poetryxpolitics – dear ophelia

poetryxpolitics is priyanka’s experiment to explore the idea that everything as it exists is political, combining it with her personal philosophy that everything as it exists is poetry. the column will appear in each issue of Warehouse Zine’s subzine, Open Space.

about seven months ago, in a three-day frenzy fuelled by caffeine and other substances, I wrote a furious letter to the patriarchy, repurposed it as my thesis, and successfully defended ophelia of shakespeare’s hamlet from the male gaze of literary critics of the past. in many ways, I was reminded of another character from shakespearean canon; a certain lawyer who used her wit and wisdom to win an impossible case. as I write these words today, I am once more caught in the vortex of a three-day frenzy fuelled by caffeine and other substances, repurposing my repurposed thesis in the form I hold most dear – poetry.

with this poem, I attempt to re-purpose her character like the movement of feminism does unto itself  in wave after wave, in time and in space. I attempt to bring together the theory and practice of feminism; combustible matter that reproduces itself even as it is destroyed, unlike the discourse of womanhood, both absent and understood as absence. I refurbish the character understood as so shallow that she must be killed to prove a point – in a tragedy whose hero is most certainly painted as voluminous in his volatility – and I do it to remind myself that I am like so many powerful women of depth and substance before me, fuelled by caffeine and the anger of those who had to die so we could live.

dear ophelia, you were as much a person as I am recognising myself to be.

dear ophelia
006_priyanka_dear ophelia_2

melancholy is a woman
I once met in a garden
somewhere, she was
lying in a shallow pool
of water; I asked her if
she was alright and she
told me her existence
was a protest against
the fact that her emotions
came fragranced with the
perfume of flowers and
a canon of literary death,
one-dimensional and
decorated with medals
of madness. melancholy
said a man she met
last week stole her
words from her mouth,
swallowed them whole
and then reproduced
them as his own. later,
he texted her that
it was her fault that he
stole her words, she
should know better than
to walk around with her
opinions in her purse
after five pm, and also,
has she considered
getting tested for hysteria.
“it’s just a suggestion,
why do you women
always get so offended
by everything?” melancholy
wants to be known as
serious, contemplative
like the photographs of
Hemingway she saw once,
but when she took a sip
of whisky the day after
she wrote about dealing
with suicidal tendencies
on facebook, they called
her “loud and annoying”,
instead of “genius”. weird.
she got three messages
in her “other” folder today,
and two of them asked
her why she was such an
attention-seeking whore,
and the third said “hi deer,
wanna fuck?” and when
she said “no, thanks.”, he
asked her to get herself
to a nunnery. weird.

006_priyanka_dear ophelia_3

have you noticed how
if melancholy was a man,
she would be called
“gravitas”, as though her
actions carried certain weight
unlike the frail, fluttery, wisp-
like appearance they
offer her in story after
story, film after film;
have you noticed how
all of the women you’ve
ever met have been
taught melancholia –
it’s a chapter in a textbook
of the same system which
has a daily gender role-call.
we are taught how to make
an aesthetic out of our
very real sadness and
“aesthetic” is a poor
substitute for what it
really is – archetypal,
stereotypical, canonical
“woman”hood, always
absorbing the shame of
a hero in exchange for
dialogues. weird. I don’t
remember the last time
my sadness wasn’t killed
off in an encounter with
an unfulfilled man; my
anger labelled “too
aggressive”, my passion
“un-ladylike”, my sadness
“a ploy for attention”. weird.
I don’t remember the
last time a woman’s
sadness wasn’t used
to fill in the plot of an
unfulfilled man, I don’t
remember the last time
a woman was not written
off and out of the plot
to fulfill a man, I don’t
remember the last time
I wasn’t lying in a shallow
pool of water; my existence
a protest against the fact
that my emotions have
always been likened to
a magic trick, vanished
(banished?) from sight
when the man needs a
little reinforcement.

words: priyanka sutaria
visuals: nivedita nair (photographs), priyanka sutaria (illustrations)
edit: sanjana takru

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