SKINNY

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Can someone with a big, thick, neck write poetry?

Or is poetry for the weak and skinny?

Race or gender is not the issue;

It’s a matter of fat and muscle tissue.

Can someone with a big fat ass

Appreciate “The Leaves of Grass?”

Can this American with a huge belly

Love the poetry of Shelley?

Amy Lowell, it’s true, was fat,

But was she a poet because of that?

Amy Lowell’s soul, I hear,

Was lighter than the atmosphere.

Edna Millay was lighter than a feather.

Poetry floats and falls, like parts of the weather.

Amy Lowell had the Lowell name,

Good for a little poetic fame.

Talk of the weather. Words of woe.

Anyone can be a poet, you know.

 

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THE OTHER

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You should note this poem is easy to translate.

First—and maybe, not last—I’m an American.

All my lovers have been assimilated immigrants.

I, too, am an assimilated immigrant—

I was born here, but my soul is from another place.

I get along with neither builders who carry guns

Nor credentialed academics—to them, I’m kryptonite,

Because I’m the better poet, and the amateur, too.

As a blue eyed, straight, white, dude, I assimilate

Daily because of all the dislikes I have,

And to those who push the “other” in my face: screw you.

Poetry will save the world—poetry is what we must do.

Those who don’t know poetry, squirm like worms underground;

If you have millions, you are but a worm covered in gold.

And communists, get over yourselves,

Because everything will be bought and sold.

I know poetry will save the world. I like Christianity—

A beautiful religion which says “do not cast stones”—

But I would happily be a Muslim, if I could remain a poet,

And seduce through the robes just looking at the eyes,

But secretly, for I want to respect the fathers and the grandmothers.

I prefer not to insult in my poetry. I would rather tell a bunch of lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME THINK

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Some think lack of punctuation means poetry,

When it really means the reverse.

If you have to guess about the smallest thing,

This makes the poem worse.

Poetry is not a trick of not quite understanding;

Poetry is understanding at its best.

Poetry is not a blur of wings,

But those beautiful wings at rest.

And when poetry gets up to fly,

Since wings were never meant to stay,

You will see exactly how it flies,

And know exactly how sad you are, as you watch it fly away.

 

 

 

SONG OF THE PASSIONATE MALE

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To steer between hate and love is society’s expectation.

Yet love and hate form the part of every nation.

If to love women too well is suspicious,

If to love God is considered superstitious,

If to love your nation makes you wrong when it is,

If to hate everything which opposes your loves—

If all these feelings and thoughts are wrong,

I will reject love and hate, if only to get along.

But should I find a woman who loves God and country,

Who lets me love her heart and all that I might see,

I will love her, and neither hate nor love society,

Nor God, nor any, reserving for her my loyalty.

LIFE IS UNEQUAL

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Life is unequal. There are more stars than the moon.

Love comes sweetly too late, or excitedly too soon.

Earth has a greater day when summer warms the night.

He finds joy in the winter. She finds joy in the light.

She—my love—was sexy and aloof,

But I—I wanted proof

Of love, while she could love, and not love.

After love, she sought the mundane,

While loving her, always, made me always, insane.

The madness of love belongs to only one—

He seeks the stairs—she needs the sun.

Up in the darkness, flying around up there,

He looks for her—different, because a little more removed from care.

We can understand the yellow, and say exactly what we mean,

But she frowns and turns away and wants more green.

We can be stable, or we can lose our minds,

We can run to meet the day, or slowly pull down the blinds.

Unequal! I loved without end, but she, only for a time.

She was one of those

Who worried and fretted in prose

While I sang—and died—in rhyme.

Moods are unequal—some rise to genius with wrath

Mixed with love unequally, like poor Sylvia Plath.

Or one travels out, into the cold day

And drowns in the warm rain, like Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Poets will love poets, but they always seem to miss,

Meeting in a strange dream, too strange for the simple kiss.

Shelley sailed outward, in a dangerous boat,

Leaving her within, coughing with a footnote.

One played a trumpet sadly in the shadows, here,

Promoting tears in them—but never for her, a tear.

Some want to love in the spring, and some want to love in the fall.

Some want to love too much, and some, not at all.

The world is unequal. Protesting for equality,

She lost her head to one who lived aesthetically,

Who pointed to the whole face, who quoted Edgar Poe:

Progress is useless. The light is better than what’s below.

I accepted the tragedy of asymmetry—I knew

She would always love me, and I would never have you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY FIVE MINUTES

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Twenty five minutes can reverse years—

When you have been dull and good—

And turn them into tears.

Twenty five minutes can wake up joy

That for months slumbered and hid.

In twenty five minutes you can find

Love in the body, a whole affectionate mind.

How and why were those previous minutes untrue?

Look at what twenty five minutes can do.

In twenty five minutes, see what can happen:

The hands, the glance, the eyes,

A word or two at twenty two minutes to one.

Darkness for a thousand years.

For twenty five minutes the sun.

 

 

 

 

BEING RIGHT

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Contradicted by the unseen,

Being right is mean.

Correct, stumbling in the night,

The stupid want most of all to be right.

You are right. This poem is bad.

And I write it because I’m sad.

The hills have green and dappled sun.

I remember when you were the one.

Inspired, I held you near,

And told you I loved you. I was clear.

I love you, as the sun shines on me here.

You are right. And always were.

You are right. And what does that mean?

You are right about me.  And her?

She was wrong. Very wrong. But unseen.

 

 

SAFE WITHIN

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The shape and size of my window keeps changing

By what’s going on outside.

You think safety lies within,

But it’s impossible to hide.

Your window is helpless. It can only see

What they’re thinking about you and me.

Your window can only say,

“How are you? It’s a lovely day.”

But life depends on whether scenery

Crowds your window, or is far away.

A panorama has been fortunate

To do business with this train

With its hills and canals in sun and rain.

The train rumbles in its easy ride.

You watch the views come and go outside.

You know I can’t stop thinking of you.

It’s not us.  It’s them, who cannot believe what we did is true.

 

DESIRE WHICH ACHIEVES ITS DESIRE WILL DIE

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Desire which achieves its desire will die.

Is desire blessed, which fails, and continues to try?

But look how my desire grieves to never capture you.

I fail, wisely; I let desire fail, which all desire must do;

If my desire wins, and you are no longer desired by me,

Love will die. So I let my desire win you in my poetry.

My desire must love this poem, not your desire.

Not you, not you. I cannot put out the fire.

Let me desire the poem which perfectly captures you.

When this poem does at last what desire, dying, must do,

You and I will be immortal, and I will burn as brightly for you

As the sun, which aspires

To burn more nights,

To burn and feed with love, the shady, lesser lights,

Who God, with bright desire desires,

Desire of my love as bright as you and all your bright, and loving, fires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LOVING EYE

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There is nothing more loving than the loving eye,

No matter how heavily the blind, or the physically unattractive, sigh.

Beautiful delight

Impregnates my sight

With hues of sculpture moving,

If sight is sex, I am always loving.

It’s true—no lover can be true who has an eye.

Love loves what it sees, and loves the beautiful, truly.

The loving eye loves morally, too,

Seeing the sneer, or the vacant look,

Seeing at a glance when beauty is fake.

The eye has a mind beneath its lake.

I know you will love the cloud or the bee

As much as you love me.

But the loving eye is always knowing

When danger or love is coming or going

By that vast light which ponders the light

Of risk and love and safety in the shadow

Where seeing sees deftly in the night

Where understanding and the shadows go.

Even when we hear—in love, or fear,

We ask, “What am I seeing here?”

The heart has no mind but to beat and die.

We love each other best—as we live—with the eye.

 

FRIENDSHIP IS LOVE

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Social interactions are seldom valued for what they are.

When out of the crowd, a friend is randomly met

We are pleased not for the interaction, but for the friend

And why one is a friend, instead of not, is all there is to friendship;

And this is how the pieces of evolution fit into one.

We look forward to the next interaction whatever it is,

And so friendship is truly love.

But love has intricate demands

Which love hiding in friendship never understands.

When we take the hand of a friend and kiss that hand,

And kissing takes a journey which never stops,

A different interaction occurs,

One belonging to the sea, to the rain, to the green lands

Heaped up around windy mountains, valleys, and lands

And we love the interaction for itself—lost in the kiss,

Just as you forgot what poetry was when reading this.

 

 

 

 

 

THE RULE

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The Web is full of spiders, but I don’t write to spiders.

I write for the honey bees and butterflies.

The bees are busy, and the butterflies won’t sit still.

No one listens to me. But I was told once, you will.

 

The irony for one who hates the majority—

The majority of the minority doesn’t like me,

And the rule applies even when I’m faced with two.

I need a smaller minority. I need you.

 

She once ran to me, and now she runs away.

I think and dream on that happier day,

And fear there will never be a happier tomorrow.

Yet I was happy once. And called it sorrow.

 

 

 

ONCE A STORY IS TOLD

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Once a story is told,

A crazy story not quite believed—everything else takes hold:

The poetry, the love, the belief the story isn’t true,

And all the poets pause before the story because of what it says about you.

Poison, mixed in a jar, will lose its force.

The poison of a story never gets old.

A good story will never stop; every poet wants to ride the horse,

And every poet—no matter how good—falls off;

Poets are not reporters; poets fly too close to the sun,

Poets sing weakly in shadows, die by a criticism, or a cough.

The story tramples poetry; no poet benefited from news, not one.

Actress Gloria Grahame had lots of men—but she couldn’t stay away

From one man—Tony Ray,

The son of her director husband, and later her husband for 14 years,

The son she was caught with when he was thirteen.

One story kills illustrious careers.

Cruelty is everlasting. The knife of cruelty is keen,

But nothing is crueler than a story, though it’s low on our list of fears,

A bunch of words—and who cares what a poem might mean,

Unless a poet can somehow tell a story, too—

Not at all what a poet is supposed to do:

Leave that to the liars and the gossipy scum,

Who paint the shipwreck, but never the beautiful foam

Scattered by the wind, the spray which the setting sun shines through—

The ship which had a note on board, a poem you might call it, a warning, written for you, for you.

 

 

NO ART NOW

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Who wants to be a poet? I can tell you how.

Outside the Cologne Cathedral I sold a bunch of hash

And was able to party hard at Giza.

Most importantly, decide you are a poet,

Say you are a poet, write obscure poems no one understands. That’s how.

I asked Pablo, “why does contemporary art look like trash?”

He smiled. Then she asked, “I could be a poet?

There’s no art now.”

At Angkor Wat I found her hesitating, yet there was nothing

She was supposed to do. By noon I knew there would be a delay.

The whole choir wasn’t feeling well. I could not allow

The truth to get out. The Dome of the Rock was crossed off the list,

Machu Picchu, the Statue of Liberty, and then, my house.

She said, “Could anyone know that I could be a poet?

There’s no art now.”

Stonehenge, Persepolis, those shadows

Loom over every ambition we had.

There wasn’t anything contemporary

About what was backwards, or really considered bad.

There was a fledgling belief we had to cross

The river Yung Pung Kao.

“Cosmetics? Maybe. But

There’s no art now.”

Who would say something bad

About the Taj Mahal?

I got in trouble as a dad

For being too critical. I had

To be a parent. Poetry, no.

Far from the Lotus Temple,

In a bad rain storm, she voiced

Silently the word, “wow.”

 

 

 

THE WEREWOLF HAS NO WHERE TO GO

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When things become too deliciously beautiful, they stop,

As when even the verbose Mozart pauses for what seems an eternity

During passages found in the slow movement of piano concerto number 17.

It is the natural outcome when extremely beautiful music is slow,

The music wants to stop itself so it can listen.

The werewolf disappears when she has no place to go.

Time resumes after love, and we realize life will go on and love will not.

Where was the music during the love?

Music belongs to time, but love does not.

Music exists in time, in itself, and so it never has time for itself.

Music laughs at its predicament and invents new tempos in which to die

But love only becomes offended. Love hates waiting, marching, watching. Love hates time.

Music stops and resumes. When love stops, it does not resume.

Love exists outside of time.

The werewolf disappears when she has no place to go.

I waited for her. She was either absent or slow.

I might as well confess what you already know.

She turned into a werewolf

And allowed me to love her,

But only when she was a werewolf.

Love made her for me a werewolf completely.

I loved her falsely but completely.

The sadism inside her masochism grew,

Fed by my masochism. Her sadism knew

I was not a werewolf; the werewolf grew

Enraged when I pleaded, I want to love all of you!

I was the innocent one who turned

Her into a werewolf and I burned

For her—as a werewolf

And loved her—as a werewolf.

My masochist loved her sadist

And since there is some sadism

In every masochist, I delighted

In the dilemma of our love

In which our sadism and masochism,

Fiendishly intertwined,

Made me delight in her body

And the strange inconsistencies of her mind.

But when the werewolf was away,

I was afraid; I needed her to eat my flesh

And the music to resume.

I spend long nights staring out the window at the beautiful moon.

It is almost as beautiful as music.

 

 

 

 

PRIVATELY

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Privately, I think this, but publicly, I say that.

I hate them equally: the public dog, and the private cat.

I don’t love her publicly, I love her for myself.

I don’t love her for them, I won’t put her on the shelf.

Call off the wedding then, and let me have her alone.

Words will blab to the mob; she is my sweet moan.

I don’t love her privately, for that’s a public of one—

No matter how secret my vow, it will be seen by the sun.

I love her without comparison, without reason or challenge or trial,

I kiss her in a perfumed bed that goes underground for a mile.

Love was in the beginning, so love cannot be taught.

Leave us! Return! to the surface of the earth and thought.

 

 

 

THE GAY MAN HYPNOTIZING THE WOMEN

Just out of college, nothing to say,

But what job, and how far away

And I have something to share

To all of you, but I told Lisa first,

Who first heard about my heartbreak,

And now I’m going to share it with you guys, too.

I spent all day Sunday in bed watching Sex and the City

And really crying. He wasn’t afraid to touch me in public

And he was gentle and also pretty

But I’ve worked hard and deserve to be happy

In my great new job, and if he won’t move, what can I do?

“You’ve learned from this, it only gets better with each new one

You date,” a hopeful one pipes up, the whole conversation

As shallow as a beer commercial, but the women are relaxed

And can be themselves, the shy one quiet if she wants to be,

Because it is shallow and unexamined, life and love are nice this way,

And this is what he does, creating a safe and harmless atmosphere.

Life is too difficult and sad—simple needs are what we listen to and say.

A woman with masculine features who was sad, and now is not confused, but gay.

Only once, the relaxed conversation had to stop.

A tiny puppy oh my God came into the shop.

Oh power over all! oh the long lines to see!

The loving emptiness of purest feelings, eventually.

 

MOTHER, FORGIVE ME

Mother, forgive me, can I see again the last

Miracle in your patient and beautiful past?

Can I have your first decision

Before I grew to face the world’s derision?

Can I have, again, the birth

Before I began to leave this earth?

Mother, can I have the sighs

In wrapped safety before I was rained on by the same skies

Which also rain on you?

Mother, the old proves what everyone knew you could do,

But the gift is always this,

The new, the new, the new.

 

 

BE PREPARED TO NEVER BE LOVED

i courted fairest Nancy, her love I didn’t obtain. Do you think I had a reason or right to complain? —old song

Be prepared to never be loved

By the head too big, by the neck too short,

By the lisp reading the book report.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the numerous crushes you have—

Distracted, overworked, or sad—

Or indifferent, just as you suppose.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the lined forehead, by the pimply nose,

By the combat victim. To never be loved is not so bad.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the dog who only wants a treat,

By the quiet one, whose perfumed desk is very neat.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the one like you—

That’s self-loathing for two.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the different and the strange.

They will always seem just out of range.

Be prepared to never be loved

By your parents who cannot believe

They age, and you leave.

Be prepared to never be loved

By children who cannot conceive

You age, and they leave.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the gentle, law abiding, woman or man.

You’ll find there’s another plan.

Be prepared to never be loved

By the one who writes poetry—

No understanding. Rivalry.

Be prepared to never be loved.

Unless you are in hell

And once they knew you well.

Be prepared to never be loved.

 

 

 

 

SALEM, MA, MAY 9, 2018

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Out of a whole pack, I finally find a cigarette that pleases.

It’s the cold fog moving in. The thick, smoke-colored air.

The headlights of a few cars moving down narrow streets are on.

I’m only a few steps from home. How do I have a house? I don’t remember.

The sea is around the corner. A bar, only friendly as it takes your money

Will not be needed this evening.  How long has it seemed

That friendly is not so? I want to think on love and be alone.

The cigarette warms my lungs. My blood, which once succumbed to love,

Feels the warmth, too, a coursing, bodily thinking beneath the skin.

After four drags, a cold wind starts up. Soon I’ll go back in.

The evening darkness is erasing the fog. The cars move delicately and slow.

The blossoms on the trees in front of me look nice, but their time here is brief,

And already they are returning to the flesh of what they were before, or were not,

Or never were, or don’t care to be.  Can blossoms have these thoughts?

Give them to them. This is my poem and it has them, too. I’m sentimental,

Despite the fact—or is it because of the fact—of this cigarette?

Cause and effect, reasons for love, and the love itself, are confused.

Poetry lives exactly here—in the impossibility of knowing cause from effect.

Shelley—and there is no doubt he did—asked, “Can spring be far behind?”

What do the blossoms of spring think when they die in the cold wind?

 

THE PRANK

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The best jokers do not joke.
You and the secret world were one.
You were not in love with me at all.
Whatever you might have thought, you never spoke.
You hurt my feelings when the prank was revealed—
But I loved that I was fooled—I wanted to fall.
I wrote about the beautiful world
As beauty laughed behind my back—yes, you were that girl.
But I loved that I loved—what else is there
Behind the eyes, the veil of the hair?
Love enjoys the occasional private joke,
But this was one, long prank,
And maybe—how could I know?—you loved me, after all?
If there’s no one to love, there’s still someone to thank.
Love? Will? Not even movement exists. We fall.

 

YOUR TEARS

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Your tears are a sign of weakness.

The cruelest today are full of tears.

Sentimentality drips from the towers.

There hasn’t been this much cruelty in years.

This swaggerer who talks a lot, shuts up around me.

We both want you—both know the other can see.

The whole world is unspoken.

When anything is articulated,

It is immediately contradicted,

And dies. All speech is a token—

Actions, too.  Everything hides inside the unspoken.

I know what you are—but couldn’t say,

And you knew I knew. So you went away.

I could plead and protest in this verse,

I could buy you Cleopatra’s barge

With buzzing slaves. The sun burned

Her canopy; Antony, war, and the curse

Of the unspoken was, again, too large.

Since that day, the day has turned.

 

WHEN SUDDENLY I DESPERATELY WANTED

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When suddenly I desperately wanted,

It must have been after wanting

The good I had calmly wanted, to end.

I did not want to want the good, again.

After wanting the good for so long

I began to believe the good was wrong.

I stopped wanting the good. I no longer knew what to do.

Wanting needs to be good—so instead I began to want you,

Because you wanted me—not the good—because I’m not good—but me.

You must have been surprised when I kissed you suddenly.

Why didn’t I want the good this desperately?

When suddenly and desperately I wanted you

You became the good—because you wanted me, too.

The good became living, and could do

Bad things—suddenly and desperately I knew

Love’s the good—the good which hates everything but you.

UNDERSTANDING POETRY

This magazine wants to be on the internet.

This magazine isn’t famous yet.

It’s really proud of itself, this magazine,

But it’s just a whore. It just wants to be seen.

And this poet is a total whore.

They want their horrible poem to be seen some more.

The poem was published. The poet is proud.

At a reading people clapped when it was read out loud.

This poem is ironic blathering

Of a novelist who is lathering

Up readers with feelings we all feel.

But I love this poet, and my poetry is just as bad.

I’m going to get up and read this poem now and make everybody sad.

 

 

 

 

WHERE ALL IS UNCERTAIN

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Where all is uncertain, and nobody knows,

O shimmering lake, where the lake dweller goes.

Around the lake are flowers and weeds

Giving the lake dweller the privacy she needs.

The certainty of what we are, and know,

Cannot be stopped. A glimpse detects the high and low.

You will judge them, you will—out on the street;

You know them, homeless, and writhing at your feet.

It doesn’t matter what the personalities say,

And if these are more intelligent than anyone can say.

You know the high and you know the low

At first glance. You know, you know.

If you feel emotional about things like this

You will never be calm enough to enjoy the kiss.

You will never be able to sink into the pond

Where giant fish in the shadows are found.

If you think you know the rounded lake,

This might be your worst mistake.

The lake doesn’t wait for you, like love.

Go under. Forget those reflections you saw from above.

Come to the cold. To where nothing is known. Go.

Only when you do not know, will there be a chance to know.

Only when you take steps, tenuously, without aid,

Is there a chance for sunshine to come into the shade.

Where does the composer get the storm?

The aching for cool, and the weeping for warm?

The composer half-slumbers, half-works, in calm.

Only distraction can do him harm.

Only the living which is inarticulate is true,

And will let him see what he has to do.

Slowly, in unknown hours, he learned the art,

Which now, calmly, he plays by heart.

Only excitement will end his reign.

Feelings harm. Whether sane or insane.

The lake is not a lake. And nobody knows

The lake, serene, where the lake dweller goes.

 

INDIAN POETS IN ENGLISH —MAY

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Amit Majmudar has translated the Bhagavad Gita, which was just published, as Godsong—the book was reviewed last month in the NY Times by Parul Sehgal, who admires the poetry of the translation, but in her review, she faults the author for shying away from history and politics:

The verses of the Gita are traditionally accompanied by commentaries. Majmudar uses this space to discuss his faith and his translation decisions, as well as to make a curious assertion: “I prefer to let my Gita float free of history or geography,” he writes. “Historical quibbling isn’t just irrelevant when it comes to scripture; it’s a buzz kill.”

This is strange — not least because the religious concepts in the Gita, like karma and dharma, are not static, as historians like Wendy Doniger have pointed out; they emerged at “particular moments in Indian history, for particular reasons, and then continue to be alive — which is to say, to change.” It’s especially odd given that Majmudar engages passionately with historical quibbling when it comes to issues of translation. What he doesn’t want to discuss, it seems, is historical quibbling when it comes to social issues. What he doesn’t want to discuss is caste.

The review in the Times is brief, raising more questions than it answers. “The verses of the Gita are traditionally accompanied by commentaries,” writes Sehgal, obviously with no time or space to expand, in today’s clamoring publishing business. What does this sentence mean? Why are the verses of the Gita traditionally accompanied by commentaries? And traditionally, what kind of commentaries?

Amit Majmudar is a successful doctor in the United States, and the “caste” he discusses in “The Beard,” a poem he published in the glamorous, leftist, New Yorker in 2017, is terrorists, and their beards, and how he felt compelled to cut his off because he resembled one who made headlines: “I am alone here now,/among Americans a foreigner/when just last year I used to be/among Americans American.”

In Majmudar’s poem, “Kill List,” published in the leftist Nation in 2016, he writes, “At a certain distance, I admit, I do look like an Arab.”

*

Speaking of caste, Mosarrap Khan prefaces his tragic poem, “For Rohith Vemula,” with a quote—from the eponymous, Dalit, Ph.D. student’s, suicide note: “My birth is my fatal accident.”

The poem is not about terrorists, or being confused with terrorists, but runs in the opposite direction.  Rohith Vemula was a gracious, studious man (who in his suicide note says he does not blame anyone) who imploded, rather than exploded. He got in trouble at his university for protesting Dalit rights.

For Rohith Vemula

“My birth is my fatal accident.”

Rohith, why didn’t you mention caste
In your parting letter? You gracious bastard.
Did you want to be a Gandhi in your death,
another non-violent messiah?

Did your parents sell their little piece of land
and eat one meal a day to put you through school?

You loved the stars. A child who loves the
stars is bound to be lonely. A child who loves
the stars would never be appreciated.

You are gone.

It’s Monday morning. People are
mourning the deaths of those American scholars
who founded Indian political discourse. They don’t
remember you who make politics.

India is investing in Start-ups, didn’t you
know? And you End-up, you fool.
Your ilk will never learn. Loser.

Mate, hope you reached the stars. Fill
your belly with the star dust to
keep the fire burning.

What to make of this poem? Mosarrap Khan is rude and loving, personal and political, presuming and respectful, abstract and brotherly, cynical and poignant, mourning and irreverent—multiple moods in one dish of grief; this is perhaps the remarkable fact of the poem: how can one poem feel so many things? This is worthy of elegy; the mourner trying every type of voice to reach the grave; making tribute—with all one can possibly think or feel.

**

Rochelle D’Silva is an ambitious slam poet.  A YouTube search will bring up many of her performances, including the (first place) Slam performance of her poem,”I Have Perfect Bottle Opening Hands,” and not long ago she released a spoken word album, “Best Apology Face.” She writes of love—not so much of lust, or of romance, but more on the side of relationship advice, if someone were waxing poetic—cautious but passionate.  She unburdens herself in three and a half minute poems, in a wide-eyed, pleasant manner, simultaneously giving the impression, that here’s a person who is so nice she probably gets hurt a lot—and isn’t it great she writes poetry (and reads it smiling, without fear) which is pleasant enough to let us vicariously take revenge on whoever may have been silly enough to hurt her.

It raises an interesting aesthetic question—poetry performed, or spoken, is poetry in what percentage? And in what percentage something else?

Music demands performance, but does poetry?  When I read a poem silently, I am “performing it,” so I don’t need a slam performance, necessarily, but who am I to begrudge a spirited (or an utterly charming, because the person is charming) performance of a poem?

***

Arjun Rajendran is a typical modern poet, whose poems sound more like little short stories, or small novels, than poems.  Ironically, the poems suffer precisely because the poet is able to pack his poems with plot, character development and all the accoutrements of fiction; the walls of the modern poem crumble—“months later” or “years later” is a typical phrase.  But this must be a good disadvantage.  The perfect lyric which sits on an island surrounded by flowers is gone. The content of Rajendran’s poems vary: psychological, historical, personal, elegiac, political, saucy, sassy, but each mood and detail is epic—a 15 line poem can almost feel like soundtrack, actors and scenery need to be brought in.

Here’s an example of how good he is:

Ankur’s Coming Out

There wasn’t a proclamation, any act of bravado.
In that uninhibited moment, I simply asked and he didn’t
deny it. We were at another friends’ that night, on
the same mattress, surrounded by Kingfishers and socks;
exhausted by our pretensions at spoken French.

Later, it felt perfectly natural to have him press my neck,
call me baby. It was disappointing to learn he wasn’t
attracted to me. I equated it to not being attractive
to the opposite sex. Months later, I saw him in a cafe,
with four pansies, and he beckoned us over. My girlfriend

thought it was such a waste, that the hottest guys are often
gay. It felt okay to see her hug him so tight; it’d be okay
even if they had a night to themselves. At another party,
the prettiest girls claimed him, and elsewhere, his desire,
the Parisian baldy, bantered with his dusky seductress.

****

Aishwarya Iyer is the Wordsworth impulse in the Wordsworth/Coleridge split—Wordsworth makes the plain, amazing; Coleridge, the amazing, plain. Iyer wants us to be dazzled by a rainy city, to see the phantasmagorical in a puddle. The poets are better than the photographers; literacy is better than spinning in a circle and clicking.

This fallen rain
Swizzles visions
The car keeps turning at the signal
The old women have stopped talking
For once, loosened into children,
Watching the cars drinking the steel rain

This falling rain
Swells memories
Swollen drops spreading
The heat in your clavicle
You can see beyond this sky
Wrenched by the rain
Going blue, white, blue
Dying, and plain

Fallen dust and leaves and musk
Smells of longing fed till the end of dusk
When rain goes where will you find
The breath lost to the coming of love?

And in another painted city
Some years hence
Or years before
This rain must have sung
Exactly the same note
Curling your smile
Creasing your arms
Felling all pain
This fallen rain

We absolutely adore the line, “The breath lost to the coming of love?”  It is these lines, avoided mostly, because of some fear they sound too much like pop songs, which poetry should embrace; just because popular songs exist doesn’t mean poets can’t do it better, or try, at least. Another odd thing is that despite all the poets’ terror of pop music, so many contemporary poets do not punctuate their poems—even though they are being read, not sung.

*****

Sophia Naz makes words important in her poetry and this, again, is a contemporary practice. There are two ways of writing poetry—in the first, poets speak in the poem; there is a conversational, discursive, Socratic flow. The poet thinks out loud. In the second way, the poet makes words discrete pieces of the poem, so that every word becomes almost a small poem in itself. It’s a different way of thinking.

The second method, we find, usually accompanies a content which is sensual—rich descriptions of material objects—with sights, sounds and smells—abound.

The last thing we want is our poems to be a hopeless blur—so poets either 1) talk sensibly towards understanding—or 2) highlight each word as a stay against confusion.

The “talkers” have it easier, since poetry, in reality, is speech, and not a walk in the woods, or a photograph.  But the “talkers” worry their poetry might become mere talk; the “word-is-a-world” poets have a different worry—their poetry may end up being a series of pretty, moss-covered stones, without rhetorical force.

It is true that the talkers use words and the word-highlighters use speech; obviously we are only speaking of an emphasis, something as subtle as a minor or a major key in music.

In the following poem, it is easy to see Sophia Naz strikes out in the direction of poetry as a patient elevation of words, rather than poetry as an oratorical, or chatty, onslaught, of speech:

Neelum

Deviants and dervishes of the river
lie down the length of her
those who remember
Neelum before she became
crushed lapis, her pristine byzantine

pine penciled brows broken
traffic-lined, knifed by road, gashed
by guillotine of clear-cut log & choke
hold of plastic bags carry ominous
promises of corpses downstream

we are driven by our bellies, hunger
peaking when we see Neelum from
on high as missionaries must have
pinned, supine below us, the gem
of legend turns a hairpin in

our mouths the sharpest gasp, keeling
wheels & eyes, we are puny flames
on high altitudes where even green
tea leaves boiling to death take
their own sweet time

mined from the tiny
stabbing Sapphire’s liquid throat, lumps
of quartz come clean, clear as water, crystallize

into skulls of quiet
sugar – penitent cheeni
cupped intently then forgotten
in a crowded bazaar like those other
prisoners of myriad wars marching on
beyond the horizon

Neelum is neglected, derelict
bride, whose groom, princely
spring lies in tatters, her jewels
spilled like blood from veins
what is left is a muddy turquoise
footprint running cold between my fingers.

Sophia Naz wants us to see. She is a camera, and her poem is a moving picture; the temporal for this poet is the material world moving inside our eyes—and the voice, by default, is absent. Poetry is voice, not picture, so the poet is working (and she works beautifully) against what poetry is; we admire the poem second-hand, almost, in the exquisite unfolding of the piece. The paradox is that any poem is, by necessity, a voice, and not artificial, as it speaks (for it must) either in the air, or in our heads. Things will speak, even if the poet does not. But the reader has to really listen—because poems do not see. They talk. The danger Naz faces with this style is sounding too artificial—even as what she depicts is not artificial at all.

******

Meera Nair is a poet, who, when searched, is found speaking her poems on YouTube, with a sad, majestic romanticism. She writes of love, mostly, and does so with a broad metaphor or two, in brief lyrics of simplicity, as she attempts to knock down the heart without too much fuss.  We found the following poem of hers recently published on her Face Book page:

The old man turns up without fail
Every month

There is a locked up room here
That he cannot let go of

Last night
My knee brushed against a secret drawer
Hidden beneath the dining table

Inside was a treasure trove
Buttons of different colours
A needle pierced into a spool of thread
A book of poems
And a half empty box of vermillion

Though I light no lamp
I keep the beaded curtain covering the prayer room
Polished and bright

I live in a house
Someone else has loved in

The final two lines sum up the essence of this poet—and, to a great extent, poetry itself.

*******

And those are the seven poets for May!  Thanks again, to Linda Ashok.

 

IT IS NOT THE BAD

Image result for lit windows of the palace at night in painting

It is not the bad, but the bad which seems to be good,

Which gets you in the end, and chiefly by its seeming;

For soon good which is really bad ruins your judgement completely,

And the bad which turns out to be good doesn’t help, either.

You resent the good since it was good all this time and you didn’t know,

And when you start to resent the good, you lose a sense of taste

For the mundane steps common sense must take, and confusion

Slowly and unconsciously poisons all enthusiasm and joy.

The style ruined the poet, who had much to say, but remained silent,

As the style of the poetry inhibited speech; the artificial naturally the aim,

Which is the great mistake of all artists—to be artistic.

I could see what you were depicting, and that was the problem—

Speech is not seeing, but the poets don’t get this. I have eyes.

But poets, lovers, it is my ears, not my eyes, which need food.

Talk is the secret of poetry and love. Depiction is for the painters.

Our talk will put to shame even the sensuality of three dimensions.

Be conversant with me, for many hours—those hours lit still.

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