THE FEELING WITHOUT THE PICTURE

 

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The feeling without the picture

Is failure of poetry and failure of love.

Yes, we can feel!

Even if what we feel isn’t real.

If love succeeds, the beautiful picture

Makes you feel as the poet feels.

When, hopelessly, the love ends, you remember pictures

With greater feeling. Her pictures belong to you.

You’re a greater poet now. At least you feel this is true.

When feelings attach themselves to distant pictures

And the heart looks out at everything sad,

The misery overwhelms, and the poetry is bad;

You cannot give birth to pictures,

And you dwell with bitter thoughts.

This is the woman who is not a poet at all;

She used words, but she herself was the picture,

A demon picture! who made me—but did not make the poet—fall.

 

 

SOME WRITE POETRY FOR PEACE

Image result for sunrise in renaissance painting

Some write poetry for peace,

Some write poetry to get excited.

She’s the one I love! The only one I’ve ever loved!

See where the moon smoothly joins my cause,

And now the night sky is the moon’s best friend.

And look at her face! I don’t know how this is going to end.

Some write poetry for meditation and calm,

Others write poetry for the leaping light

Which paints with fires the lawns and lanes.

She loves me, with or without poetry. But she refrains.

And yet I have such allies in the fight:

The loyal moon sneaking through lines of clouds,

The scents of flowers amassing in the night,

Hordes of sable words against sheets of silver dawn gathering,

Even at this impending hour, soothing the partisan crowds.

Do you hear me shouting this? Do you hear me writing this?

This was written as coldly and silently as a kiss.

How is it now with her and I? Does the summer answer? Do we

Have treaties and declarations yet? I’ll bargain for her tomorrow;

Breathing slowly, I march through the flowers; I charm my enemies easily.

Tomorrow, negotiating with every dim shape, I find peace. Peace is easy—

Even if tomorrow means revenge, or she, in public, fills me with sorrow.

 

 

 

A BEAUTY READING

Image result for woman reading in renaissance painting

A beauty reading is the only thing

Which makes my heart fall at once.

When I see a woman reading, only then,

Do I want something that might happen when

Poetry comes into my soul, wondering

What women love, and the secrets of the happiest, and most occupied, of men,

And if there is a chance to embrace

The whole of her with her book. And make inquiry of her studious face.

What is she reading? She is reading this,

And doesn’t know it, until she feels the fruit of this ambiguous bliss.

They say the one who can make you talk is the one who can make you love.

But after loving, the talking ends; the thick silence accuses

The lovers. The talk piled up everything the silence now loses.

Then I won’t talk. I will let her go on reading, and this

Is forever mine: inspired by some ideal poem, or picture, or conversation, or kiss.

 

 

 

WHY ARE YOU EMBARRASSED BY BEAUTIFUL MUSIC?

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Why are you embarrassed by beautiful music?

When beauty walks slowly through the garden path

Why is it your habit to look around nervously and laugh?

When Vivaldi sung by a soprano is soaring

Why do you look away? Why do you find it boring?

The mall which plays classical music is free

Of the cancerous young who clown tempestuously.

Come with me to the roof of the building, candle-lit,

Where violins combine inside and outside the music,

And be comfortable in talk. Here. Feel the air. Sit.

Why do you wish to hurry, to know exactly what you want?

Can you be so certain that beds and hotels are it? You can’t.

Is music that surrenders to music so offensive to what you know?

You can’t imagine what you always needed to imagine. Okay, then. Go.

 

 

A FRIEND WHOM YOU LOVE

Image result for landscape painting

A friend whom you love is the one you should love—

But some are vile whom we love, and could never be our friend—

Yet love and friendship are how they pretend

To be who they are, and so we love them.

And as those we love, whom are vile, are pretending

With knowing looks and sweet smiles, the only difference,

Among the looks and the smiles, is the intelligence

And the scholarship and the science: their love will be ending.

There will not be kisses after a while.

The friend whom we loved will look at us without a smile

And this ending is the only way to tell

That love was never love, that all was not well,

That even when she was a lover and a friend she was vile.

 

INDIAN POETRY —AUGUST

Welcome to August, and a look at 7 more contemporary poets of India writing in English.

Rohan Chhetri writes poetry which is both tender and stiff; his predominant phrase: “Grandfather died.”

Poetry, in attempting to be more than prose or speech, will take on a certain severity of address, which can seem unkind, even as it speaks kindly. Old memories, sentimental and sad, stand up in the soul of the young poet, who might first be attempting poems in college. The drama of grandparents beside parents ushers in the historical depth which the young poet needs.  My poetry needs weight, the ambitious youth thinks—dying, revolutionary grandparents certainly add gravity.

The old man loved his sleep,
my father remarked to the visitors
a week after Grandfather died.
I was twelve
& the cruel metaphor wasn’t lost on me.

Is how “His Charred Hands Hold the Blueprint Among the Ashes” begins.

From “Restoration Elegy:”

You hear the river back home has changed its course,
flooding through the living rooms of your town,
an angry murk roiling with a singular desire to bring
to surface every lost map of your grandfather’s revolution.

I’ll quote “History of Justice” in full.  It shows Chhetri at his best—a poet who doesn’t exist in his own poetry, the previous generation haunting its way in.

Some kids from the neighbourhood are bursting firecrackers
by the side of our compound wall. Grandmother is
screaming at them. Mother smiles knowing
they won’t listen. Grandfather once stayed up
late in the night at the window of the first floor
waiting for the drunk who pissed on our wall
every night, so he could slosh a good whole bucket
of cold water over his head in the frosty winter night.
He’s been dead since long, our grandfather.
But grandmother hasn’t forgotten the battered face
of the man who was tied to a post outside the house
for having beaten his wife to a pulp. And grandfather
lunging his fists on the poor man’s face. Grandmother
by the window thinking if she had married a monster.
Most of all, the face of her young husband during the time
of the revolution when she went to see him in the lockup,
where he was hung naked upside down for two days,
with mud shoved in his mouth by the Bengali Inspector who
kept saying, Feed him the land, that’s what they are fighting for.

*

Sampurna Chattarji is one of those poets who makes a lot of claims for poetry—how it is not mechanical like the rhetoric of war, but private and inward and full of hope; but she often writes poems which are extremely objective and mechanical, like those school exercises where you take an object and write on it—she seems to need a subject, before she gets started; she is not one of those lyric romantic poets who spontaneously combusts. She overstates objects, understates emotion, and writes indirectly in the way difficult poets often do, when not shocking us, occasionally, with the gruesome or the disgusting; when peeping into her work through a certain lens we find a poet as intense and intelligent as any poet writing in English today.

Object lesson: two

I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle. –Zen proverb

I park you on my palm
testing you for posture (and pedals—
they really work). Velocipede of wire,
your red and yellow symmetries make
centuries of tinkering seem trivial. You
are a miniature of perfection, you scorn
your previous selves, their names creak
ing like their movements. You do not
see the poetry of Celerive and
Draissine, the rough humour
of the boneshaker
the hobbyhorse the
highwheeler trundling down towards
you, so neat in your sprocket and chain.
You do not care that
a French count or a German baron
a Scottish blacksmith a Parisian carriage
maker and a stolid Englishman saw you
in their dreams. And as for being (maybe)
a doodle in a certain Italian’s notebook, the
name da Vinci doesn’t ring a bell. Your
past is monumentally incidental. You
are all here, now, parked on my palm,
content with yourself
as a tiny replica of you.

**

Michael Creighton has an easy lyric style, which nonetheless carries interesting things in it, a love poet who understands mystery (awe) playing against insouciance is a great formula for love experience in the vehicle of song. The romantic, in a rough and tumble, innocent, adventurous sort of way, makes us fall in love with a city, even as the beloved is still central, but cleverly hidden.

New Delhi Love Song

Smog and dust mix with the air in New Delhi.
I buy jasmine for her hair in New Delhi.

People come from everywhere to this city;
all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.

The finest things in life don’t come without danger.
Eat the street food , if you dare, in New Delhi.

We push in line and fight all day for each rupee.
Can you remember what is fair in New Delhi?

There is nothing you can’t find in our markets.
Socks and dreams sell by the pair in New Delhi.

So many families on the street through the winter;
Sometimes good men forget to care in New Delhi.

My friends ask, Michael, why’d you leave your own country?
I found jasmine for her here, in New Delhi.

***

Ranjani  Murali is a poet who, as we would expect in the era of the MFA, and the subsidized aesthetic, is drawn to the project of moral import. A project will sometimes drown the poetry.

In her cinema project, she has raised the bar so high—critique the impact of certain kinds of cinema on a certain kind of educated person—that her poetry fights to survive, as her art is called on to describe a virtual universe of cheap, visual effects—and hers and a crude audience’s various reactions to them.

Her poetry is trapped in a university thesis. We don’t know what kind of poet she could be, because the project she has chosen has made her a different one.

There is never just “poetry.”

“Poetry” is always attempting to do something which the poet has told it to do. And what Murali’s poetry is doing is super-human. Poetry may do many things, but it cannot do this. Or can it? She is describing cinema which is fake—but the lesson of the dyer’s hand may do her in.

Cinema is big in India, as it is in the United States, and we have seen poets in the U.S. who are fans, and anxious to praise actors and film genres in their poetry. “Project poetry” of all types tends to be dubious to begin with. Murali has a bigger challenge, for with acrobatic, parenthetical musings and suppositions, she strives to convince us her subject is lowbrow and harmful—which if, true, is all the more pointless for poetry aimed at an educated audience to do the work it needs to do to point this out, and, if not true, exactly as pointless, just the same.

To be clear. Ranjani Murali is brilliant. But her obvious talent tugs against the whole project-mentality.

The following is a magnificent poem, even as the poet swims upstream, informing us (“staggering height of two feet”) how ridiculous and melodramatic her subject is—but there is a wonderful richness to it all, and “waylaying of fiction by our own personal fictions” is really something to think about, and the poem manages to invoke a tender feeling at the end:

SINGING CANCER: ARS FILM-POETICA

Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet,
where leukemia has been waiting, on a tape (played at this final scene)
for the audience to absorb the gravity of his absence,

his khadi kurtas condemned to eternal hanging from hooks the size
of tennis balls. Such emptiness adorns this pallid death-scene that
if a small child were to squeeze into this room, tearing apart the cloth

projector-screen, no one would turn to smile at its cherubic face or its tender
pink fingernails. Anand’s friend and his wife are in a paroxysm of rage, wringing
curtains and bedsheet corners but the fall has passed and the voice

on the tape is affectionately teasing them, calling them into a world
of bright poppies and painlessness, a rhythmic clicking (not hushing)
replacing the voice after the signoff—a series of muffled hammer-strikes.

Then, as if on cue, the cast starts sobbing, occasional sniffs spaced out—half beats
of sorrow conducted by the trembling tape player. The bewildered child of our
imagining is still standing in this frame, tugging at the dead man’s hung kurta,

and this waylaying of fiction by our own personal fictions is thus complete.
This child of matinee-hooting and mid-city commutes,
a threshold being, latches on to us, suspending our passive armrest-tapping,

churning our stomachs at the thought of a cancer guttering up
our veins, turning our bodies into a reflection of every instance
of flinching or fraying in the movie-reel, our minds a freeze frame suspended

between seeing and being seen.

****

Minal Hajratwala has a delicate wit and sense of precision which memorable poets invariably possess. In the following poem, Hajratwala feels neither embarrassed nor hamstrung by the unicorn theme, embracing it with great results.

Operation Unicorn: Field Report

The unicorns are a technology
we cannot yet approximate.

Each silv’ry filament’s
worth a trillion fiber optics—

sensitive, intelligent, dense
with data, light as pi.

The natives name them rainbow-made
rapid-streaming over four-dimensional landscapes

wet with dawn. We observe
dappled midnight & moonlight,

sterling-indigo ripples
of energy, some silk

our instruments cannot yet measure.
They say from time to time a virgin

finds a gemstone tooth, a hoof of sapphire.
Upon inquiry, however, no such objects could be produced.

One operative following a lead
has disappeared, sending

two chaste missives in six months
scratched in bark:

1. The years are arbitrary scrawls
2. I have conquered the subterranean stairs

*****

Ranjit Hoskote has such talent for metaphor, such a hoard of poetic gifts, that it almost defeats him. If I were his opponent in chess, I certainly would have no chance; but the poet is the chess player who plays himself. Often I have seen a metaphor in a poem so marvelous that it stops the poem so that it cannot go on, but the poem does, and the poem trails off, almost helplessly, or with even better metaphors, the wealth of which makes the problem of the poem worse. In the following poem, we see Hoskote attain the apparent peak with “if the day should turn upon its hinges, letting light colonise this empire of jars” and yet he still manages to climb:

Effects of Distance

for Nancy

Call it providence if the day should turn
upon its hinges, letting light colonise
this empire of jars and shutters, this room.
A telegram on the rack spells hands that burn
because you did not reply, did not realise
that some words are too proud to remind you they came.

Blue is the colour of air letters, of conquerors’ eyes.
Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.
Never journey far from me; and, if you must,
find towpaths, trails; follow the portents fugitives trust
to guide them out and back. And at some fork,
pause; and climbing in twilight though you may be,
somewhere, address this heart’s unease,
this heart’s unanswered wilderness.

******

Uttaran Das Gupta likes the wide historical view, and it keeps his poems on the sober path; they partake of life, but don’t get overly excited. Perspective is all. We see this in the following poem:

 

Walk, After Lunch

A deer park, a duck lake, a fort—

“It’s colder here, isn’t it?”—

“Yes; we’ll walk fast, ok?”

Distress clouds your eyes:

“You should’ve got your coat.”

 

“It was sunny when we came out.”

“Still!”

 

(Ma chère, what’s gone through the sieve…

what’s stuck in the net, we receive

like cactus flowers in a drought.)

 

“It’s still October,” says our friend.

 

She’ll be only too glad to take an auto.

We press on to the lake.

The fort was restored to defend

the water from the Mongol hordes.

These Khilji-Tughlaq ruins now boast

of peacocks, lovers and ghosts;

no one remembers Taimur’s sword.

 

The dusk is smoggy, the village is lit-up.

We hear jazz, Sufi,

and debate on rum or coffee.

 

“To not drink would be sacrilege!”

 

We each order one-and-a-half

measures of rum: the cold retreats.

Good I didn’t get the coat, it cheats

me of the warmth of friends.

 

—“Or rum?”

 

—And we laugh.

*******

And so goodbye to August, and thanks once again to Linda Ashok. After making this project my own, I am convinced Indian poetry in English is just as good as poetry from England, America, etc. Please support Indian poetry.

 

THE END (OR WHATEVER TITLE YOU WANT)

Image result for a second wife in renaissance painting

Now that I’m happy and have a good life

And the one I love has become my wife,

There is no more need to write poetry.

Poetry is just me going back over me.

Poetry is my disappointment and sigh.

Poetry is my unfathomable sadness and cry.

You should have read more carefully

To understand the depth of my misery,

And then hating me, you would have been happy.

You thought I was making a successful art,

And I had a joyous energy in my heart.

No, my poetry was the affliction of an afflicted life

Because of you, and before I found my beautiful wife.

 

 

 

CONFINED

Image result for two in the woods in renaissance painting

The more she lets herself be confined,

The more she rejects herself in her mind.

The more her confinement she knows,

The more carefully she goes,

And takes such painful care

To see that she’s not there,

That when she happens to appear,

Fear she has married fears her fear,

And the dread and sad confinement

She loves becomes more dear.

She wisely goes where she is going,

Her old wisdom knowing where we went,

Avoiding places with memories of me,

Who wrote places for her, in poetry.

She knows confinement is unknowing,

A convent to her religiosity,

The virgin renouncing knowledge of me,

Dreaming where she knows I could be.

From all movement she removes

Movements we shared—

And her confinement proves

We roamed the world together,

When I cared for her—but she never cared.

 

 

 

AFTER THE EMBARRASSMENT OF LOVE

Image result for ocean in renaissance painting

After the embarrassment of love,

The lover is hated more

Than possible before.

After the excitement, they’re dumping their copies of Fifty Shades of Gray.

The most beautiful thing in the world will simply be thrown away.

After the embarrassment of love,

Love is seen for what it is,

The attempt to see the world as beautiful,

And to see beauty in yourself with another,

And now, you think, “Why did I bother?

There’s plenty of beauty which doesn’t embarrass.

People are ugly. So many ways. Inside and out.

What was I thinking? Why all that fuss?”

Vain want. Vain thought. Vain pose. Vain pout.

Part of the excitement, of course, was the doubt.

Now you sit and watch ugly people trudging by.

You can see love’s a trick of nature, since the ugly

Must breed—they need the illusion

Of love. You are now ashamed of the ocean,

And the ocean mist, and your little island.

 

 

READING HER MIND

Was it good for her, too?

I knew she knew I loved her, too,

But maybe she thought I was Tyrannosaurus Rex,

So she had to be secretive, she had to perplex,

My super cool, Obama-loving ex.

I wonder now what she is thinking.

She must be sitting somewhere, blinking,

Still with that face I loved to kiss.

But it’s the thinking we most miss.

Reading another’s mind is the jump

We cannot make: I hate Trump I hate Trump I hate Trump.

I hate Tom I hate Tom I hate Tom I hate Tom.

The air and the ocean are calm.

For a few moments I thought I knew what was going on.

Look at the stars. I hate Tom I hate Tom I hate Tom.

 

 

 

I LOVED AND I LOVED AND I LOVED

I loved and I loved and I loved.

They hated and they hated and they hated.

So I loved a little more. And I waited.

They were in the antechamber, and I was in the hall.

They were discussing me, and I listened to it all.

A long, innocent childhood was the center of my life.

It went on forever, until I finally found a wife.

The greatest disgust it is possible to see

Is the young acting old and the old acting young, sexually.

We make ourselves into innocents. We go into the woods.

We watch horror movies. We wear hoods.

We watch our aged mother drinking wine.

We see our old auntie drawing the line.

The motorcycle and the natural scene and the pet

And the search for central individual meaning: great.

The philosophy of the All and the philosophy of “what’s important to me”

Will never understand each other, so pour it in gradually.

They loved and they loved and they loved.

I hated and I hated and I hated.

I sent my poem to my successful friend. And waited.

 

THE FIVE YEAR PLAN

Once the tax payer flow is found,

The project runs the institution into the ground,

As inefficiency becomes the lazy way

To support bad actors to be professional in the officious, elaborate play

Which needs five years to steal money in the self-righteous scheme

Which is monetarily self-realizing, but otherwise an empty dream.

The beneficiaries need five years, because the tax payer flow

Takes five years to drain before the tax payers know

They are being robbed, and when the voice of anti-corruption speaks

It is labeled racist, for daring to say, “Five years? We can do this in five weeks!”

The college imparts no practical knowledge, and the vast debt

Accumulated by students who can’t find jobs will create more racism, yet.

The adjuncts are paid nothing, and the overpaid deans know what to say:

“Our college is devoted to progress! Progress against all the racism today!”

In urgent meetings, more five year plans are planned, to please

The activist wives of deans who read books by government connected trustees.

 

 

 

THAT GOOD

There’s one thing I will never forget.

The insult—which the careless always regret.

Even love will not be returned.

But if you insult me, the world will have learned.

And if you offer love, but insult me, too,

And make love a form of insult, God help you.

Happy philosophy will teach you to trace

The sad lessons of the human race.

Love pleases me, and so does tact,

But there’s nothing like insult to make me act.

It’s not always clear how the insulted will get you,

But it will be literary and glorious, I bet you.

Mistaken criticism will bring out

An even better poem, which ends all doubt.

Victims cannot write poems, unless the result

Is a good poem—but a better insult.

I remember an attacker was described so well,

The poem was glorious because the poem is where he fell.

I remember John Keats and the rage of Blackwood—

Bad poets today are still insulted because he’s that good.

You took my love, and put me through hell,

But now I never wrote, nor slept so well.

You gave me reason with your hate yesterday

To love, to improve, to know revenge as the heart of every good play.

But remember, though you’re in pain today,

My hate is love and my hate, because it’s love, before the poem’s done, simply drifts away.

 

 

 

 

THE SILENCE OF ANDREW MARVELL

I see three rabbits softly bound

Through a soundless garden without a sound.

The hunting owl, dividing the air,

Flies soundlessly with soundless care.

The hunter steps in the soundless mind.

Speech and warning and singing are kind.

See the sheep, who cannot say

Why it’s especially quiet today.

Mortality, with loud breath,

Chants this poem of airless death.

Ashbery’s dead, and no one knows

Where our pagan poet goes.

Andew Marvel, whom he quoted,

Would say, but none today is this devoted

To claim heaven as the place we go

From language and its place below.

He has no poetry anymore,

Word that makes the whole world poor.

So Ashbery wanders with a smirk

In the shades of his ambiguous work.

YOU WANT MY POLITICS? HERE’S MY POLITICS.

“And the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” –Edgar Poe

The most acute horror in our Modern Age is French.

Start with the French Revolution stench

Of Sade. The guillotine impulse of a nation gone mad,

Replacing the sad and sober reason which seeks a view from above.

My father—devoted to my mother—my father, whom I trust and love,

Earned a master’s degree in history, and was only too glad

To inform me of Uncle Ho—heroically fighting for little Vietnam

Against the United States. Patriot? My dad wasn’t even a fan

Of America, having studied Charles Beard, who made the claim

The Founding Fathers were wealthy, opportunistic wits.

Any hope I, as a boy, would love my unique country, was blown to bits.

My father hated America, capitalism and the rich, so I felt the same.

Not that I can ever defend the horrible Vietnam war

Which created the righteous, radical, freak on one hand,

The duped flag-waver on the other; divided, both sides take a stand,

Irreconcilable, like the War Between the States, breaking in two, my beloved land;

This: The British Empire’s “divide and conquer” goal balkanizes all—

So at last, the globalizing ambition of cynical empire rules all.

The wonderful French, who helped the American Revolution win,

Succumbed to the Red Terror, and fell into theory and sin.

By the middle of the 19th century France joined Britain in making

The world a collection of weak states for the taking;

France and Britain used neutrality so the Confederacy dared

To win meat-grinder battle after battle, for recognition;

Russia, freeing her serfs, was the only major state who cared

America survive. It was a cruel world the French and British ushered in.

The Red Terror introduced the world to communism—it spread

By good yet weak ideals; after the Opium Wars—Free Trade fed

China’s debilitating stupor—Britain, France pushing opium’s largesse—

During the insanity of World War One, Russia changed to Soviet red;

Mad Germany and Japan’s genocidal Second World War menace

Saw Rousseau-influenced, U.S. hating, Mao win, and though

My father convinced me Ho fought heroically for Vietnam,

It was only later I found out more about Uncle Ho.

He belonged to the Chinese Communist party. He had a French education.

The vicious Pol Pot (hello Jimmy Carter) was schooled in France; first you go to bed

With French intellectuals, then in the spirit of the Red Terror, you turn red.

When backwards Khomeini, the Trojan Horse, was wheeled into Iran,

He arrived from Paris. French Leftists trumpeted Khomeini was the man

For beautiful Persia, though he was reactionary and villainous to the core;

French Impressionism (Abstract Painting trash) replaces History Painting; a tour

Of French cultural history since the Red Terror will make you see

The intellectual CIA, MI6, of leveling fanaticism, serving the same master,

Crushing reasonable lives and free nations while celebrating chaos and disaster.

If you must to listen to an intellectual, listen to me:

Love with your forgiving and devoted heart your mom and dad.

Give everyone a chance, never go on hearsay that someone is good or bad.

Run if French intellectuals speak, even if you spill your Amercan soda, your Indian tea,

Put “Republic” in your life, remember what is Divine and what is Comedy,

Love the wisdom of U.S. law, and the poetry which sings musically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CRAZY

The crazy think people are crazy

In a ratio of how much they are crazy.

In a text message my wife called me crazy,

Recalling a former lover’s text, calling me crazy,

And I thought, for a moment, all woman have one soul, which is crazy;

Women have different shapes, but one soul, which is crazy,

My lover and my wife, exactly the same, the same crazy;

All women who love you at first inevitably turn crazy,

Just because they realize, loving you, they were crazy,

And crazy always needs to convince itself it is not crazy;

I, of course, am crazy when I think the crazy are crazy,

Because one person is not crazy; we all live in crazy

And crazy cannot exist in one person. The all is crazy;

That’s why it seemed wife and lover had the same crazy;

There’s an all-encompassing all, which is crazy.

Within this crazy only the sanity of the individual is crazy,

Because only one at odds with crazy is crazy;

The whole thing cannot be crazy; only parts can be crazy,

And that’s why, using reason with wife, lover, I was called crazy;

Unless you join in with the Crazy All, you’ll be called crazy;

The only way not to be crazy is to join the crazy.

The One cannot be anything—everything disappears in the One;

So if you act like everyone else, you are not crazy—

But also you are not interesting, not loved, not loving. You are not crazy,

Because that’s what the crazy person so badly wants: not to be crazy.

We can safely avoid trouble, or lose a fortune—if we are lazy.

Time will tell if we are lucky—or if this is completely crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

REALITY IS A LOT, OR POETRY AND MATHEMATICS MIXED

Calculating the odds of three birthdays in a row,

My friend multiplies three hundred sixty five, three times.

Not three hundred sixty five times three,

But three hundred sixty five, times three hundred sixty five,

Times three hundred sixty five—which is a very large number.

The bigger the number, the lower the odds,

And the lower the odds, the closer to “a chance in hell,” or a “miracle.”

We cannot take our time; we have to find three birthdays in a row

Immediately, and that’s why we multiply instead of add.

My friend said “three random persons,” but what it really means

Is “three immediate persons.” Random is not quite right.

Charlie, Doris, and Sam in our office are all Leos,

And not only that, July 25, 26, and 27, next to each other;

And these odds are what we were playfully going for,

(And now it’s a poem. But still playing.)

But Charlie, Doris, and Sam are not “random” people;

They work in our office, we know them, and there’s nothing

Miraculous about them as it pertains to their birthdays.

There’s only 365 days in a year; to find one birthday match

I would only have to ask 365 people, and August 10th

Would step up and shake my hand, so why do we have to

Multiply 365 times 365? That number is too big, isn’t it?

Multiplying is just adding very fast; multiplying is merely fast addition.

Mathematics is about speed as well as amount.

So that big number is our denominator,

Which is what we are “going into,” the size of the army we attack.

And then we replace one, with three times two times one—

Or six—as the numerator; three calendar days on either side is an easier hit.

But yes, the big number, the denominator, is too big; the first birthday nothing,

The first birthday can be anywhere—the odds of the first are three hundred sixty five

Over three hundred sixty five, or one—or, no odds at all.

So three birthdays consecutively only need three sixty five

Multiplied by itself once, not twice. But hell, that’s still a big number—

Nearly impossible odds. Difficult enough to find a soulmate,

One born under the same star as you are: 365 to 1.

And then the next factor: that life’s circumstances will be favorable

To the two of you? Then we have to multiply 365 X 365,

And we get 133, 225 to 1. Those overwhelming odds

Say you will never be happy in love.

Happy birthday. I love you. Good luck.

 

 

 

THE TRUMP HATER

It was easier with the previous president. He was “black,”

So I said to myself, I’m a good person, so, of course, I will like him.

But this new one calls up different sets of judgements

Which force me to consider silently the following:

“He’s a different party than the black one. Is it racist, then,

To support him? It would be wise to hear what those who like

The previous president say, because there are many of them,

And you can never prove for sure you are not racist

And I don’t want to be seen in a bad light by many people

For whatever reason, even if it doesn’t reflect who I am at all.”

If you think this poem is going to explain Edward Snowden

Or which billionaire or which younger, beautiful wife,

Or which amendment or which tarrif to support, you’re wrong.

If you think I can just love you, if I will love you, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

 

 

THERE’S NOTHING LOVE DOESN’T KNOW

Image result for weeping spinster in renaissance painting

There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

It is not a myth; love does give the loved a glow.

When high mingles with low

Love mingles them. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

The science prized, when dead things do work, or go,

Is the conspiracy of love. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

Love feels, hears, sees. Love makes the passionate blood flow.

Love makes the birds fly—love makes music fast and slow—

Love makes the moon fly over those who sleep below.

Love, when loved, says yes to all. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

But everything can offend love.

Once offended, forever, love

To all love says no.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?”

Image result for CIA painting and art

The critics have been saying—have you heard them?—

Art depicts truth making a collage of naked scenes,

And fiction tells truth, even when it lies.

Yes, fiction is true because, well, it’s real if you read it, or see it with your eyes.

What you see is true—whether made up, or not. The true

Is anything—even if it’s false—which has an impact on you.

So what is true? A spy for the CIA? LSD?

Pornographic comedy?

The truth is, truth has nothing to do with art at all.

It’s true the white guy, crushed for his poem in The Nation, was sincere,

But his poem lacked context. Even a polite, 19th century, audience

Would have asked, “What the hell is going on here?”

The more art says it is false, the more it is true;

The worst art announces the falsity of its reality to you.

So the greatest art, we must all agree, completely lies.

It is completely false, but sitting there, as true as can be, in your eyes.

Bad art is always inappropriate, even with its not-so-secret moral.

Life has morals and truth; art is merely the beautiful sadness of seeing,

Unless it have context. Only with context is art, love, life agreeing.

Life listens to morals it doesn’t want to hear.

You’ve had a difficult day. Let me read you this uncanny poem, dear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I RUINED YOU

Image result for messenger god

I ruined you—I’m sorry as I can be.

Love doesn’t ruin those who love,

But if you love, and try to flee,

Love frowns on that. With poetry.

Those in love are always making up their mind.

Is the other true? Beautiful? Kind?

I was true—and jealous; I knew

Those as loving as I wanted to love you, too.

I made up my mind, and you did not.

I loved more and you loved less, and there’s the whole plot.

I kept writing poems, but you went.

Poems you received, which I anxiously sent

Now languish. Lovers should stay away

From poems. Read news as poetry.

News is passionate. Poets are insulted, too.

News is good. Let the news ruin you.

 

 

 

I WILL NEVER EXPRESS AN OPINION AGAIN

Image result for dream of midnight corn field in painting

I will never express an opinion again.

She erupted in fury.

Okay then, I’ll tell you later, what’s the hurry?

If I’m alone, and it is beautiful, I will look,

And anything I like, will go in my book.

When I remember a strange dream I had,

One that makes me at the same time deeply happy and deeply sad,

As I struggle to remember it—I noticed this just yesterday—

Remembering a dream, by a dream smitten,

I struggle to remember, not as in life, but as if I were trying to remember something I had written.

So dreams have menacing, lucid images,

But the brain which lives with words

Is the brain that dreams,

And reality is nothing but light and dark

Mingling in beauty, and shaped by thoughts of schemes:

“I will make love to Ruth when she is alone in the corn,

And I will awake without dreams or disagreement. And all that seems

Will be nothing. And someone will be born.”

Or whatever grotesque ideas we say to ourselves when we are alone.

All opinions voiced will be contradicted, or marked down as vice.

And if it finds agreement, that’s a waste. To speak or love a beauty twice.

 

 

SHRINKING EXPERIENCE

Shrinking experience is the only pleasure.

Too much for you to understand—and you rebel.

Endless vistas of people wrestling with truth

In complex urgency is the real description of hell.

The Chinese epigram of swift delight

Says drinking alone on a summer night

Surpasses all knowledge, and who cares if the epigram is right?

Later you may come to see,

“Too much drinking isn’t good for me,”

But so what? Let’s say your pleasure doesn’t come from drinking.

It still arrives when your world is shrinking,

When poetry, loyalty, music, a small square

Narrows your vision down to whatever you need to be there:

Velocity, a kiss, a promise, an eye that looks,

A thank you—to preface all endings which introduce all books

You happen to read, while waiting

For your life to start: A long, ambiguous love. A sweet, sharp hating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I, THE POEM

I, the poem, would like to introduce

My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Prose.

Scholars say that poetry is subtle,

And hiding secrets is how poetry knows.

But I would like to defend my parents,

Who keep more secrets than I.

Scholars say poetry is more subtle—but that’s a lie.

My parents understand there are things we should not say

And the poem is trouble, and needs to stay out of the way.

Prose is long. Prose can read novels all day.

Your jokes were mean. Digression is your hell.

Prose is professional in what it doesn’t tell.

Business and politics know this, because they have something to sell.

But the poem will blurt out the truth in front of your very nose.

Condolences and flowers will be sent to Mrs. Prose.

 

THE ONLY CHANCE POETRY HAS

The only chance poetry has,

Thinks this poem, is not that it was

Once more beautiful then,

When evening lights four summers ago surrounded

You and her in doubt—

The stranger’s echoing shout

From the darkness sounded

Like the end of something—

No, that the sound now

Which creeps into your ears

Conveys to you precisely how

Sound is where the best sights occur;

Isn’t this where poetry has been hiding for years?

Sweet speech, giving up its intricacy,

As if that slow piece by Eric Satie,

Blocking out all the hullabaloo,

Loves her best, but tonight comforts you.

 

 

A WOMAN WILL GET HER WAY

A woman will get her way

Because she is a woman, but not today.

The sun shines with neutral energy

On poor, downtrodden me,

Part broken heart, part headache, part poetry.

A colorful jazz boat

Remains bravely afloat,

Built by someone who hates jazz.

An ancient wood working expertise

Makes sure musical sleaze

Is bouncing off the harbor,

Lending bad taste to the traveling water.

With iambic pentameter I celebrate the past

As the mighty sun, falling fast,

Brings the smooth night, where I will make a child at last.

Innocent, this child, but a child afflicted soon

By the feminine unhappiness of the darting moon.

 

I’M IN THE GAME YOU’RE LOSING

Image result for loser and winner in renaissance painting

I’m in the game you’re losing,

And by winning—such are the rules of the game—

I (winning because I’m sensitive) feel the pain of your losing,

And you, loser, are angry and full of blame;

Your anger is why you’re losing; thankfully I’m not the same;

I’m winning because you’re losing—another rule of the game.

We have an alchemy, we affect each other, we are interested

In each other, and will be until we are dead.

Love and wisdom is measured by how materially

You feel and stretch your influence and interact with all.

I do this with my soul and poetry;

I don’t need to pick you up in a car, or call.

There is always your country and your body

And loyalty to these is strong and beautiful,

But the world—your soul—has another place to go;

It might be Athens, the academy, Socrates or Plato,

A place we seek to better ourselves; the United States

Is the present day Athens, the place where the world seeks its soul,

And the world is one—the ether of the world moves as a whole.

Loser, you live in my world, and all the poets reading what we do,

Hear the sighs I make while I’m writing, but I’m not writing anything to you.

I don’t need to do anything to know what you are doing;

As you know, the winning like to know,

But there is a game and everything you are doing

Is in the game everyone is in. So I know.

Isn’t it funny how the tiniest clue

Can tell you everything about a person who is hiding everything from you

Because they know they are losing? And you

Win, because you are doing something so obvious, no one notices what you do?

 

 

WHEN SLEEP GAVE ME SLEEP I SLEPT

Image result for box by the bedside van gogh

When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

I never forgot what I learned.

I recalled the flame, the heat, the smoke,

The ash, and, in the dark, everything that had burned.

All that vanished I kept.

All I lost, I knew;

It was inclusive and deliberate,

From the small additions to the large loss of you.

Love will give you things

And then those things will drift away

But love gave you those things,

So those things do not go away.

When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

And every dream named as lost, I kept.

When sleep gave me sleep, I slept.

I slept better and better, night after night,

Each night, better in my memory, and better, much better, the light.

When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

That little box by my bed? Look and see what I kept.

 

 

BOB MUELLER SAYS I MUST HATE THE RUSSIANS

Image result for vogue covers 1930s and 1940s

Bob Mueller says I must hate the Russians,

So I guess that’s what I’ll do.

Well look at that jaw on Bob Mueller!

He must impress you, too.

A woman on the internet asked me how I could support Putin.

And then she asked me about abortion,

And I thought she was changing the subject,

But one cannot change the subject these days; everyone is suspect.

She used the term “reproductive rights” with the authority

Which comes from using such words. She admired my poetry

But she was deeply disappointed in me, I could tell.

Didn’t I support abortion? Oh that. I said I did. What the hell.

Look. On this summer day Hitler will attack Russia.

It’s there on his To Do List. “Kill millions.”

Rise from bed. Shower. Breakfast. Kill millions. It’s what we all must do.

Pick out your favorite hand bag. Your best evidence. You come, too.

 

 

 

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?

Do you really want to hurt me?

Of course you do.

Love needs to be mean.

What else is new?

Love needs to drift into other feelings,

The kindly pastor have other dealings

Than with the passionate son.

When the musician pauses, and the music

Has to steal away,

Into a theme of slower tempo which the wood winds play,

You will know why—when the music’s slow movement is done—

The opening having been the best harmony you’ve heard today,

Making statement after statement in the key of E,

A key which now has you thinking differently,

The forest, though old and green, will never quite be the same.

She would bring you here and call you by your name.

This is better than people: a solitary seat in mid-spring with the hazy sun

Spread out above you, and here she is, she is the only one,

Who lives for you somewhat tenderly and indifferently.

Legs pressed together, she whispers, “Do you really want to hurt me?”

Before she gets up to go.

It is never necessary to be on time, you know.

 

 

 

 

BEAUTIFUL FAKE NEWS

Beautiful fake news. Poetry.

Senstive and fake. You and me.

“Since he left me, he’s not worthy,”

Says the rose of best selling poetry.

Beautiful, 60s angel! Joni Mitchell!

Senstive, lovely, and totally fake:

“They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum,

And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.”

You are beautiful, you sweet and lovely mistake.

Don’t tell me I don’t love trees. I love trees.

Don’t you see? It’s fake news. Fake news is the real disease.

THE BRINK OF DESIRE

 

Image result for dionysias in renaissance painting

Take me to the very brink of desire

Where the fire is hot, but I am not killed by the fire,

And the beauty of limb and breast and face

Makes me lose myself, but not in disgrace.

Let me stay intact, even as the parts

Of me scatter, as if there were a thousand hearts

Necessary to love her.  Did you know in these times

Professors recommend against poetry that rhymes?

Don’t worry, I don’t believe the experts,

Or what they say about hearts.

Give me two contrary moods together,

Dionysian madness and Apollonian cool;

The only way passion can last forever

Is to mix the judgement of the priest with the love of the lowest fool.

Kiss me in the two extremes.

Meet me in white light; embrace me in dark dreams.

 

 

 

 

NOW I UNDERSTAND

Image result for trees of endless bird song in painting

Now I understand

The endless grains of sand;

I understand why

There is endless sky.

I know why when I walk along,

There is endless bird song,

Why a lake is not the last lake,

And why forever and infinity are not fake.

It is so you can be;

Of all, you a possibility;

And away from all that hurts and kills,

We can walk the endless hills.

 

 

OH I FOUND THAT LOVE

Image result for rosalinda in renaissance painting

I need to explain my obsessive love. Nature makes women passive,

Yet in control, slowing the aggressive rush of the foolish male.

I’m not aggressive. Okay, no big deal; let the women be aggressive.

Nature lays down the template, but not all obey.

Nature, wise, knows to leave open more than one way.

There are males so passive, they have children

With women they do not love or pursue.  But “have children”

Is what nature wants—aggressive women are fine, then.

But many males are aggressive, to a stupid, reckless degree.

The average woman is strongly passive, and takes no interest in me.

Women prefer the meaty guy, solid and unwavering,

Nature’s model most conductive to solid, common sense breeding.

Me?  I’m as skinny as a girl, and can’t make up my mind.

Nature has varieties, but also creates kind for kind.

A certain kind of moody, aggressive woman pursuing me

Had been the sum total of my romance and sexuality.

Enter Rosalinda. She is my obsession. Can you love one forever?

How did she defy the infinite combinations?

How did she make it so that beside the millions I love only her?

Rosalinda! A story for all people, and all nations!

Desires and children pour forth, but there is only one love like this!

Rosalinda! Rosalinda! To say her name. Only her arms. Only her kiss.

Only her! Only poetry and philosophy for her. Rosalinda.

All my troubles come from this: aggressive women leave me cold.

The aggressive woman who nature decided is right for me

I accepted. As nature’s male, I accepted nature’s women—

But I never loved aggressive women. I was passive,

And I was unhappy in my passivity. Rosalinda made me bold.

Rosalinda, modeled in nature’s perfection, was strongly passive,

And drew out of me, by slow degrees, my male aggression,

Which I had never known. And like all obsession, Rosalinda,

In the way her passivity madly enticed me, was what fate had to be.

She knew I was passive, and Rosalinda was incomplete, like me.

Rosalinda had the gift of passive female genius, proper to entice

Any aggressive male—she was beautiful, passive, and not too nice.

Her passivity was perfectly designed to feed my fire, and my desire

Was fed by her—who showed me her charms, oh charming fires of ice.

I was made aggressive by her, who was passive, and she knew

In her discerning passivity, aggressive wasn’t something I could do.

And though nature made her passive, as the most desirable women are,

Like me, Rosalinda was different. Rosalinda loved under a different star.

Beneath her natural passivity, Rosalinda was aggressive, and so she

Was not fully happy. She caused me to love, but couldn’t quite love me.

Unkind fate. Rosalinda was not equipped to complete nature’s plan.

She did not want children. Rosalinda had the gift to attract a passive man,

And turn him aggressive—which nature wants males to be.

But Rosalinda’s refusal used love to punish the passive side of me,

And her perfect female passivity, even today, deeply unsettles me.

I, the passive one, loved her aggressively. She, the aggressive one,

Loved me passively. Oh Rosalinda. Look what we have done.

Rosalinda has wasted her genius, alone, barren, and sad.

I grieve for Rosalinda! Though with poetry, desire, children, I should be glad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY ARE THERE THESE OBVIOUS TRUTHS

Image result for the doubting poet in painting

Why are there these obvious truths we somehow never see?

Why don’t you see the obvious, which is terribly obvious to me?

Why do you court ignorance, and not study the history?

Why dance a certain dance and not ask, what is dance?

Why do you think you know, and never give yourself a second chance

To better know, to winnow, to sort, to observe, to enhance?

Why do you practice such certainty?

Why do you fear doubt, which is your greatest friend?

Why are you certain there is no God and everything will end?

Why do you receive and receive, but never think to send?

When I was bullied in school, I didn’t say a word,

Because I believed that bullying was absolutely absurd,

Like fighting yourself—so I crept away and wrote a word,

And studied it, and wrote a poem I called, “Absurd.”

And showed it to my father, who couldn’t figure it out.

I said it was a poem, but he frowned in complete doubt.

He asked me about the bully. The real bully. The real lout.

He told me, “If a bully picks on you, put him in his place.”

He said, “Protect yourself. Punch him. Wipe certainty off his face.

Poems…? Listen, they won’t change the human race.”

And that began my poetic career;

I questioned poetry. As I am questioning here.

Distance, indifference. Middle distance, beauty. Up close, fear.

Haven’t you noticed beauty in a person disappears up close?

A face is beautiful, until you just look at the nose.

I need perspective, discernment, measurement, dose.

Why would you fail to experiment? Why would you fail to question all?

Not study love like a scientist before you wound and fall?

And finally, why would you play a tall person, if you aren’t tall?

It all doesn’t come from you. Life exists in a certain way.

Limits exist. Know when to rebel, and when to obey.

If the sea and the wind and the sun say so, stay.

Why are there these obvious truths we always somehow ignore?

Because they are hidden by your thoughts? Because they don’t reassure?

Don’t look for reassurance. Look for the one

Thing so obvious you don’t see it. You’re not done.

 

NO NO. I REALLY AM A WOMAN.

Image result for man writing in modern painting

I hate to be the one to say this,

Since I am a woman in the body of a man,

And if the poem says this because it can,

Please don’t be offended or sad,

Even with your smothering mother, your absent dad;

I think you can sympathize and understand.

This poem just came to me; it wasn’t planned.

If you listen to this poem’s opinion on sex,

Try not to think about your mother, father, or your ex,

And your husband, is that him in the next room?

Dead to the marriage, writing a poem in a cloud of gloom?

Try not to think about anyone, and let me state

It wasn’t your fault, it was merely fate

That you fell in love with a woman hiding

In a slender, tall, regular-looking guy you had fun deriding

As Woody Allen, intellectual, yes that’s me—

With anxious parents, finding an outlet in theater and poetry.

I never had surgery to get woman and man

To belong to my soul; all I use is metaphor and a certain inner feel,

And with my slender hand, occasionally turn the wheel.

It’s ironic that only the pretty feminine face—

Oh fast moving, pitiful, dying human race!

Looks good in the haircut of a man.

Don’t try to be beautiful; beautiful can only do what it can.

The woman wants only two things from a man,

Kids and a good salary—she’s miserable without these

And also miserable if she doesn’t know she wants these.

And the man is miserable for the same reason, unless he writes

As the most unhappy being

You had the good fortune of reading—or seeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY IT’S ALL FUCKED UP

The human is a ridiculous species,

Pushing out babies as it pushes out feces.

The definition of the soul?

Simply that which understands the whole,

And with this understanding forgives the whole sorry mess

Of being human in the ignorant brevity of its acute distress.

Men are hard-wired to conquer, build, kill,

And love pathetically in accordance with fantasy and will.

Women are expert at fooling themselves and others,

Which they must do, to love, to become mothers,

Hand in hand with the creepy, unworthy example

Of calculating, indoor males, wholly selfish and not beautiful,

Or the rugged male outdoor type, running off to climb a hill

Or kick a ball; propagation never meant to fulfill

Anyone, but necessarily pushing onto a future state

Otherwise empty, beating into submission children, hate,

And all the impulses which desire blindly seeks,

So in a whole lifetime, the sum of happiness is a couple of weeks,

When in delight and trust we find bliss here and there

By accident, joy in the face of necessity, so rare,

The whole enterprise such a doubtful, aging mess,

That the hungry world, pressing down, forces out a yes,

As we curl into wakeful sleep with a little music, fast, or slow,

A worrisome vacation beginning, and that yes meant no.

 

IT WAS YOUR FATE NOT TO KNOW

It was your fate not to know
She was at the airport.  You had to go
Right away. And you didn’t.  She almost didn’t wait,
But you’ll never know she was there, and not to know this fact is your fate;
The others think it’s a tragedy you dreamed,
And did not know. But only ignorance will be redeemed.

It was your fate not to know
She fought for you. To you, it looked like nothing but a distant glow.
But the enemy and the flames almost broke through the gate,
Which she defended for you with the energy of hate.
She almost died for you while you dreamed;
But let that go. Your ignorance will be redeemed.

It was your fate not to know
She had been waiting for you, not him.
By chance, you secretly observed her lingering below.
You made the wrong assumption and assumptions grew
Into truth—but truth only for you.
Insults sprang from that mistake. You became a mistake that dreamed.
She’s justified in hating you now. But only ignorance will be redeemed.

INDIAN POETRY—JULY

Image result for india july

Welcome to another installment of Indian Poetry, where Scarriet briefly engages each month with 7 contemporary poets from India who write in English. For the English-speaking reader, World Letters, for a few minutes, is spread out here before you, accessible in all its beauty and complexity. Scarriet does not cheer or flatter—the opinions are sincere.

Tabish Khair writes essays and novels, and his poems (published by a major publisher) read like good prose—which could be good or bad, depending on what you want from your poetry. Poetry is the fine dining of food. We want our poetry to be cooked with the best ingredients—that is, we want our poets to be slightly smarter than our prose writers, be slightly more educated, have a few more ideas—as they whip up the magic preparation of what we call poetry.

There are thousands of poets whose poems rise to a certain prose competence, and there is always a feeling when reading their poetry, even with some admiration: I wish this were less like prose and more like poetry.

Tabish Khair is, unfortunately, one of these extremely competent poets. Take the first stanza of “Nurse’s Tales, Retold:”

Because the east wind bears the semen smell of rain,
A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women
Over a long journey of sea, plain and mountains,
The peacock spreads the Japanese fan of its tail and dances,
And dances until it catches sight of its scaled and ugly feet.

The first line has two wonderful things going for it: a lovely iambic rhythm and an arresting phrase, “semen smell of rain.”

But the second line is pure prose:  It explains. It uses too many words. And, the music is dull. And the effect is…well, we’re now reading prose…”A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women.”

The difference is startling.  Put “the semen smell of rain” next to “shawls worn by young women.” There’s no musical correspondence whatsoever. The poem turned into a novel after one line.

Khair’s lyric subjects, and his acute sensitivity to those subjects, are exquisite.

Of course it is asking a lot for a poet to be lyrically exquisite in every line.

*

Akhil Katyal understands what poetry is—journalism which tells important news by recounting small things. Most importantly, he is witty; he also feels deeply; and he does his research—one could easily see him writing investigative prose pieces for Vanity Fair, the New York Times, or the New Yorker. (Katyal is a college poetry teacher)

Is poetry journalism?

Today, the best of it is—educated readers these days read journalism and novels; they don’t read much poetry, and so a poet strikes a compromise: let my poem be a journalistic essay—detailed, factual, up-to-date, like any decent piece of journalism, one-sided? Sure. Maybe political, maybe not.

But finally, and this is what a good poet like Katyal does—add a touch of sentimentality, just a touch, and widen the time/space window, so the whole, at last, seems more poetry than journalism.

Here’s an excellent example (notice the journalism: “ozone,” etc) from Alhil Katyal, (and a fine poem):

For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now

How are you?
I’m sure a lot has changed

between my time and yours,
but we’re not very different,

you have only thing on me—
hindsight.

I have all these questions for you:
Do cars fly now?

Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?
How do you folks manage without ozone?

Have the aliens come yet?
Who is still remembered from my century?

How long did India and Pakistan last?
When did Kashmir become free?

It must be surprising for you
looking at our time,

our lives must seem so strange to you,
our wars so little

our toilets for “men” and “women”
must make you laugh

our cutting down of trees
would be listed in your “Early Causes”

our poetry in which the moon is still
a thing far away

must make you wonder, both for that moon
and for poetry.

You must be baffled,
that we couldn’t even imagine

the things you now take for granted.
But let that be,

would you do me a favor,
for “old time’s sake”?

Would you go to Humayun’s Tomb
In what used to be Delhi

and just as you’re climbing the front stairs,
near the fourth step, I have cut into

the stone wall to your left-
“Akhil loves Rohit”

Will you go and look for it?
Make sure it’s still there?

**

Anand Thakore, with a musical, and ‘some schooling in England,’ background, was a real delight for this critic to discover.

Is Thakore known in America? A poem like “Elephant Bathing” almost needs no comment—it is that good.

Note how much is going on in the poem, driven by a Wordworthian mental energy, and expressed with such ease and clarity:

He will never go there again,
Hip-flask in pocket, camera at hand,
Far from the crowded confines
Of the human animal he could not trust,
To the lush cricket-choired thickets
He so jealously loved;
Dense, creeper-canopied spaces
Where he would listen eagerly
For the sudden slither of a python’s tail,
Or the persistent mating calls of leopard and crane,
Studying the stealthy ways of predator and prey,
Till panther, bison, hyena and stag
Seemed part of a single guileless continuum
He had only begun to see his part in.
Now home and city hunt him down,
Building about him their busy labyrinth
Of doctors, nurses, brothers, and sons;
Though tiger and spotted deer remain,
Frozen above his bed in black and white.
An egret pecks noiselessly at a crocodile’s jaws,
As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,
Leap into a flight forever deferred.
Where you are going, they seem to say,
You will have no need for us or all you remember.
And yet the thought of getting there is not unlike
A great lone tusker taking the plunge,
His vast grey bulk sinking below the riverline
Against a clear black sky,
Till there is no more of him to see
Than a single tusk,
White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,
Before the coming of a cloud.

There is more poetry in Anand Thakore’s hyphens than in most poets’ metaphors.

The lovely syntax, which ends in lines like, “He had only begun to see his part in,” is magnificent. The worst praise given to Thakore would be to praise his grammar—as powerful, smooth and sure as the instinct of an animal—because grammar makes most poets, as poets, uncomfortable—which is a terrible shame.

Anand Thakore, on every poetic level, is a master.

***
Jeet Thayil is the classic ventriloquist-as-poet—there exists a happy estrangement between the poet and himself: he, who is never amused, and lives in a kind of continual panic—talks directly to himself, for his own amusement.

There are those who “try and write a poem for others to read,” and then there are those who write for themselves alone, and, after it’s finished, say, “Oh! that will do for a poem.”  Thayil is very much in the latter camp, and really, it’s the better camp to be in.

This state of splitting oneself up—“I’m going to start talking to myself now—not going to write a poem!—just talking!…” is the ventriloquism of the poet talking through (during?) the poem—we doubt the ghostly voice coming through the poem and we doubt the ghostly poem itself, but somewhere in the back of our brains the two meet up, and all is good.

Ultimately, any trick—the one practiced by Thayil, or any other—to “make what you’re writing seem like poetry” is going to have the same effect as the leaf which ‘gives off green,’ which looks green, but has no green in it—the poetry is a sign there is no poetry at all in the person who is crying to us “as a poet.”  The poet is hollow, empty—a ghost.  And this awareness that one is hollow is the one thing which makes the poet feel aesthetic, or, if aesthetics is not a hang-up, reassured.  And, of course, the projected voice, which wants no part of the poet, is a ghost, too.

As we would expect, a desperation of ghosts exist everywhere in Thayil’s poetry.

Life Sentence

Let’s say you’re not opposed to the ghost
in principle, you understand her neediness,
and let’s say she’s distracted, or busy,
she’s busy looking for a way back in,
but the shore appears distant,
not to mention, impossible to attain,
a far-off place where her former friends
no longer speak her name, which is lost,
and no word she hears is audible
through the static and the clatter;
so let’s say you forget to speak her name,
you do not repeat her lovely name,
because your talk is of meat and money,
and let’s say you’re not crazy or bitter,
it’s just that you don’t want to hear her say,
Why, why did you not look after me?

****

Saima Afreen writes apocalyptic poetry—the kind where the end of the world is in every line; blood, stars, milk, grandparents, fire—a blinding, cosmic rhetoric makes the reality described in the poems resemble a few seconds after a nuclear blast; the shower of debris is the poetry—blown to bits by poetry, covering us in ash; the quotidian is gone; and this is both the weakness and the strength of such poetry.  We have the ability to absorb such verse, but the verse seems almost eager, at times, to destroy that ability.

Squeezed sunset
Adds its fire to blood;
the skin holds kilns
of centuries, flickering, melting
lifting rusted letter-boxes
by their roots, the frost within
the struggle of light.

Is how her poem, “Valediction” begins.

Saima Afreen writes fiercely, her poetry lifting us up in its arms, to put us down, who knows where.

*****

Anupama Raju is mystical, playful, strange, and, when not too abstract, or self-resigned, a very strong poet.

Everyday Sounds

The neighbour slams the door,
swearing at an unwelcome milkman,
expects his next guest to arrive –
the other he would like to murder.

The lady upstairs grates a coconut,
drags a chair across the room,
hopes it will drown the argument
with the other whom she cannot hate.

The child downstairs wails,
holds a gun to her parent’s head,
screaming for the brother’s toy –
the other she wouldn’t grow up with.

You chew weak tea without slurping,
read the papers, talk of the world’s woes
in your succulent prose while I respond in insipid poetry –
the other language you don’t acknowledge.

I continue to speak.

The apartment house chaos is described well—especially in the second stanza, with the half-rhymed stanza of “coconut, room, argument, hate.”

Is it wrong to wish the poet had fought a little harder in the final stanza?

“I respond in insipid poetry—the other language you don’t acknowledge. I continue to speak” is perhaps meant to be other than what it seems, but to me, it seems like surrender. It’s impossible to pronounce “in insipid” without sounding insipid.  The sounds of the apartment house are more interesting, and perhaps this is the point. Is “I continue to speak” meant to be heroic, helpless, or both?  Raju is teasingly mystical, and if you don’t ask too many questions, I think you’ll quite enjoy her poetry.

******

Sujatha Mathai has published five books of poems; she uses poetry to—inspire.

Almost 500 years ago, in his Sonnets, Shakespeare asked, what is poetry’s “use?”  It turned out, for Shakespeare, it was simple: to inspire romance, marriage, and reproduction.

One goes back further in history and finds “The Art of Love” by Ovid, which gave advice to lovers.

Contemporary views on love have taken a darker turn, as more and more voices are heard, many struggling with grim survival, and the urgency of love and breeding has been replaced by U.N.-type concerns of individual rights and sustainability.

In the following poem by Mathai, the pragmatic grandmother has the most interesting line—it’s the latter part of the poem (which we sympathize with, of course) which unfortunately becomes a bit abstract.

Light

“He who seeks light must learn to walk in the dark” —St. John of the Cross

When I was seventeen
And dreaming of distant lands
And faraway loves,
My grandmother said
‘Get her married
before the light
goes out of her face.’
The light in a woman’s face
Should not be so brief.
It’s meant to last a long time,
Nourished by the soul.
Well, they got me married,
and
put out that light.
But I learned to live in candle-light
When the other lights went out.
One learns by subtle contact to reach
Electricity at most mysterious levels.
Light goes from the face, but
Survival lends one light
that shines most brightly.
She who seeks light,
Must learn to walk in the darkness
On her own road.

*******

This ends our July report. Thanks, as always, to Linda Ashok, the inspiration for this international sharing.

 

ALL THINGS MAKE US LOVE

Image result for milky way

The shape of a hand, the hip

Which swings beneath a dress,

The smoothness of a brow, an upper lip,

A plea marked by intelligence and distress,

An eye which sparkles in our direction,

A nonchalance, a hidden desire,

A face, which after friendly inspection,

Intimates a wild and daring fire

Might give us comfort beneath cool trees,

Or warm us listening to music together in bed,

Or make deciding which positions give us ease

A thing to love, or a rapturous kiss, instead,

A laugh which we find easy to return,

A hope, heaven imagined mutually,

A decision to stay, to agree, to turn

Another way and still love that other way greedily.

The sweet revenge of a deep wrong,

Justice in tears, in a heart, in a song.

Things which make us love go on forever,

The origin of country, the history

Of race, the flooding of a particular river,

The ancient slavery that today breaks free,

The respect of children and family,

Attachment to nature, fate, brave modesty;

All things make us love.

The turning of the moon below us, the silent stars silent above.

YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE WAS HATING THE NORMAL

Your biggest mistake was hating the normal.

Well, you didn’t know what the normal was.

And so your rebellion was unwise.

You confused eccentric costume for the normal and its disguise.

Since the language of music is universal,

The more popular the music, the more normal,

Since humanity, in total, is by definition, normal;

There is no other way to love than to be normal.

To hate the normal is a fruitless obscurity—

A desolate, inarticulate, poverty,

Hating beauty, happiness, profit—in idiocy and envy.

There is no way to be successful, in social relations, science, or rhyme,

Than to please the normal, in the most normal way possible, all the time.

If you think the normal lacks idiosyncrasy and passion, you are wrong.

You are tedious and crazy. Everyone loves my song.

 

 

THE BEATLES

Image result for george martin in studio with beatles

After failing auditions, George Martin

Decided to take them on

Simply because they were funny.

Really? How does that translate into love songs making money?

Are comedians good musicians?

Perhaps. But these lads had failed auditions.

It turned out Martin was right. He knew

That humor is generally bold and smart,

Can tell a story, and humor hides a broken heart.

Humor also covers the hostility of rivalry

And transforms it into love. He could see

The fierce kidding of rivals, John and Paul,

Might be the impetus to conquer all.

Humor likes surprise, finds a way, is pliable.

Martin, knowing his own musicianship reliable,

Felt, with empathy, he might engineer

Success, with patience and a ruthless ear.

Finally, and this is perhaps the best

Advantage of humor: the studio is a test

Of patience as one produces a song,

Singing, playing, writing, recording can all go wrong.

Humor keeps one going between takes,

Between all the faking pop music makes.

“Do you want to hold a penis?” as they wait.

Time and work is important to make a band great,

“Do You Want To Know A Secret?” is heard

And loved. Not the 32nd take, but the 33rd,

And the engineer erased what didn’t sound right.

For George Martin it was a hard day’s night.

In the beginning, doubt. Love Me Do

Was Paul’s. Not bad. But they all knew

They had to do better. Nothing is easy.

John stepped up with Please Please Me

Because he knew he could do better than Paul.

“Last night I said these words to my girl,”

Had dramatic immediacy; John had won.

This song would be their first number one.

But George Martin—who made the prophecy

That it would be number one—with empathy,

Did not reject it, but increased the tempo,

And it all went well. Until humorless Yoko.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RED MOON

She will hate you until she is dead,

And the burning moon will always be red

Unless it fly up in the blue,

Pale, white and oblivious to you.

Why is it red? It shines through the atmosphere.

Hate and misunderstanding are here.

The moon like a terrible omen,

Helpless and red, like a dying Roman,

Symbolizes the silent hate,

Of her, your enemy, who lies in wait.

The worst enemy is one you loved,

The worst enemy is one who loved you.

The worst enemy is one you kissed,

And you held in the act of love.

Love turned to hate is a terrible crime,

Oh God! To be resolved only in helpless rhyme!

Your love who graced the night

Now loves someone else, in spite.

Your love who graced the day

Is now an enemy, who will never go away.

The moon, the end of a cigarette,

A symbol of passivity. You must passively regret.

Nothing hates like love—see now how it hates.

Sad, the parting. But now the hateful enemy waits.

The moon burns like a cigarette end,

The red ash of a heart—who once loved you, and vowed she would always be your friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU ENJOY SMOKING BY STOPPING

Image result for sun through fog on the river

You enjoy smoking by stopping,

So when you come back to it the nicotine kick is new.

You tried to explain this to me

In terms of love, when we were lovers, but I just felt insulted by you.

Now I know you were right.

Of course you were. You were my delight,

Even when you were cruel and stayed away,

And I wondered, non-stop, why you had stopped, the whole day.

I thought. You didn’t. You were always right.

The ridiculous truisms in a love song

Applied to you. How were you never wrong?

Here I am the poet, pining, trying out the love song.

A good poet is always stopping:

A thousand edits in every line.

Look at how many seeds are dropping,

To fall, to die, to grow, to lose their way in the confusing wine.

It’s good to stop many times. The painter’s great

Who touches and re-touches. da Vinci and canvas equals a long wait.

Of course I haven’t stopped since we stopped,

Even though it was well understood

That we stopped for good.

Careful discussions and plans were dropped.

Stop. Start over. Stop. Revise.

Think. Don’t think.

Life does not cease. Even when you close your eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EVERYTHING IS OUR PRISON

 

Image result for sun's corona

Everything is our prison.
When in your doom, you fall,
Ha, think how it was Newton who knew it all,
Who discovered the universal law,
Not one thing—everything kills you in purple, white, tooth, and claw.
There is no individual thing.
The talented know an old giant book when they sing.
Not one girl, but all love, all things pertaining to love
Trap you and make you cry to God above,
“Help me! She broke my heart!”
Well that’s because she knows the art
Because the art is practiced everywhere:
The secret of it is wrapped up in every girl’s hair.
Everything—not her—makes you despair.
Everything, not your mother,
Nursed you. Everything. No other.

 

 

TODAY, ON THIS BORING DAY

Image result for little mall with restaurants

Today, on this boring day,
More information is flooding your brain
Than your life can possibly contain.
A song you’ve never heard, which could have been yours,
Comes from some restaurant,
Fleeting images suggest and hide all you wanted and want,
The afternoon light reflecting off the floors,
The strangers, bored, hanging around,
All that in your eye and out of the corner of your eye, is found,
As you get your coffee, bored out of your mind.
You live in your narrow memory. Wider, and you would be blind,
More, and you would stand still
And listen, much longer than you could, or will.

 

SHE CALLED ME “GRAVES”

 

Image result for dream shadows in black and white photo

She called me “Graves” in a dream last night.

I forgot she used to call me that.

She was sometimes romantic when I served her food.

I was always romantic; she was rarely in that mood.

She had a smile that was angry underneath.

She had beautiful eyes and beautiful teeth.

When rivalry in animals is seen, we are not surprised;

When we see it in our lover it bewilders us, disguised.

She once sent me a text out of the blue,

Which said only, “I love you.”

She knew how to hint, tease, to evince

Despair. I saw that and I’ve never been as happy—before, or since.

 

 

THE ONE I LOVE ISN’T LOVED

Image result for moon and tumbling clouds

The one I love isn’t loved. She

Doesn’t even read my poetry.

Strangers read my lines,

Knowing the what, but not for whom, it pines.

She is behind a wall

And doesn’t care for me at all.

If this is the definition of hell,

Perhaps I know suffering well.

Full of self-doubt, she doesn’t find

My love for her in her mind.

Human beings want to make things right

Every day and every night.

The mother bird wakes, sings her song

In the night, with no idea she is wrong.

The couples enter the restaurant

Oblivious to my want.

The one I love isn’t held. Or adored.

She doesn’t hear my voice, or the chord,

Or the pitying sadness I sing,

Longing and sadness invading everything.

She and I see the same moon, the same sky,

The same tumbling clouds sweeping by,

Hear the same news of the same tragedies,

Know the same temperate day which dies,

Feel the same night which is too cold,

Note the same trends, new or old.

We lie awake, pondering the same fate,

The same advancing death. We both wait.

We both walk and talk and laugh

Almost on the same path.

She is behind a wall

And doesn’t care for me at all.

I love one who isn’t loved. She

Is my Shakespearean tragedy.

Every one needs one of these

To really love. So please,

I don’t need your feeling, or care.

Pity her. Oh God! She’s right there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE STRANGER GLIMPSED

Image result for man smoking cigarette alone at night film noir

Drunk on a cigarette and the night

I had a thought like a white light:

Love is wild poetic thoughts in the mind.

Love is neither physical, nor conversation, nor being kind.

Love is wild poetic thoughts in the mind.

Poetry is love and love is poetry.

Love travels by the mind and enters me.

Longing for her is not enough,

The dream of her dream loving, is love.

When you see the poet lingering and alone,

Smoking a cigarette, and still as a stone,

You have seen love. Do not fear

That stranger. Love? It’s here,

In wild poetic thoughts of the mind.

Love is neither physical, nor conversation, nor being kind.

Love is a god. And when the light goes on

The mind understands she was wild and she is gone.

 

 

 

HOW I FUCKED UP EVERYTHING

Image result for books in renaissance painting

By lingering on her eyes for a moment too long,

There followed a relationship that was completely wrong.

I read that eye contact is better than personality or looks.

Thank you. Stupid books

Reading led me to believe I understood a lot.

Wrong. A theme is merely by its own themes caught.

After book learning, I was set free

In a life without books. Tragedy.

I ventured into her eyes with advice that was good.

A lettered atheist walking into God.

 

 

 

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