Elevate Difference

Written on the Body of The Erasable Woman

Interview with Shaunga Tagore

When did you start writing poetry?

At a very young age—probably when I started writing with chalk on my bathroom door or adding my own two cents to my parents’ biology textbooks they tell me I always furiously flipped through. I experienced a lot of racism, (hetero)sexism, and different kinds of regulation at a young age too, and I think what that did was make me really quiet and closed up in a lot of ways. But expressing myself creatively was something I did to become myself again—whether that be through writing, acting, music, or just telling stories about how I imagined my life to be, instead of the scary, oppressive ways I often experienced it.

Who has influenced your writing?

First and foremost, my family: my parents and sister created an environment for me where creativity was valued and encouraged. Now still, there are so many ways I am creatively inspired by the lives and perspectives of my friends and family, even in ordinary moments. I’m also lucky to be a part of Asian Arts Freedom School, a creative arts and radical Asian history and politics group, where the conversations and stories continually influence and push my own writing.

As for famous people, some who come to mind are Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shyam Selvadurai, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Smarasinha, Himani Bannerji, and Andrea Smith.

The Erasable Woman is your Master's thesis project; why did you choose to write it in poetry?

I was sick of writing like an academic. (Laughs.) My topic was exploring colonial violence against racialized queer women, as well as how broad systems of oppression or histories can manifest intimately on women’s bodies, and in personal relationships. I find that poetry can express this intimacy in ways academic writing cannot. A lot of people in academia would not consider poetry a legitimate way to express theory or politics, but poetry is theory, it is knowledge, and it is political. I was really lucky to have a supervising committee who understood and supported this kind of project (Enakshi Dua and Priscila Uppal).

Why the title The Erasable Woman?

The Erasable Woman is a title of one of my poems, and I feel it fits the entire collection. A major theme that runs through my manuscript is erasure…being forgotten, lost, ignored, invisible, expendable, and disposable. At the same time, it asserts a physical, spiritual, sexual, emotional, and undeniable presence in the midst of being and feeling erased. That’s one of the ways I tried to express the complexity of what it means to experience oppression and survive/resist it at the same time.

Erasure is such a key and powerful way that violence is allowed to continue. [It] speaks to the ways in which racism and other oppressions in feminist movements is ignored, and the well-being of women of colour is not considered. Also, the value of challenging sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in a lot of anti-racist or queer initiatives is often marginalized and not given enough importance. So many things in this world are structured through erasure: mainstream education denies the violence of colonial conquest on this land by largely painting it as a benign, peaceful process; national media doesn’t pay enough attention to the ways in which violence impacts marginalized bodies or communities; survivors in/of abusive relationships are silenced and shut down when they try and fight/talk back; queer or unconventional love/desire is constantly trivialized and demonized; expressing or feeling certain kinds of emotions is minimized. I wanted to explore these topics in my own way.

How do your identities influence your work?

I can’t separate myself from my social position, or my mashup of identities, and I can’t separate myself from my writing, so it all becomes intertwined. In this particular work, it was important for me to center the voice of a queer woman of colour, because it’s not a perspective that’s often given attention—in literature, feminism, anti-racism, or queer politics.

How did you came to the decision to use images in your collection?

I always start with a feeling or idea I need to express (sometimes desperately), and I follow my intuition, as well as work with my skill set, to give shape and form to that feeling or idea the best and most honest way I can figure out how. For example, at one point I wanted to create something that expressed how the bodies of women of colour are judged and marked by oppression just by living in the world. So, one of the pieces that appears in my collection (called "bodysnatchers") contains a series of photos with oppressive words actually written on the body. It just made the most sense.

The Erasable Woman is currently not available to the public. Can you tell us what your plans are for this wonderful collection of poetry?

The Erasable Woman is still a work in progress that I am currently fine-tuning, and I hope to get it published in the near future. I’m really excited about how it’s shaping up and have been doing readings at various events. I now have a website, which is new and still under construction, where people can read some of my work and check out other things I’m up to.

Read the full interview at Black Coffee Poet

Written by: Janet Romero-Leiva, December 29th 2010