I am a management professional by job description and a work practitioner by personal preference. Poetry is what shifts my work towards worship. I use poetry to catalog my work. It is that folder of my work that is labeled poetry that allows me to simplify the complexity of the tone and pitch of daily existence into simple, universal and near spiritual sounds. Poetry is the space that allows me to lean into my quiet and stay anchored while moving, find home across geographies, to always have a center of gravity.
I am too new, too humble, too vulnerable, too amateur to call myself a poet – I hesitate to use that label. But yes, I am learning, and unlearning every day. I have learned over nearly three score years of working in what many describe as corporate slavery and what I have learned most through poetry is the ability to be intentional about my day. Poetry is about listening, to yourself, and to everything outside and around you. That is step 1 and then step 2 is to be able to sit down and write down what you listen to. Actually, step 2 is easy if one can learn to do more and more of step 1. To me poetry is the mantra, the silence that trains me to listen.
Growing up, my introduction to poetry was by my think tank, my father. He read poetry, of Wordsworth, he casually used Hamlet’s words, he wove Keats into conversations, he taught us the best way to narrate “O Captain, My Captain” and Casablanca again and again. I saw him pray each night, and as he chanted the hymns, poetry came alive in his hands, his eyes, his body. Every evening those few moments formed our own family spoken word event, complete with performance, meaning and goosebumps.
When I started writing poetry, I was encouraged by my parents, applauded at dinner table conversations and in family gatherings. Poetry therefore saved me from loneliness that comes with living in isolated towns, adjusting to new communities every few years, the natural angsts of adolescence. Poetry offered me sources of resilience through decisions where my ambitions as a young woman were subsumed to cultural expectations. Poetry was the heirloom; I took along with me as I walked into a marriage arranged by my parents. Poetry allowed me to dream of romance, it gave me hope, it let me dare, and it listened when I was vulnerable in the darkest corners of my contradictions.
If I am asked to pick one thing where poetry has made its most meaningful impact, it is in providing me a neutral yet very intimate voice to grief. I learned to talk about my brother’s death, his loss, and what it meant to me and everyone else who was destroyed by his early death through words on a page. These words listened to me in a way no one else did – non-judgmental yet forcing me to follow the poetic rules of engagement. So here I was – a learner both of loss and of poetry, expressing death in ways that the restrictions of the world do not allow us to. In parallel, I was finding others like me, and as I wrote I exhumed. I exhumed loss, emotions, limitations. Poetry served as the torchlight on the stormiest of my nights.
Around the middle of life, circumstances led me to physically move away from my home country, away from everything and everyone I knew of as essential. Again, unintentionally poetry became more present. It gained new relevance in my alternate and new existence. I started to read a great deal of contemporary poetry and wrote more and more. I wrote a lot, I wrote every day, I wrote like worship. During this period, my daughter encouraged me to open my writing to the world through online blogging and internet. For all the criticism of the online world, Ihave nothing but gratitude for this world as I have gained sensitive feedback, enrichment to my writing and friendships. Most importantly, it pushed me out of my comfort zones both in terms of the quantity and quality of my writing.
Poetry is a talisman I carry in the center of my being as I go about Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words. My first collection of poems by that name was published earlier this year and I am in the process of gathering my next collection. I am learning by reading, learning to balance because the best poems are those that balance form with emotion, and staying aligned with the arc of each piece.
The power of poetry is like the power of prayer, it gathers new meaning each time you listen to it or read it. A poem that is on a default replay in my heart these days is The Kitchen Table by Joy Harjo. It is an absolute aspiration of what a poet can say in the most unpretentious way with the most unpretentious objects of daily life and make it meaningful to everyone’s context.
Another poem that is forever true is All you who sleep tonight by Vikram Seth
All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hands to left or right,
And emptiness above –
Know that you aren’t alone.
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.
Kashiana Singh, is a management professional by job classification and a work practitioner by personal preference. Kashiana’s TEDx talk was dedicated to Work as Worship. Her poetry collection, Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words presents her voice as a participant and an observer. She dips into very vulnerable and personal contexts but also explores the shifting tectonic plates of the world around her. She is from India, lives in Chicago and bridges the miles by regularly etching her thoughts. Her work has been published on various poetry platforms like OnMogul, Literary Yard, Best Poems, Narrow Mag, Modern Literature, Women’s Web, Tuck Magazine, Spillwords. She is in the process of gathering her second collection of poems.