There is much clamour about postcolonial literature in the UK and in India. It may get lost in the awareness of African and Caribbean works heightened by the Black Lives Matter movement and the political correctness that has emerged around it. The media and the literati in the UK need to offer the same attention to the emerging diasporic literature but they do not!
So, when poets like Usha Kishore dare to study postcolonial literature as part of their thesis, and not follow the customary study of past English and revered , it raises some hope for the ignored diasporic literature. That she is able to shift the perspectives from a wider postcolonial chatter to post-independence English literature from and outside India and examine changes from the pre-independence literary angles is quite refreshing. Kishore is also not deterred from translating works from Sanskrit. It is easy to find publishers and editors of magazines for the translation of work from fashionable Russian or other languages. Translations from and other Indic languages are not in favour in the West. Usha defies such drills and compels us to hear her out.
Resident on the Isle of Man, Indian-born Usha Kishore is an internationally published British poet, translator and editor. She has authored three collections of poetry – the latest being Immigrant (Eyewear Publishing London, 2018) – and a book featuring translation from Sanskrit. Usha is currently a Research Scholar at Edinburgh Napier University.
Poet’s helping hand:
Omai was the first Pacific islander to visit Britain in 1774 and became an interpreter to Captain James Cook during his second and third voyages. My poem is an ekphrastic response to the spectacular painting of Omai by Sir Joshua Reynolds, a depiction of the concept of a noble savage that is often attributed to Rousseau.
I read Adam Nicolson’s article on the painting in ‘The Telegraph’ in 2003 and was intrigued.
In 2010, I came across the portrait in The National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin). The poem is a postcolonial response to the artwork referencing Nicolson’s article.
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The Isle of Man usually does not feature much in the UK’s core literary landscape. Why is it the case? And to make it worse, you are a minority even in that! I know placing your collection with a mainstream publisher and seeing it published is my proud achievement, but tell us how the Isle of Man celebrated your success?
I have always been aware of my minority status as a writer on the island and in the UK (I used to live in Kent before my move to the island). Incidentally, my first collection, On Manannan’s Isle was published by a Manx publisher with grants from both the Isle of Man Arts Council and Culture Vannin. The Isle of Man actively promotes inclusion and diversity and celebrates its artists and writers through grants and various projects.
I am grateful to you, Word Masala and Eyewear Publishing for the publication of my third collection, Immigrant, for which I also received a Culture Vannin award. My first and second collections were launched on the island, during the Island of Culture and Manx Lit Fest, respectively. My third collection was launched in , but there was a second reading on the island. I am honoured that the island’s arts and cultural organisations support my work.
As for Isle of Man featuring in the UK’s core literary landscape, I must say that my work is regularly featured in UK journals and anthologies and has been successful in UK competitions and so has the poetry of other island poets. I know we have a long way to go, but there is a lot of poetic talent on the island.
In your first collection, you captured the isolation or rejection of your island aspects in parallel dynamics of your experience as an immigrant. Tell us more about the synergies and conflicts you experience and how you express them in poems.
It is lacking in saying that my first collection is purely isolation or rejection. On Manannan’s Isle poetises both assimilation and marginalisation, the duality which echoes and re-echoes in minority and immigrant poetry, coming out of the UK. This is reflected in my title - Manannan Mac Lir is a Celtic sea-deity.
You are right - there are synergies and conflicts in my work too, as in the work of other poets hailing from ethnic minority communities. This may sound ambiguous, but as an Indian immigrant, you write in an in-between space of Indra’s vajra and Jupiter’s thunderbolt, of Kalidasa and Shakespeare. As a postcolonial poet, I write about history, and culture.
Somebody once remarked that they were surprised to see Ganesha and Enbarr (Manannan’s horse) in my first collection!
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What are your thematic concerns? What are the general strands that run through your three collections? And I understand that your PhD thesis is on poetry; can you elaborate?
There are some broad strands of themes that run across all my collections: they are multiculturalism, postcolonialism, feminism and mythology.
A predominantly multicultural theme permeates my first collection, On Manannan’s Isle (2014), with its exploration of Celtic and Indian myths.
My second collection, Night Sky between the Stars (2015), contemplates Indian womanhood, articulating concerns on a marginalised, gendered identity, and uses myth as metaphor, metonym and allegory.
Immigrant (2018) reflects on the political, cultural and linguistic spaces of first-generation Indian immigrants to the UK. Here too, myth incarnates in postcolonial and gendered avatars. Ekphrasis also forms part of all three collections.
I teach poetry; I write ; my thesis is on poetry - that is an added bonus! My PhD thesis is on Indian Poetry in English and examines two Pre-independence poets and two Post-independence poets from a postcolonial perspective.
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MBE runs as well as the non-profit Word Masala project to promote South Asian diaspora literature. Also honoured with the Freedom of the City of London, he is a recipient of many awards and has read his work at important venues like the House of Lords and the National Poetry Library. His work has recently appeared at and and Published in numerous journals and anthologies; and with films and LPs under his belt, his collection of poems, is just published by The London Magazine. By profession, he is a qualified optometrist and an accountant.
In this regular series for ‘iGlobal’, he profiles Global Indian poets from around the world.