Denver wordsmith Serena Chopra breaks it down
Despite the many strides our world has collectively taken away from bigotry, there are still many who do not accept the LGBTQ community, who are prejudiced against people of color, and who don’t believe in equal rights for women. Serena Chopra understands these things as a queer woman of color, and as an accomplished poet and scholar, she can speak about them on a deeper level. But it is truly her status as a human being that allows her to communicate such an honest experience through her poetry.
Recently, OUT FRONT caught up with Chopra to ask about her forthcoming book, IC, how it channels frustrations and deals with bigotry, and her process for making art.
The new book that comes out this fall, IC … is this poetry, prose, or hybrid?
How do you identify?
As an artist and a queer woman of color.
Describe your process writing this book. How did it come about and where did the idea come from?
I had been researching and working with composing through the basic sonic and rhythmic levels of speech, focusing on syllable constraints for each line. Words inevitably ended up broken, fallen to the line below. The words began to reveal themselves through their roots and syllables, leading me to investigate certain prefixes and suffixes along with etymologies. I became interested in the way a single syllable could multiply in meaning as it passed from one line to the next.
Additionally, as a PhD student, I had also been personally struggling with the academic institution and the manipulation and contradiction I felt between diversity initiatives and actual integration of difference. I often felt like I had to act like a straight, white man in order to be heard and respected. Many of the classes available focused on the straight, white, mostly male, cannon. Awards were noticeably not given to students of color, and yet the institution seemed to pride itself on diversity. I saw a connection between these struggles and the way words had crystallized, stable meanings and their actual multifaceted history, and internal fragments of meaning.
In what ways does this book deal with LGBTQ issues?
The book questions how institutions, academic and corporate, etc., deal with difference and the impact of diversity initiatives on marginalized communities. Being a queer woman of color in academia, I felt I was often put in a position of having to disrobe from these identities in order to participate in the university. There is a surreptitious desire for homogenization that I believe not only mutes identities within the institution, but causes erasure on a societal level. By marginalizing already marginalized identities and pushing those who refuse to homogenize to the fringes, institutions use their power as modes of social mobility to enforce homogenization and deplete diverse populations of their community. That language can mean multiply, that each word’s history implies an innately internal diversity and mutability of use, parallels, for me, the contradiction between the ways we do verses the ways we could approach identity.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Support your local queer artists! And collaborate to make more unpredictable art!