Rajiv Mohabir

A Conversation with Rajiv Mohabir, Kundiman Poetry Prize Winner

A Conversation with Rajiv Mohabir, Kundiman Poetry Prize Winner 

As we near the end of our submissions period for the Kundiman Poetry Prize (due March 15!), we asked previous winners what insight they have for future applicants looking to submit their manuscript.

Check out below what Rajiv Mohabir, whose book The Cowherd's Son was the winner of our 2015 Poetry Prize, had to say!


1) What was going through your head when you were writing the poems in the manuscript you submitted for the Poetry Prize? What were your inspirations and motivations?

I wrote the majority of the poems in The Cowherd’s Son while putting together The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books), my first book. The poems in The Cowherd’s Son focus on the religious and mythological traditions that I have inherited as a second generation Indo-Caribbean. A patchwork of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian shape the tone of this collection.

I was inspired by my Aji’s songs and stories. My poems are a kind of translation of her poetic. I attempt to cycle her songs again but from my own particular generation and idiom. I am inspired by the poems of Bhojpuri folk music, Kabir, Mirabai, Sudesh Mishra, and Rooplal Monar. American poets like Roger Sedarat, Agha Shahid Ali, Craig Santos Perez, Eduardo C. Corral, Rigoberto González, and so many others also inflect my craft decisions and my lyric impulses.

When it came to putting the manuscript together, it was Oliver de la Paz at the 2013 Kundiman retreat who told me to pull out the poems about mythology from my taxidermy poems. I couldn’t just abandon this clutch that sung of the coolie diaspora—I still felt them move me. Allison Adelle Hedge Coke sat with me on the floor of Sinclair Library at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa and together we stitched the poems together.

2) What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on two book manuscripts. The first is a collection of poems I call “chutney poems.” I kind of invent a formal poem based on the structure of a syncretic form of Indo-Caribbean dance/folk music to pay tribute to the oral traditions that I come from. The language is filled with triple entendre play and recklessness, crackling in and out of Guyanese Creole, Bhojpuri, and English.

My second manuscript is a memoir that I’ve tentatively titled “Antiman” that centers my transition from Orlando, Florida to Varanasi, India to New York City—together about a seven year span from when I worked as a teacher in the NYC Department of Education to when I did my MFA at Queens College. In it I write about my experiences with going to India for the first time since my ancestors left over 120 years ago, my encounters with Indo-Caribbean music, and navigating familial space as a queer.

3) What advice do you have for writers looking to submit their manuscript?

My advice to writers who are working at their first collections, is to write through rejections. Rejections are hard—still, revise and resubmit. Transform every last rejection you get into determination to edit, to push yourself harder. Keep going, reading along the way. You will learn all kinds of things about yourself along the way. The publishing world is 89% white. It’s an industry clearly stacked against writers of color, queer and trans writers, disabled writers, writers with “complicated” (read non-cisheteropatriarchal “able-bodied”) identities, etc.

Also, you are not alone. So many people say that to be a writer is to be alone. There are other writers out there who are struggling as you are. Find them. Share your work. Be open to hearing critiques. Share your favorite books. Kundiman is proof that a community can feed you along this path. Again, you are not alone.


Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Taxidermist's Cut (Four Way Books, winner of the Intro to Poetry Prize) and The Cowherd's Son. Read more about him at www.rajivmohabir.com.

Kundiman & The Home School Partnership

Kundiman and The Home School would like to announce their inaugural partnership and name Rajiv Mohabir as the recipient of a Home School Miami 2016 scholarship! He will be receiving a full tuition waiver (1175 USD) plus a travel honorarium (500 USD) for the full residency as the winner of the 2015 Kundiman Book Prize.

The Home School organizes weeklong conferences for poets and artists. Home School participants spend six days immersed in an intensive program that foregrounds interdisciplinary experimentation and collaboration.

Apply to The Home School residency by the free early-bird deadline of August 31 to participate in Home School activities. 

Miami Beach, Florida: 

Home School Miami 2016 will feature core poetry faculty: Timothy Donnelly, Adam Fitzgerald, Cathy Park Hong, Dorothea Lasky, Tan Lin, Maggie Nelson and Mónica de la Torre. Visiting poets: Natalie Diaz, Renee Gladman, Mira Gonzalez, Jorie Graham and Derek Walcott. 

Congratulations to the winner of the 2015 Kundiman Poetry Prize!

Congratulations to Rajiv Mohabir, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Poetry Prize.

Tupelo Press Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Levine and Associate Poetry Editor Cassandra Cleghorn have selected Rajiv Mohabir as winner of the 2015 Kundiman Poetry Prize for his manuscript, The Cowherd's Son.

The winner receives a $1,000 cash prize, publication by Tupelo Press, and national distribution.

Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (Spring 2016), and recipient of a PEN/ Heim Translation Fund Grant, Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His poetry and translations are internationally published or forthcoming from journals such as Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, PANK, *and Aufgabe. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the *Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.

The finalists were Radio Tower by Naoko Fujimoto, Cyclorama by Annie Kim, Child of Shame by EJ Koh, Goddess of Democracy by Henry Wei Leung, Autumn Troupe by Miho Nonaka, Tula by Chris Santiago, As Though We Are One by Alexandrine Vo, Republic of Mercy by Sharon Wang, and Overpour by Jane Wong.

Congratulations to the winner and finalists!

Now in its 6th year, the Kundiman Poetry Prize ensures the annual publication of a book by an Asian American poet. The award is open to self-identified Asian American poets at any stage in their careers. For more about the Kundiman Poetry Prize, please visit kundiman.org/prize.

Check out Fireside: A Poetry Blog during National Poetry Month

For more, visit: http://kundimanfireside.tumblr.com/

Poets Playing: Exquisite Corpse

From top to bottom the images/texts are by:

Rachelle Cruz lives in Southern Cali. Her text/image was completed with the help of her CRWT 150 students, Melanie and Jonathan.

Desiree Bailey lives in Providence, RI and is an MFA Fiction candidate at Brown University. She has received fellowships from Princeton in Africa, The Norman Mailer Center and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. She is the current Fiction editor for Kin Folks.

Eduardo Corral first book Slow Lightning was published by Yale University Press in 2012 as the winner of the Yale Younger Series Poets Prize. Corral was born in Casa Grande, Arizona to Higinio and Socorro Corral. He currently lives in Rego Park, Queens, New York. 

Lisa Lee is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Rona Luo is a writer and healer living in Oakland, California.

Rajiv Mohabir studies writing in Honolulu and loves poems by Kundies, Kabir, and humpback whales. Check out some of his work here: http://rajivmohabir.wordpress.com/writing/

Rachel Ronquillo Gray was born and raised in Nevada; she now lives in the Midwest and is trying to live without mountains. 

Poet and visual artist Maya Pindyck is the author of the collection Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press) and the chapbook Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America).

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Mezzanines (Alice James Books), selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize. His poems have appeared in New England ReviewKenyon ReviewGulf Coast,The Southern Review and elsewhere. He’s received fellowships and scholarships from the Kresge Arts FoundationThe Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Currently, he teaches at Warren Wilson College and is the poetry editor of The Collagist.