Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Elizabeth Upshur joins us to discuss the work of Anuradha Bhowmik and how poetry can infiltrate girlhood, nostalgia, and reclaim it all. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.
Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Anuradha Bhowmik’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?
Elizabeth Upshur: 2016? Feels so long ago! I remember connecting with Bhowmik’s work because they are these incredibly poignant time capsules, little snapshots in black and white that you want to devour every little detail of, to see all the similarities and differences pointed out in the American experience. I remember writing my first syllabus in Kentucky for my kids in English 1010 and I knew that I could reach them through Elegy, 1998 to not only craft their own personal narrative but to gain a deeper understanding of an immigrant experience that wasn’t colored by Fox or the pulpit or what have you; it was the opportunity to see a person, a young person, like them.
RW: How has Bhowmik’s writing inspired your own?
EU: Bhowmik can be so unapologetically femme, glitter, lipgloss, Lisa Frank… I haven’t written like that since I first started writing. Her relationship with her mother… mines nothing like that, and yet I find myself relating hard. Being a teenage girl is fraught enough, adding in technology, being Othered, burgeoning bodies and desire—she’s literally deciphering the code so she can show you how it was, in all its naked pain and glory. And looking back at that foundation propels you to look forward too. What sort of woman are you, holding that smaller self, AND therapy AND a hope for the future? That’s a lot, but for me I keep coming back to the cover of Brown Girl Chromatography, one half of her traditional, one half American(ized). She’s a Janus figure looking us head on— which is fitting because she’s a December Capricorn!—we see who her mother wants to nurture her into versus who Bhowmik is by nature. We’re different browns (she’s Bangladeshi American, I’m African American) but that’s an aspect of culture and of codeswitching that continues to ring true for me, and I hope my writing addresses it as cleverly one day soon.
RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?
EU: Well, I wanted to do a lil sampler, a poetry charcuterie (a poetrcuterie if you will). So I included one each from her series on AOL IM, which I’ve been calling demi-forms since it borrows the structure from that platform, but is also really expansive in the way she utilizes it. “Fieldnotes 1” is my favorite.
RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?
EU: I’m sharing work with a few friends. Fingers crossed for a residency this year, and I’ve got a project simmering on the backburner. I was awarded a Hudson Valley Writers Center POC Scholarship, so I get to take a revision intensive workshop with January Gill O’Neil. Orchard just finished up their Crash Course on Forms by Black Writers for February and that was so fun. Definitely a highlight of Black History Month for me.
Anuradha Bhowmik is a Bangladeshi-American poet and writer from South Jersey. She is the 2021 winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for her first collection Brown Girl Chromatography (Pitt Poetry Series, 2022). Bhowmik is a Kundiman Fellow and a 2018 AWP Intro Journals Project Winner in Poetry. She earned her MFA from Virginia Tech. Her poetry and prose have appeared in POETRY, The Sun, Quarterly West, and elsewhere.
Find her website here.
Purchase her collection Brown Girl Chromatography here.
Elizabeth Upshur is a Black Southern writer. She is a proud Fulbright alumna, and Poetry Co-Editor at OkayDonkey Mag. She is the 2020 Gigantic Sequins winner for her flash “motherfucker” and has won prizes from Brown Sugar Lit and Colorism Healing for work that deals in race, place, and the speculative. Her writing lives in EcoTheo, Augur Mag, Pretty Owl Poetry, and others. She lives in rural Tennessee with her family and rumors of the occasional black bear. She tweets @lizzy5by5
Ryleigh Wann (she/her) hails from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned an MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese Review, Longleaf Review, The Shore, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at ryleighwann.com
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