Vijay Seshadri
(India, 1954)   
Vijay Seshadri

Vijay Seshadri has written three collections of poetry, most recently The Disappearances (2007). Born in Bangalore, he moved to North America as a child, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and has subsequently lived and worked in many parts of the United States. He was educated at Oberlin College and Columbia University. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. His second collection, The Long Meadow, published by Graywolf, won the 2003 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets.

In his essay, 'My Pirate Boyhood' (Anchor Essay Annual, 1998), Seshadri talks of the challenges of a hyphenated cultural identity in his growing years: all that it meant to be “small, brown, bespectacled, alien and saddled with a name that others thought was unpronounceable”. He speaks of returning home from school to the smell of Indian spices emanating from his mother’s kitchen which made him wince at the time “with an immediate, intimate, olfactory awareness of how different we were”.

That very ‘difference’, however, is also the humus of his poetry, imbuing it with tension and texture. In an interview with Jeet Thayil for Poets & Writers magazine (2004), he acknowledges that ‘history’ – with all its weight, density and churning contradiction, uniquely inflected by his immigrant experience – is what he has had to make peace with in his poetry: “you have to find a way to manage it, to appropriate it and not have it appropriate you”. He quotes a line from Joyce’s Ulysses that has long resonated with him: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

The five poems in this edition offer an insight into to how Seshadri grapples with that complex inheritance. There are moments of sharp illumination here, suggesting that the ambition to become ‘awake’ is often startlingly successful. Several poems reveal a fascination with the fabulist’s art: they weave stories, long and labyrinthine, drawn from epic and conjectured prehistory, moving slowly towards insights that are as sudden as they are hard-earned. And it is that hard-earned quality – the refusal to settle for the trite stance or grandiose assumption of the bardic voice – that makes one trust Seshadri when he tells us that “only the complicated, ambiguous victories / are worth having”. It is the hard-earned quality that also accounts for the sudden chill the reader feels when he speaks of the primal human ‘terror’ drowned out by the ‘insistent’ and ‘convenient’ drumming of civilisation.

One of Seshadri’s finest poems is ‘The Long Meadow’, in which an episode from the Mahabharata turns sharply, unexpectedly, but with exquisite logic, into a deeply personal moment, making an ageless ethical dilemma inseparably cosmic and domestic all at once. It is this control over his craft coupled with the depth and seriousness of his poetic project that make Seshadri rank, to my mind, among one of the most interesting Indian poets writing today.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

The Disappearances, Harper-Collins India with the India Today Group, NOIDA, 2007 (ISBN 978 810 2236939)
The Long Meadow, Graywolf Press, Minnesota, 2004 (ISBN 1555974007)
Wild Kingdom, Graywolf Press, Minnesota, 1996 (ISBN 1555972365)

Vijay Seshadri talks with The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Alice Quinn, about the creative process and the poets who have influenced him the most.
Links from The New Yorker to poems by Vijay Seshadri.
Vijay Seshadri reads some of his poems on YouTube
‘Survivor’, a poem by Vijay Seshadri, published on


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