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Pireeni Sundaralingam

Introduction for October: Being Unreal

I don’t know about you, but my right-now life is laden with reality: bills, the 9-to-5 (necessary to pay said bills), the leaden thing that weighs on everyone at said 9-to-5 (making them mean and me mean), family, the failures of family, a slowing metabolism and no will or energy to exercise. It’s a maddeningly endless personal abyss. And the language that surrounds me every day–mostly sad, simple transactional language–fails.

Yet the poems I’m sharing this darkening October month come from writers who somehow manage to slip out of the trance that keeps us subservient to reality, tethered to the mundane. When they lapse into consciousness, they are possessed as Nietzsche was when he wrote “No artist tolerates reality.” Those who are awake, if only momentarily, are the artists. And by artists, I mean these writers who feel and tinker until they’ve given form to something that exists within the bandwidth of reality but resists humdrum conventionality. Of course, it’s akin to the famed tell it slant. But more than that, they’re telling it like it ain’t, not keeping it real.

EASTER 2009
— Sri Lanka

The seas are full. The bones of men
crowd out the bones of fish, and quiet skulls
fall, like dice, before the gathering tide.

Here is the history book of beaches,
the slow parchment unrolling at our feet:
the scattered palm leaves, the empty shell,
the branch, lashed by a dutiful sea.

“Easter” was published in Karavan: Litterar Tidskrift pa Resa Mellan Kulturer (the Literary Journal of Cultural Intersections)
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Born in Sri Lanka and raised both there and in England, Pireeni Sundaralingam is co-editor of Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (U. Arkansas Press, 2010), which , in 2011, won both the national book award from PEN Oakland in 2011 and the N.California Book Award. Her own poetry has been published in journals such as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and The Progressive and anthologies by W.W.Norton, Prentice Hall, & Macmillan, and has been translated into several languages, including Gaelic, Swedish, Vietnamese and Tamil.

In addition to her work as a writer, Sundaralingam has also held research posts as a cognitive scientist at MIT and Oxford University, and national fellowships in both poetry and cognitive, as well as, most recently, a fellowship in interdisciplinary thinking at the Institute for Spatial Experiments, in Berlin. She is currently writing a book on Creativity, Poetry, and The Brain.