When The Shoreline Review, a new South Asian poetry journal, launched earlier this year, it was the culmination of years of planning. As editor Sreshtha Sen writes in her letter to readers, the essential mission of the journal is simple. “This is a space for South Asian poets,” Sen wrote. “South Asian poetry is flourishing, like it always has,” she continued. “South Asian poets are doing marvelous work on and off the page.”
Along with co-poetry editor Shyamolie Singh, Sen compiled ten pieces by poets from across South Asia and its diaspora. Themes explored include migration, identity, love and conflict.
We reached out to Sen to talk about the inaugural volume and the long, illustrious history of poetry in South Asia.
The Teal Mango: Tell us a little about how the Shoreline Review got started. Your team just released the first issue?
Sreshtha Sen: Yes! We just released our inaugural issue and I’m so excited for everyone to see something we’ve been building towards for a while.
The idea for TSR has actually been brewing in me for a while now. In Delhi, during my undergrad, I witnessed some great contemporary poetry and poets who really influenced my own writing practice. It made me start thinking about this strange relationship I associate with South Asian poetry. I know, and always knew there were brilliant South Asian poets, but didn’t quite know where to look for them. Like a lot of people I know, I grew up reading dead, white British poets and knew something was missing without quite being conscious of it, if that makes sense? It instilled in me this need to write a certain way and to become the kind of writer I was secretly so desperate to get away from. Back then, when my friends (who would later go on to form the core team of TSR) and I discussed this, we knew we wanted to create a resource for South Asian poets.
And then around a year later, while I was completing my MFA in New York, I realized there was a significant difference between what my reading list had been and what it would be. I discovered writers both diasporic and otherwise who were everything I had imagined poetry to be. While this meant that I now had a significantly more resources and I’d discovered so many poets of color writing in English (most of them and their books changing my life), this also made me understand that there was so much poetry I had experienced back home that had not made and might never make its way to other countries and continents. That’s when we started envisioning TSR as a poetry journal publishing South Asian poets from around the world.
My plan for TSR had two goals: One, to bring diasporic poets I was lucky enough to have read and share them with readers in South Asia eager to discover new, contemporary work and Two, to create a platform for emerging work in South Asia and promote it to a larger audience. This is also important to me because I feel personally invested in the stories in our poetry, which is to say, when I want to share poetry from one continent to the other, I also want us to listen to the issues these new voices are telling us that haven’t been narrativized for so long.
TTM: What can readers expect from this inaugural issue? What are some of the poems that stood out to you?
Sen: This is such a good issue (from a purely non-biased viewpoint of course, lol).
Really though, I think our inaugural issue is an excellent example of our mission that I described before. It has work by ten poets from Bangladesh, India, Kashmir, Pakistan, the US, and UK which I think allows readers to see various different craft techniques, different narratives at play while the issue is definitely bound albeit somewhat loosely by a thematic thread. Through it all, is a question I often ask myself and hope the readers do too: ‘Is there a collective South Asian identity and if so, what does it look like?’ I think the poets in this issue do a stunning job of questioning this notion, exemplifying South Asian poetics, imagining and re-imagining this identity and what it might look like.
Honestly, I love each and every poem in this issue. They are all so, so mind-blowing.The expected cool thing about the inaugural issue was that I could and did solicit a lot of my favorite poets because this issue kind of paves the way for future contributors to know what we expect as editors and readers, but what was unexpected is the support and unsolicited submissions we received and I’m so grateful and excited for those poets–the ones we published and those we couldn’t– for their interest and encouragement in this new endeavor.
TTM: Each issue of the Shoreline Review also contains interviews with poets. Can you share a memorable quote with us?
Sen: So we hope to publish a prose component in each issue. Our definition of prose is pretty elastic ranging from a poetry-related essay to interviews. This issue has two rapid-fire sessions with 2017 Ruth Lilly Fellows Fatimah Asghar and Sumita Chakraborty, who were so generous and gracious with their time. I think I enjoyed both so much because that should be how all rapid fire interviews should be henceforth:decisive but with enough options.
I guess the quotes that I can’t stop thinking about relate to the one “non-rapid” question I asked. I’ve been thinking a lot about our individual and collective responsibilities, especially with respect to this editorial project and asked both poets what responsibility means for them. I won’t write everything they said here even though it’s all magical and genuine and true, but I loved how they both spoke about our responsibilities to one another. Fatimah said “I think of the way that I create a lot as a web of relationships I am building– with other artists, with my family, with people” and I can’t help but connect it to Sumita’s interrogation of the editor’s responsibility: “To thinking carefully about which voices we amplify, and in what ways and for what reasons; to interrogating our own flaws, unflinchingly;”
TTM: Why did you decide to name your journal after the shoreline? What does that word evoke for you?
Sen: My co-editor Shyamolie Singh actually came up with the name. It’s a reference to a line from Audre Lorde’s ‘a litany for survival’: “For those of us who live at the shoreline / standing upon the constant edges of decision / crucial and alone.”
I think Lorde spells out so much in that one sentence itself. Going back to Sumita’s statement about which voices we amplify and how and why, I believe as editors, Shyamolie and I have a huge responsibility. We’ve declared with somewhat of an ego that we’re going to be a platform for South Asian poetic voices. Now it’s our duty to be aware of the voices we’re highlighting, and the care we can and should give those voices. Who lives at the shoreline of this poetry movement, whose craft or writing or narratives have been silenced and how can we allow them to speak for themselves.
We’re dedicated to publishing writers who are commonly excluded from mainstream literary communities and are going to constantly try to amplify urgent narratives.
TTM: There’s a long poetic tradition in South Asia. Do you think of the Shoreline Review as a continuation of that tradition?
Sen: Definitely, although I think I’d put it as “The Shoreline Review hopes to be a continuation of that tradition” since it would be a little daring without enough work for me to presume such a statement as fact. In my editor’s note to issue 1, I talk about how South Asian poetry has always been flourishing and we simply wish to ensure it stays flourishing.
I think what I try to acknowledge though is that South Asia has always had poetic traditions, several of them in several languages and communities, and they have all flourished for a long time now through resistance and celebration. In order to ensure this continuation of poetic traditions then, the first step is to reject any one tradition or ritual as representative of all South Asian poetry, and publish as many writers as we can to form a multitude of poetic voices. This includes rejecting toxic traditions, continuing important traditions and making space for new, urgent traditions.
Readers can check out the first volume of The Shoreline Review here.