DAIPAYAN NAIR

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What has happened to contemporary literature?

When did it become so overly serious, so full of itself?

What is literature supposed to do?

Literature is supposed to show us life, if not here, than over there, as it is.

OK, fine. Kill me and torture me, but with an enjoyable read.

Our modern era revels in the Weltschmertz novel—fiction written from an autobiographical ditch of despair, allowing readers to thrill at an existence more heart-breaking and miserable than their own.

Schadenfreude sells.

Literature, whether it is American literature or literature from somewhere else, has one use:

Drop the reader into a silo of pain—a place (real, fantastic) or a time (if it’s historical fiction) so terrifying, we are overjoyed, when we finish the book, to return to our boring, mundane existence.

The only difference between the more modest torture devices of contemporary literature and the gigantic, cumbersome classics such as Moby Dick or Ulysses, is that we don’t finish these epics—but we say we did.

The famous authors we read—Faulkner, Orwell, Huxley, O’Connor, Golding, Greene, Fitzgerald, McCarthy, Burgess, Bradbury, Miller, Waugh, Hemingway, Bowles, Rhys, Styron, London, Conrad, Kesey, Pynchon, Bellow—if we finish their books—blind, maim, confuse, madden, burn, demoralize, crush, enslave, confound, and kill us.

Henry James? He just bores us.

Why do we let them do this?

Do mystery or fantasy genres make us any happier?

No. They torture and murder us, too.

It’s all quite grim.

Modern literature. A maw. Of insanity and torture.

Look at any list of the “The 100 Best Novels.”

Check the list. Where are the great comic novels?

Where is the literature which lifts us above this dreary life?

Where is the genius of insight and humor?

Garrison Keillor recently got into some hot water, because Keillor wrote in the Washington Post that humorless, bleak, Kazuo Ishiguro should not have received the Nobel Prize for Literature—it’s because we let the grim Swedes pick the prize, Keillor half-jokingly opined.

Keillor must be shocked at how much genuine hate and scorn he received for his recent essay—for simply voicing his opinion, in a witty manner.

This is what we’ve come to.

Where have you gone, Oscar Wilde?

Or, Dorothy Parker?

Does every book, esteemed, or popular, need to feature hacked limbs?  Or clouds of confusion and depression?

Does every book need to be about how we’re trapped, and there’s no way out?

It only gets worse when we turn to modern poetry.

Expecting a rhyme to make us happy?  Guess, again.

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

This is from America’s currently most critically esteemed, contemporary poet.

And the prison walls of the harried soul close in.

So we go back to novels.  At least there, we have an arc, a story, and not just snippets of doom—as we are brutally killed and demoralized.

What a joy, then, to read the shrewd, brilliant, philosophical, poems of Daipayan Nair.

Nair says his “real muse” is “my own ‘distorted’ mind,” and though he belongs to the Neruda/Whitman school of poetry, this, we think, is the proper way to approach writing: don’t be afraid of your own distorted mind.

His childhood in northeast India had “fairy tale lullabies,” but “school and growing up” put him “survivor” mode, and then, finished with school, according to Nair:

The birth of poetry in me was more like a ‘rebellion,’ though I started with penning lyrical, romantic verses. One can say

Falling in love is
Like following a trend

Understanding love
Is kissing a rebellion

The excellence of the epigram is nowhere better exhibited today than in the writings of Daipayan Nair:

She doesn’t
Speak much

It gives me
One pair of lips
Two eyes
And an entire face
To talk to

~

How I will die
depends on the life
After my death

~

Time is a spoiled child.

~

The maker of a house carries its hardness.

~

Poetry is a poet trying to fathom his poet.

~

Let’s be silent
With each other tonight,
As our words
Have found better routes.
They take to the air,
Fly at luxurious speeds,
Landing exactly where they
Want to.

When I hear a voice
I only walk towards
The terminal.

~

Beauty, as helpless
As its beautiful posture
Reflected on a ten story window,
The walls of which
Are on fire.

~

Let’s die together.
What use is your cover
When it has
Nothing to cover

Everything
Sucked in my grave.

~

The future of a soul
As formless
As its disintegrating
Present.

~

It is not that Daipayan Nair’s writing refuses to deal with death and mayhem.

It does.

We are not here to praise the sunny colors of poetry which can be described as overly optimistic.

Some accuse Billy Collins of this, but there is an edge, an irony, beneath the surface, in Billy Collins—but this is a debate for another place and time.

The point is this.

Daipayan Nair does not belong to the sunny optimism school.

You have darkness.

And either the author is part of that darkness.

Or carries a light.

Some readers want mayhem, (or political indignation only) and need to see characters crushed by real cement and bricks. Killed by real despair.

With Daipayan Nair, the wit is what buries us.

It is the philosophy, not the sad life, which makes the writing important.

And which deserves a closer look.

Let us see again, that list of great writers.

Daipayan Nair deserves to be on it.

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I WISH I WERE SAD

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I wish I were sad, sadder than I’ve ever been before,

So my heart—which is sad—could respond to these waves dying on the shore—

With a slow, somnolent, monotonous sound—

Befitting a slow symphony beginning,

O fated feeling! Sorrow wins! Sorrow will always be winning!

In half-sorrow, I stand, and watch the waves, without turning around,

Listening to their mournful, burrowing sound,

The water, dark, but the waves, hectic, and white,

As they hit the sand, the air, gray, with the coming night,

Unable to move in my sorrow, I’m aware

How I’ve always wanted to be sad, so I might dare

To be crazy and still for hours, to observe

The unfolding light in every cloud’s curve,

Nothing unfathomable, but all known

Eventually, as I look at sea and sky, alone.

But impatiently, I always feel the urge to move,

Moving on to the next thing, the only thing we love.

But besides the poet, who wants to be sad? No one.

Humiliating darkness covers the moon. I should befriend the sun.

Science has always saved me

From cold self-pity by the sea.

I once thought the moon’s phases were from the earth’s shadow.

But we see the phases, not because earth’s shadow throws

Darkness on the moon.

The moon is seen by where the moon goes

In relation to the sun, and where the observing earth is.

Night on the moon is like earth’s, not from a planet’s shadow.

My lover’s moods, or how, or if, she loves, is not a shadow of me.

Earth and moon must be dark or light, and the position of all three—

Dark moon, dark earth, and sun—determines what we see.

Love is not her or me,

It is not the earth shadowing the moon.

Love is the sun, the only light, and only love can tell if love arrives soon.

I can be sad—you made me sad—I can write poems, and crazily stare at the sea,

But also let reason—optimistically guessing the unknown—be the light for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POEM WITH AN IMAGE BY SHELLEY

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What is life? Making toilets clean. This is what we do,

And the veneer of vanity becomes thicker

As we move up the totem, standing on this task.

Cleaning solves the old, and discovers the new.

Vain poet, the beauty you praise is not even a flicker;

There’s nothing moral or formal to know—do not ask

Useless questions. A testament,

A love, a landscape painting, a music, a law,

Exist impermanently, a paean to clean,

And if each offends, because secretly we know nothing’s permanent,

We say it’s personal taste, or poor method, but every flaw

Is ours. Vanity makes us blind and mean

To life’s true nature; the swift janitor

Is judge, poet, builder. Clean is all we are.

Smooth, uncluttered, this face in stone.

His majesty’s monument in the wilderness all alone.

 

 

 

 

 

BEAUTY TRAVELS AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT

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A festival’s autumn, slanting sun

Found beauty, and there was more than one

Among the young women, walking,

In comfortable clothes, makeup, not much talking.

When light shines in a beautiful woman’s eye

One sees the deepest part of woman’s beauty

And what we have always guessed appears to be right:

Beauty travels at the speed of light.

Beauty and desire have speed,

But love has a greater need:

No matter how swift the beams,

Love needs to be wise, and slow, and draped in dreams.

 

 

WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES—A POEM BY SAIRA SHAH HALIM

Saira Shah Halim is an educator, communications consultant, activist, and poet.

WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES

And they live in us like little monsters, trying to break free, the sum total of our losses.
No, you never really move on!
Times of gullibility, when you were duped.
The friends who let you down.
Times of incredulity, when it all melted.
Times when you crossed oceans for people who wouldn’t jump puddles for you.
The bullies you took on, in life’s naivety—it was all there when you took it all on your chin then.
The ones who left us too soon, the buds of February, it doesn’t heal; you learn to live with the idea of seeing them on the other side…
And you wear it all on your face; the rawness has a character now, more determined than before;
The monsters you dealt with then seem like a ‘cheesy story,’ thanks to years of resilience training.
You are fighting different monsters now; it’s been awhile since you discussed people; it’s not even about events and social niceties anymore;
It’s about strong stands and the whole hog, and you know that you will survive it with a little help from your friends.
And you watch everything in slow motion seated in the front seat of a grand opera; and you smile at life’s benign design.
You had rehearsed and played it all in your head, a number of times; and now you are on the stage after the umpteenth rehearsal,
No more fumbling, no awkwardness, it’s your time now to break a leg…
The ‘despondency’ monster has left, he left his friend ‘melancholia’ behind…
The emptiness monster looked weary, too; he left behind his ‘perspective’ jacket…
The camera is still rolling, and the curtain is not down yet.

Saira Shah Halim

Kolkata

India

There is a debate, currently, about what poetry is supposed to do; “emotional labor,” the term which is on everyone’s lips nowadays, threatens to become poetry itself.

“Emotional labor” began as a definition of intangible, positive, workplace behavior—largely a matter of keeping inappropriate emotions in check. Don’t call your boss, or a customer, a jerk. Be polite. It’s the traditional, patriarchal success mantra: control your emotions. Be rational. Don’t be emotional. It goes back to Socrates, the wisest of all philosophers. The more emotional, the weaker. All of us, in our hearts, know this is true. When we’re emotional, we can’t do anything. We don’t trust ourselves. Aristotle had a slightly different take than Socrates; emotions were good in art—because it helps us purge them—but emotions are still bad.

Saira Shah Halim is a successful woman who lives in India. Her poem is comforting. It does emotional labor. Her poem looks at life, and deeply at all kinds of emotional aspects of life, without complaining.

American feminists have taken the term “emotional labor” and run with it in a different direction: emotions are good, and women do all the important emotional labor, by being emotional, on account of being women. Emotions are work, and women are not appreciated for all the emotional work they do. But is the feminist position really so different? No. Emotions are a burden, finally. The feminists agree with Socrates: emotions are bad. Emotions are work. Labor.

A good balance between thinking and feeling is what we all want. Women can be rational. Men can be emotional. Gender clichés have no place in a complex, dangerous world.

We all experience the “loss” and the “monsters” in Saira Shah Halim’s poem.

Saira Shah Halim’s poem is both smart and emotional. And this is what poetry, and life, should be.

—Scarriet editors, Salem MA, USA

INSANITY IS CONTAGIOUS

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“They fuck you up, your mum and dad” –P. Larkin

A good immune system will stop any germ,

But the mind has an interest where the body does not;

The body grows from egg and sperm,

But the mind alters the ethereal plot

Of what it is; the mind lives with other minds,

And every thought another thinks or does

Is what we are; the life my heart finds

Is you; I am what another was,

In a book’s distant past, or what

Your poem says, or you, or mine,

And all the thinking on the plot

Is reason after a bottle of wine,

The wet earth rising to greet us,

Voices resounding in a green dance,

Sense making sense of the crisis,

The soft, floating network our only chance.

I’ve noticed, in the few meetings we’ve had,

Since our love is no longer ours,

I trigger you really bad

And I am silent like the stars.

 

 

LOVE IS A LUXURY

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Love is a luxury few can afford,

The greatest drug to take when you are bored,

Love is a death in the middle of your life,

The secret you keep from your friends and your wife.

Can you afford sleepless nights?

A mountain of sorrow and slights?

Call it a luxury, don’t call it mad,

Call it the greatest happiness possible when you are sad.

Call it kissing, don’t call it speech.

There’s nothing to say. When you reach

This height of luxury and cannot afford more,

Kiss her again and call her a whore.

Why is there insult? Because love is not polite.

It’s not reason. It’s not day. It’s night.

There are some things we cannot buy,

Though marriage and prostitution will try.

But love? Who can possibly purchase this?

It’s not a look, or a sudden kiss,

It’s death itself in the middle of life,

The secret you keep from friends and wife.

 

 

 

I WAS THE POET

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He was unprepared for what I did.

Though deeply in love with him, I shut the door.

He thought my love was the occasion to kid,

And so I made sure we wouldn’t speak anymore.

His rank dragged him into more affection,

And he scorned me when rank was there.

His rank, not my love, gave him direction,

And I understood the nature of his care.

I heard what I needed to hear, and saw what I needed to see.

This was not politics of girl and boy,

But justice, and how the life will be.

I was the poet; mine, the height and pith.

Without respect, love is a toy,

And the soul will not be toyed with.

THE AUTUMN CROWN

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The autumn crown is worn by many,

Discarded riches hiding a monarchy

Once young. Yet, even then, you found

Blind worshipers don’t stick around.

To acquire a certain amount of gold

This amount of soul must be sold,

And a feeling in your heart will be ignored,

Because your strategy was: acting bored.

You needed attention more than the rest,

And so indifference is what you feigned the best,

Because, sometimes, replaceable as we are,

We build ourselves into a rare star,

One which shines highest and apart;

And this is not done with love, but art.

You calculated the attraction

For gain, by another’s action,

Who moved towards you so fast,

You were startled, and a revery of your past

Brought you into a world of tears,

As you wept for those missing years

When all was fresh and new,

And I removed the crown from you.

 

 

 

 

 

PLAGIARISM WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE

Repeat what others say, if you want to get ahead,

Use “political” and “social” and “religious” and “marginalized”

But never say, “I think.”  You’ll be fucking dead.

The queen has secrets, and they are no business of yours.

Say “minorities” and “progress.” Don’t say, “the queen fucks whores.”

The same things keep repeating, and you will not really

Say anything original. Affect the scholarly. Don’t be touchy-feely.

Say what you are supposed to say. Say what is approved.

Repeat what the repeated have said. Otherwise you won’t be loved.

Don’t repeat what I say, if you want to get ahead.

Be as mainstream as possible, or you’ll be fucking dead.

Plagiarism defines all bad writing, which, to be honest, is nearly all of it.

The minute you try to be a writer, you’ll just be copying shit.

The greatest plagiarist is Nature, and that means

You don’t have to do anything. You can just rest in those quiet scenes.

 

 

NAHID ARJOUNI TRANSLATED BY SHOHREH LAICI

Nahid Arjouni is an Iranian-Kurd poet and Scarriet is proud to publish the following four poems of hers— for the first time in English.

A Lock of My Hair

Snip a lock of my hair.
Take it with you.
Doors will open,
when you arrive in any town.
My headscarf will shudder,
if you speak with anyone.
I will be very jealous
if any woman falls in love with you.
That’s how
I spread around the stations of the world.

Being a Buck

I must have been a buck.
I could have attacked humans in cars, buses, homes,
I could have escaped to the highest mountains, where no one could find me.
I could have crossed the edge of the abyss,
into passageways no one could see.
I could have been a buck that had no place to sleep,
the buck that sleeps with a woman who never sleeps in a bed,
I could have been a buck for the woman who still thinks
there is no way but being a buck.

How Many Times…

How many times can we dress our dead?
How many times can we shout in the streets, among the crowds?
How many times can we hide our faces from invisible cameras?
How many times can we take pictures of spouting blood?
How long can we be alive?
Every day, every moment,
One of us dies,
One of us drinks poison,
One of us, afraid of being lost,
Afraid of drinking poison,
Afraid of vanishing in a cell no one can find—
How many times can we
How many times
How many
How
….

Inheritance

We inherit naivete in our home.
My father plays the piano and believes
“Music rescues the world.”

My brother writes letters to the war,
“Hey bastards, wrap it up, can’t you see how many were killed?”

And
I think
“Poetry rescues the middle east.”

 

Translator Shohreh Laici lives in Tehran

POLITE HATE

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Since they civilized me, it has been my fate

To sleep between the covers of polite hate.

There is such a bed and there is such a life.

There is such a trap. And there is such a wife.

To sit uncomfortably and hear poetry read

By a graduate student damaged in the head.

To be smiled at by poets smoking pot

And by a lover who loves, but would rather not.

To listen long to some damn advice

Old, useless, but very nice.

To be held up in traffic slow and slowing,

To listen to a conversation and wonder where it’s going.

To think through problems and see

Solutions are in the force of the personality.

To wait quietly for the beautiful song to begin

And the interruption makes it begin again.

To examine closely the application of the paint

In the museum, and I faint.

To make them unhappy because I am late

And nothing breathes. And we wait.

The tickets are bought. I’m touring the estate.

She’s not here. I lift the ticket and check the date.

I never meant to do this. It’s not me.

But I did it. I wanted it. Gradually.

WHEN EVERY LINE IS BEAUTIFUL

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When every line is beautiful,

And love honestly expressed,

Only then may the poet rest

And forget the beauty of her naked breast.

But the sleep the poet earns

Is brief; the sleepless poet learns

Honesty will never be expressed

Which gives the lover of beauty rest,

For love looks, and does not hear,

Even should poetry flow directly into the beloved’s ear.

The poet writes for himself alone.

There is no expression known

That ends the need for beauty’s praise.

The poet must praise for the rest of his days.

Once, I told her, and she understood.

“Oh my God, you are beautiful!” It didn’t do any good.

 

MOTHERWORT

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Dreaming in the garden, I lie

Between rows of flowers,

Ashamed before those with keen, scientific noses

Who know the names of flowers.

All I recognize are roses.

Motherwort is not contained

By gardens; it doesn’t grow

Where I usually go.

Or maybe this mint-like leaf,

By the path in my daily walk, is the plant they say can cure my grief.

Perhaps at my feet, where I wait

For my train, is the solution to my fate,

A cure for one who has been a victim of flowers

Which I lie among, in a melancholy state, for hours.

Since the medical properties

Of motherwort dissolve in teas,

Let me take a drink

And I’ll tell you what I think.

For the experiment to succeed

I will go on a fast—except for this herbal weed.

If it makes me glad, then, I suppose,

I will eat the plant, motherwort, and forget the rose,

And be oblivious to every pretty reason why

She, in the garden, made me cry.

 

THE IDEAL CAFÉ

The ideal café allows me to write

Quietly in the morning, and stealthily at night.

The ideal café feeds me caffeine

Which makes my mind muscular and lean.

In the ideal café, Eric Satie drops

From the speakers, and if a baby cries, the crying stops.

In the ideal café, slender girls from France

Pour the dark roast, and give me the occasional glance.

In the ideal café, the simple plate from my finished bagel can stay

For hours, and no one comes and takes it away.

In the ideal café, no one comes in

Calling my name, to argue Republicans, riots, or feminism.

In the ideal café, voices and faces

Are not voices or faces my face notices.

In the ideal café, I can see where Hawthorne wrote

Tales of castles, of ladies dancing, by cypress and moat—

Just across the broad boulevard which runs by the sea

Where the ideal café, low-slung, sits modestly.

In the ideal cafě, I can be

Barely visible, and the barely visible serves me.

In the ideal cafě, thoughts which could disturb me

Tip toe in as poetry.

In the ideal café, no one whose face, or habits, I hate

Stretches out, with a companion, mocking her fate,

And then they argue, and then talk lower, and kiss. And stay,

More in love than ever. Not in my café.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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