions of people were being killed in secret wars over the last century and where a newly crowned Miss America was instantaneously assailed on Twitter because of her ethnicity; and yet I saw myself being nonetheless compelled to defend this country whenever I was beyond its borders, unsure myself what to make of that impulse. I keep pinching myself but I can’t seem to wake up.
3ER: Do you write in a certain place? Do you listen to music? What are your rituals?
RS: I write in the margins between the obligations of my life, so during office hours or at my desk at home when everyone is asleep and there’s the fading starlight as a score. Sometimes I listen to music without lyrics but other times I descend into a silence as deep as a canyon. I tend to be suspicious of rituals because while they abet the creative practice, they also restrict it when specific conditions are not being met. I don’t want to have any sort of crutch especially when my writing time is so precious that it needs to transpire in a variety of ways and in an assortment of places.