Srikanth Reddy’s lecture is titled: “Like a Very Strange Likeness and Pink.” This lecture examines the question of likeness in Emily Dickinson’s similes and Gertrude Stein’s portraits as a way of thinking about social identity and difference in modern American poetry.
Co-presented with the Bagley Wright Lecture Series on Poetry.
Srikanth Reddy grew up in Chicago. He earned an AB from Harvard College, an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, and a PhD in English literature from Harvard University. He is the author of two collection of poems and Readings in World Literature, a book length poem. His talk will consider a range of questions concerning poetry and poetics, including theories of likeness, ekphrasis, technology, and wonder.
Readings in World Literature is the daybook of a speaker haunted by the prospect of perpetual night. Cast in the form of lecture notes for an imaginary course in the humanities, this extended prose sequence combines academic satire, a survivor’s memoir, translations from obscure works of world literature, and a postmodern journey through the underworlds of various cultures. Accompanied by a class full of skeptical students—“some in headscarves, some, occasionally, dressed in fatigues”—the quixotic protagonist of this volume undertakes to scale the Tower of Babel that is world literature, and learns, in the process, that learning itself may count for precious little in the final reckoning. “Contrary to the accounts of Mu Lian, Odysseus, and Kwasi Benefo,” this speaker discovers, “it is not customarily permitted to visit the underworld. No, the underworld visits you.”
Reddy employs a variety of forms, including syllabics, terza rima, and the prose poem; his poems are collagelike in their variety and inclusiveness. Facts for Visitors was in part composed when Reddy was away from home, and in an interview he described the book as being about the idea of home. Matthew Miller, reviewing the collection for Double Room on webdelsol.com, observed: “Reddy’s gravitational center is Southern India, but the poet’s collecting gaze circles out to Europe and further west, involving a host of references.”
Reddy’s awards include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and the Mellon Foundation. His poems have appeared in the anthologies Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (2004) and Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets (2004).
Reddy is the literacy director for the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Trust in Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, India. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Chicago.
by Srikanth Reddy
I am about to recite a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my expectation extends over the entire psalm. Once I have begun, the words I have said remove themselves from expectation & are now held in memory while those yet to be said remain waiting in expectation. The present is a word for only those words which I am now saying. As I speak, the present moves across the length of the psalm, which I mark for you with my finger in the psalm book. The psalm is written in India ink, the oldest ink known to mankind. Every ink is made up of a color & a vehicle. With India ink, the color is carbon & the vehicle, water. Life on our planet is also composed of carbon & water. In the history of ink, which is rapidly coming to an end, the ancient world turns from the use of India ink to adopt sepia. Sepia is made from the octopus, the squid & the cuttlefish. One curious property of the cuttlefish is that, once dead, its body begins to glow. This mild phosphorescence reaches its greatest intensity a few days after death, then ebbs away as the body decays. You can read by this light.
“First Circle” from Facts for Visitors
It’s dark in here, the dark inside of a man
in the dark. It’s not night. One hears crows
overhead, dawn fowl caws, the shod soles again
treading their sunlit plots above. One grows
dotish-fond of such things. Long live the things,
their ways, their roots pushed goatish & gray
through the skull, in this earth that gaily spins
though one has crossed its smutted green threshold
to reign in a crate. We have done no wrong,
my friends, & yet we find ourselves soiled,
sold, carbonized teeth in a moss-riven jaw.
Once I sat on a stool as my grandmother told
me of heaven. She cleaned fish for our living. I saw
how her rusty black knife unseamed the sunset
in each belly—coral, ochre, carmine, raw,
lice-infested sunsets in a pail. So many nights.
Night in the kitchen shack, night at the crumbling edge
of our milk-pond province, a blade, lone cricket
raving in the lawn.
Readings in World of Literature (2012)
Changing Subjects: Digressions in Modern American Poetry (2012)
Facts for Visitors (2004) – Winner of the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry
READINGS by Srikanth Reddy
Poetry Society of America: Srikanth Reddy
THE CONVERSANT: Srikanth Reddy with Andy Fitch
WBEZ Chicago: Donna Seaman reviews ‘Voyager’ by Srikanth Reddy
Erasure Reading (1)
Erasure Reading (2)
Srikanth Reddy presents at the 2013 Creative Capital Artist Retreat