Vandana Khanna interrogates epic poems and weddings

Indian weddingTwo disparate threads captivated my imagination this past year – epic poems and weddings. I’ve been reading the Ramayana in conjunction with the new translation of the Odyssey (the first by a woman) and have also been watching my share of high-profile weddings on television and online. This strange combination, or ‘marriage’, of my current preoccupations became the inspiration for my poem, ‘Interrogation’. I couldn’t seem to untangle these ideas from each other, so I decided to stitch them together.

Every time I turned on the television this past spring and summer it seemed that “wedding–bride–wedding–bride” chanted back at me. And then I would turn to the pages of these epic sagas and saw the same message radiating from the lines of these ancient texts. All that focused attention had me thinking about women and brides and goddesses – how they get left behind, exiled, acted upon by outside forces (gods, and husbands, and even the ‘state’). In these stories, women’s desires are often ignored or forgotten, or they become addendums to ‘great’ men and their adventures. But even as they are cast as vessels or archetypes, their function as brides become crucial to the survival of a culture, a people, an empire. Weddings become an examination of what brings us together and what tears us apart – the dress, a literal fabric of society, or in this case, empire.

After all that ruminating, the poem came very quickly, in a raw rush of language and emotion that is somewhat rare for me – I often spend quite a bit of time brainstorming and tinkering. The poem started assembling itself with the insistence and repetition of certain words – the weave of them back and forth acting as a stitch or design. I wanted the rhythm to capture the inevitability of the words and their persistent order, echoing (somewhat) the inevitability of the situation.

I wrote a quick draft and let it sit for about a week before showing it to anyone. I took the poem with me to a writers’ retreat where I first attempted to interject the stanzas with questions. By the end of the week, the interrogation form had emerged, and with it, the poem in its current composition.

Vandana Khanna’s poem ‘Interrogation’ is published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Poetry Review, Vol. 108, No. 4.