Shweta submitted to Indie Blu(e)’s, The Kali Project and we have a special passion for ARTISTS of her caliber; it was challenging because the series of Kali paintings Shewta had submitted were all outstanding – depicting Kali in ‘ordinary’ life in such a haunting, powerful way. We wanted to use them all but unfortunately we print in black and white in the interior of our anthologies (or they would be prohibitively expensive!) and some of Shweta’s gorgeous paintings weren’t done justice in black and white. Once you have seen Shweta’s artwork you don’t forget it. We really hope to work with Shweta again.
Shweta Rao Garg is an artist, poet, and academic. Her collection of poetry, Of Goddesses and Women, was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2021.
Her poems have been published in Indian Literature, Coldnoon, Everyday Poems, Postcolonial Text, Transnational Literature, Muse India etc. Her poems are about her lived experiences as a woman; mythology, popular culture, love, and motherhood are recurring themes. Her poems are intertextual and layered as they are ironic.
Of Goddesses and Women is Shweta’s series of artwork where goddesses and women are depicted in ordinary urban scenarios. In these paintings, Kali does ordinary things, like visiting friends for tea, or having street food like any other woman would. This is Shweta’s way of juxtaposing the divine with the mundane. Her art or her poems on the goddesses comes from the place of intimacy, nor irreverence. At many levels, it celebrates women’s bonding.
Shweta’s artwork can be found via her website HERE www.shwetaraogarg.com and you really should visit this site of hers, because it’s got some of her most striking pieces including the series of KALI paintings in high resolution color.
A section of: POETRY RISES
(For Smeetha Bhoumik)
From the ravages of Kurukshetra
It smears gold across the wheat fields
From the dungeons of tyrants
It reverberates in every street
From the shackles of the shiploads of slaves
It clanks in the beats of blues
From the gas chamber of fascists
It flies into the parliaments of hope
From the ruins of Palestine
To the lullabies of safe homes
From the crematoria puffing human lives
To the healing corridors of hospitals
Every time a heart beats its last
Poetry lives in memory
(Published in full in MUSE INDIA https://museindia.com/Home/ViewContentData?arttype=feature&issid=97&menuid=9467)
Exert from Candice Louisa Daquin’s review of Of Goddesses and Women by Shweta Rao Garg, Published by Sahitya Akademi, 2021. ISBN : 978-93-91494-63-6 – The Divine and the Ordinary in Shweta Rao Garg’s Poetry:
The gift of reading Indian poetry in a language I am fluent in, is how much I as the reader learn from such writing. Like many outsiders, I find India and her history, absolutely fascinating, and that includes her Goddesses and the modern Indian woman. Shweta Rao Garg has brought these Goddesses to life once more in this beautiful collection. As the writer of her foreword notes: “Shweta Rao Garg found in Hindu mythology, facts to ponder and dwell upon.” (x) For the outsider, who appreciates the richness and depth of Indian history and mythology, this is to be cherished.
Personally, I am a great fan of longer poetry, which many writers apologize for, when they send me books. I think there is a lot to be found in a longer poem, which is not to preclude the value of any length, as surely, it’s not the marker of a good poem. In a longer poem however, you can find an entire story and this especially lends itself well to stories of mythology, faith and Goddesses. It was one reason I liked Shweta Rao Garg’s writing for The Kali Project and I found myself enjoying what I could learn and savor from Shweta’s observations and detailing of the Goddesses.
Another aspect of poetry I am particularly drawn to, that Shweta excels in, is ending a poem softly and with gentle but piercing observation. If you imagine reading a poem out loud and then at the end of a journey through the eyes of the poet and subject, you are given something very small to focus on, it is an unintended poetic technique that balances the grandeur of the storytelling with something seemingly unimportant, that actually evokes the entire theme.
A classic example of this can be found in the first poem, “At the Hidimba Temple”:
I turned around to take a last look
At the shrine surrounded by pines,
Blocking the sun.
I comfort myself to see my own footprints
Stubby, small blot on the velvety snow. (2)
The delicacy of writing where you are able to almost ‘conduct’ poetry as you would music, and make it swell and rise, and then fall softly, is quite an art and not something all can do. Shweta’s ability to convey an understanding of history and myth alongside her way with language, is exceptional and memorable.
Of Goddesses and Women is hard to define as it is far more than one genre but its all encompassing theme is that of appreciation for women in all their incantations. I find this especially valuable, given how many women’s voices have been historically muted. Shweta is the kind of modern Indian woman you hope to read, for her unfiltered recounting of the dilemma of being a woman in a world of objectification and historic oppression: “May you give me a few lines that I / May speak with another woman / May we not speak about the man / Who moves your story forward.” (“Filmy Prayers”, 62) There is an ocean of hope in these revelations as well as a sorrow in divining their truth. When paired with reflections on Indian’s Goddesses, I see a merging of the mythology of women with the reality of women that reinforces the feminine and empowers women throughout the world. We have all some part of this journey, and Shweta has a way to gift that universal message through her gentle battle cry;
I don’t resent my breast
Nor do I wish to shed them
My womb enshrines not your lust
But my poems
I stay immune to your gaze
Defiant, impenetrable,” (“Akka”, 8)
Another accomplishment that stood out for me was Shweta’s ability with English. I don’t say this patronizingly but as one who learned English as a second-language also. It is not easy to get the nuance right and even with some of the best Indian poets, there are many times a line or two won’t sound quite the way it would be said by a native speaker. That’s not always a bad thing, it can in fact be a delightful variation that imbues an Indian essence into the language. I found with Of Goddesses and Women Shweta was able to imbue her Indian essence whilst mastering the language flawlessly.
She is essentially a wordsmith with that adroit nimbleness of a true writer, able to flow words in ways someone plays the piano or harp or violin. I find reading her poetry in my head, I am moving in time to the cadence of her wordplay and it impresses me time and time again how clever she is at rendering this through words. An American (since neither of us are) might say Shweta Rao Garg is damn clever and they wouldn’t be wrong:
I wish I can slip an envelope
With a stash of poems
In your aged leather purse
If you are out of cash
You can read out a verse
And complete the transaction. (“Packets of Poem”, 74).
There is such a cleverness but it’s a really romantic kind of cleverness, not a self-satisfied kind, so you feel an openness and warmth with her wordplay. This is exactly what stood out to me when I first read Shweta’s work and I’m so glad she’s put this gift to good use in this homage to Goddesses and women, what better subject! I do not feel qualified to comment on the more cerebral aspects of the book in relation to mythology but my knowledge of and appreciation for India, its incredible women and Goddesses, was dramatically increased.
I read a lot of American poetry as part of my job but it is a true delight to read modern Indian poets, especially female. As a life-long feminist I am invigorated by the insightfulness, talent and depth of Indian female writers, not least their poets who transport me to India and help me experience both the beauty and horrors of India. I think that marriage of extremes is illustrated so well by Shweta Rao Garg who intuitively understands the layers beneath what is obvious. In many ways she has succeeded effortlessly in marrying Indian myth and history with the rest of the world, demonstrating the alacrity and vast knowledge of India’s women; “These were not the flat / Pink roses adorning Plath’s walls. / My Morning Song / Was sung by thousands of marigolds.” (“Arrival”, 25). What a barren world it would be without these powerful, unapologetic voices, claiming their over-due place within the literary cannon and improving it vastly.
There are frankly some books that are a joy to review. Of Goddesses and Women is definitely one of those books. I could easily write pages on my enjoyment, appreciation and respect for Shweta Rao Garg’s work here. She pierces the obvious with such intensity it leaves me shaking my head in wonder with a little envy and a ton of respect. There is something very edible about Shweta’s choice of words, and the alacrity of her deeper understanding of what makes us tick. It is both funny, prescient and slightly horrifying, which I think is the truest language of a poet worth reading:
i am about eating
cola and corn
in the dark multiplexes of freudian complexes
i am about clumsy, lumpy, fleshy labyrinth
about skin patterned with moles, freckles
about broken tooth, decays, flying dentures
about vision flawed and ensuing adventures. (“The Body Ordinary”, 49)
*The Kali Project: Invoking the Goddess Within Ed. Candice Louisa Daquin and Megha Sood. Indie Blu(e) Publishing, 2021.
Link to recent online poems:
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