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  • Elemental Conversations: Ravi Shankar

    Ravi Shankar

    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?

    RS: Poetry Foundation

    New York Times

    Poetry Society

    Brooklyn Rail

    Drunken Boat

    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.

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    TechnoGratitude

    I am embarrassingly old school. I grew up in a world before cell phones and laptops. During high school, I typed my term papers on my dad’s IBM Selectric, whiting out mistakes with correction fluid as I worked.  None of my adolescent peers possessed cell phones, though my dad, a physician, had one for emergencies that was as big and cumbersome as a police walkie talkie. Forget slipping that thing in a pocket; it required its own carrying case!  Back then we contacted one another from home on old rotary dial land lines using our much coveted teen lines to stay connected.  Even the now ubiquitous personal computer was a rarity.  Back then, computers tended to be unwieldy tools I saw only in one high school classroom–the one where AV students took technical education classes.  I caught a glimpse of one of those massive machines once as I passed on my way to an AP class, and the monstrously large precursor to what we now know as a computer struck me as something as foreign and mechanized and unrelated to everyday life as a band saw or a lathe.  I couldn’t imagine how incontrovertibly such a contraption would transform the world.

    My early experiences with technology made me feel both hopeless and frustrated.  I typed my senior thesis in college on an old Kaypro–state of the art technology at the time. Because I never learned to type properly and had to watch my fingers as I desperately pounded out my exploration of the meta-logical problem of language in the works of Doris Lessing, I eventually became aware that something had gone gravely wrong. While I’d been absorbed in the choreography of my ideas and watching my fingers translate them into words as they danced over the keyboard, my entire thesis was inexplicably no longer formatted as paragraphs.  Rather for some time, it had been stretching ad infinitum into a single line–possibly related to the thunderstorm that raged outside the library as I worked.  I’d had to scrap the entire file and begin again.  I have countless stories of technology making me lose work.  But I won’t dwell on them. I am thankful to have made my peace with technology, forgiving its initial moodiness and difficulty and embracing its glorious and continuous innovations.

    Despite my initial discomfort and unlucky experiences, I have grown especially to appreciate the innovations technology has brought to my writing life.  Technology has transformed not just the way the writers work, but even the management of what is written.

    Today I’d like to express some gratitude for some of the technologies that make my writing and my management of that writing easier.  I am thankful for Blogger, for Submittable, and for Duotrope Digest.

    Blogger makes writing and formatting a blog so much easier!  How would a tech-troglodyte like me ever publish a blog without it?  As an online literary magazine editor, Submittable is an essential tool I am grateful to use.  Submittable allows 3Elements Review editors to organize submissions, track notes about each one, and communicate with one another as well as with the writers.  Left to my own devices, all those submissions would quickly degenerate into chaos for me.  Finally, I am especially grateful for Duotrope Digest.  I love that I can track all my submissions and stay informed about deadlines so easily.  Now that there are so many literary magazines out there, this tool is especially valuable–definitely worth the cost of a subscription.

    I am curious: what tools are you most grateful for as a writer?  Which make your writing life easier?  This recovering technophobe wants to know.  Please share!

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    Thanksgiving at 3ER

    Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for everything and anything in your life–the people you have, the friends you’ve made, the family that’s helped you, the events that have helped shape you, the joys you’ve experienced, love, faith, the things that help make your life easier, food, comfort, home… you get the idea.

    But, here at 3ER, I know we are thankful for other things, too.

    I, myself, am thankful for the following:

    1. Mikaela, Marlon, and CJ. Mikaela is the creator of this beautiful journal, and without her vision and passion, we wouldn’t have such an awesome thing to share. Marlon makes art out of designing our journal and has put together an amazing look for our website as well. CJ has become a fast friend and has spent countless hours combing through each piece to make sure we didn’t transpose incorrectly when we put the documents into the journal. All of these people are amazing. I’m also thankful to Carol, whom I have still yet to meet, but who serves on the advisory board for 3ER and helps guide us.

    2. Facebook. Without this, it would be hard for us to all keep in constant communication. We use it to chat on a daily basis about the journal and pieces we want in it. We use it to promote the journal and to get new readers, to seek submissions, and to gain readers for our blog.

    3. Intelligentsia, Starbucks, and my Keurig. These coffee shops and my coffeemaker are my lifeblood when I need to get through submissions and need a pick-me-up. Mikaela and I meet for coffee often and it’s kind of the unofficial fifth member of the 3ER staff.

    4. Support from Family and Friends. We’ve had quite a few people help lend their support, their advice, and their listening ears since launching 3ER.

    5. Liz Sidell. She was an early staffer at 3ER, and she helped with the initial direction of the journal and helped us with much of the submission reading for the first issue.

    6. InDesign. Marlon uses this to make our journal beautiful. I’ve said the word “beautiful” a lot? Well, it’s true.

    7. You. You are the people I’m most thankful for, because getting feedback from you all, having you tell us what you love about the journal or things you’d like to see us do, anything like that, has been really helpful. You are the reason we put the journal together, and the reason we are all so excited about the next issue.

    Thanks for being with us, and we look forward to another awesome issue!

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