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.




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.





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.





Image result for music in renaissance painting

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.




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.



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:


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.”



(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.



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.





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.





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.




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.

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.



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.





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.






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.

%d bloggers like this: