Poet Serena Chopra on contemporary loneliness and her first full-length book, This Human
A poet, dancer and visual artist, Serena Chopra is a powerful artistic force. Whether she's performing as part of the Evolving Doors Dance Company or working as RedLine's writer-in-residence, Chopra is constantly putting out fascinating work, like her recent This Human, a full-length poetry book that delves into the concept of loneliness and its relation to the creation of beauty. Out on Coconut Books, This Human will be released Thursday at a reception and reading from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at RedLine, with fellow poets Noah Eli Gordon, Michael Flatt and Dorothea Lasky. We caught up with the always-insightful Chopra to talk about her latest release and loneliness in the age of social networking.
See also: - Serena Chopra's new poetry chapbook examines geology, language, and trust - Photos: Artists make statements with materials at RedLine - Tonight: Titmouse puts the focus on Colorado artists
Westword: Where did the idea for This Human come from?
Serena Chopra: This Human is a poem in seven parts, and it came from the experience of loneliness. I was sort of exploring what loneliness is and was at first sort of bummed out about loneliness, but then came to realize the significance of loneliness and the importance of it and how essential it is to the human, which led me to questions of contemporary loneliness. Where do we find it? How has it changed with technology and social networking? So that's sort of where the ideas developed from.
What did you discover about loneliness through the process of writing the book?
I discovered that loneliness is very important to me, and I also discovered that it's very important on a social level. The main sort of engagement of the work discusses how loneliness is important to the creation of beauty and that beauty can be best seen, noticed, acknowledged in moments of loneliness and in moments of feeling yourself either at odds with or in relation to the rest of the universe and feeling your own solitude, though solitude is distinct from loneliness. I discovered that in order to create beauty, one needs to experience loneliness -- because loneliness allows one to perceive beauty. And is it possible, then, to create beauty if you cannot perceive beauty? And for me the answer was no.
You worked with two local visual artists for the art in this book -- can you talk about that?
I'm a writer in residence down at the RedLine gallery, and two other artists that I met there, one was an artist-in-residence, Gretchen Marie Schaefer, and she and I collaborated on a poem for the Off the Beaten Path exhibition at RedLine, and that poem is in the book. Basically she sort of completed the poem with images. I did the text and then the text comes to the moment where language becomes insufficient and Gretchen Marie Schaefer stepped in and made these incredible drawings that allowed the poem to continue on. And then Lu Cong, who is a local artist as well and sometimes hangs around RedLine, he did the cover work for the book. So I'm really happy to have two Denver artists in the book. I think that's really significant and important.
Is this book similar to your other work?
The book is unique, at least for me, in that it's very much an experiment for me and it's sort of maybe erratic and maybe even messy at times. But I think it follows the line of thought in the erratic state I was in when writing it, which was completely lonely and completely feeling empty, but also feeling an immense amount of energy coming in through that loneliness. So there is a strange shaking or rattling tension that occurs throughout the book.
How is it organized?
The book is in seven parts that revolve around anatomy, architecture, taxonomy and questions. I took the liberty of saying that questioning is a form of loneliness because it expresses an inability to have a response on some level. It expresses a conversation with yourself. So questioning becomes a big part of the book. Anatomy, architecture and taxonomy become a big part of the book in trying to figure out what is the structure of loneliness, what is the structure of the human inside loneliness? How do we categorize the human and loneliness and how do all these things relate to beauty and the senses? It also talks a lot about how the senses are mutated by technology and how that affects our ability to perceive beauty, and that the actual change in the body can change something so abstract as beauty in the world.
Where did the title come from?
That's kind of a funny question. It was really hard to title this book because I didn't want to title it something like "Loneliness and Beauty." The thematics were so complex and so multi-faceted that there really wasn't a hinge point that would create a sufficient title. And the more I thought about it, the more I discovered that this book was really about me in this place of loneliness. But then I started asking myself, okay, so this is this human speaking here, but I don't believe that this human is much different from other humans. And so it asks the question, how did I become this human? And the book talks about the development of this human in a society in which loneliness is sort of taken away from us. It talks about this human in terms of what beauty means to this human. And it asks, like, is this human a societal loneliness? Or is this human an individual loneliness, or is it both? So while I mean it sort of very literally that it emanates from me and my experience, it also is a commentary on the experience of any human today.
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