COBRAS CONTINUE TO LEAD PEOPLES DIVISION AS LAWS GAIN

In world of romantic poetry, ancient Indian poets beat them all ...

PEOPLES DIVISION

Kolkata Cobras 38 26
Santa Barbara Laws 35 29 (3)
Beijing Waves 32 32 (6)
Tokyo Mist 27 37 (11)
LA Gamers 26 38 (12)

Rabindranith Tagore, pitching ace of Satajit Ray’s Cobras, recently added a new pitch to his repertoire—a knuckle curve nearly impossible to hit.

Unfortunately, Rabindranith hasn’t been able to throw it consistently for strikes, and he’s been leaving his fastball up in the zone when behind in the count.

Tagore has lost five in a row, including a 10-1 loss in his last start. Manager Rupi Kaur insists she’s not worried, but the last time Tagore pitched a gem was in the middle of May, shutting out the Waves, 3-0, part of a four game sweep of Chairman Mao’s team in Kolkata. Hermann Hesse is slowly coming around for the Cobras as their no. 4 starter, with 5 wins; Rumi and Gandhi each have 9 wins. Vikram Seth, Jadoo Akhtar, and George Harrison continue to be the big three in the Kolkata lineup. Seth’s 16 homers is the most in the Peoples Division; Akhtar has 14, and Harrison 12. The Cobras are also playing great defense, and their bench is deep.

The Laws trail the Cobras by only 3 games. Laws center fielder John Donne is on fire, and now has 16 round-trippers, tied for the division lead. Thomas Hardy has 11.

Ferdinand Saussure has joined the Laws bullpen—so far he’s 0-2, but he’s shown good stuff, and he might just be the stopper the Laws need. The Laws and Cobras, the top two teams in the division, have been trying to find a bullpen ace all season. Good news for the Cobras: great outings by both new addition Ramavtar Sarma and Kabir Das in relief—shutout innings leading to wins.

But what should concern the Cobras is the performance of the Laws top two starters—Aristotle and Francis Bacon.  Aristotle has won 4 of his last 5 starts, the only loss when he was out-pitched by the Waves Voltaire, 2-1. And Lord Bacon is 9-1 in his last 11 starts, including 3 shutouts. Horace is still not pitching well for the Laws, and Oliver Wendell Holmes has been up and down, but if Saussure works out as a closer, Dick Wolf’s Laws from Santa Barbara are the team to beat in the Peoples Division.

The Beijing Waves are solidly in third place, but they’ve lost 9 of their last 16. Like the Cobras, the Waves have a murderer’s row—Tu Fu (12 homers), Li Po (14 homers), and Karl Marx (11 homers), but they have a porous defense and all of their starters have struggled at one time or another. Voltaire (6 wins) seems to be turning it around, you never know what you’re going to get with Lucretius (7-7), Rousseau hasn’t been too bad, but he has 2 wins, and Lao Tzu (8 wins) has been their best so far. Confucius (6-2) has been a godsend in the bullpen for Mao’s team, a bullpen otherwise shaky, though Khomeini finally got a win with three scoreless innings. Pitching coach Nancy Pelosi: “We just need Voltaire and Rousseau to win.” Manager Jack Dorsey: “We have the best team in the league. I really believe that. Neruda is making too many errors at third. We’ve talked. Brecht has been playing hurt at catcher. We’ll turn this around. Watch us in the second half.”

Kurosawa’s Mist and Merv Griffin’s Gamers are the bottom feeders in the Peoples Division.

John Lennon and Hilda Doolittle are hitting for the Mist, but no one is pitching well, except for new bullpen addition Haruki Murakami. Kobe Abe is 2-7 and D.T. Suzuki is 0-4 in relief—the Mist are plugging other pitchers into the bullpen: Takaaki Yoshimoto, Murasaki Shikibu, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Heraclitus. Basho has 1 win in his last 9 outings, Issa 2 in his last 11. It’s bad. Yukio Mishima has 7 wins and Yone Noguchi has 6.

Eugene Ionesco leads the Gamers with 13 homers; Billy Collins is the Gamers no. 2 slugger with 12. But Collins has 6 errors in left field. Lewis Carroll is walking too many hitters; the ace is 7-6. Democritus (1-2) has replaced E.E. Cummings (2-4) with mixed results; he lost 2-1 to Rumi in his first start. And manager Bob Hope has gone with Garrison Keillor for James Tate as their no. 3 starter; Keillor (1-2) hasn’t exactly been lights-out. Antoine de Saint Exupery (0-1) is now the fourth starter in place of Derrida (1-7). Clive James (1-0) and M.C. Escher (lefty with a good curve) join Menander (5-3), Charles Bernstein (0-4), and Christian Morgenstern (1-2) in the bullpen.

The Gamers have lost 11 of 18 in their fall to the bottom of the division.

Pitching coach Lorne Michaels: “Let’s give the new pitchers a chance. Democritus, Keillor, Antoine. Clive James. Escher. Our problem is simple. Too many walks. We need to throw strikes. Walks slow down the game and lead to errors in the field. I’m telling my guys, brevity is the soul of pitching; go right after the hitters. We’re being too cute.”

“We’re never giving up,” said third baseman Joe Green, who slammed his 6th homer yesterday, fourth on the team behind Ionesco, Collins, and Thomas Hood.

Rumor has it the Gamers just signed Woody Allen. They will need all the help they can get.

Scarriet had a chance to talk to the Laws’ John Donne.

Scarriet: Hello, I’m here with the excellent poet, John Donne.

Donne: The excellence is disputed.

Scarriet: Your reputation is beyond dispute, Mr. Donne.

Donne: My poems are dipped in disputation, and by that comes their reputation.

Scarriet: You are most subtle.

Donne: Against my will. In heaven nothing is subtle. Make plain your interview.

Scarriet: Well. You have sixteen home runs. Congratulations.

Donne: Those home runs belong to the pitchers who threw them. They are not mine.

Scarriet: Will the Laws catch the Cobras?

Donne: No law says we will. I would sin against God to say one way or the other.

Scarriet: What’s the most challenging aspect of Scarriet Poetry Baseball?

Donne: The metaphysics—when poetry meets philosophy—sometimes calls into question the geometry between home plate and center.

Scarriet: You have emerged as one of the best fielding center fielders in the league. I know Laws pitchers like Aristotle and Francis Bacon owe a lot to you.

Donne: Defense pitches, and pitching plays defense. (standing)

Scarriet: Good luck the rest of the year!

Donne: God has given me all the luck I need. But thank you.

Scarriet: Thank you, Mr. Donne!

 

POETRY MAGAZINE’S INDIA ISSUE, JULY/AUGUST 2019

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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, 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.

 

SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED! WITH BEST LINES!

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 Sushmita Gupta

Poetry doesn’t have a center—therefore this “hot” list is not legitimate, but is.

Good poems and poets are everywhere. These happened to hit my eyes.

The best poems are not being published by the major publishers or the glossy magazines or the Poetry Foundation, but by our Facebook friends, our girlfriends, or the guy sitting next to us at the café. The best poem in English, being written somewhere right now—right now—is probably being written in India. Comforting or not, this is the fact.

The death of Mary Oliver, and its fairly large public notice, shows poetry has a kind of shadow center, if not a real one, occasionally manifesting itself as seemingly real, only to fade into Auden’s cry, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Slowly, in obscure corners of people’s hearts, poetry does happen. It has no intellectual, philosophical, or critical identity, and its social identity is crushed by cinema and the popular song. But times change, and poetry does seem to be simmering towards something larger in the places where large things occur.

Poetry as the technical art, and poetry as it vaguely exists in the everyday efforts and reflections of the world are two different things. No poet or critic is responsible for the vastness of the latter.

In this contemporary snapshot list of poems, I intentionally made the search greater to include the best-known sources, for two reasons: “what are the most distinguished outlets doing?” and for the sake of variety.

So the poems on this list are poems I happily and locally and accidentally see, and also poems gleaned from sources which a slightly larger audience sees.

This explains why you see the poems you do.

As far as how the poems are actually ranked, the best first, and so on, again, I plead guilty to subjectivity, which never excuses authoritarian decisions—it only makes them seem more authoritarian; but the word authoritarian is overused and misused these days—whatever decisions the comfortable, fake-revolutionaries don’t like, are called, after the fact, authoritarian.

The poems are ranked by the best lines uttered in these poems.

Philip Nikolayev (on the list) has a theory that poetry lives, finally, in great lines.

It was a great Facebook discussion, and I forget what I said about it, then, which is all that matters—the Scarriet Hot 100 I introduce here is my authoritarian moment in the sun—and why I bring it up, I don’t know, because I agreed with Nikolayev, then, and now, perhaps, I don’t.

All the poems on the Hot 100 list are good—but some, as good as they are, have nothing but plain and ordinary lines, or phrases. No stand-alone piece of the poem—good when the poem is read as a whole—sounds very interesting.

In rare instances, the title of the poem, coupled with the selected mundane part of the poem, combines to be of interest, or surprising. As you judge, keep the titles in mind as you read the line.

Because the ranking here is by line (or part of a line, or lines) I should say a word or two about what makes a good line.

I believe it can be summed up: a good line is where the vision and the rhythm speak together.

Some lines are good for purely prose fiction reasons—they sound like the start of a great short story. They point, rather than being the point.

One more thing: since Scarriet has written on Indian poetry recently, many poets are from India; those designated “Scarriet” were featured on that date on this site, though found elsewhere. Please search, enjoy, and support, will you? all 100 of these poets.

 

(1) Jennifer Barber —Continuum (2018 The Charles River Journal #8) “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

(2) A.E. Stallings —Pencil (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Atlantic) “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

(3) Sushmita Gupta —Gently Please  (12/18 FB) “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

(4) William Logan —The Kiss (2017 Rift of Light Penguin) “‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

(5) Eliana Vanessa —this black rose (12/13 FB) “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

(6) Abhijit Khandkar —Bombil  (Poetry Delhi 12/1) “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

(7) Philip Nikolayev —Blame (1/4/19 FB) “within its vast domain confined”

(8) Sharanya Manivannan —Keeping the Change (12/5/18 Scarriet) “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

(9) Hoshang Merchant —Scent of Love (10/12/18 Scarriet) “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

(10) Divya Guha —Non-attendance (1/16/19 Gmail) “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

(11) Ravi Shankar —Buzzards (12/5/18 Scarriet) “What matters cannot remain.”

(12) Mary Angela Douglas —Epiphany of the White Apples (1/3/19 Scarriet) “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual Spring”

(13) N Ravi Shankar—Bamboo (12/26/17 FB) “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

(14) Aseem Sundan —The Poet Lied About The Paradise (1/12/19 Indian Poetry) “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

(15) Stephen Cole —The descriptor heart (1/18/19 FB) “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

(16) Yana Djin —Days are so slow, adoni, so slow (1/2/19 Vox Populi) “In the dusk leaves like golden suns shiver and glow”

(17) Ann Leshy Wood —Thanksgiving, For my father, 1917-2012 (11/23/16 FB) “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

(18) Shalim Hussain —Dighalipukhuri (12/5/18 Scarriet) “His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.”

(19) Linda Ashok —Tongue Tied (4/4/18 Cultural Weekly) “How deep is the universe? How many/light years will it take to reach your belly”

(20) Marilyn Chin —How I Got That Name (2018 Selected Poems, Norton) “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

(21) Diane Lockward —The Missing Wife (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

(22) Daipayan Nair —Roseate with Jyoti (Season 2) Poem VI (12/30/18 FB) “you hold my hand like possibilities”

(23) Ranjit Hoskote —Effects of Distance (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Blue is the color of air letters, of conqueror’s eyes./Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.”

(24) Nabina Das —Death and Else (9/7/18 Scarriet) “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

(25) Sridala Swami —Redacted poetry is a message in a bottle (6/9/18 Scarriet) “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

(26) Anand Thakore —Elephant Bathing (7/5/18 Scarriet) “As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,/Leap into a flight forever deferred.”

(27) Danez Smith —acknowledgments (December 2018 Poetry) “i call your mama mama”

(28) Anne Stevenson —How Poems Arrive (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “Or simply wait/Till it arrives and tells you its intention.”

(29) Jennifer Robertson —Coming Undone (4/14/18 Scarriet) “ocean after ocean after ocean”

(30) Srividya Sivakumar—Wargame (1/12/19 Scarriet) “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

(31) Medha Singh —Gravedigger (January 2019 Indian Quarterly) “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

(32) Lily Swarn —The Cobbler (1/7/19 Pentasi B World Friendship Poetry) “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

(33) Sophia Naz —Neelum (5/2/18 Scarriet) “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

(34) James Longenbach —This Little Island (November 2018 Poetry) “And when the land stops speaking/The wave flows out to sea.”

(35) Sam Sax —Prayer for the Mutilated World (September 2018 Poetry) “that you are reading this/must be enough”

(36) Raena Shirali —Daayan After A Village Feast (Anomaly #27) “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

(37) Priya Sarukkhai Chabria —She says to her girlfriend (12/5/18 Scarriet) “in the red slush/open/to flaming skies.”

(38) Nitoo Das —How To Write Erotica (10/12/18 Scarriet) “You’re allowed to be slightly long-winded.”

(39) Sukrita Kumar —The Chinese Cemetery (4/14/18 Scarriet) “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

(40) Zachary Bos —All that falls to earth (May, 2018 Locust Year—chapbook) “In a library properly sorted/ecology stands beside eulogy.”

(41) Khalypso —Women Are Easy To Love Over The Internet (Anomaly #27) “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

(42) C.P. Surendran —Prospect (10/12/18 Scarriet) “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

(43) Dan Sociu —The Hatch (Trans. Carla Bericz, National Translation Month) “the man with the tambourine went off cursing me”

(44) Nalini Priyadarshni —When You Forget How To Write a Love Poem (12/21 Chantarelle’s Notebook a poetry e-zine) “You try different places at different hours,/dipping your pen in psychedelic summer skies”

(45) June Gehringer —I Don’t Write About Race (1/16/19 Luna Luna Magazine) “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

(46) Robin Flicker —I fell asleep holding my notebook and pen (12/22 FB) “In my dream, the pen was a pair of scissors, and I had to cut out every letter of every word.”

(47) Robin Morgan —4 Powerful Poems about Parkinson’s (10/15/15 TED Talk You Tube) “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

(48) Arundhathi Subramaniam —Prayer (11/15/18 Scarriet) “when maps shall fade,/nostalgia cease/and the vigil end.”

(49) Menka Shivdasani —The Woman Who Speaks To Milk Pots (9/7/18 Scarriet) “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

(50) Ryan Alvanos —7:30 (2011 From Here—album online) “not too long and not too far/I carefully left the door ajar”

(51) Tishani Doshi —The Immigrant’s Song (3/16/18 Scarriet) “hear/your whole life fill the world/until the wind is the only word.”

(52) Semeen Ali —You Look At Me (3/16/18 Scarriet) “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

(53) Kim Gek Lin Short —Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

(54) Lewis Jian —Mundane Life (1/9/19 World Literature Forum) “who’s wise enough to reach nirvana?”

(55) Dimitry Melnikoff —Offer Me (1/12/19 Facebook Poetry Society) “Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

(56) Kushal Poddar —This Cat, That (12/13/18 FB) “call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

(57) Ben Mazer —Divine Rights (2017 Selected Poems) “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

(58) Christopher T. Schmitz —The Poet’s Oeuvre (12/24 FB) “poems that guess/at the argot of an era to come/and ache with love/for the world he’s leaving/and couldn’t save.”

(59) Simon Armitage  —To His Lost Lover (2017 Interestingliterature) “And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,/about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.”

(60) Akhil Katyal —For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now (7/5/18 Scarriet) “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

(61) Minal Hajratwala —Operation Unicorn: Field Report (8/10/18 Scarriet) “The unicorns are a technology/we cannot yet approximate.”

(62) Jehanne Dubrow —Eros and Psyche (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “my mother might stay asleep forever, unbothered by the monument of those hands”

(63) Rochelle Potkar —Friends In Rape (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?”

(64) Merryn Juliette —Her Garden (9/21 FB) “grey as I am”

(65) Marilyn Kallet —Trespass (Plume #89) “Maybe that’s what Verlaine said,/at the end.”

(66) Meera Nair —On Some Days (12/17 FB) “on all days/Without fail/I need you”

(67) Nathan Woods —Wander, Wonder (12/26 FB) “into wands for spells to scatter the beasts”

(68) Rajiv Mohabir —Hybrid Unidentified Whale (11/15/18 Scarriet) “no others/can process its cries into music.”

(69) Dana Gioia —The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves (Video, Dana Gioia Official Site) “a crack of light beneath a darkened door.”

(70) Paige Lewis —You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm (January 2018 Poetry) “Right now, way above your head, two men”

(71) Smita Sahay —For Nameless, Faceless Women (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “change the way you tell your stories.”

(72) Sampurna Chattarji —As a Son, My Daughter (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “You fear nothing./You frighten me.”

(73) Michelina Di Martino —Original Sin (1/12/19 Intense Call of Feelings) “Let us make love. Where are we?”

(74) Jo-Ann Mort —Market Day (Plume #89) “wanting the air/ beside me to welcome you.”

(75) Sohini Basak—Laconic (1/12/19 Scarriet) “the rude dove just blinked”

(76) Carol Kner —Pieces of us Keep Breaking Off (Plume #89) “to quench the rage that lunges daily”

(77) Shikha Malaviya —September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours) (11/15/18 Scarriet) “Our hips swaying badly/to Bollywood beats”

(78) Michael Creighton —New Delhi Love Song (8/10/18 Scarriet) “all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.”

(78) Ranjani Murali —Singing Cancer: Ars Film-Poetica (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet”

(79) Jeet Thayil —Life Sentence (7/5/18 Scarriet) “your talk is of meat and money”

(80) Urvashi Bahuguna —Boy (6/9/18 Scarriet) “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/it was Boy.”

(81) Huzaifa Pandit —Buhu Sings an Elegy for Kashmir (3/16/18 Scarriet) “The beloved weeps in a hollow tongue”

(82) Nandini Dhar —Map Pointing At Dawn (2/21/18 Scarriet) “Ghost uncle is a calligrapher who cannot hold/a pen between his fingers.”

(83) Sumana Roy —Root Vegetables (2/21/18 Scarriet) “darkness drinks less water than light”

(84) Jorie Graham —Scarcely There (January 2019 Poetry) “We pass here now onto the next-on world. You stay.”

(85) Christian Wiman —The Parable of Perfect Silence (December 2018 Poetry) “Two murderers keep their minds alive/while they wait to die.”

(86) Martha Zweig —The Breakfast Nook (December 2018 Poetry) “One day it quits./The whole business quits. Imagine that.”

(87) Alex Dimitrov —1969 (September 2018 Poetry) “Then returned to continue the war.”

(88) Campbell McGrath —My Music (12/17/18 The New Yorker) “My music is way better than your music”

(89) Terrance Hayes —American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The New Yorker) “It is possible he meant that, too.”

(90) Garrison Keillor —I Grew Up In A Northern Town (1/12/19 FB) “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

(91) Dick Davis —A Personal Sonnet (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “These are the dreams that turned out to be real.”

(92) Sharon Olds —The Source (2018 All We Know of Pleasure—Poetic Erotica by Women, Shomer) “Ah, I am in him”

(93) Manjiri Indurkar —Diabetes at a Birthday Party  (1/12/19 Scarriet) “Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?/Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.”

(94) Jayanta Mahapatra —Her Hand (1/12/19 Scarriet) “The little girl’s hand is made of darkness/How will I hold it?”

(95) Rony Nair —Solarium (1/12/19 Scarriet) “some people get off on sleeping with your enemy”

(96) John Murillo —A Refusal To Mourn The Deaths By Gunfire, Of Three Men In Brooklyn (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “You strike your one good match to watch it bloom/and jook”

(97) CA Conrad —a Frank poem (12/31/18 Facebook Fraternity of Poets, DonYorty.com) “one experience is quietly/consumed by the next”

(98) Sara J. Grossman —House of Body (Anomaly #27) “weather of abundant appendages”

(99) Rupi Kaur —did you think i was a city (1/5/19 Instagram) “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

(100) Warsan Shire —The House (2017 Poetry Foundation) “Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANUARY INDIAN POETRY

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January closes this book—but not forever, just on this series—on Indian Poetry: 84 living poets associated with India, writing in English, chosen by Linda Ashok, and here, for a year, reviewed (very briefly, unfortunately) by Scarriet, starting in February 2018.

The British influence on the Indian poets born towards the middle of the last century was notable—and by “British,” I should say, Empire, because the world is run this way—the “Godless” nature poetry of Ted Hughes is evident in much modern poetry, no matter where it is written, and of course “modernism” also means the mechanical, the quotidian, war, displacement, as well as modest poems of small-life zen; modern Indian poets are like the modern British and the modern American poets—love, beauty, and the sublime make them a little uneasy; whenever they go that way, irony is necessary; the “Great Themes” belong to the 19th century, not the 20th, or the 21st, with their monumental nightmares.  Still, the best poets mix great and small—and the Indian poets do this as well as anyone.  Indian poetry is as strong as British and American poetry—I have no doubt, now.  Thank you, again, Linda Ashok.

Manjiri Indurkar writes crazy poetry which makes you shake your head, or grin, or perhaps chuckle. It’s not “crazy” because it’s crazy—it’s crazy because she writes about what is very real.

“I scratch my head and watch dandruff snowflakes fall on my keyboard.”

She fails Poe’s test for poetry; the popular poem is chiefly about Beauty, he says, and appeals most to Taste, which occupies the middle ground between Reason and Passion. The 19th century wisdom, dropping universally, like petals, or rain.

Schooled in Poe, I could vow to never read this poet, again. The dandruff-on-the-keyboard image, from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party” horrifies me, in my dignified and beautiful robes.

But I won’t keep my vow—Indurkar is endearing as hell.

And I wonder silently,
Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?
Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.

—from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party”

This is contemporary poetry in a nutshell—troubledhomely, embarrassing. The psychology is naked—Manjiri Indurkar is exactly like her mom—well-meaning, but inappropriate. But she is one step removed from her garrulous mother; because she will “wonder silently”-–in a poem.

*

Sohini Basak has a poem, “Laconic,” which could pass for a 19th century poem, which could please Poe—but it’s a poem in which the poet basically says ‘fuck you’ to a bird.

This may prove Poe right. Taste is how we say something—inappropriate, or not.

Passion belongs to all of us, no matter what kind of poet we are and no matter what kind of person we are. Passion is mostly private feelings, and remains under the radar.

We express our passions, if we ever do, in private, to a friend, or perhaps, in a poem, if we are a poet, appropriately, or inappropriately, as speech—guided by manners, or decorum.

If the police come running, or we lose our job, in 99 cases out of 100 it is because we violated, conspicuously, some norm of manners, or Taste.

Taste is not passion, or truth. Taste is how we publicly behave. Taste is precisely how we write our poems.

“Laconic,” like any poem, is fed by passion; the expression, the poem, itself, however, is determined by taste.

Here is Basak’s poem, in full—a delightful poem, in which human and bird interact, or do not interact (come to think of it, just like Poe’s famous poem):

Not everyone will respond to whistling; take the collared dove
I tried to talk to this morning while checking if my socks
were still wet on the clothesline. I said hello to which
the dove paid no notice, her speckled plumes shining
fish scales in the warm December sun. I quickly added,
how do you do, this time with a flair of a curtsey and when
that did not work, I said kemon achen (using the formal
second person subject pronoun in case some birds were
easily offended.) But the rude dove just blinked, disregarded
my speech, and shifted her attention to a bug on the juniper.
I considered waving but was embarrassed to admit that even
if I moved my limbs I did not fly. Finally, I garbled, cooed
in three different pitches, in vain barked, but the dove did not
open her beak, must be bird-brained, I said under my breath.
Then the button eye blinked and she flew away leaving me
behind with my pair of wet socks and two cold feet.
Every winter, I promise to learn something new: this time
I have decided to learn how to dovespeak, else fill my afternoons
continuing to build a tower of Babel out of the unused clothespins.

**

Mrinalini Harchandrai has a book with a very catchy title, A Bombay In My Beat. The following poem, “Making Art,” is published in The Bangalore Review.

The studio was lit
by December smog,
you’d make tea
make lunch
make breathless moans,
then you burned plastic paint
to make statements
about the environment.

The best brief poems are full of wide expanses; but the short poem, domesticated, resembling a small, well-appointed room, is good, too, and Harchandrai’s “Making Art” falls into this latter category. “breathless moans” hints the poet wants us to think ‘making love,’ when she writes Making Art. Her poem beautifully depicts the romantic, yet wretched, painter’s life: sorrowful, naughty, small, enclosed, smelly—and Harchandrai adds a searing, contemporary, eco-indictment which no doubt the intrepid artist will survive—even as burning plastic stinks up the “studio…lit by December smog.”

***

Rony Nair, also a photographer, is concerned with swirling chaos, but with a wry look. He writes “dude” poetry, and the term “dude” is meant only as a passing aesthetic description, not the label which some might consider pejorative, or sexist, breeding in their minds a chaos in which virtues which are not virtues—too wordy? too philosophical?—collide. The poems of Rony Nair resemble psychological journeys of Odysseus. They invoke crazy, but with a linguistically self-assured undercurrent of ‘don’t worry, this dude can handle it.’

“One by one they pass away/leaving you and me, apart in tether.” is how “An Actress dies At a Wedding” begins.

If that doesn’t convey what kind of poet he is, let me quote, in full, one rather brief poem of his, and it will be easy to see what I am talking about:

Solarium

some people die for Grace Kelly every night.
some people die on signboards piling tax free dreams and sons denied.
some people see failure spreading out in their shadow.
some people die careening life’s streets on their furrow.
some people fight white panoplies, red hot hate.
some people orgasm, imagining hell’s gate.
some people get off on sleeping with your enemy.
The enemy becomes Grace Kelly.
Grace Kelly becomes you.

****

Srividya Sivakumar gave a Ted talk in which she says “words complete the package” and “words are who you are.” As a bibliophile and a poet, who understands that children love words, that social media is driven by words, that plagiarism keeps us from self-discovery, she is one of those thinkers who goes so far as to say words originate the idea, and not the other way around.  The poet Shelley said thoughts are made of words—therefore poetry is thought itself.

In “Wargame,” does she use words to dive beneath them?  Not quite. Are the words diving into more words? Not really. Do her words ask for more words? Yes, this would be more accurate to say. “Wargame” resembles “wordgame,” and knowing how passionate Sivakumar is about words, we guess the resemblance is intentional—but we also see that she is not only passionate about words. She is passionate.

Here is the poem, in full.

Speak. Seek. Advance. Retreat. Say a word. A thought or two. Sing for me. You know you want to.
Canoe down the river. Climb up the waterfall. I’ll be here when you get back. Waiting to give it all.
Or maybe I’m not here. I’m deep-sea diving somewhere. I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.
You can wait for a change. It will do you good I think. Tie some reeds together. Swim sure, but don’t sink.
In due time, I shall come back to you. Or you’ll find your way to me. Our bodies will know each other. Our hearts will share the same beat.
Till then, let’s wait awhile. You at this end. Me on my side.
Let’s weave a tune for only two. Don’t call it anything.
No title will do.

*****

Gopika Jadeja writes bleak minimalist poetry, and it is a certain power which can make you severely depressed with just a few words. One might not get the references to war places that have been in the news recently—or perhaps years ago—but one still feels sad.

JAFFNA AFTERNOON

All walls, bullet riddled
All homes, ruins —Adil Mansuri, Bosnia 3

(i)

North of Jaffna
from the afternoon auto
I see a crow peck
at the carcass of a mongoose
torn into half entrails
strewn about in the middle
of the dirt road.

The air reeks
a void.

(ii)

The poet laughs.
Tells stories of war—
radios alive and kicking
on bicycle-run batteries,
a road-side snack
named after landmines.

The poet, bent —
plucks silences
from his head.

(iii)

At Point Pedro
I want to stop, take a picture
of the large white cross
against the darkening sky—

I cannot.
I am afraid to tread
where laughter is still fragile.

(iv)

Hand unsteady,
I learn to draw

again
on pock-marked walls.
To join the dots.

Srinagar. Ramallah.
Baghdad. Beirut. Khobane. Kabul.

……….Gujarat

******

Jayanta Mahapatra was born in 1928; a lecturer in physics, he did not write poetry until middle age. One of India’s most honored poets, his poems invoke real life horror, as well as moral ambiguity and struggle. And also transcendent, impossible love.

Her Hand

The little girl’s hand is made of darkness
How will I hold it?

The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads
Blood opens that terrible door between us

The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain
while its body writhes on its bed of nails

This little girl has just her raped body
for me to reach her

The weight of my guilt is unable
to overcome my resistance to hug her

And so ends Indian Poetry, hosted by Scarriet, February 2018 to January 2019.

*******

Image result for linda ashok

Image result for linda ashok

 

INDIAN POETRY DECEMBER

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December is here, and now Scarriet has looked at 77 Indian poets who write and publish in English, with one more month and seven more poets to go—84 in all, and what an illuminating exercise this has been!

Here’s what I learned and am learning. Indian poetry in English rivals Britain and the USA.  Let’s stop ignoring India.

Thanks, again, to Linda Ashok.

Now let’s look at this month’s poets:

Sharanya Manivannan is young (born in 1985) and writes of romantic episodes with feeling; the goal is: memories enhanced by tokens traced in the poetry become the reader’s. Wordsworth did this to wonderful effect with daffodils—the highest accomplishment of lyric poetry, in which Romantic pure feeling replaces poetry’s old task—history, scripture, satire—because the yellow flowers are both the memory and the reality; Wordsworth made sure reader and poet were on the same page; nothing gets in the way of daffodil fever.

The dilemma of describing a wonderful love affair is that the more wonderful it was, the more difficult (impossible) it is to describe. The love poet labors uphill; good Romantic poetry is  impossible. Classical, 19th century, Romantic poetry does not describe real love. Romantic poetry is a paradox, which is why no Modern has been able to replicate Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, or Shelley. The Moderns somehow did not get it. Perhaps because they look to old poetry, centuries-old poetry, much older than the Romantics, which depicts wild and passionate love in all its forms, with wit and natural imagery. The difference is, the love of the 19th century Romantics belonged to imagination, not love. In successful 19th century Romantic poetry, love has to be in the poetry itself, not only remembered. The “remembered” is all poetry is—except for the occasional poetic genius. Wordsworth: “And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

Manivannan is as close to the Romantics as any poet we have had the pleasure to read. Here is her poem, “Keeping the Change,” attempting to keep what is gone:

In the French Quarter I wrote you
love poems in yellow ochre,

unscrolled them like a trellis
of bougainvillea, paper
petals too intense to abandon,
too fragile to keep. How many
shots of thirty rupee citrus vodka
could we get for a ten dollar

bill? Everywhere you went you
told them to keep the change,

placing it palm-down back on
the table, so when I picked up

your hand to kiss it after, I
smelt metal on your skin.

I don’t know what you came
here looking for, but it
wasn’t in the cobblestone,
or in the rock-bordered

coastline, it wasn’t in the
prayer-dome or in anything
you filled those palms

with when I lifted those
dresses I bought on those
streets over my head,

needing you the way a vine
of thorns needs a spine.

And this much later, a
coffer in my memory still

rattles—your coins too
cheap to care for, too heavy
to carry.

But I have a weakness
for copper and weight, and

I have collected them all,
handfuls of ore and residue.
They function like paperweights,

burdening the wisps of things,
their threats to drift away.

This is a wonderful poem, even as it resembles, at moments, the slangy, breathless, love poem which has become a dreary cliche since Modernism made the informal everything.

But this is to say nothing—it is like saying 19th century masterpieces of poetry threaten to become too rhyme-y.  So what? An age has its idiosyncrasies, and it’s good to see Manivannan in her time rise above her time with this magnificent poem.

*

Priya Sarukkhai Chabria is a student of the love poem; the tanka (strong examples of medieval Japanese women’s poetry) classical Indian love poetry (explicit yet ornate, natural metaphors watching over human desire in poems bawdy or not). She tackles many old forms and stories and histories.  What I like is the attempt is Romantic—love and love beautifully remembered, whether it is considered moral, or not.

The challenge is the same. How does love live in the poem?  Perhaps the love cannot live in the poem?  Then how is the love poem interesting? What can the poor poem do, but be a lascivious peep hole of lost memory?

Sarukkhai Chabria, translator and scholar, as well as poet, has consciously tried to imitate the most passionate and witty love poetry of India’s past. She’s aware that speech, not just imagery, conveys the complexity of love in the most accessible yet intriguing sort of way:

She says to her girlfriend:

He said to me: Keep faith.
So I kept a stubborn faith in
him that grew
with every obstacle.
Swollen, taut, ready
I held this close within myself
feeling his absent presence
fill me full.

Suddenly—
this small spill,
for him a little thing.
His rapid pulling out of me
peels away my very skin.

I’m earthworm worming
in the red slush
open
to flaming skies.

Do we, the reader, want to be inside the very love of others? What do we make of her final image?  Does love poetry belong to the cheap and voyeuristic? How noble must the love be? What must we see? Not see?

These questions are answered if we return to the Romantics like Wordsworth. It isn’t about the love. It’s about the imagination. It is not a question of whether poetry should hold love at arm’s length, or not. The imagination is the filter, the authority, the judge, and the passion. This is why 19th century British Romanticism was a true renaissance of poetry—which the world neglects at its peril.

Sarukkhai Chabria is doing a good service by studying, translating and writing poems of love.

**

Ravi Shankar is a brilliant poet. If we can generalize, the best poets do five things well—1 use the language, 2 see, 3 feel, 4 think, and 5 manage the first four in a poem.

In poem after poem, the American poet Ravi Shankar, excels at all five. He prefers the loose sonnet form—four stanzas of three or four lines. He builds poems. Most poems are written. Shankar’s poems, like most we remember, are built.

No one would ever be foolhardy enough to say a poem must be this or that.

However, to reject completely the idea that a poem is something we recognize as a poem is to miss out, perhaps, on the secret.

We enter a house and recognize it as such—it is not a tunnel; it is not a field; it is not a forest. It is a house.

Shankar seems to have stumbled upon poem—and the result (of course poems and houses are infinite in their variety) is always poetry of the highest order.

“Buzzards” is a classic example—every word in the poem profits its neighbor, until the last startling phrase hugs the theme and crowns the whole.

Gregarious in hunger, a flock of twenty
turn circles like whorls of barbed wire,
no spot below flown over uncanvassed.

The closer to death the closer they come,
waiting on wings with keen impatient
perseverance, dark blades lying in wake

until age or wound has turned canter
into carcass or near enough for them
to swoop scrupulous in benediction,

land hissing, hopping, tearing, gorging,
no portion, save bone, too durable
to digest. What matters cannot remain.

“Contraction” is equally accomplished.

Honest self-scrutiny too easily mutinies,
mutates into false memories
Which find language a receptive host,
Boosted by boastful embellishments.

Self-esteem is raised on wobbly beams,
seeming seen as stuff enough
To fund the hedge of personality,
Though personally, I cannot forget

Whom I have met and somehow wronged,
wrung for a jot of fugitive juice,
Trading some ruse for a blot or two,
Labored to braid from transparent diction

Fiction, quick fix, quixotic fixation.
As the pulse of impulses
Drained through my veins, I tried to live
Twenty lives at once. Now one is plenty.

There are more Shankar poems like this: the language Shakespearean, the themes razor sharp, the expressiveness iconic.

It might as well be said. Ravi Shankar is at the top of the heap. There is no better poet living; we suspect a painful, heart-breaking, rueful quality prevents his work from being universally admired.

And another thing: we live in an age of social confusion.

The poem, in our time, which makes an impression on us like pigeons which wheel in a flock over our heads and come to a perfect rest on a church roof, is no longer the standard.

A dubious conversation of intense feeling we don’t quite understand, but puzzle over, is the model of the day.

Shankar’s poems are a product of these days, nonetheless; time will prove Shankar’s work to be excellent in every way it is possible to measure.

***

Abhay K, is like many Indian poets, an important compiler and translator, as well as a poet. He has published “100 Great Indian Poems,” most of them not originally in English.

He is also a diplomat. “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” falls into the didactic category, but it’s an arresting and important poem, nonetheless, and is not without irony: the powerful “need help themselves” is as ironic as the very notion that the greatest addiction involves no apparent “addiction” at all. Power is a tricky concept; without power, we can’t effect good, either, yet all of us understand immediately the point which “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” makes.

When we talk
of drugs and drug addicts,
we never talk of power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Cocaine, heroin or grass,
everyone knows,
are harmful for all,
and we have made them illegal
passing laws
but everyone craves power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Once tasted,
it surpasses the most addictive of drugs,
making a person mad,
numbing his senses
to the suffering and pain
of the millions
waiting in vain

for their deliverance
through these prophets insane,
power addicts, abusers,
who need help themselves.

****

Harnidh Kaur is in her mid-20s, and she’s what is loosely known as an “instagram poet,” with “followers,” if not “readers.” She voices concerns, which are called poems.  Enlarging the context of what poems are, and what they do, can be challenging, or so open-ended, poems no longer are.  But why should we care what poems are?  When context is “followers,” or “readers,” (the more, the better) perhaps democracy is enough to define poetry—so that we don’t need to define poetry at all.  The narrow definition of poetry by someone like Poe, for instance, can comfortably sit off to one side, and instagram poetry can do its thing. Everyone should be able to be happy.

did love seem like the scariest thing you ever did
because every time you tried to love
you made an unwanted political statement?

This is a good question.

Does it matter whether this is a poem, or not?

*****

Shalim Hussain is a political poet who hides his politics behind beautiful poetry, so that one wonders, is this poetry more beautiful because of the politics, and how can that be? We know beauty doesn’t allow her charms to be handled by others. She owns them, and will not permit their use for other ends. Politics, too, eager to be adorned by beauty, hasn’t got time for beauty, save as an adornment, for so much has to be explained. Politics is attached to history, religion, and all those things which requires scholarship and time.

Poetry which lends its voice to politics is dutiful in the extreme—it is anxious to be poetic, knowing there is too much to explain without metaphors and myths, and now there is so much work to do: myth, metaphor, politics will overwhelm and confuse, if the poet is not expert in sorting it all out.

I love the lines in this poem—“His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath” and many others are exquisite, delicate, first-rate. I love this poem—but honestly, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening—and the explanation at the end is not poetry, but an explanation.

The topic and the lines are so beautiful, however, that we’ll take it.

Witness the beauty of Hussain’s poem:

Dighalipukhuri*

One claw on a bar,
and the crow
lifts the other to his lips
and blows the day’s first puff.
His view races the smoke through the fencing,
conductors spank their buses on-
“Dighalipukhuri. Dighalipukhuri.”

Long pond.

He stares at a chirping he can never touch,
at entwined buds,
and pigeons floating together in air bubbles,
and lovebirds in love rows,
their heads under their wings.
His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.

At home his vulture
awaits him,
the spear in her hair and
a carcass in her beak.

Here he makes his day long,
sometimes swoops down and scoops up a
beakful of love from the face
Dighali.
Love the blushes of hyacinths
skimmed behind the boats.
The trees smell of Duryodhana’s incense
and Bhanumati’s anklets still tinkle beneath the paddle-boats,
her tumeric and potfuls of milk
and wedding tears
and a few thousand years of love.

He will return to blow the night’s last mists.

(*Dighalipukhuri, literally, ‘long pond,’ situated in Guwahati is an ancient pond frequented by lovers. It is connected by an underground tunnel to the river Brahmaputra and was supposedly dug for Duryodhana and Bhagadatta’s daughter Bhanumati’s wedding bath.)

******

Jerry Pinto is a novelist as well as a poet—which is often a hopeful sign to some; they cannot help but think, ‘A novelist! A good chance the poetry won’t be bullshit.’ But others may worry, ‘A novelist! Treason may be lurking! Not a real poet, perhaps!’ Neither of these positions are at all fair. Let’s thrust aside these predjudices, and read the following with an open mind.

Prayer

Lord of the linear narrative,
Show me the point at which I should begin.
Stop me when I have said as much as I should.
Regulate my voice, I boom too much
And my whispers are shrill.
Feed me words on those long, slow afternoons.
Allow me the grace of serendipity—
To find lost continents on my tongue.
Give me the gift of silence,
And then set me adrift.

*******

Seven more remarkable poets for this December installment!

We’ll see you in January!

 

INDIAN POETRY NOVEMBER

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Welcome to the November 2018 Scarriet Indian poetry in English.

It is advantageous when a poet knows what they want to do. Knowing what you want to do is the play you’re putting on.  I vastly prefer Shakespeare performed by the very young to the slickest Hollywood production featuring well-known actors. Shakespeare wins me over. And so a poet who knows what they want to do wins me over. An amateur love poem moves me more than a sophisticated one by a sophisticated poet who is dutifully being sophisticated—by saying nothing which identifies him as a poet with something to say. Auden, one of my favorite poets, said it is better for the apprentice poet to love to “play with words” than “to have something to say,” but this was Auden acting sophisticated for a certain class of people—Auden knew in his heart this was rubbish. It goes without saying a poet should be good with words and have a sizable vocabulary, but look what Mozart did with 12 notes. What you do is all. Not the words—is this wrong to assert around poets? I assert it, nonetheless. Hearsay belongs to words, and hearsay is the greatest enemy of the poet.

And because hearsay is the enemy, many seek the safety of “just playing with words.”  The truly brave fight hearsay by “having something to say.”

Linda Ashok knows what she wants to do.  She wants to make old-fashioned India sexually happier for women—a good challenge for poetry, and a good thing for her, since every great poet has an identity of some kind as a particular kind of poet; the vague feeling that you would like to write poetry isn’t enough; you need to know what you want to do before you write the poem. This is a simple fact. One can see the intention, or not—in every poem (no matter what the New Critics say) and language and experience are such that infinite profit can pour from a single theme; the poet who has no theme is barren.

Here is Linda Ashok’s “Dirty Love.”

A beach is a pretty place to kiss
but I don’t want to kiss you at pretty places

I want to kiss you under the bed
On the bathroom pot
While washing your wears
While on the wait for your train
at the station, at taxi stands

I want to kiss you by the masjid
by the tea-stall, house of the congress &
the conservatives
I want to kiss you in a public toilet

and places that are not as pretty as the beach

Because–
1) I only know how to make dirty love &
2) my absence can only love you as much

 

Linda Ashok is young and ambitious—the poem just quoted is superb—there are no limits to what she can do.

When I first met Linda Ashok as a literary online friend, “Linda,” a popular American hit song from 1946, was a brief point of interest between us, the context of which I cannot quite remember—except that, pedant that I am, I had to point out to Linda that “Linda,” the once well-known song, was named for the child who would grow up and marry the Beatle, Paul McCartney.  Yes, poets, it’s true!

I recently watched a documentary on my phone on the evolution of the Beatles’ public image as they burst upon the world in 1964—we all remember those snappy answers by the Fab Four at numerous press conferences, the Beatles, cocky, funny, self-assured, witty, ebullient at the time.

The documentary revealed by accident (it was the usual fan-hash of worship and nostalgia) the one overlooked fact of the most famous musical act in history—how much the Beatles came to hate the press—at first their best friends.

The press (publicity) ended up ruining the Beatles, causing them to retreat from public life, break up, hate each other, and lose their miraculous gift of songwriting before the age of 30.

“How long will you last?” “Which of you are married?” “Why are you doing solo projects?” “Are you spreading drug use?”

Paul McCartney was asked every day, “When are you going to marry Jane Asher?”

Paul became increasingly annoyed with the marriage questions—at one point saying on video with a very grim face, he hated marriage, (Linda was still a few years away) but this was only the tip of the iceberg; as the early 60s flew by, the Beatles died from fake news, exasperated with lying, gossipy, nasty reporters.

Poets live and die by the press release, the review, the publication, the notice, the award, the prize, the whisper.

But not just poets. All of us live and die by hearsay.

The poets are precisely that class of people who are supposed to miraculously conquer hearsay—when it comes to words, poets fight fire with fire.

When reporters and reviewers hate you, you are no poet, you are no human being. We really do live in the breath of others.

Linda Ashok is working hard, in a public manner, in the world of the press release, for poetry, and for all of us.

Upon the wave of hearsay she sails.

We make poetry professional when we elevate the criticism of the poetry.  Just as the Beatles knew they had truly made it when other artists began to cover their songs, poetry shared in a meaningful and sincere manner is the hard work that must be done.

Starry-eyed “poets” gushing fine sentiments and “liking” each other is to be encouraged, even, and it may advance poetry, professionally and internationally, but only so much.

Linda cares about poetry in all its guises, but I believe she also understands, in a worldly sense, what feeds poetry, and where poetry can go.

John Lennon wanted to pull out. Asked by a reporter (this might have been 1965) what he “really cared about,” since, according to the reporter, John (the caustic, cynical Beatles) was known for “not caring about anything,” John said he cared for, “myself and my family,” pointing out many people didn’t have to like everything, and the public was more like him, than this reporter realized.

And so, no pressure on Linda.

Poetry can be served in all sorts of ways.

It does not even have to be liked.

*

Rajiv Mohabir has a poem on the Poetry Foundation site called “Coolie” which sets the record straight about his slave ancestry: “Now Stateside, Americans erase my slave story; call me Indian.”

Indian poetry has a tendency, perhaps more so than American and British poetry, to be scientific.

Science—once felt by the Romantics to be the opposite of poetry—when embraced by poets today, tends to prove the Romantics right—to be taken seriously, science avoids song. Take this relentlessly passionate and lyrical poem quoted in full by Mohabir—it is highly prosaic; note the use of “something” and “sometimes.”

Perhaps there is a scientific reason for the poets inserting poetry into more accessible prose speech—the urgent messages can be more publicly conveyed.

The sentence, “Whatever beast calls out will never know itself through the mirror of another, as populations collapse and the sea empties and no others can process its cries into music” is poetry of the highest order—“mirror,” the key word, has a distant, underwater, relation to “music,” as well as “Whatever,” “never,” “another,” “others,” and “cries.”  As “populations collapse and the sea empties” are prose facts from a scientific journal. Presenting all this may indicate the highest genius, or an eco-poetry pulled in too many directions.

If readers are confronted with facts about ocean pollution in a poem, and this is the main thrust of the poem, it will never be a poem. Poems and scientific journals are utterly different, and should be kept separate.

This is a bold assertion, only because the reason may not be readily apparent, but it comes back to hearsay. The Renaissance artist da Vinci said truth is only what we can see with our own two eyes. (This faith in seeing began the scientific and artistic revolution against the hearsay of Aristotle.) Words are not just partially hearsay. Words are hearsay. The difference between factual news and poetry has nothing to do with the words and their content, but whether the narrator is considered reliable, or not. The hidden truth is that the reliability of the narrator is hearsay, as well. Poetry suffers whenever it includes narration by narrators who are considered reliable (“I read the news and the seas are doomed.”)  The unreliability of the narrator is precisely what frees up poetry to be poetry.

So here’s the poem:

Hybrid Unidentified Whale

Is it any shock that in loss
we compensate? How emptiness
is like a coral, a something,
that strews its intestines
then chokes another head
with its greedy bowels.
Poets gather at this bed, drawn
like rorquals to krill blooms
to the metaphor’s perfume
of being the first or the only
of your kind. Scientists listen:
a blue or fin? Or is it a sei? A mix
of the dying out? Whatever
beast calls out will never
know itself through the mirror
of another, as populations collapse
and the sea empties and no others
can process its cries into music.
I want to cast such song-frequency
with lines about how shells
gouge my feet when I keep up
with you foot for foot,
or how I’ve noticed
that you stop looking back
for me, but researchers
can no longer hear
its strain. Sometimes I call
into the abyss for so long
it reaches back and slides
down my throat.

I wouldn’t go so far to say this is great poetry chained to the scientific essay. It is more like the scientific essay hitting and molding great poetry. Those “researchers.”  The “sea empties.”  So the reliable have warned us.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s true, or not.  It could be true for a time, or in part.  That’s not good enough for poetry. That’s the insidious thing about hearsay. It keeps us from seeing. If we don’t see, it’s not a poem.

**

Meena Kandaswamy is a young poet and novelist who belongs to the Caste Annihilation Movement. Her poetry is frank, direct, and all for striking a match for revolution.

The poet is not at all troubled that her poem, marked by the sublime, ends with a phrase which has a prose/science feel: “Aggression is the best kind of trouble-shooting.”

AGGRESSION

Ours is a silence
that waits. Endlessly waits.

And then, unable to bear it
any further, it breaks into wails.

But not all suppressed reactions
end in our bemoaning the tragedy.

Sometimes,
the outward signals
of inward struggles takes colossal forms
And the revolution happens because our dreams explode.

Most of the time:

Aggression is the best kind of trouble-shooting.

***

Shikha Malaviya is one of those poets who has so much to say, her poetry breeding with journalism, bursting with intelligence, feeling, experience, memories of her life and mixed with the news of the world—she is obviously anxious to share India, history and to change with the world—the poetry itself can hardly keep up with her breathless sweep. Is it possible for things to be too much for poetry? Nearly every poem by Malaviya has “after such-and-such” or “inspired by that” or “based on this” as a header; every poem, if possible, has more depth and exactness than life itself, as when a person’s room is as interesting as the person; hers is verse focused on multi-tasking to an extraordinary degree.

Her poem “September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours)” has 3 parts.

The first part, “1 PM, Bangalore, Sunday brunch,” is followed by “2. 5 PM, Narmada Valley, dam protest” and “3. 10 PM, Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, nuclear reactor protest.”

Shikha Malaviya is energetic, to say the least. Can we keep up with her? Here’s the first part of “September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours)”:

The sting of sea salt on our tongues
we chase down tequila shots
screaming chug! chug! chug!
Our hips swaying badly
to Bollywood beats
telling us the party has
just begun

Remainders of an ordered feast
green curry smudged
on the forehead of a table
and after the fact
a melamine pile
plates balanced precariously
a half-eaten momo
in the shape of a smile
grinning back at us
wickedly

As the neighbors’ loud laundry
flaps in the warm Bangalore wind
tied in triplicate to
the security camera pole
how ugly it is we all complain
tenants should be screened
we all agree
someone is always watching
don’t they know
as you snap a picture
with your mobile phone

Could there be a better way to spend a Sunday?

We are already exhausted, and we still have a dam protest and a nuclear reactor protest to attend.  But why complain?  With her, we can have our cake and eat it.  There is so much to eat.

Malaviya is not above remarking on “green curry smudged” before protesting a dam. Remarkably, she has time for everything.  We glimpse in her work the possible truth that poetry is energy.

****

Biswamit Dwibedy writes poems so metaphorically self-conscious of their own wisdom one almost feels one should be deciphering them on a blackboard, if not listening to them in a hushed and bewildered ashram.

Master Alone

Feeding on the bread of stars, at footlights of the ardent lover
Their relationship, now reduced to a metaphor, a cluster of knowledge
that turns perception to the proof as one searches for it.

Units of measurement become frames to reveal the radiant serpent
ever-changing in the night sky.

This freedom is the result of that recognition.

“And so I descended from the sky and awakened you,”

said the bejeweled animal
to the simpler earth choked by muddy fragments.

And lines of landscape appear choked when
expressions of the face cease to manifest

“two hands only intertwine by the extension of their shadows”

as the shape of the word “anonymous”
because it is incomplete
a sequence turns to an extension
seen in the nature of blood.

And the frequency in question
Is the proof allowed
to find no utterance.

*****

Jhilmil Breckenridge, like many poets these days, pursues advanced degrees in creative writing, is an “activist,” as well as a “poet.”

A poet doesn’t need anything aside from their poems to prove they are a good poet.

We go to a doctor when we are ill.

But who looks to see what someone “is” before perusing their poems?

If anyone did such a thing, poetry would be aghast.

Until there are churches or hospitals which exist because a “poet” works there, poets will wander with their works under their arms, belonging to nothing and no one. I “studied” with this or that poet is a sign of weakness, since a person will never be a poem.

The poem is the sermon and the surgery, and poems are had for a song. Poetic reputation outside the poem is the saddest lie. Not that activism and advanced degrees are bad. We should be able to do whatever we want to do.

Breckenridge is aware of this, otherwise she would not have written this lovely stanza:

If your religion is poetry,
you have to consume grief and joy
in equal measure,
consume until you are so replete
you have no option but for the words
and worlds to flow, soot on pristine white.

The priest brings soot which conveys religious law; the doctor, soot in a pill to make you feel better; Breckenridge understands soot is soot.

This is the awful truth of poetry. Imagination has more to do with a “heavenly” sermon or a “miraculous” pill than with poetry. Poets today merely mourn. Breckenridge, again:

If your religion is poetry,
you must learn to witness, to feel
the terror of starving farmers,
the hungry sea the refugee boat teeters in,
the salt of your tears as you see small bodies
being lifted from soot and grime.

******

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet whose poems achieve a lullaby sublimity, the term of which is not meant to indicate a lower order of poem, since the best lyric poems in the canon, if we are honest, achieve excellence in the lullaby mode—poetry pours balm even as it does all of its other things; poetry otherwise would have no identity apart from jarring silliness (the limerick) or fictional speech (prose).

The following will illustrate exactly this—poetry is lullaby, when the wind isn’t blowing.

Prayer

May things stay the way they are
in the simplest place you know.

May the shuttered windows
keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.
May you never forget to listen
to the crumpled whisper of sheets
that mould themselves to your sleeping form.
May the pillows always be silvered
with cat-down and the muted percussion
of a lover’s breath.
May the murmur of the wall clock
continue to decree that your providence
run ten minutes slow.

May nothing be disturbed
in the simplest place you know
for it is here in the foetal hush
that blueprints dissolve
and poems begin,
and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,
faith in a time
when maps shall fade,
nostalgia cease
and the vigil end.

*******

Thanks to these wonderful Indian poets and to Linda.  See you in December!

—Scarriet Editors, Salem MA 11/15/18

 

 

 

 

 

INDIAN POETRY OCTOBER

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India is just like America.  Why does it seem this way, as I review Indian poetry in English? Scarriet continues the project inspired by Linda Ashok.

Welcome to October.  (This 7-poet-reviewed series began in February.)

Hoshang Merchant was born in 1947.

He writes mostly in English, lives in Hyderabad, India, and has been educated in America, Iran and Jerusalem. He writes a searing love lyric—operatic and tragic.  Witness his poem, “Scent of Love:”

It is raining a small rain
A gentle rain
over all the world
Gentle like that love which is so hard
to sustain or to receive or to reciprocate
Because men are greedy: They bite and tear

You from the mountains I from the plains
I from the city You from the forest
I a hunter And you a deer
The city is full of the smell of my dear today

The musk mingles with the rain
Its scent spreads
This morning I lie in bed dreaming of you
I was to be hunter but I’m an inert deer

Sensing danger you wait
And I sense danger with you
Why is the world so crazed for venison?
I wonder at a living creature
Who must so eat a living creature!

And suddenly the wounded doe dies for you
She has dragged herself to you to die before you
Her stag
Did she not stay one night inert
When you slew her in bed
Just as tonight I wish to slay you?

Does not our passion only bring suffering
And do we all not die daily a little
Satisfying our longings?
Play go play though your scent drives me wild
And I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing

Slay or be slain
And your hand will not be cleansed of blood ever again
The pain the pain of love is everywhere
And the scent of this musk cannot be washed even in a rain.

Time and space does not permit printing more of Merchant’s poems, but I cannot resist presenting the opening stanza of “My Sister Takes A Long Long Time To Die:”

It was the dark of winter
When the illness came like a thunderclap
They isolated an Indian girl in the Chicago snow
Hoping this Indian disease would go away
But it was America that had killed her
The sickness in us is named America
And the long long time of waiting does not die.

There is a certain timeless passion in the poetry of Hoshang Merchant.  Passion (is this a paradox?) tends to turn poetry into prose—the poetry is ruined by what it contains. This seems to be the chief dilemma of the modern poet. If the poetic furnace from the 15th century is still hot; why not use it? There is something about Merchant’s poetry which reminds me of the old English and Italian sonneteers.

*

Shriram Sivaramakrishnan is like many poets.

The feeling and thinking and method of poetry is all one—it is as if life were speeding up and we were near death and the most honest and significant thing about life needed to be spoken in as few words as possible.

That’s what poetry is and that is its delight. Modernism has long banned the “romantic rhyme” as the model for poetry, though it remains so in the popular taste.

With the rise of the Instagram poets, however, the pithy epigram (is it really a poem?) is replacing rhyme.

The ‘scientist poets,’ many who come from India, however, have something different in mind.

Poem #1: A Glass of Water

A glass of water.

How simpler can the truth be?
Water — that indomitable spirit of nature —
civilized at the work of man.

‘Taught manners,’ let us say,
to display socially acceptable behaviour
to remain stoic and lend herself to the
whim of the organized mind,

that is, to contain her primal fury:
that which moved continents into civilizations
and made landmass levitate like china dolls;

into a palpable parameter
for further fiddling,
a ripple will disrobes her
into poetic verses
to quench this carnal thirst.

but contained, she was
as in petri dish
under the microscopic lenses
of a microcosmic species,
in whose sacral dimple
even a tail had chosen not to grow.

**

Keki Daruwalla, born in 1937, belongs to the generation of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, learned in the primitive, yet new.

New Criticism is the chief influence—it seeks human transcendence among the stoic and half-sublime creatures of nature—bees and fish figure prominently—in a style of taciturn, flinty, ice-cold lyricism.

Fish

The sea came in with her and her curved snout
and her tin coloured barnacles
and long threaded rose moles
patterned on her body.

The sea brought her and her curved snout
and her rose moles and her eyes still translucent
as if half aware and half unaware
of the state of her body.

The sea came in with her and her scimitar snout
and her translucent eyes
greying into stone.

The sea brought her in,
wrapped in seaweed
and slapped her on the sand,
all five feet of her
with the armour of her scales
and the filigree of her rose moles.

The tide kept coming in
but couldn’t disturb her
or her resting place –
she was heavy.

The sea fell back but even
as the thin-edged foam line receded,
it went to her once more with a supreme effort,
rummaged among her barnacles
and left.

Tide and fish are powerfully invoked in the poem’s repetitive language. A simple, yet magnificent, work.

***

C.P. Surendran writes the startling lyric. A small observation which is yet significant is what this poet does particularly well. The following poem is a masterpiece of this:

Prospect

While you were sleeping
A dog yawned in the sun
And in the distance,
A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,
Window by window
Regained vision.
I thought of all the things
That could happen
When we are looking away,
The universe we miss in a blink.

A Friend in Need displays the rueful, mathematical precision of an old Romantic.

He sits in a chair
Whose fourth leg’s his.
He loves this chair.They used to make love in it.
That was when the chair
Had four plus two plus two,
Eight legs. Days with legs.
Since then there’s been a lot of walking out.
Now the chair’s short of a leg
And he’s lending his.

The best poems are when the language writes it (or is this misanthropic?)—language can say more than one wonderful thing at the same time—like harmony in music. Every assertion of this poem—simple in the extreme—says two precise things, proving language was the writer—it wasn’t just the poet complaining.

Surendran’s helpless longing is beautifully rendered by the passive possessives—“leg’s his” and “he’s lending his.” The “He loves this chair” couldn’t be anything but that, since we know by the poem he does love, given the subject of the poem—and the chair as the place where they made love—a variation on bed, is a surprise keeping with the charm of this clear, sweet, sad eight-legged poem.

****

Nitoo Das doesn’t mind being called a “feminist” poet. She deflects the male gaze with—in a poet’s irony—exactly what the male gaze seeks, (with a little added wit.)

How To Write Erotica

Treat it like a hoax. Wear
suitable clothes. Gauzy.
Be slippery. Create calligraphic circles.
Cite flowers. Reveal the vanilla, declare
the hibiscus. You’re allowed
to be slightly long-winded.
Also, abstruse. Don’t be afraid.
Be kaleidoscopic. Fractalise. Read Nin.
Better still, read Sappho. Surreal
and slow. Steer clear
of the opaque. Quirkiness is useful,
so is translucence. Spank
words carefully. Include
lots of skin, mouth,
tongue. However aesthetic
breasts work the best. Linger.
Startle with a sudden mention
of death. It should be clear, you’re not
improper. Sigh, hush,
hiss a bit. Confuse
memory. Clarify: there could be two
or three or four bodies involved,
but not necessarily. Be serious.
Throw in a few bones
to close.

The genius of this poem is that the poetry writes the erotica—the theme is embraced, and is dignified, and in command, because, as the poet knows, “erotica” is a “how to”—the whole approach in which the poet slyly tells us “how to write erotica” is proper—therefore it is delightfully sly when she writes, “you’re not improper.” Morality is not the issue, since “how to” is merely that.

The poem triumphs because the poetry is deliciously good: “Reveal the vanilla, declare the hibiscus.”

Phrases “Sigh, hush, hiss a bit” succeed because the poem is called “How to write erotica—and the poet presents to us how language can be cunningly erotic even as it is “not improper.” The joke is that the “erotic” in the hands of a skilled poet is both erotic and proper; “Treat it like a hoax,” is how the poem opens, and everything that follows—from “wear suitable clothes” to “Fractalise” to “Read Nin. Better still, read Sappho” to “However aesthetic breasts work the best”—succeeds in both directions—the poem is erotic, and yet the poetry and the wit creates the most delight.

The eroticism of Nitoo Das is not cheap, just as a nude by a great painter never feels pornographic. Who knows why this is so? Who knows why “How To Write Erotica” is erotic, and yet not?

Literature can be exciting in so many ways.

*****

Kiriti Sengupta is an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1913) which is apparently controversial for the new poets—perhaps it’s similar to American academics who feel they are too modern and sophisticated for Poe. Sengupta translates Bengali poetry into English. He’s written a trilogy which combines fiction, memoir, and poetry. His English poetry comments on contemporary events in the heroic mode.

The Untold Saga

It only took two hands
to kill the evil; it only took
the trident to destroy the opponent.
Yet autumn arrives through your
larger-than-life avatar teamed with
the ten arms. Like many women
you followed the husband; you had
several other weapons to fight the war…

Durga, was this a conscious decision?

Legends say you emerged from the gods,
the presiding male dignitaries while Asura
remained unfailingly blessed—invincible.
You won, but you didn’t claim a reward!

That you are formally worshiped twice a year
made no difference to the gasping Nirbhaya,
who gave up to the penetrating rod the scoundrels
dug into her motherly cave through the birth route.

And that Nirbhaya followed death/deterred her from creating an epic!

[Poet’s Note: Nirbhaya died from fatal injuries following gang-rape in Delhi in 2012.]

******

Ankita Shah is a political poet reacting to war, refugees, and artificial, unnecessary, divisions created by, and in the wake of, war.

A video performance of Ankita Shah’s bilingual poem, “Go Back To Your Own Country,” went viral on Facebook.

Political poetry will always have a niche, and the political poetry niche in India appears to be exactly the same size as the political poetry niche in the U.S. We are not sure why this is.

*******

Thanks for reading!  We will see you in November!

 

 

 

INDIAN POETRY—JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Is poetry journalism?

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

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

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

For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now

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

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

you have only thing on me—
hindsight.

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

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

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

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

It must be surprising for you
looking at our time,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Sentence

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

****

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

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

Is how her poem, “Valediction” begins.

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

*****

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

Everyday Sounds

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

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

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

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

I continue to speak.

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

Light

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

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

*******

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

 

INDIAN POETS IN ENGLISH —MAY

Image result for bhagavad gita

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.

 

INDIAN POETS IN ENGLISH —APRIL

Image result for urban contemporary india in painting

This is the third installment of Scarriet’s crash course in contemporary Indian poetry in English—seven poets per month (Feb ’18 thru Jan ’19)—suggested by Linda Ashok in The Poetry Mail.

Sukrita P. Kumar writes poetry striving to be everything at once: wise, but wise with simple imagery, which nonetheless reveals wisdom in, and behind, that imagery.  What else can a poet do?

For wise imagery, it doesn’t get any better than this:

Flames are messengers
Carrying the known
To the unknown

Life to afterlife

So ends Sukrita Kumar’s “The Chinese Cemetery.”

One must remember that the history of poetry is actually brief—exciting stories of warriors and gods, religious and creation texts, romantic songs, witty satires, haiku-like imagery, or some combination thereof. Most contemporary poetry is a strict, disciplined journey in quasi-religious imagery; Sukrita Kumar is no exception.

The poem quoted above begins this way:

The smile in the photograph
Is no reflection of what lies
In the dark hollow of the tunnels
Behind cement squares in rows,
Each, one-by-one in size
Marked by dates, picture, name
Of a tiny flash
A dot of life in the universe

Now are things really this bad?  Or is this just extremely disciplined writing?  One almost longs for Dante and his Beatrice, Alexander Pope doing circus tricks, or Keats making voluptuous rhymes—after reading this. But this is what the poets are doing today. Patience on a monument.

Because yes, things are really this bad. For some.

*

Vinita Agrawal’s poem, “The Refugees Are Here,” is an unrelenting tragedy of families dying, forced to trek because of war.

“People and their earth are one,” the poem states at one point.

But everything in the poem contradicts this sentiment.

For instance, “How does then a father explain/to his child’s face showing clear pain/That when a homeland has been snatched/just a home is not enough…”  The child, who eventually perishes, cries out to the father, “I don’t want to go anywhere. You are my home!”

There’s no relief. The poem ends, “the refugees are here/only to keep alive the stories of their land/through chapped, charred lips/that dried up kissing loved ones goodbye.”

**

Mustansir Dalvi writes satiric poetry.

It can be interesting to observe humor philosophically; humor doesn’t usually live full-blown in poetry, and when it does, the critic scrambles to make sense of it. The critic will notice the genre of humor needs to constantly reference things outside of itself; beauty and sorrow are self-sufficient; sorrow can hide and still move us; humor has to know common things that everyone knows.  Funny poetry is harder to pull off, and when it fails, it fails like bad rhyme; we can see it fall.

We are not sure the two poems by Dalvi, found in the Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry, “why someone needed to kick the infant Kafka in the balls” and “Prayer can change your fate, too (found object)” succeed, or not.  Perhaps the critic missed a reference, or two; it was the critic’s fault we “didn’t get the joke.”  Perhaps the critic is wrong altogether, and humor is not the object at all.  Let’s quote the first poem in its entirety, to make sure we are not mad:

Every poet
Wants to wake
As Gregor Samsa
one morning.

Every poet wants
to drag his belly in the dirt,
to be exalted by coarse burns
forming welts around his navel.

Every poet would
willingly put himself in harm’s way
to be squished into concupiscent curd
by someone who doesn’t even notice.

When we get to the third stanza, and read how “every poet would willingly put himself in harm’s way,” we think we are reading pure satire.  Is poetry being ridiculed?  Kafka?  And then there’s the reference to the famous Wallace Stevens poem. The satirist looks outward, challenging assumptions, and we definitely feel challenged.  Is the poem making fun of us—if we don’t “get the joke” (is there a joke?) are we the ones who don’t “even notice?”

Mustansir Dalvi has won, and the reader has lost.  Or has the poet lost?  Or has the poet and the reader won?  Or is it all a mystery?  And no one wins or loses. We are Gregor Samsa, the bug.  And we know nothing. Or a lot.

***

Arun Sagar is a wonderful poet. Reading three of his poems published in Coldnoon, International Journal of Travel Writing, we find pleasing poetry of intimate delicacy.

In “Liège,” we find ourselves enclosed by the poem, and admire the way the poet puts us in the poem; sometimes we think this is the best thing writing can do—put us in a pleasant place.  The phrase, “the bus station an anchored ship” is nice. “Each way out is worthy” also gives great joy, as the poet adds to the pleasurable effect of the immersion.  Granted, one might say this poetic ambition aims low; it concedes pleasant life is all—but skill, sensitivity, patience, and wisdom are required when we find a  poem has replaced our life.

LIÈGE

Already I remember rain
on the windowpane,
the bus station an anchored ship,
soft disco music.
Already I remain onboard
with early morning baggage smells,
the driver’s quizzical smile.
This is the eternal
problématique: 5 am,
the impossibility of sleep
or tears, streetlights
through glass and rain.
Each way out
is worthy, each way leads
to clarity and mist,
and music.
And you, too,
are present here, the mere
knowledge of it
is enough; you too lean back
in your seat,
stretch your feet.
You look at me as if to speak.
.
****

Jennifer Robertson’s poem, “Come Undone,” published in The Missing Slate, is prefaced with a quote from Anais Nin, which is the theme of the poem which follows: “I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women are inside me.”

Madness is win-win in poetry.

The poet may not be mad, but the trope of madness always generates interest.

If the poet is mad, this will likely generate even more interest—unless it completely ruins the poetry.

If the poetry is good, we enjoy the madness whether the poet is writing about madness or is, in fact, mad.  It really doesn’t matter.

The poem isn’t sufficient to prove whether the poet is mad—any sort of hint that madness is in the neighborhood will help; “madness is win-win in poetry” naturally becomes its own prophecy.

And finally, the saving grace is that if we don’t like madness, madness is really not madness at all—in this case, having “many women” inside is healthy, and to be merely “quiet and consistent,” the implied problem.

Jennifer Robertson summons Adrianne Rich (“Diving Into the Wreck”) and Virginia Woolf (who reportedly “put stones in her pocket” when she committed suicide by sea) in her poem, which succeeds beautifully:

No more walls, she says.
No more coats. I’ll have none of that.
None of your hands
shadow-boxing a hermit crab.
No more repetitive shapes
or sharks to
set things right

ocean after ocean after ocean

I’ll speak of things, of names
too difficult to decipher.
And yes, no more changing into a flower,
a sea anemone, a jellyfish.
I’ll remember that all animals
are predatory
at the bottom of the sea.

And then I’ll speak of
hurricanes, mirrors,
and odd-numbered
fantasies
of a brokenness you call
inadequate,
paltry, blonde.

You will not be able to see me change.
You will not see me drifting into the sea.
There will be nothing aquatic
about this shipwreck. You will not know
the colour blue.
When I put stones in my pocket
You’ll still be looking at a mermaid

and saying,
Look, how close
she is to the ship.

 

*****

Arvind Krishna Mehrota is a professor, born in 1947.  He edited the Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets. One can access two brief poems of his, one published in Poetry in 1976 and the other in The New York Review of Books in 2011. He has done tireless work as a translator.

Enchanting how “Engraving of a Bison on Stone” (from Poetry) begins:

The land rests
Because it cannot be
Tempted or broken
In a chamber.

“Except That It Robs You Of Who You Are” is a wonderful title; the poem, however, berates “speech” in a somewhat predictable manner.

Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Speech diminishes you.
Speak with a wise man, there’ll be
Much to learn; speak with a fool,
All you get is prattle.
Strike a half-empty pot, and it’ll make
A loud sound; strike one that is full,
Says Kabir, and hear the silence.

The “fool” will “prattle.” So maybe I should shut up.

******

Rochelle Potkar is an amazing find.  She writes with wit and insight.

“Disquiet” is a delight to read, and must be quoted in full:

My father was the quietest man;
his few words made no sense
in the world’s idiom.
.
Saddled into a marriage
astride a dead horse of tradition
he flogged it too many times
for two children.
.
He stayed away even when near.
He did not belong to anyone,
unaware of our favorite colors,
our school grades, or
the names of our boyfriends.
.
He lent money to ruffians at high interest rates
and recovered nothing.
Smoothening his hands over glossy brochures,
he invested in scams of impossible dreams.
.
He used to count his coins
like I now count my words
.
I too am falling out of the system.
.
I too belong to no one.
I fear he is growing inside me…
(Are we always pregnant with our parents?)
.
I fight to brew soup for my daughter
To know her grades
and look her in the eye
during her babbles.
I know her favorite toys, colors
the names of her friends.
.
I have hidden the broken mirrors of my growing disengagements.
I am killing the father inside me,
but he keeps rising.
.
My language is turning alien
in the world’s idiom.
.
I too have placed faith in scams
Of soul, body, and intellect.
The rule being: everyone is duped at least once.
.
I search for him in other faces
and turn mine away
when I find even one similar feature.
.
But can I run away from the one cell that is the whole Self?
.

The “one cell that is the whole Self” is stunning.  The whole poem is lyrical, yet epic in scope, intense, self-aware, and accessible. Poetry too often scrutinizes obscurely and complacently the eccentric, the trivial.  Not only is the poetry of Rochelle Potkar preferable, it far exceeds expectations, as it sagely thrills.

*******

So ends the April edition. Looking forward to May. Thanks again, to Linda Ashok.

INDIAN POETS IN ENGLISH—MARCH 2018

Image result for FAIZ IN PAINTING

The seven poets under review this month—the March poets from Linda Ashok’s The Poetry Mail—“read seven Indian poets a month”—comprise our second installment of a brief critical look at contemporary poets from India. Our second ‘look at seven’ proved as enjoyable as the first. So let’s get right to it:

1. Shobhana Kumar
Two collections of poetry published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata.

Kumar uses big themes in a simple, accessible, organized manner.

Her poem, “My Will,” begins with “To you, my daughter, i gift my smile.”  She leaves her “dreams” to her “little one,” to her parents, her “memories,” to her friends, her “warmth,” and finally, “And to you, my love, i leave nothing./Nothing save freedom from everything/That binds you to me.” She is not always original, but when Kumar invades the house of your heart, your house falls down.

In “What Would You Say, Kafka?” the soul is “put on display.” Crowds “look, observe, critique.” The poet commands us to “Weep as commerce whores purity.” The second half of the poem offers no solace, except as it references a famous writer:

Watch, mute.
As every thought is bought
And sold.
Bought and sold.
Until nothing remains
Save
The eagerness of who
The biggest bidder will be.

Kafka, what would you say,
If you were alive today?

 

2. Tishani Doshi
Works in fashion, dance, journalism; a prize-winning fiction writer and poet

“The Immigrant’s Song” gives us plenty of concrete imagery—the poem’s theme is secrecy for the sake of a normal life: “Let us not speak of those days,” “Let us not speak of men stolen from their beds at night,” “Let us not name our old friends,” but the truth arrives metaphorically in the poem’s conclusion:

And you might consider telling them
of the sky and the coffee beans,
the small white houses and dusty streets.
You might set your memory afloat
like a paper boat down a river.
You might pray that the paper
whispers your story to the water,
that the water sings it to the trees,
that the trees howl and howl
it to the leaves. If you keep still
and do not speak, you might hear
your whole life fill the world
until the wind is the only word.
*
“your whole life fill the world/until the wind is the only word” is poetry filled up with poetry.
*
“You might pray” is both commanding and helpless.
*
Helpless poet, strong poetry—this is how a poem by Doshi typically goes.  In the opening stanza of “Lament-I” the poet is full of doubt—“I wonder, how to describe…” but the poetry is wonderful:
*
When I see the houses in this city,
the electric gates and uniformed men
employed to guard the riches of the rich,
the gilded columns and gardens,
the boats on water, I wonder,
how to describe my home to you:
the short, mud walls,
the whispering roof, the veranda
on which my whole family
used to spread sheets and sleep.
*
Nature, struggling humanity, rhetoric urgently thrive in her poems.  “Lament-I” concludes:
*
The monsoon finally arrived the year I left…
I think of returning to that life,
but mostly I try to remember
how the world was once.
I want to open my mouth like my son,
and swallow things whole—
feel water filling all the voids,
until I am shaped back into existence.
*
In “Lament-I,” she speaks in the voice of a father.  Doshi inhabits her poems omnisciently.  One feels she can do anything—except that she inhabits a tragic world.

3. Semeen Ali
She has published many books of poetry and has earned a Ph.D. 

Poets can do one of two things—they can praise or reject.

To reject is the better choice, because praise either looks like groveling, or demands great skill, since praise, by its very nature, aims high.  Modern poetry, which many think began with Baudelaire, rejects the poison of life; in the modern Poetry of Rejection, the poet is a wary fortress, and to protect herself from toxicity and grief, the modern poet hides from flowers, behind flowers, with poems small, obscure, thorny, defensive.

But every trope contains the seed of its opposite. The following poem is representative of her work; Ali is in a reticent, mysterious mood.

You look at me
Questioningly
eyes fixed on my face
a slight change
to be detected and noted
what do u expect?
A blank face
troubles you
Piece of paper flies past you
diverting your attention
for a minute
That one minute
contains my life
my undisclosed life

A great poem. It begins with rejection—why do you scrutinize me—but ends in praise—a life contained in “one minute,” a life “undisclosed;” a mysterious beauty which strangely comes to life.

In an age which is afraid to praise, in a poem which seems to reject, Semeen Ali steps magically into self-praise—the most difficult praise of all. For who can praise themselves without appearing to be a boastful jerk?

When Socrates banned the poets from the Republic, he did so with a caveat—you can stay, poets, if you can praise the deserving gods, and show us with your poetry why you should stay.

The proud poet, immediately struck by the word, “ban,” naturally feels no love for intolerant Socrates and his intolerant Republic, and goes on to write any poetry he wants.

The greatest poets, however, were humble enough to rise to Socrates’ challenge—poets such as Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Shelley, who produced not only praise, but beautiful praise to put it in. These poets live as eternal citizens of the republic of poetry—because they cared not only for poetry, but what the greater society ultimately needs and wants, a peopled society which extends all the way to heaven.

It is not that poets like Dante and Shakespeare are “better people;” nothing like that at all. It is just that the poets who submit to a greater and higher challenge will be greater poets. The “proud poet” who “writes any poetry he wants” emerged triumphantly in the 20th century under the tutelage of Modernist freedoms. In poetry today, praise, humility and obeisance of any kind is no requisite at all. Do we think of Dante or Milton or Shakespeare and Shelley as humble? To be humble was the challenge which they met boldly—this paradox saved them, for the paradoxical is the ticket to everything profound.

Semeen Ali has internalized the Socratic challenge. The praise—self-praise, actually—in her poem, “You look at me” is not gaudy, but marked by the deepest mystical desire it is our pleasure to imagine.

4. Manik Sharma
A journalist from the former summer capital of British India in the Himalayan foothills, Shimla

We have always had a sneaking suspicion that poets who write poems about poems are the most intelligent and the most worth reading. A philosophical self-consciousness always indicates some genius. Sharma’s poetry is manic and full of testosterone. He has a journalist’s eye for detail, the black humor of Hamlet; his poems eat frenzy and privacy—and everything else.  A poem about a poem is never just about a poem; it breaks things open and heals at the same time—a gesture we never could resist.

“The Perennial Poem” is a weary, ironic, powerful joke of a title, and the poem underneath it shows a poet who knows every poetic button to push, from sad paralysis to jumping glory.  Complex, but not too complex.  Action rescuing over-thinking: “In between fears of idleness, poems run away.”  A sibilant saunter reveals a poet easy in his letters—“fears of idleness, poems” ending in “eyes,” the sibilant essence ceasing dramatically with “people” and “look up” and “eternity.”

In between fears of idleness, poems
run away.

Some return with the sunshine
of last letters

while others are left to remember
people’s lives like they would their deaths.

A poem, that finds no respite from
its own becoming,

has to be thrown through the window,
into the streets, where it must

stay lost. But people, being people
still look up. Eternity awaiting in their eyes.

We found a page with three of his poems, all different—a riffing brilliance in all three—and interesting, “Football Player,” “Not Everyone Is Lovely,” and “Beaten To Death With An ATM Card,” and the brief bio telling us that he also enjoys “photography and trekking.”  Well of course he does.  Here’s a poet with so much energy and talent that poets who have doubts about their own ability will read a poet like this and get slightly depressed.  Sharma’s poetry will not get the praise it deserves, but he won’t care; he’ll just throw himself deeper into journalism, photography, trekking. Yeah we are sure.

5. Ananya Chatterjee
Wife, mother, software programmer, poet

We all know about poems about poems, but what of poems about writing poems—or rather, not being able to write poems?  What do we think of these? And what if the author of the ‘not able to write poems poem’ is a busy, working mother, who is married to a writer who does have time to write? The poem will be tragic no matter what, won’t it?

We must let the following poem speak for itself:

When a woman writes
She tosses and turns
words in her head
while marinating deveined
prawns for dinner .
She garnishes the thoughts
gently in her mind
salivating
involuntarily
like a tongue would
with a lump of sugar
too precious to be
absently gulped.

 

She then lays the table
Unloads the washer
Irons the creases
In her daughter’s shirt
She empties the wastebin..
and packs the rucksacks
her children would carry
to school next day.
All this while..
chanting the lines
with voiceless fervour..
anxious to retain
the sudden poem
that’s visited her
on a busy weeknight.
And now she stirs
the moon white froth
in her husband’s coffee,
smoking hot..
He too writes
In his olive walled study
His manuscript, now
a publisher’s delight.
She tiptoes towards
his fragile quietness,
rests the mug
and slips away
A corner of her eyes
has caught him though.
chewing at the near end
of his royal blue Parker.
She hides
the violence
of shudder and thrill
the sight has swiftly
raised in her soul..
Just for a wee second.. though, not more..
For now her youngest
wails again. She walks to the crib..
Lifts the newborn..
A lullaby is hummed
and
the unquiet is calmed.
The woman too..
unknown to herself
is sleeping now..
snoring softly
beside her girl.
The lines in her head..
are sleeping as well
Stanzas fading out..
like morning mist..
When she awakens later
there’s a teardrop nestled
in the shore of her eye..
for the unwritten verse..
For giant thoughts that sunk
in a sea of weeknights.
When a woman writes..
She seldom writes.

What did a poet do to become a poet?  What did a poet do, without our knowledge, to write and publish a poem?  What does a poet conceal from the reader?  What can a royal blue Parker conceal? Is it possible for the truth to be concealed?  What does the poem say?

 

6. Barnali Ray Shukla
Writer and filmmaker

What do poems which manage to sound like action movies, or best-selling novels do for the poetic sensibility? Shouldn’t we be watching this on the big screen? the reader thinks. It makes us wonder—is the genre which resembles another genre better for it, or not?  “Palash and the Padmini,” from Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II, pictures for us a certain make of car, wrecked and burning.  That’s a movie, right?  Not a poem.

The valley stands bare-shouldered
A hint of mist softens the gnarled carcass
of the Fiat Padmini BRY 1709
and the claiming fire.

The flames leap to the sky
like the blossoms of that tree,
Buteamonosperma
as Palash would have called it,
looking out of the window
bare-shouldered with sinews
like the ash-grey tree

His spoken words in a dead-language
Inflammable punctuated silences
coveted moments so very abundant
in the bliss of our union.

Even without words
Palash lights up the dark.
Flame of the forest
Upright and unyielding, stark.

The ambers now glow
louder than the undone vermilion
of a smudged sunset.

A pair of headlights sweeps the darkness away
The ambulance arrives many hours late
Men in white find a tapering pulse in him
While I hold on to a tiny beating heart, growing inside me.

A surge of pain
now tugs at my womb
The waters break
to douse the fire
and wipe away the salt
from my kohl-tattooed cheeks.

Help now is at arms’ length
in the safety of scalpels
but the bite of the metal
can’t bury the voices.

Someone whispers, a power claimed him
Another calls it … sabotage
A cynic calls it suicide.

Of course, most speak of destiny.
I wait for those fingerprints
On the bloodied sickle that was found
Right next to the Fiat Padmini.

A fast-paced poem with everything!  Action, excitement, sex, visuals, mystery!  Sabotage! Suicide! And the long name of a colorful tree gets its own line! Verse! Prose! Cars!

A story always unfolds, and the action of that unfolding requires a certain amount of heft and plot to give that unfolding a certain amount of delight.

Dancing isn’t running.  Poetry isn’t fiction.  Unless it resembles a ballad, like “Belle Dame Sans Merci.” This is not a ballad.

Never have we reacted to a poem with a set of iron rules like this one.  O Fiat Padmini with fingerprints, on fire! Pardon our iron rules!

 

7. Huzaifa Pandit
From Kashmir, he publishes poems, translations, as well as essays.

Pandit is a politically engaged, scholarly, historically-minded poet, with a delicate ear.  From his poem, “Buhu Sings An Elegy for Kashmir:”

Buhu sings sighra aaween sawal yaar
Call out to your dead lovers a little longer.

The beloved weeps in a hollow tongue
Smear condolences with meaning a little longer.

We know the law, and all the statutes
Let the murderer deceive us a little longer.

Amulets hang from black coffins
Untie half-burnt promises a little longer.

We promise to bare heads in mehshar
Command the last sun to beat down a little longer

Spill scented ink, and bury brocade paper
Bear the drought of good poems a little longer.

Indian poets today, like poets the world over, tend to be a shy bunch—highly educated and humble.

It’s not considered poetic to come out and say what you mean. Rhyming is no longer considered poetic (a little half-rhyming is okay). Don’t use your language like a drum! With every respectable poet getting advanced degrees, a poem first produces a learned topic to immerse itself in, and then the poem, tenuously and slow, begins. The educated sea has swamped the poetic shore.  Every sea bird cry has multiple meanings. The change from Romanticism to Modernism over the last couple of centuries is chiefly the addition of circumspection and a diploma.

Pandit is a wonderful poet—“Bear the drought of good poems a little longer” !!—and the chains of circumspection he wears are not his; they belong to the age.  The repetition of “little longer” is as rousing a refrain as poetry gives these days. We’ll take it.

 

—Scarriet Editors, March 16, 2018

 

 

INDIAN POETS IN ENGLISH

Image result for linda ashok

Linda Ashok believes poetry is a way forward.

Linda Ashok is a poet from India with a deep and abiding interest in poetry being heard and felt around the world. English, fortunately for English speakers, is a window into Indian poetry (and India) which any lover of poetry (and humankind) would be wise to use.  She has been kind enough to send Poetry Mail our way, of which she is founder and president, and this number is organized around “read  7 Indian poets a month” (84 Indian poets, through January 2019).

We could not resist.

Curiosity will never be satisfied, but Criticism, its enemy, can produce, selfishly, moments of satiety and rest, as the Critic deludes himself into thinking perhaps poetry, in pieces, and as a whole, can be grasped and explained and understood in a somewhat satisfactory manner.

What follows is a brief Criticism of the February 2018 Poets—the First Seven, as chosen by Linda Ashok, and now altered, every so slightly, forever, by Scarriet

1. Aryanil Mukherjee
HarperCollins Indian Poetry in English (2011), Indian poetry issue of TLR, engineer, lives in Cincinnati.

A scientist, Mukherjee, writes scientific poems—what is a scientific poem?—alas, there is no such thing.

Mukherjee writes poems like a scientist—or, more accurately, writes poems for scientists who might think this is the way a scientist should, or would, write a poem.

Can poetry be brainy?

It can be. But poetry tends to rebuff smart. The smart will not be placated, however. If a poet is smart, why should they let mere poetry tell them what to do? They are much too smart for poetry. The whole modernist tendency, which impacts so many, is to eschew grammar and use simple juxtaposition of words to generate interest. This wields tremendous power—too much power, which is the problem, which is why there is so much tedious and obscure poetry by otherwise extremely smart people, and why this type of poetry is always best in small bites. We will quote a single stanza of a longer poem by Mukherjee. The phrase “blue liberty” is a poem in itself.  Note the lack of punctuation marks. It is all about putting “liberty” next to “blue.”

how much of yourself do you reflect in this wood
how many mirrors have you seen
the apple under sky was expected to be blue
wasn’t it?
is blue liberty? what does the atom say?

We don’t know what the atom says, but we will think about it for a very long time.

2. N Ravi Shankar
Lives in Palakkad, Kerala. His book, Architecture of Flesh, was published in 2015 by Poetrywala.

We love his strange poem, “Bullet Train,” which opens, “The Shinkensan Model accelerates to 217 miles per hour, cutting journey time to 3 hours from Ahmedabad to Mumbai,” and ends in the following haunting manner:

This train now will pass through
Under skin arteries and veins and nerves
Tunneling through bone marrow and muscles
Till it comes to rest on a magnificent spine bridge,
perched like a toy train in a full moon night
till the slightest breeze causes the compartments
to topple into a depth less soul, one by one.

3. Kazim Ali
MFA from NYU, born in UK to Muslim parents in 1971.

We quote the following short poem, “Autobiography,” in full—lack of grammar (sense) is the poet’s artful use of suggestion—the lack of direct meaning and grammar (including punctuation) is the poetry.  Indian poets writing in English have been swept up by Anglo-American Modernism as much as anyone else.  Poetry which tells nothing, and only suggests what it means, strives to satisfy the most important criterion of the New Criticism—poetry is that which cannot be paraphrased. Ali’s poem, “Autobiography,” more than meets this critical standard.

we didn’t really speak
my summer wants to answer
.
the architecture doesn’t matter
this is not my real life
 .
when I am here I want to know
why do I believe what I was taught
 .
a storm is on the way
close all the windows
 .
begin at the earliest hour
is there a self
.
It is what Ali’s poem doesn’t say which makes the poem powerful.  How is it possible to speak about a poem which doesn’t say anything?  Is “Autobiography” the kind of poem which ends all Criticism, making the critic astonished, and mute?  Modernism was ushered in with Imagism, and the reticence of the image played a great role in moving on from the oratory of the 19th century. However, (up speaks the Critic) in this poem we notice that there’s very little imagery, but in fact a great deal of activity in terms of stage direction/speech/action: “speak,” “answer,” “believe,” “storm on the way,” “close all the windows,” and “begin.”  The Indian poets are not resigned. They don’t rest.  And yet, a modernist minimalism is still at work.

4. Binu Karunakaran
Online journalist from Kochi, India

To quote Karunakaran’s poem “The Railway Platform Weight and Fortune Telling Machine” reveals how much he fits into what we have been saying about the previous poets.  There is a marked fascination with everything artificial, presented as both comforting and strange—as if modernity were destined to be friend and enemy.  Is this kind of poetry sensible? Or schizophrenic?  I assume the latter, since no one really wants to read “sensible” poetry, do they?  Of course a smart person is usually sensible, and the Indian poets all seem particularly brainy. Is technology a horror, a toy, or a comfort?  We aren’t really sure.

looks like a casino sun
flowering in the night, full
of calibrated science, flashing
coloured lights and a Newton’s
disc that refuses to stop
spinning until the last pollen
of weight left by that moth
of a man before me is blown
away by the wind from the train
that passes. After a throated
clang it spat out a cut cookie-
coloured card on which is
written your lucky number
and a hooking line about fate
in proportion to your weight
in the world.

5. Nandini Dhar
Teaches at Florida International University and also lives in Kolkata.

“Map Pointing At Dawn,” by its very title, throws us immediately into the modern Indian theme: science bumping up against nature—it obviously consumes the modern, educated poets.  Here’s the first 8 lines.

When we tear the petals of polash with the edges of our fingernails,
we are claw-marking our ways into a history of rust, from which

the little girls are to be kept buttoned up. A night-storm is carving
the polash-petals; manipulating the effulgence of a bruised sun

to fashion its crimson. Ghost Uncle is a calligrapher who cannot hold
a pen between his fingers. This is just a sentence in this history of rust

we are trying to creep in. This history of crimson petals illustrated
with upturned nails, secret rooms at the back of a police station:  interrogation.

Dhar’s style is matter-of-fact; she does not choose to jettison grammar and punctuation, but the fragmentary syntax, the fragmentary meaning, is the same.  Social commentary replete with horror is indirectly stated; good poetry is indirect.

6. Sumana Roy
Lives in Siliguri, India and has published in Granta and Prairie Schooner.

Roy’s poem, “Root Vegetables” gathers together a theme and puts it on the table for you—all these poems so far have been tangible, material—not flighty, or airy; the Indian poets are smart, observant, grounded and serious; and this poem is no exception, though it is less fragmentary, and can be paraphrased.

Root vegetables are less beautiful and more profound than plants which grow above ground—“just so, that taste, the righteousness, of vegetables/that grow below the earth, hidden from light.”

Roy gives us a clever but blatant contrast with light: “The dew on green each morning is politically correct, being equalist, and only a gesture. For darkness drinks less water than light.”

The rather grandiose “pathetic fallacy” argument of the poem ends appropriately enough: “When, at last, they are forced out of the ground…they discover fire and utilitarianism,/And knowing both, realise that life is as ordinary as food.”

The Indian poets bend over backwards to appear rational, sane, and grounded in common sense.  The ‘standing about’ prose style of modernism adds to this grounded sensibility, such that it almost seems modernism was invented for what the modern Indian poets are trying to say. This is sometimes a good thing. It is not always a good thing. The facile is not always good for poetry.

7. Mihir Vatsa
Is from Hazaribagh, India. Winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize.

“My Mother Visits A Beauty Parlor” is another poem which combines the natural (mother) with the artificial (beauty parlor), the overwhelming theme of the new Indian poets.

The story of the poem—Vatsa’s poetry is more discursively intimate than most, which is good, since poetry, after all, is speech—does not end well.  The poet wants to go to a restaurant, but his mother insists on the beauty parlor, where the poet waits outside, “counting scooters.” The panorama of businesses catering to women’s vanity depresses him, and when his mother emerges from the parlor “with shorter hair and sharper eyebrows” he’s not pleased, and she does not speak to him “for the next two days.”  The poet, while waiting for his mother, reflects: “I remember the many TV commercials with smiling women speaking about freedom and other liberating nouns.”  This is a depressing description of freedom, a freedom cancelled by the most material limitation one could imagine—freedom is a noun.  The noun joke is clever, but terribly depressing, somehow.  Trapped in the thing-ism of a noun. This seems to sum up the modern Indian sensibility—stuck in a melancholy, materialistic modernist style, which walls itself up in a perfected type of Imagism (I’m thinking of the English World War One poet, T.E. Hulme) which the Indian poet knows too well, almost too well, so that it slows them down. I would not speak to this particular noun for two days, either.

—The Scarriet Editors

 

BOLLYVERSES

The poet Joie Bose is also a professor. But she writes like—a poet.

The American 2016 presidential election, which, thanks to both major party candidates, is a mud wrestle, has not yet become amateur. Professionals are ever present in politics, in business, in war, and always will be.

Poetry, however, is now an amateur activity through and through.

Love poems on the internet these days give more pleasure than the obscure, indecipherable poems published in the New York Times.

The poet John Keats, a Romantic Titan, one of the ten greatest poets to write in English, once a fixture in the American college curriculum, and now growing less known every day—I imagine you could stop a thousand people on the street and none would know the name Keats—once remarked that there was something beautiful about a quarrel, and we all know what he means; you can find energy and drama alive among the homeless in the streets, such that it rivals anything got up, professionally, on the stage, in terms of body language and dialogue.

The same beauty, for me, applies to amateur love poems written by respectable women.

We recently lost the distinguished (if perhaps overrated) British poet Geoffrey Hill. The sudden demise of Hill’s Editorial Institute at Boston University, ended by a BU provost and a dean, as the Institute’s co-founder, and highly respected critic, and professor at BU, Christopher Ricks, helplessly watched, might signal, to some, the death of poetry as a professional pursuit.

But poetry lost its professional standing a long time ago.

There’s two underlying reasons for this, and it has to do with a perception of professionalism itself.

First. Professionalism has nothing to do with elitism—it is that which best allows mundane daily life to carry on: the concert in which Mozart is played well enough to make us feel warm inside; the democratic election process which defies a revolution or a coup; the smooth functioning of trains and planes; the vaccination given without too much inconvenience, or pain. Politics, the fussing about the economy and the law, is professional by default. It has to be. It defines professional, and once that’s gone, civilization is gone.

And second. There are some glorious things which were never meant to be professional, like a sudden outbreak of a passing quarrel, or a passing love affair, or a passing poem. And when they become professionalized, they die.

The glorious amateur. The mundane professional. Sometimes friends. Sometimes enemies. Always two very different things.

Poetry ceased being glorious the instant it tried to be professional.

When it became a “You Can Be A Writer! And Be Published!”course advertised in a newspaper.When it became swallowed up by the university as a creative writing program.

The greatest poetry has always been written by men and women getting in trouble, living busy lives, doing other things: climbing the Alps with Byron, sailing the Mediterranean with Shelley, dying with Keats, escaping a tyrannical father with Elizabeth Barrett, writing offensive reviews and fiction with Poe, busily hiding away with Dickinson, busily falling apart with Plath, busily falling in love with Millay.

The great 19th century poets, Barrett, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Poe, Dickinson, and Tennyson, were love poets—because poetry belongs, first and foremost, to love, and this is what makes poetry fully and gloriously amateur, and, in the most actual terms imaginable, glorious.

There is always—and we see this a great deal in the 20th century, up to our present day—the deeply earnest attempt to make poetry professional—which means making poetry a vehicle for politics (racism the new brash poetry topic)—an attempt which fails, not because of insincerity, or a lack of talent or education, but simply because poetry’s glory does not lie in the political, professional realm; the attempts to immerse poetry in frank, political rhetoric inevitably produces boring poems. The newspaper is for boring topics, frankly discussed; the poem is for something else.  Some get this.  Most don’t.

The best poem is the one which exists in the private sphere, which is written because a private citizen, contemplating their own experience, bursts forth with it, and tells a truth simultaneously private and universal, because it has to be written—not a poem which will be written, because the contemporary and the political demand it.

Politics, the professional river, unclean and unstoppable, will not have its course altered by poetry; many politicians these days are sexual predators or war predators; in the political realm these predators exist, and poetry has no chance if it attempts to invade the political realm; poetry belongs to the realm of love, and love is the atmosphere in which the sexual predator will be exposed and die. And who will speak up for love, if not poetry? Don’t expect it from speeches on racism or the economy, or from sex-joke sitcoms. Poetry is the true “policeman” of love.

We see poems published all the time which address thorny subjects, obscure subjects, political subjects, which attempt to address political wrongs, and though some of them, if they are explicitly indignant enough, elicit cheers, none of them, frankly, change anything, and, in the meantime, amateur poetry of private love and wisdom withers, and is ignored.

Well, not quite. And this is the good news.

Amateur poetry of private love and wisdom lives. It lives on the Internet.

Even as professional attempts at poetry continue with their pointy-headed, ineffective, obtuseness and obscurity.

Reading the web, I find the best poems are self-published, appearing on my feed without ceremony, and rarely the ones “linked” to an institutional, vast, cliquey, ostentatious tower.

Why is that? For the reasons given in this essay.

Here’s an example from Daipayan Nair, a short but effective poem:

I cannot smell
anything new, any longer.

It’s all me
in different places.

This short work by Nair falls under the category of insightful, self-aware, private wisdom, rather than love. Wisdom is a topic India does not fear, and private wisdom, or honesty, is very close to private love. India right now, in English, on the internet, is producing better work than England or the United States in their professional guises, which may be a remarkable claim, and all the more remarkable because it’s true. Perhaps this is because the West, in its post-modernism frenzy, simply has no belief in wisdom anymore, or a belief in love; and America, especially, has backed itself into a corner, turning its back on its relatively short history, abandoning the 19th century, in its 20th century modernist revolution—leaving itself very little that is traditional or time-honored; while India, with a much longer history, is more relaxed and assimilative, and much less historically cynical, and can still bring the accessible magic. So you have Indian poets self-publishing in English, out-performing the “professional” Americans.

What we like about Nair’s poem, beyond the fact that it is instantly comprehensible, and trades in none of this elitist, “difficulty” nonsense, and has none of the prickly, obscure language which ruins so many American poems, is that it fits the poem we described above—it feels like something written while the poet was busy doing other things; it does not feel professional and slaved over, even as it feels—somehow—necessary and important, that it had to be written. We like it. We like it very much. And we’ll put it up against the lengthier rig-a-marole of an Ashbery, for instance, any day. Perhaps this is comparing apples and oranges. But we like these apples.

Daipayan Nair is a wry, witty and highly prolific poet. He’s on the right track. The amateur one.

The women of India who write their impassioned verses on Facebook live remarkable, impassioned, beautiful lives, and their poems spring directly from their lives, not from any guarded, post-modern sensibility learned in college. These modern Elizabeth Barrett Brownings give immense pleasure from a world of timeless living put quickly and casually into poems. These are not workshop poems squeezed out into a box labeled 2016; these are poems that are poems not because of when they were written, but because they are—poems. Elizabeth Barrett made the 19th century better by her poems; the time didn’t write the poems; she did.

Joie Bose, not belonging to any school or movement or political party or university department, just puts up sonnet after sonnet on the Internet. Here’s one. Not perfectly written. Dashed off, perhaps. But God, if this isn’t an expression of genius:

Sonnet 7

Let’s count the stars, it’s dark now;
Let’s just count nothing else,
Not the lies that became thorns and pierced us,
No not that string of red pearls, glistening.
Let’s not count one by one all the alibis,
Those bouquets in those crystal vases,
Paint smiles on every eyes that look upon;
What else do we have left to give them?
The sun set on us, our work is done,
Our flaming heat gives way to the cold,
All eyes will shut, sleep shall descend,
We had been, what dreams were made of.
Know now this is eternal night, memories glitter
Let’s just count nothing else, just the stars.

18th September, 2016

And if you think this is an accident, here’s more of the sequence—which appears a couple of days later, on September 20th:

Sonnet 12

I will pray before I leave the earth
As I pray every time I leave my body,
I will leave a shadow as I leave the stage
As I leave a poem after every act.
I will pray that you will understand
As I pray every time you misunderstand,
I will leave you a shade in a bright tomorrow
As I leave you shade under this blazing sun.
You will talk of me as you do of history
You will be kind and the bitterness will be gone,
You will hold me in your tear-strewn heart
You will herald me as your guiding star.
Age will give me what my youth has sought
And I will give you then, what I now cannot.

 

Sushmita Gupta, like Joie Bose, is a mother from India, I am familiar with her only from Facebook; she is a painter, designer, and an amateur poet. Which means you probably won’t see her poetry in The New Yorker any time soon. Which also happens to mean she is very good. She writes the kind of poetry which, without any fuss or intellection, fills up your heart. Her lovely blog is called Sushness. This recent poem of hers reminds me of Goethe. Her unorthodox use of the comma slows things down even more, as the poem moves slowly over us, and into us. Almost like something God had passed along:

 

Clouds

Just when,
I was all high strung,
And impatient,
And craving speed,
And burning passion,
And electrifying drama,
And singular attention,
And affirmation,
The dark,
And sedate clouds,
Rolled in,
From afar,
Showing off,
Places and peoples,
It had already touched,
And transformed.
All at once,
I was calmed,
By the cool,
On my face,
And being.
All at once,
I dropped,
Desire,
And desperation.
I was naked.
I was bared,
Into simplicity,
Into a being,
Pure,
In formlessness,
Pure,
In not wanting.

 

Nalini Priyadarshni is also a mother, who explores love poetry as an art in itself, where love feeds poetry—and poety feeds love—in a mutual feedback loop of pure ideal experiment; the passion is willed; this may be considered naive poetry, and the topic (love poetry) might be seen as common and simple. But that is the point. A true intellectual is not afraid to be common and simple.

Your Words

Words born in the recesses of your heart, I  treasure
even before they rise in your throat
or find release from your lips
I know them from another place, another time
All that you say or leave unsaid for another day
I catch in my cupped palms and drink deep
I know its taste from another place, another time
Your silence, when it breathes heavy on my neck
I weave a song along its tendrils
I know its melody from another place, another time
There is no putting in words what can only be felt
live it and trust it will find its way to me
I know its footsteps from another place, another time

 

This poem by Priyadarshni expresses a fanatical faith in love. The sensual “throat,” “lips,” “neck” and “tendrils” are heightened in their sensuality precisely because the poem as a whole is a beautiful desert of hope—love is absent, even as it is intimately present. There is a thrill as the poet strains to transcend love in the poem—a poem remarkable in the manner it expresses love in a faithful underlying of absence/presence. Her book is Doppelgänger in my House, published by the Poetry Society of India.

So ends our brief survey of Bollyverses, available on the Internet, which lives under the radar of professional American poetry, and yet rivals, and even surpasses, American contemporary and academic/program writing, as significant and pleasurable English speaking poetry.

Daipayan Nair, Joie Bose, Sushmita Gupta, and Nalini Priyadarshni are four of the more remarkable poets who have randomly come to Scarriet’s attention—and we are very glad they have.

doppelganger-in-my-house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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