This spring, the Brandeis community will welcome Kirun Kapur to teach Directed Writing: Poetry Workshop in the English Department. As an opportunity for Kapur and Brandeis students to become acquainted, she gave a poetry reading on Wednesday, Oct. 8. In Pearlman Lounge, Kapur shared some of her work from her first novel, the critically acclaimed “Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist,” which won the Antivenom Poetry award in 2013.
After a brief introduction, Kapur began the reading with a poem titled “Anthem.” Her strong and gentle voice illustrated a scene of a family going about their morning activities in India, setting the theme for the following poems. Her words, so richly infused with the culture of India, transport the audience to another time and another world altogether. Throughout the reading, Kapur’s masterful use of imagery filled the small room with the scent of coconut oil,
the sweet taste of cool melon, the noise of “glass bangles hoisting sacks of sugar,” and suddenly the walls of Pearlman Lounge fell away to reveal the vibrant scene of an Indian marketplace.
She prefaced each piece she read with a short bit of background information, and before reading “Family Portrait, USA,” Kapur explained that before writing her first novel, she had decided on two things: to not write about her family and to not write about herself. With a grin, she confessed that she failed completely with these two goals, as most of her poems were indeed about her life and family. However, she doesn’t regret her “failure” since she had been interested in exploring family dynamics, and by using her own experience, her writing acquired a unique perspective. “Family Portrait, USA” was written about Kapur’s mother, whose family is European, while the next poem, “Mango is the King of Fruit,” was inspired by her father, who came to the United States from India as an adult.
Kapur wields the strength of a global perspective, having grown up in Hawaii and spent her career working throughout North America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Her writing career began with a powerful start as a writer for the Indian magazine Manushi which is centered on feminism and gender studies. She has also achieved much recognition for her work as a poet and writer in many journals, such as Poetry International, Massachusetts Review and FIELD, and has been awarded fellowships through the Harvard Extension program from the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, Vermont, Studio Center and McDowell Colony.
She also takes an insightful and creative approach to political events, such as with her poem “The Melon Cleaver” about the Partition of India, and the chaos, violence and many deaths that resulted. As the lines of the poems were repeated, narrating a scene where a young boy is trying to buy melon from a vendor, her haunting words engraved themselves in our thoughts, conveying the feelings of pain, betrayal and wondrous disbelief as “the boy in front reached out to pay, the melon seller waved his cleaver … with the other hand, he stabbed the boy with a dagger.”
Venturing to expose a little bit of vulnerability with her audience of potential future students, Kapur shared a new poem she had written about Hawaii, drawing attention to the mistreatment and exploitation of women. She concluded the poetry reading with “From the Afterlife,” captivating the audience with metaphors of human and nature until the last stanza, “I’m proof that nothing is lost. You can breathe me in.”
Kapur has also taken on the role of professor at Boston University, where she taught creative writing. Currently, she is the poetry editor for the Drum Literary Magazine, and when asked about her role as editor during the Q&A session after the reading, she explained how she strove to bring poetry into the publication, since only works of fiction and non-fiction were included before her appointment to the staff. “To me … poetry lives out-loud,” Kapur said. She is also the co-founder of the Tannery Series, which is an arts organization that brings authors to the Boston area in order inspire a greater interaction between with poetry and the public.
Kapur has achieved much success in her career, having been awarded the 2012 Arts & Letter/Rumi Prize for poetry and named to NBCNews’ list of Asian-American Poets to Watch. With her open and amiable personality, poetic expertise and multicultural experience, Kapur certainly fits the bill for the Brandeis staff, and creative writing students should look forward to her presence on campus next semester.