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I keep handy a short list of writers who teach you that dreaming of a new politics is never enough. A new politics always needs a new language. That is the lesson offered by Arundhati Roy and Tony Kushner. After reading Kala Pani, my list also includes Monica Mody.
Kala Pani is packed with stories-within-stories and voices that range from officialese to rebellious neologistic song: “the blubs squeezed themselves into a phalanx of pulped fury.” With each scene, you descend into stranger circles of hell and hope. Kala Pani encompasses plenitude; it is uncomfortable, startling, timeless and ultimately original. -Cathy Park Hong
Six World Travellers, bereft of visas, gather beneath a tree to tell the story of Sameshape and Othershape — lovers, sisters, coconspirators, antagonists, doubles? — while the new Administration looks on, both feeding the informants and censoring their live-feed. The resulting contortions, stutters, hallucinations, fight scenes, sex scenes, mise-en-scènes, warblings and appendages, jerk and brim with jouissance and glitter with the self-discovery of a true bricoleuse. Gender, genre, national identity, multiple languages, and the body’s “natural” borders are all debased and reworked in this queer, unstable mix, which releases energy as it forms and breaks down and forms again. Welcome to the world of Kala Pani. Drink this smoking stuff and live forever. -Joyelle McSweeney
Monica Mody is a poet of sacrifice: Writing to us from the space behind the sun. “Elemental and artificial,” the world traveller licks the map. The word traveller lies down on her back beneath the “life-sized fabric” of the sky. This is a sky that surveils recumbent forms, agitated consumers and the person who wants to be “in a relationship” with the polyvalent neutrality of “a connoisseur.” Meanwhile, the narrator “is asleep.” Black water starts to seep up through an architecture that’s ruined, like a leg that’s been soaking too long in the bath. Architecture is pink, fleshy and ridged in Mody’s spectacular work on Empire. The poet-citizen is nauseous. “Stomachs” are heaving; “bibs” are in place. And at the heart of this death-star society, “funeral pyres” are burning at the edge of a dirty lake. Mody puts this ash into the mouth of the reader. This is the black water. This is the ritual that precedes whatever it is it will take – threads of wool? – to lead a person “back to us.” This is never, exactly, the same thing as home – the “ground” that Mody complicates, again and again, in the rupturing vortex of Kala Pani, a book without “remorse.” -Bhanu Kapil
Monica Mody holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame, where she won the postgraduate Sparks Prize Fellowship in 2010. She has also received Naropa’s Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship and the Toto Funds the Arts Award. Her poetry and cross-genre experiments have appeared in three chapbooks and several lit journals.