Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado, where she teaches at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and maintains an integrative bodywork practice. Her most recent book is humanimal [a project for future children] from Kelsey Street Press.
A Poetics of Labour
1. How do you navigate your employment life and your poetic life energetically?
As soon as I step over the boundary of Naropa's campus, I put it out of my mind. If something particularly intense happened -- an insitutional crisis or interaction -- I give myself until Route 66 to let it circulate in my mind. When I cross the intersection of Highway 287 and Route 66, that's it. I don't think about it anymore. Much the same thing unfolds after a bodywork session. When I cross the threshold of the room in which a session has taken place, I forget what I learned or knew. This is complicated in cases where, for insurance purposes, I have to write up my SOAP notes. In those cases, when I have finished the notes, I wash my arms to the elbow with salt and hot, then cold, water. And when I close the door to the space for the night, I turn around and bow to it. At the end of classes, too, we bow out. It is simple bow. We meditate, then I indicate the bow by saying: "We end with a bow to the space between us, which is the space of writing and the writing to come." The energetics are about sealing these spaces, perhaps because what unfolds inside my work environments is invariably volatile, interesting, and intense.
2. How does your employment life relate to poetic form in your own work, or in poetic work generally?
From bodywork, I derive a language of the nervous system -- of the carapace of fat, light and electricity that surrounds or packs a nerve -- and I apply this to the sentence. The sentence, in this formulation, becomes a site for memory processes and pathologies, but also speed. The speed at which something might pass from one site to another, below the level of conscious reflection. From the work with the fascia, I derive the "diagonal line" as the axis of release, a phrase I also encounter in the post-colonial essays of Gayatri Spivak. In classrooms, I encourage my students to work upon this diagonal, and to translate between the flows of a body, and a text.
3. How do class relations play out in the poetic sphere or how do they appear in or affect your poetic work?
They played out for me in England as almost zero access to arts administration culture. The arty world. In the U.S., I don't read as working class - race stuff, too, is different - and so bypass what might otherwise circulate around my body as a member of a class. Or race. Is this true? In my writing, I return, inexorably, to the world I am from. Currently, I am writing a novel of the race riot, set in Southall and Hayes, the working class area of north-west London I lived in; a part of London that perhaps someone from another part of London would not call London. For example, I once went with my friend Mickey Cooke to his guitar class, and we went back to his friend L.'s flat. Turns out L. was an EARL. L. was a bit flirty. I went to the bathroom. It had white shag carpeting and lightbulbs around a mirror above the bathtub. When I came out, L. and Mickey were drinking Pimms and Lemonade, but it was time to go. I said: "Nice to meet you. I have to go." L. said: "What part of London do you live in?" I replied. He said: "That's not really London though, is it?" I left and waited for a bus. It was a double decker bus, the old-fashioned kind with an open deck. As the bus pulled away, L. came running along beside it in the traffic. He shouted: "When can I see you again?" But I still felt ashamed from his remark and did not respond.
4. Contemporary working and living conditions and their effect on writers. (Vs. other times, other locations).
House with garden and chicken coop. $800 mortgage, though I live an hour out of town. Gas money. I cannot afford to live in Boulder: $1900 for a two-bedroom apartment. I support myself, my mother (recently emmigrated from India), and a ten year old son on my salary from Naropa University, which was, until recently, in the 30s, but is now in the low 40s. My home is also the family home for my sister, who is completing a degree at CalArts. I supplement my income by working in a low-residency program at Goddard College, but Naropa is about to require that we do not "moonlight," presumably so that we can be more present on campus, which would support retention. I also work part-time as a body-worker. For this reason, I try to enjoy my work and take as much pleasure in it as possible, and to make it into something that nourishes my writing. I try to live a creative life every day because I do not take holidays or have a private space of any kind. How does this affect my writing? If I was not a single parent/care-giver with one to three jobs, perhaps I would be a South-east Asian novelist!!! But I am not. I am not a novelist. I think part of becoming an experimental writer was that it was a mode that allowed me to think about, collate and theorize fragments. What makes life liveable for me is the daily happiness afforded to me by the stability of my home, and the kindness of my neighbors. I also feel very nourished by my encounters with other writers, in places that are not, typically, the place where I live. I try to live a life of daily adventure, and to appreciate the freedom to write or perform towards the race riot scene, something I can't imagine doing, or having done, in the UK or India. (Though perhaps I'm wrong.)
5. The stance of the institutionally unaffiliated artist or intellectual in relation to the academy.
I was unaffiliated. Now I am affiliated. Sometimes I fantasize about being unaffiliated. This will have to wait until an Argentinian businessman on a skiing trip to Colorado falls in love with me and says: "Bhanu, I want to build you an adobe house in the hills. But I'm allergic to cats. Brenda will have to go." Also, the places where I teach -- two outrider or alternative writing schools -- don't have much money or funding, so -- I don't know about how much of an academy I am a part of. Perhaps I am deluded on this point; perhaps that is a ridiculous statement. Yes, I think it is. I have the privelege to choose my stance. What else? I rarely talk about writing with my core faculty colleagues (we don't have tenure at Naropa); but rather, with writers who are, in the institution, "staff." This is a diffcult one. Am I corrupt? Yes, I am corrupt if I am a part of an institution that has practices I don't agree with, especially as they affect staff. That are dodgy or inequitable in some way. I am corrupt if I don't protest them. Anne Waldman has been a mentor to me in this regard, though on some level, if I lost my job through an anarchic resolution, I then worry about my mum. I am her immigration sponsor, so I have to have a stable job. This is a strange country. Health care, immigration status and economic forces converge upon the question of affiliation. As for my status within the academy itself, nobody seems to care what I do. I feel a great creative/experimental freedom at Naropa, for example, which balances the crap pay and the need for financial stability. I say it is crap pay, but it is really not. It is pay. It is about ten times more than what my uncle, an electrical engineer, earns in India. Also, let's face it, if I lived in England, it is almost unfathomable to imagine being a professor of any kind. I am so grateful to this country for the gift of intellectual and practical work: teaching experimental writing. And the writing of it too.
6. Additionally, we are interested in specifics of everyone's job or trade that might be invisible to many.
At Naropa, I drink tea in the biodynamic green-house on campus, then lie down next to the strawberry bed. In my massage space, when a client leaves, I do a back bend over the table. At Goddard, I film Douglas Martin climbing a tree. I fall over in the snow. I walk into the surrounding woodland with a drum, at dusk, for Shiva Pooja, which no-one sees. To prepare for a facial, I gather rose hips from the foothills and mascerate them to a fine paste; I mix this paste with cream. During a reading, I see the violet outline of an accompanying presence, and sometimes, I feel the awareness of an ancestor turned upon me in the room.