Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Muse: Ohio's First Poet Laureate

Medicine is my work, but I don't regard writing as work.
I regard it as play. It's how I relax and unwind.
~ Amit Majmudar*

Ohio named Amit Majmudar the state's first Poet Laureate; his term began January 1 of this year and concludes December 31, 2017. The governor announced his selection of Majmudar on December 17, 2015.

Legislation creating the Poet Laureate position (Amended Substitute Senate Bill 84) was signed into law December 19, 2014. The law specifies a two-year term of office; the incumbent may be reappointed at the governor's discretion. The state Arts Council is required to provide the governor with a list of at least three candidates from which to select the nominee. (See "Ohio Poet Laureate" (pdf), an overview with nomination requirements and "expectations", including participating in poetry readings and undertaking a "significant" project of cultural value.)

According to an Ohio Poetry Association news release, Majmudar intends to fulfill his mandate to promote poetry throughout the state by using an "interdisciplinary approach" fostering collaborations with artists in many disciplines, and to ensure Ohio poetry's future by reaching out to Ohio's high school students. He told Kabir Bhatia at WKSU that an initial project is to write "an extended poem that fuses Hindu mythology with stories of metamorphosis" and culminates in a "performance with his wife, a classically trained Indian dancer."

More expansively, Majmudar, quoted at Antioch Review Blog, said, ". . . I envision a Laureateship that will reintegrate poetry into the already thriving Ohio performing arts scene by organizing performances that hybridize poetry, music, and dance. Simultaneously, I intend to secure poetry's future in Ohio through the Ohio Future Laureates Program, in which ten established Ohio poets will each mentor standout student poets nominated by Ohio's ten most underprivileged school districts. More projects will develop over the next two years, establishing, I hope, a dynamic precedent for my successors in this post."

* * * * *

My credo [on writing practice] comes from Eliot quoting
his notes to "What the Thunder Said": Da, dayadhvam, damyata.
Give, sympathize, control. That is both the art of life
and the art of poetry. . . .**

A diagnostic nuclear radiologist in Columbus, Ohio, poet, essayist, and novelist Amit Majmudar, M.D., is the author of the forthcoming Dothead (Alfred A. Knopf, March 2016); Heaven and Earth (Story Line Press, 2011), winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Award (Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award, West Chester University Poetry Center); and 0", 0" (Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books, 2009), a finalist for a Norma Faber First Book Award (Poetry Society of America).

Majmudar, who was born in New York and grew up in Cleveland, also has published two acclaimed novels, Partitions (Metropolitan Books, 2009), his debut work, and The Abundance (2011; Macmillan/Picador, 2014), as well as a prose poem-novella, Azazil, serialized in The Kenyon Review (see an excerpt is at Best American Poetry blog).

Among broad themes characterizing Majmudar's writing are identity, spiritual faith and practice, history, love, and death. Often in tension are such subjects as family relationships, innocence and experience, truth and myth, and cultural conflict and violence. Also coming within Majmudar's purview are biblical figures, questions of morality, dislocation and displacement (the Indian diaspora), illness and medical practice, and current events (see, for example, "Vetting the Refugees").

Critics uniformly extoll Majmudar's lyricism, use of precise, often disparate, details that pile up in a series of end-stopped or enjambed lines; technical skill, especially in crafting ghazals and sonnets; and integrity in addressing cultural, familial, scientific, and religious influences that can foster a sense of alienation or apartness even as they can promote connection. Some of Majmudar's poems read as aphorisms ("...The sandals that remember where they stepped/Out of the world must be picked up off the floor [....]", from "Rites to Allay the Dead"); others are replete with alliteration or slant rhymes. Punctuation is not always used. Imagery is rich. The poems betray a curious and wide-ranging intellect. There is humor to be enjoyed but also a depth of emotion that, in the most expressive poems, can leave readers feeling shattered (see, for example, "Riches").

An arm is the spine of an angel wing,
cracked at the elbow. [. . .]
~ from "Subtle Anatomy" in 0", 0"

Trees keep a log of the air they breathe
like astronauts on a planet with a cyanide
atmosphere, where giant four-pronged termites
are on the loose with buzz saws. [. . . ]
~ from "Arboreal"

[. . .] My thoughts rise to the bewildered sparrows
clapped in that cage of thunder — how they wheeled
for hours, how they stilled their wings and fell.
~ from section 4, "Intelligent Deluge" of "Metaphysical Sonnets"

The severed parts of darkness grow and glow.
An octopus's amputations show,
Each tentacle a jiggling gigawatt.
Guillotine one, and watch: Its inky thoughts
Become a giant light bulb, humming, hot. [. . .]
~ from section 4, "From Darkness into Light" of "Seventeens"

[. . .] My mother painted us a still life and we peeled
and ate the fruit for lunch my mother sculpted
my sister earrings out of pebbles sculpted me
out of abandonment and earth [. . . .]
~ from "Riches"

Poems by Majmuder have appeared in a vast array of literary magazines and periodicals in print and online, including 32 Poems, Able Muse ReviewAmerica (The National Catholic Review)The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Cimarron ReviewCounter BalanceDark HorseThe New England Review, EpochGrantaGulf Coast, Image, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Humanities)The New Review of Books, The New RepublicThe New Yorker, Poetry DailyPoetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, Prairie SchoonerThe Raintown Review, Salt Hill JournalSmartish Pace, and TriQuarterly

The poet's work also is found in numerous anthologies, including Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets (University of Evansville Press, 2005),  The Best American Poetry (Scribner, 2007), The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-2012, 25th Anniversary Edition (Scribner, 2013), The Norton Introduction to Literature, 11th edition (2012), Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (Wipf & Stock, 2012), Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press, 2014), The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume (Literary House Press, 2014), and Irresistible Sonnets (Headmistress Press, 2014).

Majmudar's literary essays and criticism have been printed in such publications as GrantaThe Kenyon Review, MemoriousNational Poetry ReviewThe New York Times, The Threepenny Review, and Poetry Daily.

Majmudar was on the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature Jury.


Photo Credit: Ohio Arts Council

All Poetry Excerpts © Amit Majmudar

* Quoted from Ken Gordon, "Ohio's 1st Poet Laureate a Physician", Columbus Dispatch, December 23, 2015

** Quoted from "Amit Majmudar", Interview, The KR Conversations, The Kenyon Review (Asked about teachers who have been important to his writing, Majmudar notes that he has never been mentored, adding, ". . . My teachers have been dead poets, mostly, and no dead poet in particular."

"Kasich Names Amit Majmudar Ohio's Poet Laureate", News Release, Ohio Arts Council, December 17, 2015 (Information from this same release is found at Kasich's Governor of Ohio page, "The Daily Briefing" in The Columbus Dispatch, and Universal News Network, and in The Hindu's December 24, 2015, article "Indian-American Doctor is Ohio's First Poet Laureate". A variety of Indian magazines and still other periodicals, including The American Bazaar and India Today, also ran articles.) 

Robert Higgs, "Greater Cleveland Native Amit Majmudar Named as Ohio's First Poet Laureate by Gov. John Kasich", The Plain Dealer (, December 17, 2015

WKYC/AP, "U of Akron Grad Named Ohio's First Poet Laureate", WKYC, December 17, 2015

Amit Majmudar Profiles Online: Cleveland Poetics Blog, Khabar Magazine, Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies CenterPoetry Foundation

Amit Majmudar Poems Online: "A Pedestrian" (Audio Available), "Horse Apocalypse", "Instructions to an Artisan", "Matter and Antimatter", "Riches" (Audio Available), "Rites to Allay the Dead", "Save the Candor" (Audio Available), "The Miscarriage", and "Twin Gluttons", All at Poetry Foundation; "Rune Poem" at 32 Poems; "By Accident" at Antioch Review; "Dothead", "Invocation", "To the Hyphenated Poets", "T.S.A.", and "The Autobiography of Khwaja Mustasim", All at The New Yorker; "Pattern and Snarl" at Smithsonian Magazine; "The Illuminator" at New Republic; "Arboreal" at The Cortland Review (Audio Available); "Are You Hungry" and "The Enduring Appeal of the Western Canon", Both at Agni Online; "Recessional" at Rove Poetry; "Emily Dickinson Opines on the NSA", "Emily Dickinson Crushes on Edward Snowden", and "No News", All at Light Poetry Magazine; "Lineage" at VQR Online; "Apocalypse Shopping List" at The Awl; "Fe" at Harvard Divinity Bulletin; "The Children's Crusade of 2012" at First Things; "The Interrogation" and "Lineage", Both at The Atlantic; "His Vision" and "True Believer", Both at America; "In a Gallery" at Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center (American Arts Quarterly); "April 10: By Accident" at Counter Balance; "Pandemic Ghazal", "Transmigrant Ghazal", and "Song of Innocence", All at Drunken Boat; "Shot in the Dark" at The New Criterion; "Rites to Allay the Dead" at Verse Daily; "James Bond Suite" and "To Sibyl", Both at LineBreak (Audio Available); "The Exiles" and "A Warning Sign" at Able Muse (Audio Available); "Dothead" at The Economy Magazine; "A Pedestrian" at Leonard Lopate's Poetry Off the Shelf (Audio by Alfred Molina); "Metaphysical Sonnets" at The Chimaera; "His Love of Semicolons" at Umbrella Journal; "Vetting the Refugees" at TheNewVerse.News Blog; "Ogling Naomi" and "Static Electricity", Both at TriQuarterly, Issue 130 on GoogleBooks; "The Doll" at River Styx (pdf); "Self-Portrait in a Subway Window" at Crab Orchard Review (scroll to p. 128 of pdf); "A Minor Fallen Angel" at Image Journal; "Save the Candor" at The Hairpin;"Seventeens" at The Flea

Majmudar was a featured poet at Able Muse Review, Winter 2015, No. 20, where new poems — "No Future", "Intelligence Hearing" (Excerpt), "Chronic Pain", "Protest Poem", "The Strike-Anywhere Match", and a translation of Joachim du Bellay's "Roman Holiday" — are available to subscribers. Also featured is Daniel Brown's interview with Majmudar.

Amit Majmudar, "Hanged Man", Flash Fiction, Word Riot, December 2015

Amit Majmudar, "Elitism and American Poetry", Kenyon Review, October 14, 2015

Amit Majmudar, "Poetry and Chess", Kenyon Review, May 30, 2015

Amit Majmudar, "Epic Fail", Kenyon Review, December 28, 2013

Amit Majmudar, "Am I an 'Immigrant Writer'?", Opinionator, The New York Times, May 4, 2013

"Feature: Five Qs with Amit Majmudar", Writing like an Asian Blog, May 8, 2015

Sarah Arthur, "Epic Tales: An Interview with Amit Majmudar, Part 1", Good Letters Blog, November 12, 2014

Sarah Arthur, "Epic Tales: An Interview with Amit Majmudar, Part 2", Good Letters Blog, November 13, 2014 (Majmudar says, ". . . For me, the most intelligent form of literary play is reading." He also tells Arthur that is working on a biography of his young son, who was born with a congenital heart defect.)

Nancy Mitchell, "Interview with Amit Majmudar", Plume Poetry, May 2014 (This is a conversation about Majmudar's featured poem "ABECEDARIAN", which follows the exchange.)

Robert Hirschfield, "The Persistence of Humans: A Talk with Author Amit Majmudar", Matador Network, May 29, 2013

Zara Raab, "'Heaven and Earth' by Amit Majmudar", Review, Verse Wisconsin, Issue 108

MacMillan Publishers/Picador Page for The Abundance (Listen to Marty Moss-Coane's conversation with Majmudar about the book at Radio Times. Also see Majmudar's playlist for The Abundance.)

MacMillan [Metropolitan Books] Page for Partitions

Ohio Poet Laureate on Twitter

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