“I Don’t See a Journal Promoting South Asian Poets as a Narrow Boundary.”

“I Don’t See a Journal Promoting South Asian Poets as a Narrow Boundary.”

A Chat with Sreshtha Sen, Editor of The Shoreline Review

In its mission statement, the editors of The Shoreline Review, which debuted in 2018, write: “TSR has its eye on the shoreline. We’re dedicated to publishing writers who are commonly excluded from mainstream literary communities. If your writing explores issues of feminism, casteism, nationalism, self-determinism, racism or you identify as queer, trans, differently abled or otherwise marginalized, thanks to the higher authority of powerful publishing houses, we encourage you to submit. Note: The Shoreline Review currently only accepts submissions from poets who identify as South Asian.”

Interview by Sanjeev Sethi

Tell us about yourself?

I’m a poet from Delhi. I grew up in Lucknow and studied literatures in English from Delhi University and completed my MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. Currently, I live and teach in New York and am the 2017-18 McCrindle Foundations Fellow at Poets & Writers, where I work with the Readings/Workshops department to fund writers teaching and working in underserved communities.

What motivated you to start The Shoreline Review?

A number of things. TSR has been in the works for a while now. During my undergrad, my friends (who would later form the core team of TSR) and I were witnessing contemporary poets in Delhi and around doing great work on and off the page. I was introduced to some of my earlier South Asian influences then. Later, while completing my MFA, I found myself reading diasporic South Asian writers who were doing equally great things but in totally different ways. In both places, it took a lot of mining and a lot of time to find these writers and spaces. TSR does what it does because I’m determined to develop a community for South Asian writers so it’s easier for those who are looking, to find brilliant poetry.

How has the response been to the debut issue?

I’m so, so grateful for the response we’ve received so far. Issue one has work by 10 poets from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the US and UK, and the poems are stunning. We’ve received some great reviews on social media, and people seem really happy about the inception of TSR.

How do you plan to inform the South Asian poet community about The Shoreline Review?

One of the decisions we were very sure of, from the beginning, was to be an online journal, a free online journal. We believe there are readers out there who, just like us, are looking for a community and looking for writers to feed them craft and lyric, and we want them to have it. We don’t intend on having a subscription fee and want to constantly work on being as accessible. Along with my team, I’m definitely learning a lot about getting the word out online, spreading awareness about our inaugural issue, and I’ve enjoyed doing so immensely, mostly because people and orgs have been so helpful and encouraging along the way. And of course, not to sound too Harry Potter-esque but poetry will always be given at TSR to those who ask for it.

Do you think the poetic concerns of the South Asian Community are different from the others?

Umm, yes and no. I think poetry and its concerns within itself is universal in the sense anyone from anywhere in the world can pick up any poem and feel something while reading it. I think as poets and readers of poetry, we all look for and enjoy good craft, great narratives and lyric and music. At the same time, I strongly believe poetry has and must concern itself with the now, must be invested in recording and resolving political, personal, historical decisions and narratives, and there are so many of these.

In both these definitions of poetic concerns, the South Asian community has issues that are at once unique and similar to others. South Asia has a long tradition of poetry in several languages that are rich and diverse and we should uphold these while continuing to create new traditions. Regarding responsibility and political concerns, the South Asian community and its diaspora has issues in the present. We should tackle issues in poetry that are both unique to the South Asian community but also equally pressing, more universal issues that we can and should voice in solidarity with or against.

I’m not sure I’ve done a very good job of explaining my thoughts here, but in our inaugural issue, Fatimah Asghar and Sumita Chakraborty speak so wonderfully on the poet’s responsibility and some of that can be applied here.

As an Asian-American which according to you are the top three literary magazines dealing with South Asian literary perspectives? And why?

Since, technically, I’m an Asian living in America, I think that’s made it possible for me to find literary magazines in South Asia and the States. I think The Margins, the Asian American Writers Workshop’s literary journal was the first space I visited, and my fondness and admiration for them and their team continues to grow. One of the first people I reached out to for guidance/advice about TSR was Emily Yoon, who’s the poetry editor of The Margins and has always been so generous with her time and work. I think knowing the work she does with AAWW helped shape the kind of editor I want to be.

One of the featured poets in Issue 1, Ather Zia, is also the founding editor of Kashmir Lit, an online journal for Kashmiri and diasporic writing which publishes some great poetry. I think as an editor from India, it’s important I stay aware of South Asian perspectives that aren’t often given space in mainstream literary communities and Kashmir Lit kind of taught me that.

Other places I admire and follow closely are journals like Hyphen Magazine, Wande, Cha, The Lifted Brow from Melbourne; communities like Kundiman, and anthologies like Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond and Go Home!, AAWW’s new anthology.

What are the areas American literary magazine don’t dwell into and how are you planning to correct that with The Shoreline Review?

I keep telling everyone that TSR’s primary duty is to remind people that poetry exists beyond America. *laughs* Really though, our plan for TSR was to build a platform to share work from all over the world, to bring diasporic poets I was lucky enough to have read and share them with readers in South Asia eager to discover new, contemporary work and to create a platform for emerging work in South Asia and promote it to a larger audience.

I feel equally invested in new voices and voices that have been around for a while but haven’t been narrativized enough, which is to say, when we share poetry from one continent to the other, I want to ensure we don’t prioritize any country over another.

Will The Shoreline Review carry literary criticism?

Our aim is to publish one prose piece in every issue. This includes literary criticism but can also mean lyric essays, book reviews, personal essays that are poetry-related, and interviews. I am especially excited about carrying or even reading more literary criticism about contemporary poetry, so we will be leaning towards that in future issues.

What sort of poetry appeals to you?

Umm…hard to pin it down, but as a reader, I’m attracted to a sense of urgency in a poem. A poem where something’s at stake. I don’t mean this literally as in I don’t believe thematically, the poem needs to always be on the brink of grief or collapse but I like reading something and feeling like everything in the poem--its form, its line breaks its structure, its narrative--has happened because of a reason.

Our team also talks more in detail about the kind of work they’re looking for here.

Any kind of poem that will not get your editorial nod?

One of the great things about TSR is we currently send personalized feedback even if we’ve chosen not to publish someone. However, we will never consider work with able-ist, casteist, sexist, racist, xenophobic or homophobic content.

Let me posit a hypothetical question. Will you ever publish a poem that isn’t your type but it has the elements of a fine poem?

As an editor, I’m constantly aware of the fact that I don’t really have “a type” of poem I’m looking for. There are different things I’m looking for as a reader, as a poet, and as an editor. We look for a wide, varied range of work and hope to publish poetry in every form and narrative. Then again, a “fine poem” is itself subjective and contains several elements. A lot of times, people assume the presence of certain craft elements makes something a “better” poem when really, another poem just doesn’t need those elements to do what it needs to do.

I will add though, that at TSR, we believe poetry is inherently political, which means the intention behind writing poetry also becomes political. This is all to say we do prioritize voice and who we’re hearing certain narratives from. If we’re choosing between two poems and both happen to tackle casteism in India, and one of them is by an upper caste poet, as curators, it is our responsibility to interrogate whose voice we want to amplify and why.

The internet has made it possible for a global literary community to exist. In such an era do we need journals with narrow boundaries?

Well, no, but I don’t see a journal promoting South Asian poets as a narrow boundary. I see it more as a zooming in on one diverse community and presenting everything we have to offer. South Asian poetry and South Asian poets contain a multitude of voices, stories, craft, form, lyric, and so much of it has gone unnoticed everywhere. With TSR and other journals, we’re striving to create a broader space for poetry and discussion.

Sanjeev Sethi is the author of three books of poetry. His most recent collection is This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015). His poems are in venues around the world: The Broadkill Review, After the Pause, Chicago Record Magazine, Horror Sleaze and Trash, Former People, Unlikely Stories Mark V, Stickman Review, Ann Arbor Review, Neologism Poetry Journal, Home Planet News, London Grip, Bonnie’s Crew, Morphrog 16, Communion Arts Journal, Bold Monkey, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.