The 2018 Pratt Library Poetry Contest Winner: “Death in Dubai” by Kanak Gupta

This is a poem that will stop you on the street,” said Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva. He was talking about Kanak Gupta’s poem, “Death in Dubai,” which won the 2018 Enoch Pratt Free Library / Little Patuxent Review Poetry Contest and which begins, “I will die in Dubai / under the faint drizzle / of a foggy morning[…].” (Read the whole poem here.)

We asked Kanak to tell us how the poem happened. She wrote the following:

“Death in Dubai” (titled after the city I live in when I’m not at school in Baltimore) has two parts; they were, however, originally written as separate poems at different times, with very different writing styles. But it is the clear juxtaposition between the two—one claiming that “no one dies in Dubai” while the other talks about a death there—that connects one to the other, like the coexistent contradictions of life in a big city.

The first part, “Variations on Variations on a Text by Vallejo,” began as an exercise in imitation in one of my writing classes. It seemed fitting to imitate Donald Justice’s poem “Variations on a Text by Vallejo,” which itself is an imitation of an older poem, “Black Stone on a White Stone” by César Vallejo. In both the poems the poets first predict their death and funeral in a city, then tell you why, and finally look upon their funerals, as they believe they will actually happen. Vallejo predicted that he would die in Paris (as it happens, he was right), Justice, in Miami (he, however, wasn’t as accurate). Both the poets wrote about the cities they resided in, and it seemed obvious for me to do so too. When I started writing the poem, however, I simply couldn’t picture myself dying in Dubai. In fact, I couldn’t picture anyone dying there at all. Naturally, I proceeded to make myself do just that. As it turned out, the city’s sanitary untouchability and barrenness were ripe ground for a poetic death.

The summer after I wrote “Variations,” I was back in Dubai, when the events of the second poem transpired. Perhaps it was the sheer irony of it all, or witnessing a real death in the city after having speculated about one with considerable difficulty, but there was something so resonant about these events, I couldn’t stop thinking about them for days. They made me realize that it wasn’t that no one died in Dubai, rather that so many did that they were just swept under the rug as numbers, their homogeneity giving the city a mask of perfection. More importantly though, they made it apparent to me the universality of the principle that the more lives there are in a place, the more trivial the value of every life becomes. So, while writing the “Variations on Variations on a Text by Vallejo” was something of a personal challenge, “Obituary” practically forced its way out of me.

Next Tuesday, August 21, at 6:30 p.m., Kanak will read her poem at a special celebration of the contest results. Please come!

Pratt Writers LIVE Podcasts

Can’t make it to hear your favorite writer speak? We’ve got you covered.

A number of the Pratt Writer’s LIVE events are recorded for Pratt Podcasts.

 

Check out Poetry and Conversation with Jennifer Chang and Jenny Johnson

 

 

Rachel Devlin discusses her new book,  A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools

 

Darnell Moore talks to the Pratt Writers LIVE audience about his new book, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America

 

Never miss a minute of your favorite library programs by checking out Pratt Podcasts.

Rockin’ Reads, Part 3: More Reviews from Adult Summer Challenge Participants

Here are more great reviews from our Adult Summer Challenge participants:

Gordon B. on The List by Amy B. Siskind: Siskind was told that she needed to make a list of everything that she felt was out of the democratic norm for this administration, otherwise, she would not realize what she had lost when the time finally came to realize that her democracy was gone forever. She began recording and was amazed to see how many words and actions the Trump regime transgressed on. She was also surprised to observe how the actions and words mounted over the weeks that came. Many weeks were jammed with events that could have been scarcely expected when she began making “the list.” Carefully done so that judgment only is implied, this list is a house of horrors for those who want the Trump influence to be very light.

Melina T. on A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: First of all, don’t be intimidated by the length/size of the book – it’s big but such a delightful read. The book takes place a couple of years after the Russian Revolution–the Count Rostov, who lives at the famous Metropol Hotel, is sentenced to life imprisonment within the hotel and declared a “former person.” How can a book so long be told just from within the confines of a six-story building? Towles does an amazing job at making the setting appear larger than life and his characters are so well developed and the hotel becomes as much a character in the novel as any of the human ones. This is a beautifully written book with so many lovely nuggets (too many to list here) and a wistfulness regarding how to comport oneself with class and graciousness. If you don’t fall in love with the Count and the many different characters that make up his world, well then….

Ellen L. on Come Sundown by Nora Roberts: Nora Roberts is a master storyteller of romantic suspense. This book takes place mostly on a family-owned ranch and resort in Montana and has superb dialogue. The plot revolves around a family member who has been missing for 25 years—it has a great surprise ending!

Nancy G. on The Kindness Cure by Tara Cousineau: Super-great, useful suggestions for ways to approach a stressed-out, fearful world with compassion and empathy. Great application of neuroscience information.

Cornelia B. on Florida by Lauren Groff: Spooky, unsettling, weird and internal, these stories probe the psyches and swampy landscapes of America’s weirdest state. This was perhaps the most anticipated book of the summer on lists all over the Internet!

Jana G. on The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang: This was a lovely book and super-quick read. I appreciated that the underlying story was one of acceptance and understanding, though felt the ending a bit contrived (a kids’ fairy tale for sure). the images were wonderful and the story heartfelt. I will likely reread the book again in the future.

James R. on The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn: Pretty good book with lots of references to Hitchcock and other old movies. I think this is one that will actually be better as a movie.

Join the fun! For a chance to win fabulous prizes in the Adult Summer Challenge, create a free Beanstack account and log each book you finish between June 13 and August 15.

TONIGHT: Black Girls Rock

Join the Pratt for an unforgettable night with Beverly Bond, creator of Black Girls Rock.

She will talk with R&B star Brave Williams about her new book, Black Girls Rock! Owning Our Magic, Rocking Our Truth, which pairs inspirational essays and affirmations with photographs.

WHAT: Beverly Bond, Black Girls Rock

WHERE: Reginald F. Lewis Museum

WHEN: TONIGHT, 6:30pm

Register here

 

In the book, Maxine Waters shares the personal fulfillment of service. Moguls Cathy Hughes, Suzanne Shank, and Serena Williams recount stories of steadfastness, determination, diligence, dedication, and the will to win. Erykah Badu, Toshi Reagon, Mickalane Thomas, Solange Knowles-Ferguson, and Rihanna offer insights on creativity and how they use it to stay in tune with their magic.  Pioneering writers Rebecca Walker, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Joan Morgan speak on modern-day black feminist thought. Lupita Nyong’o, Susan Taylor, and Bethann Hardison affirm the true essence of holistic beauty. Iyanla Vanzant reinforces Black Girl Magic in her powerful pledge. Through these and dozens of other unforgettable testimonies, Black Girls Rock! Is an ode to black girl ambition, self-love, empowerment, and healing.

Beverly Bond is a women’s empowerment leader, entrepreneur, mentor, philanthropist, celebrity DJ, cultural curator and social innovator. In 2006, Bond founded BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and created the annual BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Awards to celebrate the excellence and accomplishments of black women across sectors. Bond’s work as a businesswoman and community leader has earned her awards such as Ebony magazine’s Power 100 list of most influential Blacks in America, two Gracie Awards, and three NAACP Image Awards.

Click here to register and reserve your seat. 

This program is in partnership with Mahogany Books and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.