The Singer of Alleppey
by Pramila Venkateswaran
This collection of just over sixty poems tells the story of the author's paternal grandmother, Sitala, who lived in Kerala, South India, in the early to middle twentieth century. A composer of songs, Sitala was known to use her art to negotiate her position as a woman, wife, and colonial subject. Though the author, Pramila Venkateswaran, knows little about the details of her grandmother's life and none of her songs were preserved, Venkateswaran interviewed older living relatives in Alleppey, Kerala, and listened to folk music that would have influenced her grandmother's songs in order to chronicle Sitala's life and art. As Meena Alexander observes, “Moving through the cycles of day and night, these poems evoke the arc of a woman’s life, from the blossoming of young adulthood into the decay of old age.” Venkateswaran creatively uses the rhythms of local musical forms such as kummi, kudiattam, naatu paadal (folk song) and vanchipaatu (boat song) to tell the stories about a woman living and growing old in India in the last century.
POETRY / Women Authors
ISBN: 978-1-947067-39-4 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island (2013-15), is the author of Thirtha (Yuganta Press, 2002), Behind Dark Waters (Plain View Press, 2008), Draw Me Inmost (Stockport Flats, 2009), Trace (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Thirteen Days to Let Go (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Slow Ripening (Local Gems, 2016). An award-winning poet, she teaches English and women’s studies at Nassau Community College, New York. Author of numerous essays on poetics as well as creative non-fiction, she is also the 2011 Walt Whitman Birthplace Association Long Island Poet of the Year. She has performed her poems internationally in festivals, such as the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and Festival Internacional de Poesia de Granada, and is the co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival.
“With lyric grace and fine detail Pramila Venkateswaran draws us into the imagined life of her grandmother, a passionate, artistic soul born into a Kerala home, enduring the constraints of a traditional family, searching for her own voice, her own freedom at a tumultuous time in Indian history. Moving through the cycles of day and night, these poems evoke the arc of a woman’s life, from the blossoming of young adulthood into the decay of old age.”
“Fine poet as she is, Pramila Venkateswaran also turns chronicler of her grandmother’s life in the The Singer of Alleppey. From the grandmother’s unhappy married life, she turns to her singing, charts out what the old lady’s mother told her, ‘Sing your heart out / you are wedded to words till your tongue is ash.’ Obviously this is a poet’s chronicle, studded with images like ‘champak and hibiscus dripping their dye’ even as the rain comes down; or those splendid lines on a hurricane lamp, as we watch ‘the burnt wick / swell with oil and burst / into a tall petal of flame.’ Venkateswaran is one of our finest diaspora poets today.”
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