Poet-a-Day: Meet Dheepa Maturi
I first learned about Dheepa Maturi through Tweetspeak Poetry, where she has shared personal writing that explores subjects like place, motherhood, and poetry with gorgeous honesty. Then when L.L. Barkat shared this ghazal with me, I knew I had to have it. Since then, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Maturi (over email, of course) and her poetry. Her origin story about “The Ancient Dance: A Ghazal” is one of my favorites. I’m sharing the first two couplets below.
If you’re interested in reading the rest of this stunning ghazal (and I know you will be), you’ll find it in How to Write a Form Poem!
The Ancient Dance: A Ghazal (excerpt)
I received birth, grasped this world, and knew deeply that it is not enough to view dance,
So I begged, teach me the eons past, I will receive that, too. Let me speak through dance.
Kings, sages, mendicants, and, yes, yes, goddesses, all told with my body, mouth, hands,
I wait behind velvet, drawn in drunk by the chords and patterns and beats that cue dance…
Maturi shares her personal experience with writing her first ghazal below:
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of “The Ancient Dance: A Ghazal.”
Dheepa Maturi (DM): During a graduate school interview, a dean asked whether I’d done anything unusual during the preceding summer. I shared that I’d trained for and presented a two-hour solo performance of Bharath Natyam, an Indian classical dance. I’ll never forget his response, delivered with a frown: “Isn’t that just dancing for men?”
As the daughter of an immigrant family in the U.S., the chasm between the dean’s perceptions and my own reality was a familiar one. Nevertheless, I sat stunned for a moment, thinking of my years spent mastering intricate footwork, cultivating balance and grace, and learning to convey an extensive array of emotions and expressions. I thought of how honored and privileged I felt to have become a steward of thousand-year-old legends and philosophies. Gathering my wits and my voice, I explained the ancient storytelling tradition of Bharath Natyam, as well as the athleticism, skill, and training it required. I described the sophistication of the concepts, and the layers of meaning, conveyed via this form of dance—for example, the eternal cycles of creation and destruction, and the soul’s longing to merge with the divine.
More than my words, I remember how desperately I wanted to make the dean understand. I think “The Ancient Dance” had been incubating within me since the day of that interview, and writing it helped me to resolve that interaction in my own heart. It also allowed me to embrace a lesson I’d learned during the intervening years—that my work is not to convince. Rather, my work is to share, freely and courageously, what I know and how I see.
TR: Why did you decide to write the poem as a ghazal? Or did you start out wanting to write a ghazal, and the poem grew out of the form?
DM: I’d always written free verse. Then, about four years ago, an editor suggested that I also engage with form poetry, directing me to the Tweetspeak Poetry website to explore the options and instructions. As I read through the list, the word ghazal immediately caught my attention, due to my Indian origin. Though I was familiar with the ghazal tradition, somehow I hadn’t considered the ghazal as a type of form poetry. I was incredibly intrigued.
As I studied the rules of the ghazal, three words dropped into my head: “cue,” “view,” and “true,” as well as the image of a costumed dancer of Bharath Natyam, the classical Indian dance that I’d learned and performed throughout my life. Then, a similarity struck me. Like a ghazal, Bharath Natyam is also strict in form, providing a dynamic structure from which to relate stories and communicate deep emotion. And I loved the idea of writing a form poem about a “form dance,” so to speak.
From a technical point of view, the ghazal form challenged me, requiring me, for example, to rhyme the second-to-last words in various lines and to conclude each stanza with the same word. From an emotional point of view, the ghazal convention of calling to oneself made me feel strangely vulnerable, as though I was becoming too visible, or demanding too much. As I moved through my reluctance, that call eventually felt befitting to the poem.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
DM: Regardless of type, poetry is a (you knew it was coming!) dance, of art and craft. Obviously, form poetry demands scrupulous attention to craft and the physical construction of a poem, and I feel this attention sharpens my writing skills. Particularly as a free verse poet, I believe that attempting form poetry opens new creative pathways for me and inspires me to experiment. The very act of building the form seems to free my mind to play unconsciously with still-nebulous ideas and concepts—and I am invariably surprised by what emerges.
About Dheepa Maturi
Dheepa R. Maturi, an Indian-American poet and writer, enjoys exploring the rich and surprising ways in which cultures interact over time. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Literary Hub, PANK, The Fourth River, Tiferet, Every Day Poems, Tweetspeak Poetry, Jaggery, Crosswinds, The Indianapolis Review, and elsewhere.
Hear Dheepa Read “The Ancient Dance: A Ghazal”
go to 1:00:47 to hear Dheepa read
Photo by Pabak Sarkar, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.