Poet Laureate – Amit Majmudar

Poet Laureate - Amit Majmudar

Medical Dealer Magazine | Off the Clock | Poet Laureate Amit MajmudarBy Matt Skoufalos

Amit Majmudar has put the lie to the dilemma of every emerging artist who’s been forced to choose between a life of impoverished struggle or abandoning dreams of aesthetic greatness.

The son of a pair of Indian immigrant physicians, Majmudar grew up with medicine as “the family business” (his sister is also a doctor). Far from being a fallback plan for a career in the arts, health care was always the vocational plan for him. Instead of feeling limited by that perspective, the diagnostic nuclear radiologist from Dublin, Ohio said that the significant demands of his medical career have freed his writing career from bearing the weight of any expectations whatsoever.

“I think there is something to be gained from having a job, and not relying on your art for a job,” Majmudar said. “It’s wonderful to have readers if you can naturally create best-sellers and that’s your mode and your goal, but it’s not a reliable thing. If you want to do something truly artistic with your work, you’re better off not relying on your medium.”

“I was a writer who became a doctor,” he said. “I didn’t really feel angst or tension about it; I didn’t feel comfortable devoting my life to writing. Radiology is something that facilitates writing. It frees me up to write whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about a book becoming a best-seller or a book winning an award.”

Although he has published celebrated works of fiction and retains a blog of nonfiction writing, Majmudar was first published as a poet, and that mode remains at the center of his work. He describes himself as “pretty restless as far as theme and form,” and enjoys using a variety of forms and styles to communicate different ideas. Some stories are most efficiently told in prose, whereas musicality is the domain of poetry.

“My theory is utilitarian,” Majmudar said. “I try not to use a hammer where a screwdriver is needed.”

Medical Dealer Magazine | Off the Clock | Poet Laureate Amit MajmudarLikewise, the content of his work varies in tone and subject as much as it does in form. Majmudar is not after any specific agendas in his prose or poetry; only telling the most interesting stories, turning the most interesting phrases, inventing the most interesting characters that he can. Precisely what has made some of the work he’s produced so compelling is the fact that the scenarios from which he’s drawn are not based on any personal experiences.

Majmudar’s debut novel, “Partitions,” deals with sectarian violence among Hindis and Muslims in India and Pakistan. The follow-up, “The Abundance,” discusses the connections between old-world traditions and new-world living. Both have been praised for the cultural authenticity of their settings and tone, and yet the circumstances of each are not derived from any recollections of Majmudar or of his family; rather they are the imaginings of an American-born author “inhabiting perspectives that aren’t [his] own,” he said.

“I invented a character that was in a position and had an experience very different from mine precisely to explore that perspective, one that I didn’t actually have myself,” Majmudar said. “It’s all about imagination. You use your imagination to the point where people will attribute things to you that you don’t actually have in your own perspective.”

Perhaps because his work deals with themes from his ethnic history, many first-time readers may make the assumption not only that Majmudar’s stories are biographical, but that his work is meant to be representative of life experiences in a country that is vastly diverse in culture, religion and other traditions.

“Most places are not culturally uniform,” Majmudar said. “A lot of the communities in India just kind of live side by side; in Europe, they live side by side. In America, too, people self-isolate, and they stay with their own kin groups. I think that’s just a natural way that people exist.”

“We talk about [America] being a melting pot; at one point that term was popular, but I don’t hear it that much any more,” he said. “The measure of a successfully integrated society is not that everyone’s homogenous, it’s that all these individual groups, which maybe in another country would be at each other’s throats, can actually live together harmoniously and productively. Peaceful coexistence.”

If Majmudar’s fiction is culturally influenced, his poetry may be the thing that has benefited the most from his background in medicine. Thematically, he uses both media to address ideas of religion, history and identity. But radiology is about visual pattern recognition, and Majmudar describes his poetry as exemplifying patterns and forms that may be atypical of American poetry. He believes this knack to be drawn from “the scientific sort of part of your brain that deals with repetition and patterns.”

“That side of my mind is guiding me creatively to pursue pattern and form and structure and symmetry,” he said. “I try not to make [my work] too goal-directed, because then it’s too much like work. I let things flow and form on their own, and go from there. Whenever I can make time for it, I make time for it.”

Cultivating an emotionally laissez-faire attitude about his art certainly hasn’t limited Majmudar’s success. His writing has earned critical praise from numerous literary outlets, opened discussions on the nature of cultural identity, and fueled interviews on National Public Radio. “Dothead,” his latest collection of poetry, will be published worldwide by Alfred A. Knopf in March 2016.

Last year, Majmudar was named poet laureate of Ohio. Although the title is a recent honor, he already has plans to establish a Future Laureates Program that would pair established writers with students from underprivileged schools. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he views the opportunity as a chance for interdisciplinary engagement among budding writers as well.

“I want to engage high school students who have a true talent for the art of poetry, and encourage them,” Majmudar said. “Right now I’m working on a collaborative project with a bunch of dancers.”

For someone whose mind has been shaped by a variety of left- and right-brained, it seems a natural course of action.

Find out more about Amit Majmudar’s literary works at his website www.amitmajmudar.com.