The Hippo


Dec 12, 2019








Cover of Echo in Four Beats by Rita Banerjee

Rita Banerjee presents Echo in Four Beats 
Where: New Hampshire Institute of Art, Emma B. French Hall Rotunda, 148 Concord St., Manchester
When: Tuesday, March 27, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 
Admission: Free and open to the public 
More info:, 

Echo speaks
Rita Banerjee presents debut poetry collection


 The New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester welcomes a special guest writer, Rita Banerjee, on Tuesday, March 27, for a reading, signing and discussion of her debut collection of poetry, Echo in Four Beats, released earlier this month. 

Banerjee earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington and her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She is the executive creative director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and an associate scholar of Comparative Literature at Harvard, and is currently teaching on modernism, art-house film and South Asian literary theory at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. 
Echo in Four Beats is inspired by Echo and Narcissus, a myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses that tells of a talkative woodland nymph, Echo, who is cursed to only speak when spoken to. The 47 poems are a modern feminist retelling of the myth that explores what Echo would have said, had she not lost her voice. 
Banerjee shared some of her thoughts about the collection. 
What is the idea behind Echo in Four Beats? 
In this retelling, not only does Echo not lose her voice, but she is very powerful … so it’s about women finding their own voice and speaking against silence, and about how women in powerless situations find ways to express themselves. … It dreams of a common language. What happens when people from different backgrounds and places of power, with different ideas of masculinity and femininity, come together … and figure out how to connect, despite language barriers, and despite defined roles? How do they find ways to support that female agency and the female gaze? 
Are there different sections or themes? 
There are four sections. The first deals with what it means to have an American identity and be in the crosswires of so many political views. … The second is about exploring the world; there’s a poem about Japan and poems about some of my journeys abroad. … The third section engages with the idea of mistranslation, sense and nonsense, trying to create meaning with words that seem to convey the opposite, that go against syntax and use idioms that play with gibberish. … In the fourth section, [the ideas in] all the sections continue to evolve: women breaking silence, exploring who they are, and giving that female desire a name. 
When did you start writing this? 
I did maybe 15 to 20 poems while I was getting my MFA. … It took me around 10 years to get the book in its final form. Part of the fun — or the fear — of creative writing is confronting the blank page. … The challenge for me, then, was, how do I take a character like Echo, who plays this certain female role, and break her mold? It took me a long time to think and reimagine the power that Echo could hold herself, and how that feminism can occupy important spaces and progressive spaces in contemporary culture. 
Are these poems personal? 
It’s about half and half. Half of them are based on personal experiences, my travels, the romances and non-romances explored in my relationships with people. In the other half, the speaker is not me, but I put myself in the shoes of these other personas and characters from history and literature. … I imagine their world and their aesthetic and the power they hold, and what it would be like to speak from their point of view. I loved that these characters, even silent characters like Echo, have a chance to speak through me and, in a weird way, tell their stories. 
What would you like readers to take away from Echo in Four Beats? 
I’m really interested in reader reaction and response. … I would like readers to kind of interrogate their own power and find where and how they can express their own voice. It doesn’t have to be in proper English to express ourselves and our complicated identities in an honored form. I hope people will read [the poems] and be able to relate, but I hope it also invites response, and that they will try to express themselves in that form. 

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