Rajiv Mohabir’s new puppy plays constantly. Even when approaching wasp nests, the puppy shows an excited curiosity. Her infinite playfulness reminded Mohabir why he loves writing.
“She’s not yet afraid of the wasp nest that she goes and sniffs,” Mohabir said. “She’s not afraid to get close because for her, it’s just discovery after discovery. That’s what writing was for me initially. … I want to get back to that, and I want people to experience writing that way.”
Mohabir, Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s poet-in-residence for Week Three, will give a Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, on the porch of the Literary Arts Center of Alumni Hall titled “Play and the Beginner’s Heart,” tying poetry into the weekly theme, “The Art of Play.”
Mohabir teaches at Auburn University and has authored the poetry collections The Taxidermist’s Cut, finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and The Cowherd’s Son, winner of the Kundiman Prize.
For Mohabir, playing comes in various shapes and sizes. He said play can be joyful, bizarre, risky, constrained and free. Play can be linguistic, incorporating various languages, or syntactic, upsetting typical English grammatical structures. Mohabir also mentioned image play, which involves the rhyming of images as if they were words.
This is not to say that a playful, joyful approach to poetry means the content can’t be serious. Rather, this approach can help writers work through trauma. Mohabir said the process of crafting a poem helps him work through “heavy content.”
“It’s a way to give yourself agency back when you feel like you don’t have it in the situation,” he said.
Mohabir finds joy in every step of the writing process, from drafting to revision to the “delight that comes from finding the right word” for a poem. “That’s a way to also begin the healing process for whatever sores or traumas that plague you,” he said. “Because oftentimes, when we connect to the subconscious mind, what comes out is not what we can control.”
This is part of the magic of poetry, according to Mohabir. “We’re all natural witches,” he said. “It’s a way I have found to (continue) that healing process.”
At the end of the lecture, Mohabir will share a list of tips for achieving this puppy-like sense of play that will augment writers’ work through emotion and specificity. One such trick involves telling the negative or distracting voices inside one’s head to channel that energy elsewhere.
“Forget your internal editor; make them take a pill or get a puppy,” he said.