Rajiv Mohabir Reads Whale Aria
Rajiv Mohabir, poet, memoirist and translator
Coach House, Green College, UBC and livestreamed
Tuesday, February 13, 5-6:30pm with reception to followin the series
The Whole Cloth Reading Series
“For seasons I was faceless // trying to swallow constellations, / to roll a star-map on my tongue,” recounts Rajiv Mohabir’s speaker in “Boy with Baleen for Teeth.” As formally visionary and acoustically attuned as ever, Mohabir has composed an interspecies opera in Whale Aria. This collection examines the humpback whale as a zoomorphic analog of the queer, brown, migratory speaker breaching these pages; just as a person navigates postcolonial queerness across geopolitical boundaries, traveling from India to Guyana to London to New York to Honolulu, these singular cetaceans wander through disparate waters. Undersea, whales call to one another through their marine music, and, using the documented structure of humpback vocalizations, Mohabir translates the syntax of their songs into poetry. In our search for meaning, in our call and response, kinship resonates; “the echo is amniotic.” “Once you immerse yourself in unending strains / the tones will haunt you: // ghosts spouting sohars you’ve called / since childhood.” Fluid and inexorable as the ocean, Whale Aria articulates the confluence of ecological fate and human history. In “Why Whales Are Back in New York City,” Mohabir notes the coincidence of current events: humpback migration returns to Queens for the first time in a century while the state expedites deportations of undocumented people in the same burrough. The language shared by human and marine creatures in these poems, however, promise that the tides will turn. “Our songs will pierce the dark / fathoms,” Mohabir underscores the eternity of water. “Behold the miracle: // what was once lost / now leaps before you.”
Poet, memoirist and translator Rajiv Mohabir is the author of four books of poetry including (Four Way Books, 2021) Cutlish which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Eric Hoffer Medal Provocateur. His poetry and nonfiction have been finalists for the 2022 PEN/America Open Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry and in Nonfiction, the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction and both second place and finalist for the Guyana Prize for Literature in 2022 (poetry and memoir respectively). His translations have won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the American Academy of Poets in 2020. (Four Way Books, 2023) Whale Aria is his fourth collection of poetry, and currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry at the University of Colorado Boulder.
An experience in deep listening, each Whole Cloth Reading Series event features a single poet who reads an entire book of poems from cover to cover. While poets devote immense craft to shaping a book, public readings tend to favor selections and excerpts. Uniting writer and audience in a celebration of expansive and unhurried attention, this series creates a rare environment for the investigation of poetry, sound, delivery, and reciprocity. Each event features a transformative (short!) book and concludes in time for a cordial reception and conversation.
Series Conveners: Elee Kraljii Gardiner, poet; Bronwen Tate, Creative Writing
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