3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

 
Anna:
I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

Shaista:
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

 Anna:
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
Shaista:
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
Crocuses
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
trilling
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

Anna: 
I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 

Shaista:

Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
  
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
politely.
Not today, I smiled
Perhaps,
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
beloved
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com

Witch Wife – Edna St. Vincent Millay

John William Waterhouse, Boreas

She is neither pink nor pale,
   And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
   And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
   In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
   or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
   And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
   And she never will be all mine.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Serendipity

Is there any more happy accident than serendipity?

For once, the dictionary is no help. It describes serendipity as (n) the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. It is a pat description, but little explains that shivery feeling that true serendipity creates. Serendipity is where coincidence and destiny intersect. 

The word was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Mann (dated Jan. 28); he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (dictionary.com)

Perhaps I am a Princess of Serendip. My father has always been a strong believer in serendipity. He told me to look for it and be ready when it comes. I have always kept one eye to the happenstance that leads to consequence.



My latest experience with serendipity has been a startling one. This blog is newish and I am continually refining the design, to make it more pleasing to the idea and easy to read. I find big chunks of text without pictures to be exhausting, much like Alice (“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations!”).

To that end, I had added an image of this painting to the sidebar:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

I had actually never seen this painting before, in any of my art history classes. I was familiar with the artist, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840). Below is his most famous work, which is in every art history textbook under Romanticism.

Casper David Friedrich, The Wanderer

I remembered the way this painting had made me feel, its capture of infinite possibilities. I wondered if the artist had other works that featured a woman and that same sense of yearning. So I googled his name and found the window painting and put it up. I was thrilled at how it looked on the page and complemented the wallpaper of the vintage photo of the girl at the window (which incidentally I found at a curiosities shop in Adare, Ireland). So I arranged it and promptly forgot about it…

Until four days later when my mother called and left a mysterious message on my voice mail. She sounded odd. When I called her back, she asked when I had put up the painting on my blog. When I told her, she was silent. Then she said, “I just bought you a book with that painting on the cover. I just saw that painting.”

My mother had just returned from New York City, where she spent the weekend. She and her best girl friend headed off to The Met, as any artistically-minded traveler would do. There, she was attracted by a special exhibition called Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century. One painting in particular caught her eye – she said it reminded her of me – and it was actually the featured painting in the exhibit. She sat there for a long time looking at it, the patinated greens of the dress and the soft brushwork. She loved it so much that she had to buy the exhibition catalog, which featured it on the cover, for my birthday. She knew I would love it too. She almost bought the poster, but the color match wasn’t true enough. I’m sure you’re following along, dear reader. The painting was this:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

 And the exhibit was here: Metropolitan Museum: Rooms With a View, The Open Window in the 19th Century


It was no doubt rather a shock to load up my blog when she got home and see that exact painting pop up. It startled her so much that she left the cryptic message on my phone. Cue shivery feeling.

My mother and I are very compatible in our tastes, so it’s no surprise that we would both love such a dreamy, Romantic painting. What I cannot seem to explain is how, completely independent of each other, we both found a painting that we had never seen before in the same moment.


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet