In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Mani Rao.

 

We believe that, in making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquettes, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?

A raptor in flight scanning for prey is hunting, not traveling. The salmon-run back to the riverbed to spawn is not really travel. Blown by the wind, a leaf does not really travel. But, moving somewhat intentionally without too overwhelming an ulterior motive, we call traveling. Writing is similar. The act of writing may begin like that leaf’s plight, but when it can also then surf on that wind, you have both: the wind’s throws and lifts and shapes as well as the leaf’s will and skill — creating a composition — and those are the rides a writer lives for.

 

Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?

Is this a trick question! Why do you already believe, in the first place, that I want to be known for writing? Not that I don’t want to be known for writing, but:

Midas, a Casino in Vegas

Talk to me, goldfish
Where’s Titanic?
Fancy a gold apple it’s
greed only if you’re hungry
Lady Luck just wants a fuck
You don’t need no PhD in alchemy

 

In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?

I don’t know what is a necessary activity for anyone else. For me, travel has been a sweet source. But my sources are not overt, for I don’t write about them; instead, they enter my writing in transformed ways. Their springs are hidden, and it is not always that even I can trace them. See this image in a poem from The Last Beach:

Tomorrow below today
Below tomorrow, the day after
Below on below we go
To the earth to be planted

Looking at the thick calendars in Hong Kong where one day gets torn off for the next, I discovered that the word for “tomorrow” is “Xia Yi Tian,” which literally means “next/under one-day.” Somehow, that turned into the idea of a lifespan, eventually to be “planted.” It could also have been the numerous graves I ran into on my walks when I lived on Lamma island.

 

Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?

There are so many striking lines by so many authors. I will share one of my own favorite poems here.

Airing at a sniff

Easy in the envelope of your hands
Rewinding to the memoir
The glyph in your graze
Rrrrrip
Rrrrrip
Rrrrrip
E a s y I said to the deaf habit of a jawdisc
What’s the hurry
The season sprawls
My fiber was coarse
All five: flavor color odor vibre texture
We ran amok dusting air unsettling
And now bereft jumped on the moon
Straycow
Honeybell
What else to do but ruminate
Come graze ghost bees
About time

 

Do respond to the following words:

“In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.” ― Sigmund Freud.

How is worth measured, by whom, and worthy of what? Every one is worthy. Disagree, and everyone is worthless. There are no exceptions.

 

What do you think of Coldnoon?

A journal with a theme, a theme with an expansive scope. Congratulations on a name that means nothing other than you. Great design. Love the photography, the layout and the fonts.

 

Mani Rao

Mani Rao

Author of eight poetry collections, a translation of Kalidasa’s works and a translation of the Bhagavad Gita as a poem, Rao has had poems published in literary journals including FulcrumWasafiriMeanjinWashington SquareWest Coast LineTinfish, and in anthologies including Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008), The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) and The Dance of the Peacock. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Iowa International Writing Program in 2005 and 2009, and held the 2006 University of Iowa International Programs writer-in-residence fellowship. She completed MFA from university of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was a co-founder of OutLoud, a regular poetry-reading gathering, in Hong Kong, and contributed a poetry segment to RTHK Radio 4. Translations of Rao’s poems have been published in Latin, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, French and German. She has performed at literary festivals in Hong Kong, Singapore, Melbourne, Vancouver, Chicago, and at the 2006 New York PEN World Voices. Rao worked in advertising and television from 1985 to 2004, and was the Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Corporate Communications at Star (TV) Group Ltd., based in Hong Kong. She was born in India and moved to Hong Kong in 1993. She has an MFA from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and has a PhD in religious studies from Duke University.

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