Raman Mundair

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Raman Mundair is a British poet, writer, artist and playwright. She was born in Ludhiana, India and came to live in the UK at the age of five. She is the author of two volumes of poetry, ‘A Choreographer’s Cartography’ and ‘Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves’ – both published by Peepal Tree Press – and ‘The Algebra of Freedom’ (a play) published by Aurora Metro Press. She edited ‘Incoming – Some Shetland Voices’ – published by Shetland Heritage Publications. Mundair was educated at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and has performed readings of her work at numerous diverse venues in the UK and abroad. Raman’s work has been widely anthologized and received excellent reviews in publications including The Independent, The Herald, World Literature Today and Discovering Scottish

In 2013 and 2014 Raman was a Leverhulme Artist in Residence for Shetland Museum and Archives[1] and one of seven writers from Shetland and Orkney, participating in the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Writing the North’ project.[2]

Raman was chosen as one of two British writers to participate in the Word Express, Literature Across Frontiers project. Word Express took 20 young writers from 12 European countries by train through South-East Europe to Turkey, where they took part in readings and literary events in every country they passed through and then took part in the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival and the Istanbul Book Fair).[3]

In 2008 Mundair was nominated for the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. In 2008 Mundair won a Robert Louis Stevenson Award and became a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellow at the Hotel Chevillon in Grez-sur-Loing, France.[4] In this same year she was invited to become Scottish Poetry Library Poet Partner for East Dumbarton.

In 2007 she was awarded the highly sought after Arts Council England International Fellowship at the India International Centre in Delhi and in 2006 Mundair was runner up in the Penguin Decibel Prize for Short Fiction.

Raman has been Writer in Residence in Stockholm, New Delhi, Glasgow and the Shetland Islands and has represented The British Council as a writer, workshop facilitator and performer internationally. She is a sought after facilitator of creative writing workshops and her client list ranges from schools and universities to the British Council and Amnesty International. Raman is a member of Scottish PEN.

As a playwright Raman was awarded a mentorship with the Playwrights Studio Scotland in 2005.[5] In 2007 her play ‘The Algebra of Freedom’ was produced to great acclaim by 7:84 Theatre Company and in 2006 she collaborated with the National Theatre Scotland and Òran Mòr - A Play, A Pie, A Pint on ‘Side Effects’, a one-act play, which went on to tour Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin.

Raman was one of the 24 writers chosen by the Royal Court Theatre and the BBC in 2008 for their 24 Degrees project which nurtures and develops work by the ‘next generation of promising new writers in Britain.’

As an artist she makes work that represents text and narrative in a visual form. She has collaborated with artist Pernille Spence, filmmaker, Lotta Petronella and new media artist Sean Clark. Her work has been exhibited at Shetland Museum and Archive, the Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow, City Art Gallery, Leicester and the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin. In 2011, as part of her Leafing the Green writer’s residency, she was commissioned by Aberdeen City Council to create the Secrets of the Green - an interactive poetry plaque installation on the Green in Aberdeen city centre.[6]

In 2008 Raman was invited to read at the Scottish Government EU office in Brussels and gave the ‘reply to the lads’ speech at their official Burn’s Supper. She was identified by a national literary survey of Scottish writing as being an exciting, new rising literary voice (Discovering Scottish Literature - A Contemporary Overview, 2008).[7]

The Independent newspaper wrote in a review of her work "Raman Mundair is a rare breed: a poet whose writing works on the page and the stage. Her readings reveal the secret music of the poem… Mundair is literature at its best: thoughtful, provocative and sharp."

Raman Mundair’s poetry can be contextualized as part of the pioneering contemporary Black British poetry scene that includes Patience Agbabi and Dorothea Smartt, both of whom read at the Barbican Centre (London) launch of Mundair’s first collection of poems ‘Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves’ in 2003.

Mundair writes across genres: poetry, prose and plays. Her writing is iconoclastic, challenging and political in nature but rendered with a keen sense of poetics. She has described herself as an ‘outsider writer’ and that she has come to appreciate her various states of ‘unbelonging’ as they allow her to transcend the limits of boundaries and choose to ‘belong’ anywhere.

Mundair’s poetry has tackled varied themes including the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel, the Iraq war, domestic violence, sexuality, gender, migration, immigration and the idea of ‘hidden histories’: where she imagines Queen Victoria’s relationship with her Sikh man servant, India maid servants in British India and Indian soldiers in the trenches during World War One. Equally she writes sensitively about intimacy, loss and the small, quiet but significant moments in life.

Mundair’s poetry is multi-lingual and although the primary language is English, she uses Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Shetland dialect to create an inter-textual narrative within the poems – something that she refers to as ‘windows into worlds within worlds within worlds’. Her work also flirts with traditional form and structural constraints. Mundair writes poetry that she says is designed to work on the page as well as to be performed on the stage.

Mundair’s work for theatre is often philosophical and political, engaging and questioning. Recurring themes include loss, faith, loyalty, redemption and compassion.

Early life[edit]

Mundair was born in Ludhiana, Punjab (India) and migrated with her Mother to Manchester, England in the 70s. She is a first generation British Asian but resists pigeon-holing saying that she refuses to “reduce my identity just so that binary minds can read me.” She lived in Manchester until she was fifteen and then moved to Loughborough (UK). She left the East Midlands (UK) to study History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Poetry[edit]

Mundair’s first collection of poetry, ‘Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves’ was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2003 and was widely praised. Recent work includes commissioned poems for Ilkley Literature festival, Allegories of Power residency[8] and Edinburgh University’s Writing the North project.

As well as performing her poetry in Britain she has also undertaken reading tours of Namibia, India, Italy, Austria and Sweden working with the British Council.

Her book ‘A Choreographer’s Cartography’, was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2007 and is about the transcendence of boundaries and boundary crossing, ranging from migration to language.

Mundair has taught and run workshops and also been poet in residence at various places ranging from Stockholm University, to the Shetland Islands. She has taught Creative Writing at postgraduate level and South Asian Literature at under graduate level at Loughborough University.

Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves[edit]

Mundair’s first collection of poetry, 'Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves' was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2003 and was widely praised. The collection’s themes have been described by Jeremy Poynting as:

“From beginnings secreted in the folds of her mother’s sari, transplanted to England to struggle with the rough musicality of Mancunian vowels, Raman Mundair, a Punjabi Alice, found no true reflections of herself, no wonderland, but mirrors which dissolved, shrank and obscured her size. In these poems she creates her own universe and dissects its realities in all their complex, tragic and surreal forms.

At the heart of the collection is an acute sensitivity to the body: hurt, aroused, desired, ignored. Her poems spill out from this centre: to the physical memory of domestic violence, the intense joys of intimacy and love, and the pain of their rejection, to the passionate concern with the body politic. Here, whether her focus is on the non-sense of religious exclusion, the seismic fault of [the Punjab] partition that continues to tremor, or the racist murders of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel, the approach is oblique, metaphorical, observant of the details that carry the poems beyond political statement. For Mundair, there is, too, a world beyond Britain, seen with more than just a vivid eye for the ironies and pleasures of travel.

Raman Mundair’s voice encompasses the most delicate, shimmering images and a raw, abrasive, sometimes angry energy. There is a probing intellect at work that arranges the world in new ways, and a sensuous truth to feeling that puts the reader inside the experience of the poems. Each poem has its own distinctiveness, but there is also an architecture that makes the collection a satisfying whole.

There is room, too, for a sense of the absurd and the macabre sense of humour. How would you deal with the thief of your heart?”

Review extracts[edit]

“...you never get quite what you might expect…The poems [...] are tautly observed, and their conflicts subtly established…[and] are as honest and as compulsively readable as anything in Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters.” The New Shetlander, Simmer Issue 2003.

“This is gutsy writing; even the silent spaces in between words are emotionally raw.” Wasafiri (Autumn 2004, Issue 43, Global Cinema).

“[Her] poems…combine honesty…with precisely turned and unobtrusive language whose rhythms always have a sense of rightness.” World Literature Today, 79:1, January–April 2005.

"She is constantly sensual…tempered by a delicate care for detail, a quality of consideration that engages in the philosophical in sometimes complex ways… Her poems grow with her, spilling out on the streets, in her food, in her bed, and across the landscapes she inhabits… As she expands her own sense of the world, these poems, with their elastic mutability, have found a way to assume her shape and to beautifully capture the sensibilities of Raman Mundair. This is why I look forward to reading more of her work: I want to see where she will take her poems in the future." Kwame Dawes

A Choreographer’s Cartography[edit]

Raman Mundair’s second collection of poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2007) sees her expanding her territory to create a new poetic geography. Her voice dances from her love for the language and life of the Shetland Islands through the anguish of war to the movement of people and the crossing of boundaries. She brings to all a combination of passion and compassion, sensitivity and sensuality.

The collection encompasses poems written in the Shetland dialect, narratives of thwarted desire and a sequence of poems which explore the dynamics and historical by-ways of the waltz.

Review extracts[edit]

“Dance in all its forms, from tango to hip-hop, is the metaphor Raman Mundair uses in the title poem of her second collection. It's a compelling and vibrant poem that leads to a sequence on the waltz, and helps us understand the variety and experimentation that characterise this work…Mundair makes a case for art's ability to cross borders, to focus on 'emotional geography' rather than nationality. The collection opens with 14 poems written in Shetland dialect, several of them focused on the shoormal - 'the place where the sea meets the shore' (and, by implication, the crossing point from unbounded sea to land with all its customs, language and history). Edgy and disturbing, these poems mix lyrical beauty with uncertainty and violence…The strength of this book is Mundair's determination to go where we least expect, to transform the radical steps poets like Carol Ann Duffy, Moniza Alvi and Grace Nichols have taken into 'a new dance.'”
Mslexia

“Raman Mundair is a poet with an irresistible voice – polyphonic, audacious, engaged. She says the unsayable with disarming eloquence and panache. Not only the ink on these pages is “luminous”; the ideas also are.” Niyi Osundare

“I am once again struck by what a stunningly dangerous poet Raman is … this collection daringly juxtaposes the personal with the political. Once again, the emotional rawness of her first collection is exquisitely evidenced here, as she interrogates the imaginary boundaries of culture and risks exposing the vagaries of migrant existence in these simple but never simplistic pieces. She introduces readers to the starkness of ancient Shetland with a playful syntax that honours the selkie traditions of those northern islands.” Devon Campbell-Hall

Prose[edit]

Mundair was runner up in the Penguin Decibel Prize for Short Fiction in 2006.Her collection of short stories – ‘In The Light of Other’ will be published in 2009.

Plays[edit]

Side Effects – a site/cast specific collaboration with the National Theatre Scotland opened in August 2006 at the Oran Mor in Glasgow and toured to Edinburgh and Dublin.

Review extracts for Side Effects[edit]

“From the off the charisma between the characters is obvious … Mundair clearly has an excellent grasp over dialogue as everything fits into place perfectly, to the extent where you get the feeling that you're just eavesdropping on the group at the table next to you on your average Saturday night out.” Radio Telefís Éireann (R.T.E. Ireland)

The Algebra of Freedom – was produced by 7:84 Theatre Company and the text published by Aurora Metro. This production opened at the Arches, Glasgow in September 2007 and went on to tour nationally.

Review extracts for The Algebra of Freedom[edit]

“There's a stripped-down elegance pulsing through Mundair's text” The Herald

“The Algebra of Freedom is a strong, important play… by [a] fast-rising young British playwright” The Scotsman

"Mundair's punchy writing … stands as a humane analysis of the social pressures that could bear down on any of us and of the difficulty of doing the right thing." The List

"It's not unusual to find characters haunted by the past in plays with serious subject matters, but this phenomenon is rarely illustrated so boldly as in Raman Mundair's new play for troubled political theatre company 7:84… strong performances and a thoughtful script make for a respectful meditation on freedom, guilt and forgiveness… [the play] is insightful and neatly structured. In contrast to some 7:84-commissioned work, there is room for the characters to breathe, not just to exchange stiff lines of polemical dialogue." onstagescotland.co.uk

"Beautifully worked…Mundair has an all-too valid point to make about contemporary society's nurturing effect on reactionary kinds of extremism." The Stage

Publications[edit]

Raman Mundair is the author of:

  • A Choreographer’s Cartography (Peepal Tree Press, 2007)
  • The Algebra of Freedom (Aurora Metro Press, 2007)
  • Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves (Peepal Tree Press, 2003)
  • Incoming – Some Shetland Voices (Shetland Heritage Publications, 2014) – editor and contributor

Raman Mundair’s work has been anthologised in the following:

  • Archipalegos, writing the north project, (Edinburgh University Press, 2014)
  • Conversations About Empires, (Ilkley Literature Festival, 2012)
  • Out of Bounds, (Bloodaxe, 2012)
  • The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, (Harper Collins India, 2012)
  • The New Shetlander, Yule Issue (SISS, 2011)
  • ImagiNation, Stories of Scotland’s Future (Big Sky Press, 2011)
  • These Island We Sing, (Polygon Birlinn, 2011)
  • Departures and Arrivals, (Scottish PEN, 2009) Red, (Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
  • The New Anthem, (Tranquebar Press, 2009)
  • One Poem in Search of a Translator: Rewriting Les Fenetres by Apollinaire, (Peter Lang, 2008)
  • Atlas 02, (Aark Arts, 2007)
  • Addicted to Brightness, (Long Lunch Press, 2006)
  • Sable – Autumn/Fall06 Issue (Sable Publishing, 2006)
  • 60/60, Daemon 7 &8, (Survivors Press, 2005)
  • Freedom Spring (Waverley Books, 2005)
  • Poetry Scotland, Summer 2005, (Diehard publishers, 2005)
  • Acuman, New Voices, Issue 51, (The Ember Press 2005)
  • Kavya Bharati, Poetry of the Indian Diaspora, No16 2004, (The Study for Indian Literature in English and Translation, 2004)
  • Swedish Reflections, (Arcadia, 2003).
  • Markings - New Writing and Art from Dumfries and Galloway: Volume 16 (Kirkcudbright/Scottish Arts Council, 2003)
  • The New Shetlander, Hairst Issue (SISS,2003)
  • Sable – Spring/Summer03 Issue (Sable Publishing, 2003)
  • Calabash, Winter 2002, (Centreprise, 2002)
  • The New Shetlander, Voar Issue (SISS,2002)
  • The Redbeck Anthology of British South Asian Poetry, (Redbeck, 2000)
  • Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women's Poetry, (The Women's Press, 1998)
  • The Fire People: A Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets, (Payback Press/Canongate Books, 1998)

Mundair wrote the introduction to ‘Red Threads’, P. Desai and P. Sekhon, (Diva/Miillivres, 2003), a collection of photographs by British Asian queer photographers.

Visual Art[edit]

Mundair’s work as an artist is influenced by her love of poetics and narrative. Exhibitions include:

2014

  • the incoming project, (installation) Shetland Museum and Archives[9]

2011

  • A Servant’s Tale at Coast Festival, (site-specific installation for the Coast Festival) a collaboration with artists Margaret Stewart and Elspeth Winram from the Itchee Wasp Collective. The work was exhibited in the East Pavilion of Banff Castle, Scotland and draws on the perceived history and hidden narratives of Banff Castle.

2008

  • Here Now, There Now, (site-specific, text/performance/installation) a collaboration with artist and Creative Scotland award winner Pernille Spence (Scotland), exhibited along Scot Rail routes in Scotland in June 8.[10][11]

2007

  • Amygdalae, (text - part of a performance/installation) a collaboration with Irish artist, Maedhbh McMohan at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

2005

  • Voice/Over, (text/film installation) at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow
  • Noctuary, (film) A triptych of three short films: Pavor Nocturnus, Apnea & Cataplexia explore the effects of domestic violence on sleep. The films were originally exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow as part of the Elbow Room season. A collaboration with Finnish filmmaker Lotta Petronella.[12]
  • A Choreographer's Cartography, (new media/text installation) Leicester City Gallery[13]
  • Black Pepper Dreams, (text/ billboard exhibit and online installation) as part of ArchiTexts 2005[14]

2004

  • Awarded Flax Art Studio Residency, Belfast. Residency resulted in Answer Me A Question, a text piece, disseminated throughout the city using a series of postcards.
  • Participating artist (text/photography/video installation) in the Rule of Thumb exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

2003

  • TXT ME, (new media installation) [part of 'FOLD'], at the Leicester City Art Gallery

2000

  • Let Me Hold You, (installation) – part of 'Fragments of Identity' exhibition, at The Generator Gallery, Loughborough[15]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]