Student Melisa Carnacchi reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading at EMU:
I will admit that while reading Humanimal, I was confused and slightly disturbed. Kapil’s diction and attention to grotesque detail did not always leave me with the most uplifting images. Thus, while reading to myself, I found my mind wandering, and my appetite turning. However, to my surprise, Bhanu Kapil’s reading of Humanimal was more lyrical than I expected. While the details were the same, the smooth accent of Kapil’s voice softened the edges of the rough subject of Humanimal enough for me to peer underneath the surface and find myself enclosed in a story of a woman discovering a tragic history. No longer was I confused by the collage of Kapil’s notes and descriptions that created the story of Amala and Kamala, and instead I was captured by Kapil’s change of tone and accent as she separated the sections into characters and stories of their own. Even the lazy fluttering of her bookmarks on their descent was fascinating and seemed to enhance the reading through their effortlessly lyrical nature.
Earlier in the day, when questioning Kapil about her career as a writer, she mentioned the time when she found her calling as a poet while “singing songs to the stars” to her grandmother in India. Even amidst the casual setting of a college Q and A, Kapil wove a daydream novella of her childhood in London. I found myself, in the course of a few short sentences from Kapil, able to create a colorful, fluid setting in which I envisioned Kapil as a child.
The most intriguing aspect of Humanimal is its ability to abide in a genre somewhere between poetry and documentary. By giving the reader snapshots of the world of Amala and Kamala through the eyes of multiple characters, Kapil creates a more complex, rich setting than what a basic documentary would give. Combined with her expertise in fragmentation, Bhanu Kapil teases the reader’s mind with images and theories more abstract than factional. As a member of Lyric Essay, I believe Humanimal to be an excellent example of a work that properly fits into the new genre. A nonfiction exploration of a scientific subject achieved through abstraction and shifts in point of view causes the reader to straddle two separate genres and thus create a new one.
The most striking and influential part of Kapil’s writing to me is her use of fragmentation. I toyed with the idea of trying to create some of my own fragmented work, but it wasn’t until I was inspired by a gift from a friend that I began to experiment. I am now embarking on creating a small book comprised of snippets of memories shared between myself and said friend, lyrically composed and arranged in a order that creates fluidity, but not necessarily logicality. I have decided that I should research more of Kapil’s writing, including Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, to inspire myself with unique perspectives, fresh descriptions and thoughtful abstractions.