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Series | India

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Anchored by braided and unstable narratives of young Westerners in India, the poems in Series | India explore the rich borderlands that run between the familiar and the foreign, illumination and opacity, gods and charlatans.

In lyrics deeply informed by Gray’s study and experience in India, and formally characterized by shifting and juxtaposed perceptions, perspectives, and voices, we encounter a young couple seeking refuge and enlightenment in a place where the lines between the divine, the human, the gorgeous, the deadly, and the hilarious are often indistinct.

How do we make meaning of our encounters with love, death, the divine, the absurd, the horrific? What and how do we actually see? How do we choose? The poems explore these hard questions with compassion, humor, and awe.

Selected Poems from Series | India

Devi: the Goddess

The Jeweled Deer

Varanasi I

Kanpur Central Railway Station

Sunday Morning

Had She


“With her invocation of John Ashbery at the head of her long poem, Elizabeth Gray takes aim at an older mood that surrealism and modernism divided between them: Shakespearean woe-or-wonder, the Sublime, and the marvel. Her little band of American travelers, in their muddled breakthrough passage to India, refracts what the writer more clearly and subtly has found there. As one of several works that will be geographically centered while plotted by “field,” it commences a spiritual adventure, a passage through India and on out.”

John Peck
Author of I Came, I Saw, Contradance, Read Strawberry Leaf: Selected Poems 1994-2001, and Shagbark

“Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr’s collection Series | India follows a group of westerners and others as they journey through India in search of enlightenment, and of an invisible river. Although the pilgrims are searching for meaning amidst worldly distractions, this is not instruction manual for decoding spiritual wisdom. Rather, the travelers here often find themselves questioning their place in India, and in samsara, our “chain of lives” (32). Despite India’s holy attributes–multi-armed gods, brilliant ashrams, and Banyan trees–there is a chaos all its own. Gray paints for us an image of India that is fruitful with wisdom, yet lush with the undeniable, and ofte perplexing, chaos and disorder.

There is a sense of culture shock woven through the collection, as the reader follows the journey through ‘dark thickets of limbs and torsos toward taxis,’ (10) through a land gilded with dust (51). The travelers have purposefully set out on a spiritual trek, and the questions and doubt they uncover as they go along are every bit as enlightening as the spiritual insight that is woven through this collection of poems.”

Dana Johnson, 10 June 2015
The Rumpus

[Selected text from an interview at The Cloudy House:]

What do you think makes your book (or any book) a “project book”?
I think there are two different questions embedded here: (1) Is the end product a “project book”? and/or (2) Was the process (by which the book came to be) thought of, at the outset, as a “project”? As qualified, let me answer each of these questions in turn.

I would view the finished book, Series | India, as “project book.” The poems trace an arc (with variations and alternatives) of a single story: a young woman, and her boyfriend, travel to India to escape home and find answers; they meet other seeker-travelers and maybe some of the Hindu pantheon; stuff happens; they come home. The poems are also similar in terms of form. I am still not clear whether the book is a single poem in sections, or individual poems in a sequence. It doesn’t matter. Might that be one litmus test for defining a “project” book?

Why this subject (or constraint)?
Looking backward, from the finished book, I wonder how could the subject not have been India? I had been trying to write my “India poem” since 1972, but I didn’t have the perspective or poetic skill. I’ve been studying India, and living in India, off and on for more than forty years. I even spoke reasonably good Hindu/Urdu for a time. I’ve had a long and spiritually intense engagement with the subcontinent’s landscape, people, history, gods, mythologies, scents, and stories. I am convinced that whatever constraint or frame I had chosen, India would have muscled its way in and laid claim to the work.

The Cloudy House, 4 November 2015