SCARRIET’S HOT POETRY ONE HUNDRED 2019—“BEST LINES”

Related image

I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019

*******

1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”

POETRY MAGAZINE’S INDIA ISSUE, JULY/AUGUST 2019

Image result for poetry in india

Poetry’s India issue is not an India issue.

In the globalist introduction by editors Kazim Ali and Rajiv Mohabir, we are told countries do not exist; only colonies and far-flung sub-cultures do.

In their introduction to Poetry’s “Global Anglophone Indian Poems,” the editors wish to erase the nation of India:

“Indian” is the wrong word to encompass  and label diasporic subjectivities of South Asians that descend from a system of indenture.

This sounds like something one would hear in the British Foreign Office around 1933.

Narratives flip. History repeats. The optimism of Indian independence from the British in the middle of the 20th century has been replaced by the pessimism of learned, anti-colonialist academics, who hold that there was no “Indian” independence from the “British” after all—because, according to Ali and Mohabir, “There is no such thing as cultural purity—Indian or not.”

A nation—which gathers together differences in a happy embrace—is this possible? It was not, according to the British Empire, whose very rule depended on division, nor is it anything the editors wish to get behind, spending most of the introduction asserting India isn’t real. Because nothing “culturally pure” exists. Which we all know, but…

“Culture” is a term always used broadly, and in terms of connection—and this is the very essence of the word; and this aspect of it shouldn’t inspire fear, unless one wants to get rid of culture altogether. We all admire gardens, and gardens grow, even as they remain gardens. Nations are nations in as much as they have a culture which binds the nation as a nation together, and this is a good thing. The editors, however, see danger:

The notion of a culturally pure India is a dangerous weapon leveraged to maintain social distance, as in some cases it fans anti-Muslim and anti-Black politics.

Is “social distance” civility? What do they mean by this?

And what exactly is “Muslim politics?” And is “Muslim” or “black politics” ever “pure,” and, because of this “purity,” is it, too, “dangerous?”

Or is it only the “culturally pure India” which is “dangerous?”

Division is always good, according to the editors—since the greatest unity India ever achieved was “an India that does not exist today, except for in histories kept by elders: a pre-partition British India, a single landmass owned by white masters.”

God forbid Indians get to rule a “landmass.” Better, according to the editors, that Indians are divided—to the point where they don’t really exist.

For Ali and Mohabir, Indian unity of any kind is either non-existent, white, or bad. India as a Hindu country is something the editors cannot bring themselves to even mention, as this, perhaps to them, is the ultimate horror. They refer to Hindus once—in the first paragraph, as if the religion practiced by a billion Indians, 4 Indians in 5, were a minor anomaly:

On the one hand, “Indian” languages were always transnational, or—in more modern times—global. Regional languages encountered one another, as well as Farsi and Urdu, during Mughal conquests; the concepts of Hindi as a national language and Hindustan as a national space were both developed in response to the perceived foreign influence of the northern empire builders. Crosspollination existed between the Urdu-speaking Mughals and Farsi- and Arabic-speaking cultures, both in spoken and written literatures. Queen Elizabeth I and Emperor Akbar the Great were exchanging letters in Urdu and English through their translators before there was a British East India company.

This is their first paragraph. What does this mean?

I understand protecting minority rights—constitutions and laws cover this; but to forever and preemptively assume the majority is the devil, and to always undermine it on principle isn’t exactly the recipe for a strong and happy nation.

The editors point of view seems to be that anything which has anything to do with “indenture” and “diaspora” is the best thing of all. A kind of strange, unholy, celebration of the results of the British Empire keeps breaking out in the rhetoric of the editors. Are the “white masters” hiding in the wings? In high rises in London? In the editorial offices of Poetry? We hope not.

That British Empire was quite a thing. “Colonies” and the “indentured” and “diaspora” everywhere. Did the British make India? Yes, absolutely, according to Ali and Mohabir—exemplifying the truth that the British “Divide and Rule” Empire still lives, spilling into everything, even the rhetoric which attempts to summarize the topic in a short introduction:

The earliest Indian poetry in English, including those poems by nationalist anti-colonial poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu, were poems from the British literary tradition. It would take a new generation of Indian poets, who included the Kala Goda poets Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawalla, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and others, to begin developing a new Indian English aesthetic that drew not only on British influences, but local traditions as well as global ones.

Just as the British Empire both made and destroyed India, it continues to erase all sense of what anyone might say—including these editors, Ali and Mahobir—about Indian poetry in English.

The Indian “nationalist anti-colonial” poems were “poems from the British literary tradition.”

Got that?

Indian literary independence was British.

Therefore, Ali and Mohabir say,

It would take a new generation to begin developing a new Indian English aesthetic that drew not only on British influences, but local traditions as well as global ones.

But what is British influence if not “global,” thanks to its global empire? And how could poets like Tagore not have been influenced by “local traditions” back then, writing poems from “the British literary tradition?”

One can see how any attempt to extract “India” from “English” is hopeless. That is, if one ignores the content of poems and puts them into implicitly denigrated categories such as the “British literary tradition,” the only discernible aesthetic gesture made by the editors—whose introduction is otherwise lost in politics. Their aesthetic point begins with a platitude made regarding “tradition” and reasons from that nothing into more nothing. All the editors say is true—if truth is a circle starting at nowhere and ending at no place.

And now we come to the poetry selection.

As one might expect, there is no “British literary tradition” anywhere in sight.

The poems in the “Global Anglophone Indian Poems” issue of July/August Poetry, establish themselves right away as that which could not possibly belong to any tradition at all, except perhaps this one: Poems in English That May As Well Have Been Written in Urdu Since No English Speaker Can Understand Them. This will show those British white devils! And anyone who speaks their language!

The interesting thing about the 42 “Indian” poems in the Poetry Indian issue is that almost all of them sound like they could have been written by Ezra Pound—redolent of that flat, unthinking, anti-Romantic, anti-lyricism which roams the desert looking for an oasis of sweet rhyme intentionally never found, for the journey is to punish such desires.  And in this desert we rarely come across a person who speaks as a real person about some accessible thing that matters in a life really lived. It’s poetry that vaults at once past actual life, and any Romantic ideal of actual life, into some abstract library of learned reference. What we get is not Kishore Kumar as a poem (if only!) but a condescending or ironic reference to Kushore Kumar—in the abstract, attenuated, machine-like speech of the anti-lyrical, footnote, poem.

One of the better poems in the portfolio, by Arundhathi Subramaniam (it actually has a somewhat personable and lyric beauty) happens to contain the Kushore Kumar reference, a footnote gesture less annoying than usual. I also enjoyed the poems by Nabina Das, Rochelle Potkar, Sridala Swami, Jennifer Robertson, Ranjit Hoskote, Mani Rao, and Hoshang Merchant, though in most cases I’ve seen better examples of their work elsewhere. I’ve written about these poets in Scarriet. I compared Swami to Borges, praised Subramaniam as a “lullaby” poet, called Potkar a wonderful discovery, and even placed these poets into this year’s Scarriet Poetry March Madness. But here they are in Poetry. And of course I am happy for them.

Have I soured on the Indian poetry in this special edition of Poetry because I read the introduction first, and that soured me? Or were my expectations too high, thinking the venerable Poetry magazine would offer the best Indian Poetry selection I had ever seen?

Here’s the first poem we meet in the volume. It’s a kind of flickering, black and white, news reel of broken images, half-memories, abstracted references. Modernist to the core. What is it saying? We are not sure, exactly. India was never free, never happy? The ends of lines and the end of the poem, swoon towards their termination in an Eliotic whimper. What we do know is the poem is vaguely complaining, inglorious, and trying its best not to sound poetic (because the Romantics are not allowed).

Freedom (Nabanita Kanungo)

It would try to lisp a dumbness sometimes—
the language of welts rising slowly on the panes,
a cracked blur of riot-torn air,
confused which year it was.
.
The last time it made a sound was when
it crinkled on its way into a bin,
a great plot of justice. I wasn’t born, then;
my father was.
.
It must have been whole once,
for you could still conceive it like a dream,
a gloriously illegitimate thing, though;
until a country was torn out of its heart one day
and you saw its impaled ghost in the moon.
.
My grandfather told me we had slept so long
with a flag over us, we couldn’t run when
machetes poked us awake amidst still-dreaming heads
rolling in the streets like marbles struck in game.
.
There was nowhere to go and we went nowhere,
with its face slumped on our backs
and history books that said what had happened is the past,
.
until sixty years later, a community’s threats betraying
her voice, a poor nun requested me
to leave my month-old job in a convent
where I’d studied since childhood.
.
I keep trying to find its shape in photographs, old letters,
the wind of stories trapped in some cancerous throat, dying …
.
a tattered roof in the stars, a tent flying off
with meanings barely gathered into a heap.

One imagines a Modernist school teacher shaping this poem—and what is ironic about this, of course, is that Modernism was the period when the English were still (cruelly) ruling India. The Greeks, the Romantics, where is their influence? Why is Indian poetry ruled by a style belonging to early 20th century American Anglophiles, like Pound and Eliot? Pessimistic, anti-Romantic Pound and Eliot? Why? Poe fought for American literary independence—and was rejected, even reviled, by the Anglo-American modernist establishment (Eliot hated Poe as much as he hated Shelley).

Look how the first poem in the volume ends: “with meanings barely gathered into a heap.” Why should Indian poets linger in the tidal pools of late British Empire despondency? “Because we have troubles!” Of course you do—but why is the aspiration and promise and identity of the poetry you choose the sour, anti-Romanticsm of your British masters? The ones even British poets like Shelley found objectionable? Indians, what are you thinking?

What is the editorial mission of this Indian Poetry portfolio?

Poems not enjoyed as poetry, but deemed useful as vague, Modernist, teaching-sorts-of-things?

And as much as this may be somewhat useful, and wide-ranging, the editors have somehow managed, even in this case, to present a narrow vision of Indian poetry. Not so much Wall of Sound, as Wall of Pound. Indian poets stuck in a desultory, lost-in-time, Modernism. The editors have put Indian Poetry in a certain container, coloring what it contains. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Indian poets writing in English have access to a long tradition of poetry in English, including every sort of world historical poet translated into English. There’s no reason they must, in such large numbers, wear the stiffness of Anglo/American Modernism.

Trapped in the dullness of this anti-poetry (referencing all sorts of cultural things in a stilted manner) one dutifully marches through the gray maze of this highly learned affectation thinking: is Indian poetry today the attempt to smash the “British Literary Tradition,” in solidarity with a few dead, white, male, American poets, who killed their “British Literary Tradition” with the cudgel of Ezra Pound? (Never mind that the “British Literary Tradition”—whatever shallow idea one has of it—didn’t have to be “killed,” and why with Ezra Pound?)

I have discovered many poems by Indian poets lately, many of them poets in this Poetry issue, as well as many excellent amateurs who by dint of their academic outsider status, would never be selected for a collection like this.

I’m convinced the quality of Indian poems in English today is equal, or greater, to, the quality of poems written in the UK and America.

Yet Indian poets get scant attention.

Unfortunately (and this is nothing against the poets themselves represented here) you would not know this quality exists from Poetry’s India issue—which is a terrible shame.

It’s almost a betrayal.

When I was younger, I naturally thought poetry was everything, and editing was nothing. Now I’m beginning to think the opposite is true. I could name exciting Indian or Indian-background poets I admire, poets who don’t write like Ezra Pound, but write with honesty and vigor, and inhabit a variety of styles in a thrilling, even memorable, manner, and yet one might be moved to go find a poem by these poets and be underwhelmed—since no poet publishes poems of equal quality.

The selection matters.

Every poet—because it is finally the poems, not the poet, which matter—has bad and good poems.

It is important we find and assemble the good ones. Critics and reviewers must judge. This is all they are supposed to do.

Let me name some wonderful poets left out of this selection: Linda Ashok, Anand Thakore, Ravi Shankar, Medha Singh, Daipayan Nair, Kushal Poddar, Sharanya Manivannan, Sarukkhai Chabria, Joie Bose, Menka Shivdasani, Ranjani Murali, Akhil Katyal, Jeet Thayil, Sushmita Gupta, Urvashi Bahuguna, N Ravi Shankar, Abhijit Khandkar, Arun Sagar, Aseem Sundan, Sukrita Kumar, CP Surendran, Nalini Priyadarshni, Divya Guha, Arjun Rajendran, Aishwarya Iyer, Sophia Naz, Meera Nair, Arun Sagar, Tishani Doshi, Huzaifa Pandit, Bsm Murty, Sumana Roy, Aakriti Kuntal.

Sensual, hopeful, colorful, wise, spiritual, romantic, scientific, wry, affectionate. And yes, anti-Modernist. That’s why I love these poets.

It may seem an act of sour grapes to list a few of my favorite poets the editors missed, and there’s a danger an incomplete search of their work will disappoint. The last thing I wish to bring to Poetry’s Indian Poetry party is bitter words and no answers. Even passable Ezra Pound imitators deserve better than that.

 

INDIAN POETRY —JUNE

Image result for india in june

In his poem, “Ugly Histories,” Shrenik Mutha recounts, without trying to be overtly poetic, husbands slapping wives within his family.

their histories are
shameful. I will write them
even if they don’t tell me, even if I don’t know them,
I will write them
by listening closely to the silences in people’s voices.

Is how “Ugly Histories” ends.

And then follows:

“Shrenik Mutha is a Pune based poet. He studies Law.”

Why am I not surprised “he studies Law?”

Families have “ugly histories,” which must be unpacked, and the bravery and the beauty forgotten, and if the poet won’t do it, well, there’s always a lawyer who will.

Truth is attractive, and poets will tell their readers how attractive Dame Truth is—and readers, in turn, emboldened, can shout the news.

To make the good known, efficiency is crucial—the more readers informed of the truth, the better, which is perhaps why poetry was invented—to make the truth as attractive to as many people as possible—without bothering with the machinations of the courts, where true and just proceedings are respectful, confidential, fair, material, argumentative, and agonizingly slow.

Mutha’s “even if they don’t tell me” might not fly in court

Hearsay, like poetry, can go in any direction.

All citizens have a right to be treated justly; and usually the more just, the more dull.

The poets have a slightly different agenda.  Dame Truth might wink. Or smile.

Or weep.

*

Urvashi Bahuguna gives you so much trouble and adventure in her poems, you exhale deeply after you finish reading.

Walking a rope bridge over the Atlantic, she freaks out.  “The stomach is a swing” is how she deftly conveys the sickening fear. “Stepping off the bridge, the grass/ is grasped at for support.”  From her poem, “Alone.”

Like most moderns, she doesn’t let form get in the way.  No verse manuals for her. “there is no manual on how to resist/ a man who steps off a moving train”  From her poem, “In praise of drool.”

The poem, “Boy,” is worth quoting in full:

Boy meets girl, girl orders the right
dish in a restaurant. Boy thinks
he never has to order for himself
again.

Girl doesn’t get on the aeroplane,
Boy doesn’t understand, won’t hug
her back. Girl slips into his pocket
her mornings where she will wake in time
for him to hear her voice before his
day ends.

Boy comes home in the holidays, Girl grows
her hair out, Boy doesn’t recognize the
inches, struggles with the idea
that she might be prettier than before.

Boy doesn’t know the new places in
town, Girl takes him for tea here
cake there, wine somewhere else.
Boy is tired, their city is shifting
in his head. Boy
doesn’t say any of this

only asks time and again
that she quit smoking. Girl kisses
some other boy. Girl wishes
it was Boy. She doesn’t tell him
any of this, only gets angry that
he doesn’t call more often. Boy is Boy.

Boy pretends it away, Boy holds the trump
card: he flies away. In tropical countries,
autumn is not a season. Boy watches the leaves
turn yellow. Boy is glad there are places Girl
is not.

“Boy doesn’t recognize the inches” is nice, as is the passage beginning, “Girl slips into his pocket…”

Nice as well: how singularly expressed are the miscommunications, the ‘who gets the upper hand’ in love, and the idea of place.

Contemporary poetry’s significance is this—rhyme and meter abating, under the quantity radar, we get “the inches” of a more subtle measure, or the artful, though plain, beauty of “her mornings where she will wake in time/for him to hear her voice before his/day ends.”  We don’t “recognize the inches,” perhaps, but Wordsworth, Shelley, and Millay are alive and well in them. Urvashi Bahuguna is a contemporary poet. “Boy is Boy” is perhaps the downside. The plain, the quotidian, the banal, and the familiar threaten to overwhelm at all times. When we judge in a poem and judge poems as we would tweets, poetry’s stock cannot help but go down. Poetry’s Modernist agenda demands the poet be good without a guide. Many get lost in the woods, and if they escape using their wits, they still haven’t found poetry—because poetry is the opposite of being lost.

**

Sridala Swami is interested in labyrinths and mazes—how to get out of them, or into them, or how they are useless. She reminds us of Jorge Luis Borges.

Poetry like hers is self-effacing—you won’t get any news of her; just news of where her mind would like to go next.  Call it avant-garde, if you wish.

Here’s a rather remarkable poem of hers:

“Redacted poetry is a message in a bottle”

You have one book with you. It is your lifeline, because you are now in a place with no means of communication. There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.

So you compose your message in your head, you mark words in the book, and you carefully cut them out one by one, knowing all the while that for every word you use up, others will be lost on the reverse. This is the opportunity cost of making your message.

But you do it anyway because you must. At first your dispatches are voluble and profligate. Soon, you ration your words. As the pages become cut-outs the book speaks to you differently. It must now be a classic because every time you read it, it shows you something new.

The end of the book does not come, as it usually does, when the last page is turned. It comes when what remains are the unusable words. Everyone has a different list of these, but because this is the book you have and this is your list, the words that remain include ‘anneal’ and ‘recombinant’ and ‘brise’. This is not to say that you do not love these words, or that you are not happy that somebody– the author of the book, for instance—found a use for them; just that you can’t imagine what you could have to say that would include these and other such words.

But you learn these words because—after you have said all you have to say, after you have used up all the other words—these are all that are left you. Until other words come from the outside, until they can be recycled, the words you don’t want or need are your companions through what you hope is only a temporary silence.

I am reminded of Dante’s Vita Nuova, the earlier work on falling in love with Beatrice, where in the beginning of that book Dante says this small book is copied from a larger one—his memory.

To contemplate sets of finite quantity—where it is common to vaguely assume the infinite—is the mark of the mathematical genius, and any writer, despite the immensity of language and its reality, profits quite a bit (who can say how much?) from this activity. Sridala Swami is doing that here, and traveling from the “one book” to “words you don’t want or need are your companions through what you hope is only a temporary silence,” is quite a ride.

***

Aditi Nagrath has a poem, “On Flowers, In Your Absence” which is also profound, in a more lyric manner:

Truth be told, I am never more mine
than when I am yours. What a thing to say!
I meant it. At least in the moment
of that moment—in its core, the throne
of pain—what I said was true even if
the words I used were not. Afterwards,
I turned outwards: petal, leaf, stamen,
stem, one flower, two, a bunch perhaps.
Subtle pink, startling white, a hint
of yellow. I preferred them greatly
to the colors beyond my window.

The metaphysical acrobatics of Nagrath’s poem are delightful: truth, meaning, time; the personal heroically stirring itself against the beyond.

****

Adil Jussawalla was born in Mumbai in 1940, lived in England between 1957 and 1970, and published his first book at 22.

Jussawalla’s work reflects the dying, glorious flame of formalist Anglo-American poetry.  He’s good, but good poetry needs a good audience far more than bad poetry does—should a good audience rebuke bad poetry, or ignore it? Or, is there no such thing as an “audience” for poetry (and no such thing as bad poetry) and, instead, a million types of poetry ought to find their million audiences?

I believe in one audience, and the advantage should be apparent at once—and if it’s not, the attempt to convince you of its validity will certainly fail.

The critical consensus seems to be that Jussawalla is “complex” and to understand his poetry it is necessary to pontificate endlessly about “neocolonialism” and “Marxism” and the “quest for meaning” and the “irony of art” and the “future of marginalization” and other nonsense.  Any poet is flattered by scholarly attention—until he realizes the scholarly blabber has effectively buried the poetry.

After Jussawalla gained notoriety with his honesty, formalism, and wit, in the 1960s, he must have eventually felt a great deal of pressure to sound less like Robert Lowell (d. 1977) or W.H. Auden (d. 1973). Well, Lowell and Auden didn’t have to ask permission to sound like whomever they were imitating—Milton, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Homer—so why should an Indian poet have to do the same?  Good poetry doesn’t need political, ethical or nationalistic tricks. It’s poetry. It can do any trick it wants. It just has to be good—and lucky enough (or sly enough, perhaps) not to be ruined by scholarship.

*****

Is haiku a hustle?

It was for Williams and Pound, who, in broad daylight, in the early 20th century, ripped off haiku (all the rage after the Japanese won the Russo-Japanese War in 1905) in the name of one quickly drawn up, Western, High Modernism, Imagiste, poetry movement—which lived in little magazines for a few years and then landed triumphantly in American school textbooks.

Poe said a “long poem doesn’t exist,” but he also warned that poetry is neither truly itself as a mere epigram.

Poe’s warning hasn’t slowed down “The Red Wheel Barrow” and its harrowing influence. It’s difficult to argue against the brief when time is all we have.

A larger term for Modernism in the West (with all the loaded, hate-the-classical-past, rhetoric implied) might be Impressionism, in many ways its earlier manifestation—art seeking only an immediate “impression,” whether it’s a war photograph, an Instagram poem, a Rumi insight poem, or a piece of ‘collage’ art resembling whirlwinds of trash, in a symbolic critique, perhaps, of “late capitalism.” Impressionism covers all, and is hard to resist.

Paresh Tiwari has been “widely published” and “has conducted haiku and haibun workshops,” says a website. (Haibun is the introductory prose piece to a haiku).

This is the kind of poet who fills the serious poets with despair, since what serious poet can compete with a poem like the following?

in the space
between falling rain
and loneliness…
the song
that once was ours

There. Consider yourself hustled.

******

Anjali Purohit, situates herself against haiku/impressionism in the pure temporal/metaphoric force of her poem, “The Wave.”  It is simple, yet effective:

The Wave

She knows she will break
And yet
She rushes to meet him,
The rock.

Rising and falling,
a song
gathering momentum
smiling surf
rushing to throw herself
at the rock.

He just waits
patiently watching
her insanity
as she smashes into him

Inevitably
breaking herself into
infinite particles
spray and foam

covers him
for a moment too brief,
holds him
in her temporality

he just waits
patiently watching
her madness
unmoved, knowing

that even after
she scatters
herself with abandon and
abates, subsides, silent

going back into
her mother’s womb
again
one with the deep

that she goes only
to gather strength
build up and
come rushing back

to be splintered
around him.
Patiently waiting
The rock.

Over and over forever
She knows she will break
and yet
she rushes.

*******

And so we come to the end of June’s poets. Thanks, again, to Linda Ashok. We’ll see you in July!

 

 

%d bloggers like this: