SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED! WITH BEST LINES!

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Mary Oliver and 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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

VEILS, HALOS & SHACKLES: INTERNATIONAL POETRY ON THE OPPRESSION AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

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Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay have compiled an heroic anthology of poetry.  Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women; Kasva Press; Fishman, Sahay; Ed., 2016, 555 pages.

The topic of rape is a horrifying one.  It will not take long for readers of this anthology, readers of manners and decency, to be completely horrified and aghast—the systematic, contemporary, and worldwide brutalizing of women and children is not a dainty subject.

In this remarkable and necessary anthology, brutality against women is often told starkly, in what is essentially prose incident and prose vignettes—poetry sometimes takes a back seat, or poetry comes to the rescue. The topic hinders poetry. Poetry, in this atmosphere must fight to live and breathe.

Either the horrific incidents themselves do not allow poetry to come anywhere near, or the poets, brutalized by the incidents, or stung by the terrible news, are too traumatized to produce poetry.

Weaponized gossip is occasionally the go-to strategy, especially when the incidents occur in more middle class settings. It might be teachers using papers written by their students. One poem begins (and notice the pure prose):

The part-time teacher sometimes has her students read their English IA papers in front of class. She has not read them yet. She asks for volunteers.

A beautiful woman stands in front of the class and reads a paper in which she states that her husband beat her…

Judy Wells “The Part-Time Teacher Sometimes Fears For Her Students’ Lives”

Veils, Halos & Shackles does not get mired in one kind of politics; the perspectives come from everywhere—they are brief, but numerous, and the poets also add prose remarks to their poems.

This book, I am happy to say, has great documentary worth.

The poems tend to be the quick, through-a-keyhole type of horror—not the long arc of fictional, Stephen King, horror. But this is, unfortunately, very real. There are things here you would never want to look at, but which poetry somehow must tell—horror in sad, banal, mundane glimpses.

Poetry almost feels superfluous in recounting these terrible incidents. Poetry, like civilized decency, is ashamed, is tactfully silent, as the suffering unfolds. Unfortunately, or not, Veils, Halos & Shackles only sometimes has poetry. To be true to its subject, this was necessary.

The Socratic injunction against the danger of poetry was not the paranoid ravings of an old man. The best poem about a street fight will feature neither the street nor the fight.  If the poet is weak enough to believe that a poem on a street fight is all about the street fight, then street fighting will win, and poetry will lose.

Is there history, or science (why is there brutality?) or politics in these poems?  Yes, and no.  There is no systematic effort to present science, politics or history.  Yet the nature of the subject—and the poets in this anthology are from all over the world—make it impossible for these poems not to be, in some manner, political and historical—if not scientific.  The anthology has a fullness, in this regard, and is an important record, if only for that.  The editors have done a wonderful job in making this book feel like the world.

But does the subject itself hinder the pleasures of poetry?  To some degree, this might be said to be true.  The more we are appalled by a vast, society-wide problem, the more merely a reaction to it pains us to such a degree that even if the reaction contains understanding, stretching upwards into art, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to have anything to do with that reaction at all.

Poetry walking into the fires of the world cannot survive the fire—if it does, it’s not poetry.  Or, so many instinctively believe.

And if news of the horror needs to be spread, let something more efficient, like prose, do it.  Poetry is the end of existence, not the means; it is the message, not the messaging service.  We should spread the news some other way.

The poet, when reporting contemporary, dire, emergencies, naturally begins to talk in the more urgent, and plain accents, of prose.  It can’t be helped.

Prose can be three things, and only three things.  The truth. Story. Propaganda. Poetry traditionally avoids all three of these, but during an emergency, what is called “poetry” tends to follow the dictates of prose.

Poetry, as it is mostly written today, then, can be three things: The truth. Story. Propaganda. The third is perhaps the most common, since it’s so easy to mix up the first two, and the confusion between the first two ends up, often, being the third, even when the attempt at truth and story is done with the very best intentions.

Propaganda is best when it disguises itself as concern for the oppressed.

The message of concern only advertises the triumph of the wicked, and the end result is just more winning for the wicked, as the innocent are frightened and the good are demoralized. This is the danger. Men are hated. Then men become worse. The illiterate brute fears nothing in front of the ineffectiveness of poetry, which is nothing but unintentional propaganda for what they do. Shelley warned of this, pointing out that poetry has a higher calling, creating love and beauty itself, the true poetry avoiding the problem of the dyer’s hand, stained by reportage of the very horrors poetry must fight by other means.

Many of the poets in this large anthology, about 250 of them—and many are widely published—are aware of this danger—poetry which reports oppressive behavior may give cheer to the oppressor, since poetry which replicates the helpless tears of the oppressed is exactly what the oppressor feeds on. Because of this awareness that weakness breeds weakness,  a few of the poems in Veils, Halos & Shackles urge the women in abusive relationships to murder their oppressors.

The reporter and the poet are not the same. The world needs both. And they should not be confused—when they are, propaganda grows like mold and problems multiply. Rather than be a helpless reporter, the poet offers brutal advice, but this unfortunately fails; it only deepens the sense of helplessness and despair, in which our world, and the attempt at poetry, founders.

Then there is the acute problem of symbol and metaphor—we think, without thinking, that metaphor is the soul of poetry, and even a figure as illustrious as Aristotle thought it so; but when we describe the disgust and terror of this topic in other terms (symbols) the poetry’s gain is the world’s loss; the problem remains, as it is simply given another name, and so despair actually deepens, and poetic wisdom mocks itself.

History, story, journalism, and statistics, are the moral lenses typically offered when widespread brutality occurs—poetry adorns, pleads, humiliates itself, digresses, sketches, symbolizes, paints, condenses, and gasps in such a manner that the very brutality which is the enemy now emerges grinning, in a new guise, not chastened; the oppressor, once banal, is now decorated with the laments of its victims. Poetry cannot harm it. Poetry, by its very nature, does not operate morally, but with faculties more sensual and ironic and complex, such that mere brutality has nothing to do with it at all.

Despite this, the editors have found poems which are stunning examples of poetry, avoiding the trap of harm, venality, stupidity, hunger, and menace breeding more of the same. The editors have still, despite all we have said, produced an important and bountiful anthology. There is hope for humanity.

Here is a poem from Karen Alkalay-Gut, which we meet early in the anthology—arranged alphabetically by author. The variety of the poetry in this anthology recommends it. This poem by Alkalay-Gut is rare for its pure accessibility and brevity.

Guy Breaks Up With A Girl

Guy breaks up with a girl
she tries to kill herself
girl breaks up with a guy
he tries to kill her

either way it’s her fault

This sad tendency is true. The difference between the genders, in that nebulous state of impulsive human desire, where the male oppresses the female, describes the whole subject of the book in an instant. What editor would not want to include this poem?

But what of men who die from love? Or where no one is at fault? What of this?

Or what of the men who would never say if the man “tries to kill” the girl it is “her fault?” What of this?

A poem is not a poem when it leaves itself open to indignant prose responses. Poetry does not belong to sad tendencies. Especially when they are objectively expressed.

Are all women self-effacing, and all men murderous? The poet is not a statistician, who furthers the news of cruel probabilities.

In “Guy Breaks Up With A Girl,” the subject triumphs; the evil, in fact, triumphs, not poetry.

On a certain level, this is the best poem in the book.

On another level, it is not a poem at all.

Here, then, is why this piece deserves a look. It describes the gulf—on two levels—which is the sorrow of us all.

The gulf between men and women—is it real, is it wide, is it imagined? How real? How wide? How imagined? Is it from birth? Is it from society? If it’s from society, does that mean the individual is innocent? How we answer—or do not answer—these questions—is how we write poetry on this topic.

It seems to me that women should never hate all men. If this horror is to be overcome, shouldn’t women fight the horror with the percentage of men who are good, and also hate the wrong?

Linda Pastan, one of the better known poets in the anthology, writes a poem with the same sentiment as “Gut Breaks Up With A Girl:”

On Violence Against Women

when Adam took
that second bite
he said

you’ll get what
you deserve
and spat out the pits

and led Eve
in lockstep
from the garden

and oh
the sweetness
of blame

continues
toxic
down the ages

Unfortunately, Pastan is right. Blame is sweet.

The truth of women wronged is such that perhaps I am too fastidious to speak of gender theory and society and poetry and blame; I should recognize it is the topic which is more important, even as I quote Shelley. But I trust the reader will understand what I am saying.

The following, by Sampurna Chattarji, is my favorite poem in the anthology; it does not shy away from the topic—none of the poems in this anthology do—but it manages to embrace the topic and its profound terror without succumbing to what it works in. It has a deeply informed subjectivity; there is no straining after reporter’s facts, there is no general bitterness, which causes so many poems to run aground. It achieves poignancy in the simplest and truest manner possible.

As A Son, My Daughter

When you grow up,
you will be a healer
loved for your smile
and your sorceress skill.
You will be a composer
of concrete dreams,
songs of towering glass.

You will be the one
to split the gene
and shed light
on every last particle of doubt.

You will know numbers so well
that you will reject them all
save two,
for they will be enough
to keep you engaged endlessly
in running the world,
efficient and remorseless,
a network of binary combinations.

When you grow up,
you will be all that I am not.
Wise, patient, with shiny long hair
and good teeth,
radiant skin to go
with your razor intellect,
as brilliant as you are beautiful.

You will be a wife
and a mother,
your children will be
brilliant and beautiful,
exactly as I see them,
perfect miniatures
of all
that I am not.

I brought you up as a son,
my daughter,
fierce and strong and free.
But now, now
that you are, have become,
all that I am not,
you are too fierce, too strong, too free.
Your hair is too short.
Your absences too long.
You fear nothing.
You frighten me.

The paradox is that poetry can speak of the horror of women brutalized, both systematically and randomly. But poetry escapes blame; it escapes its subject—or, rather, it elevates the subject, which is a paradox, since the wrong, the horror, cannot be elevated.

The miracle is not that that Veils, Halos & Shackles, a poetry anthology, contains no poetry, but that it does.

Wrong begets wrong. And poetry must conquer this begetting, not just the original wrong.

Men, hurt by women, for whatever reason, often rescue themselves by retreating into a “man’s world;” men’s escape from women is expressed in the following “humorous” bumper sticker: “Wife and dog missing. Reward for the dog.”

Diane Lockward saw this bumper sticker on a pickup truck in New Hampshire, and she came up with this fine response, a beautiful, redemptive and poignant poem, “The Missing Wife:”

The wife and dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.

They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

Time passed. They came and went as they pleased,
chased sticks when they felt like chasing sticks,
dug holes in what they came to regard
as their own backyard. They unlearned
how to roll over and play dead.

In spring the dog wandered off in pursuit
of a rabbit. Collared by a hunter and returned
to the master for $25, he lives
on a tight leash now.

He sleeps on the wife’s side of the bed,
whimpering, pressing his snout
into her pillow, breathing
the scent of her hair.

And the wife? She’s moved deep into the heart
of the forest. She walks
on all fours, fetches for no man, performs
no tricks. She is content. Only sometimes
she gets lonely, remembers how he would nuzzle
her cheek and comfort her when she twitched
and thrashed in her sleep.

What woman—or man—could read this poem without being profoundly moved?

Another major theme in this anthology—of perhaps the most important topic of our time—is that the aftermath of abuse is as terrible—perhaps more so, lasting a lifetime—than the abuse itself.

Bruce Pratt’s irony perhaps makes the point the best; his poem “According To A Spokesman” begins:

Raped, beaten, and thrown down an embankment,
left by her three male attackers for dead,
her injuries are not life-threatening.

The truth is that the “injuries” are always “life-threatening.” Sexual abuse of any kind destroys lives, innocence, and every part of life, once and forever—the defense against the wrong after the wrong has happened, cannot speak, unless to dismiss the wrong—but the wrong can never be dismissed, even if the person, in certain instances, bravely escapes the worst effects. The morality of the issue is such that nuance is not possible, and since poetry excels in nuance, translating a wrong into poetry is the most difficult task there is.

Hina Panya’s remarkable poem, “The Gallery,” gets at the sorrow of the anthology’s topic by having a mother in a gallery opening of her son and stopping in shock before a portrait of her own battered face, a memory (she thought) her son was too young to remember. The poem’s three stanzas use first person, third person, and finally second person, in a very effective manner.

Rochelle Potkar’s “Friends In Rape” attempts a strategy we only occasionally find in Veils, Halos & Shackles—the poem uses the point of view of the abuser—the poem inhabits the “logic” of the male friend’s thoughts as he decides his “brimming love” needs to connect him to his female friend: “Should love not translate?” “Maybe she is just shy” “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?” “I will be gentle”

Potkar’s strategy flirts with danger—drama illustrating wrong by allowing wrong to speak, concedes too much; it enters that realm where Milton made Satan too attractive. If the entertainment industry gives us villains who seduce, in dramatic fashion, as the audience is forced to listen to villains’ “logic,” or even view villainous audacity and energy, wrong may ultimately win. On the other hand, Shakespeare allowed Iago to speak freely, and who can say this was not a good idea? We are tipped off to how evil works. Potkar is doing us a service; after all, the poem is called “Friends In Rape,” and so I think she is wise to show us what the “friend” is thinking.

Kirtland Snyder’s poem “Intimacy” takes arms against the ‘historical violent male conquest problem’ head on, in one of the most impressive poems in the book, with heroic meter and blasting rhetoric, a sensitive message that swaggers to make its point.  The poetry, as poetry, is strong in a 19th century sort of way, which Snyder obviously intended somewhat ironically—but it’s impressive as poetry, nonetheless.  The message, however (the poem is addressed to a sword-wielding, penis-wielding cartoon of a man) is a bit overblown—neither civilization as we know it, nor the successful male, belongs solely to the sword and penis, if at all, as the poem will have it. Stereotyping, which Snyder chivalrously uses to bash the stupid, bullying male, finally helps no one. It doesn’t reduce violence, it doesn’t increase enlightenment, nor does it produce very good poetry. But Snyder’s poem, considered purely as pyro-technics, is really good in parts—here’s the first stanza:

If you’re lucky in life you will learn to love a woman,
you will learn to keep moving inward on the long journey
to the heart, your most audacious enterprise,
like trying to find the source of the Nile with the Nile
your only map, a living watercourse through a dark
continent whose deepest wellspring you will name Victoria.

The superficial theme eventually kidnaps the poem, but it’s a great poem, nonetheless.

When the majority of the poems are not painting savage incidents which make us turn away in helpless disgust, they occasionally sing out a will to survive, advertising the strength of the woman who survives. Do any of these poems—which address the pain of rape and murder and abuse explicitly—cure the pain, or reduce the suffering, of any of the countless victims? Certainly, writing poems is better than silence. Certainly, it is better to share.

This plague of women suffering must end. All must be vigilant. Men must learn to love. Only through love, and through words informed by love, can we enter paradise.

If you purchase only one book of poetry, please purchase this one.

—the Scarriet editors, Salem MA 10/22/2018

 

 

 

INDIAN POETRY —AUGUST

Welcome to August, and a look at 7 more contemporary poets of India writing in English.

Rohan Chhetri writes poetry which is both tender and stiff; his predominant phrase: “Grandfather died.”

Poetry, in attempting to be more than prose or speech, will take on a certain severity of address, which can seem unkind, even as it speaks kindly. Old memories, sentimental and sad, stand up in the soul of the young poet, who might first be attempting poems in college. The drama of grandparents beside parents ushers in the historical depth which the young poet needs.  My poetry needs weight, the ambitious youth thinks—dying, revolutionary grandparents certainly add gravity.

The old man loved his sleep,
my father remarked to the visitors
a week after Grandfather died.
I was twelve
& the cruel metaphor wasn’t lost on me.

Is how “His Charred Hands Hold the Blueprint Among the Ashes” begins.

From “Restoration Elegy:”

You hear the river back home has changed its course,
flooding through the living rooms of your town,
an angry murk roiling with a singular desire to bring
to surface every lost map of your grandfather’s revolution.

I’ll quote “History of Justice” in full.  It shows Chhetri at his best—a poet who doesn’t exist in his own poetry, the previous generation haunting its way in.

Some kids from the neighbourhood are bursting firecrackers
by the side of our compound wall. Grandmother is
screaming at them. Mother smiles knowing
they won’t listen. Grandfather once stayed up
late in the night at the window of the first floor
waiting for the drunk who pissed on our wall
every night, so he could slosh a good whole bucket
of cold water over his head in the frosty winter night.
He’s been dead since long, our grandfather.
But grandmother hasn’t forgotten the battered face
of the man who was tied to a post outside the house
for having beaten his wife to a pulp. And grandfather
lunging his fists on the poor man’s face. Grandmother
by the window thinking if she had married a monster.
Most of all, the face of her young husband during the time
of the revolution when she went to see him in the lockup,
where he was hung naked upside down for two days,
with mud shoved in his mouth by the Bengali Inspector who
kept saying, Feed him the land, that’s what they are fighting for.

*

Sampurna Chattarji is one of those poets who makes a lot of claims for poetry—how it is not mechanical like the rhetoric of war, but private and inward and full of hope; but she often writes poems which are extremely objective and mechanical, like those school exercises where you take an object and write on it—she seems to need a subject, before she gets started; she is not one of those lyric romantic poets who spontaneously combusts. She overstates objects, understates emotion, and writes indirectly in the way difficult poets often do, when not shocking us, occasionally, with the gruesome or the disgusting; when peeping into her work through a certain lens we find a poet as intense and intelligent as any poet writing in English today.

Object lesson: two

I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle. –Zen proverb

I park you on my palm
testing you for posture (and pedals—
they really work). Velocipede of wire,
your red and yellow symmetries make
centuries of tinkering seem trivial. You
are a miniature of perfection, you scorn
your previous selves, their names creak
ing like their movements. You do not
see the poetry of Celerive and
Draissine, the rough humour
of the boneshaker
the hobbyhorse the
highwheeler trundling down towards
you, so neat in your sprocket and chain.
You do not care that
a French count or a German baron
a Scottish blacksmith a Parisian carriage
maker and a stolid Englishman saw you
in their dreams. And as for being (maybe)
a doodle in a certain Italian’s notebook, the
name da Vinci doesn’t ring a bell. Your
past is monumentally incidental. You
are all here, now, parked on my palm,
content with yourself
as a tiny replica of you.

**

Michael Creighton has an easy lyric style, which nonetheless carries interesting things in it, a love poet who understands mystery (awe) playing against insouciance is a great formula for love experience in the vehicle of song. The romantic, in a rough and tumble, innocent, adventurous sort of way, makes us fall in love with a city, even as the beloved is still central, but cleverly hidden.

New Delhi Love Song

Smog and dust mix with the air in New Delhi.
I buy jasmine for her hair in New Delhi.

People come from everywhere to this city;
all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.

The finest things in life don’t come without danger.
Eat the street food , if you dare, in New Delhi.

We push in line and fight all day for each rupee.
Can you remember what is fair in New Delhi?

There is nothing you can’t find in our markets.
Socks and dreams sell by the pair in New Delhi.

So many families on the street through the winter;
Sometimes good men forget to care in New Delhi.

My friends ask, Michael, why’d you leave your own country?
I found jasmine for her here, in New Delhi.

***

Ranjani  Murali is a poet who, as we would expect in the era of the MFA, and the subsidized aesthetic, is drawn to the project of moral import. A project will sometimes drown the poetry.

In her cinema project, she has raised the bar so high—critique the impact of certain kinds of cinema on a certain kind of educated person—that her poetry fights to survive, as her art is called on to describe a virtual universe of cheap, visual effects—and hers and a crude audience’s various reactions to them.

Her poetry is trapped in a university thesis. We don’t know what kind of poet she could be, because the project she has chosen has made her a different one.

There is never just “poetry.”

“Poetry” is always attempting to do something which the poet has told it to do. And what Murali’s poetry is doing is super-human. Poetry may do many things, but it cannot do this. Or can it? She is describing cinema which is fake—but the lesson of the dyer’s hand may do her in.

Cinema is big in India, as it is in the United States, and we have seen poets in the U.S. who are fans, and anxious to praise actors and film genres in their poetry. “Project poetry” of all types tends to be dubious to begin with. Murali has a bigger challenge, for with acrobatic, parenthetical musings and suppositions, she strives to convince us her subject is lowbrow and harmful—which if, true, is all the more pointless for poetry aimed at an educated audience to do the work it needs to do to point this out, and, if not true, exactly as pointless, just the same.

To be clear. Ranjani Murali is brilliant. But her obvious talent tugs against the whole project-mentality.

The following is a magnificent poem, even as the poet swims upstream, informing us (“staggering height of two feet”) how ridiculous and melodramatic her subject is—but there is a wonderful richness to it all, and “waylaying of fiction by our own personal fictions” is really something to think about, and the poem manages to invoke a tender feeling at the end:

SINGING CANCER: ARS FILM-POETICA

Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet,
where leukemia has been waiting, on a tape (played at this final scene)
for the audience to absorb the gravity of his absence,

his khadi kurtas condemned to eternal hanging from hooks the size
of tennis balls. Such emptiness adorns this pallid death-scene that
if a small child were to squeeze into this room, tearing apart the cloth

projector-screen, no one would turn to smile at its cherubic face or its tender
pink fingernails. Anand’s friend and his wife are in a paroxysm of rage, wringing
curtains and bedsheet corners but the fall has passed and the voice

on the tape is affectionately teasing them, calling them into a world
of bright poppies and painlessness, a rhythmic clicking (not hushing)
replacing the voice after the signoff—a series of muffled hammer-strikes.

Then, as if on cue, the cast starts sobbing, occasional sniffs spaced out—half beats
of sorrow conducted by the trembling tape player. The bewildered child of our
imagining is still standing in this frame, tugging at the dead man’s hung kurta,

and this waylaying of fiction by our own personal fictions is thus complete.
This child of matinee-hooting and mid-city commutes,
a threshold being, latches on to us, suspending our passive armrest-tapping,

churning our stomachs at the thought of a cancer guttering up
our veins, turning our bodies into a reflection of every instance
of flinching or fraying in the movie-reel, our minds a freeze frame suspended

between seeing and being seen.

****

Minal Hajratwala has a delicate wit and sense of precision which memorable poets invariably possess. In the following poem, Hajratwala feels neither embarrassed nor hamstrung by the unicorn theme, embracing it with great results.

Operation Unicorn: Field Report

The unicorns are a technology
we cannot yet approximate.

Each silv’ry filament’s
worth a trillion fiber optics—

sensitive, intelligent, dense
with data, light as pi.

The natives name them rainbow-made
rapid-streaming over four-dimensional landscapes

wet with dawn. We observe
dappled midnight & moonlight,

sterling-indigo ripples
of energy, some silk

our instruments cannot yet measure.
They say from time to time a virgin

finds a gemstone tooth, a hoof of sapphire.
Upon inquiry, however, no such objects could be produced.

One operative following a lead
has disappeared, sending

two chaste missives in six months
scratched in bark:

1. The years are arbitrary scrawls
2. I have conquered the subterranean stairs

*****

Ranjit Hoskote has such talent for metaphor, such a hoard of poetic gifts, that it almost defeats him. If I were his opponent in chess, I certainly would have no chance; but the poet is the chess player who plays himself. Often I have seen a metaphor in a poem so marvelous that it stops the poem so that it cannot go on, but the poem does, and the poem trails off, almost helplessly, or with even better metaphors, the wealth of which makes the problem of the poem worse. In the following poem, we see Hoskote attain the apparent peak with “if the day should turn upon its hinges, letting light colonise this empire of jars” and yet he still manages to climb:

Effects of Distance

for Nancy

Call it providence if the day should turn
upon its hinges, letting light colonise
this empire of jars and shutters, this room.
A telegram on the rack spells hands that burn
because you did not reply, did not realise
that some words are too proud to remind you they came.

Blue is the colour of air letters, of conquerors’ eyes.
Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.
Never journey far from me; and, if you must,
find towpaths, trails; follow the portents fugitives trust
to guide them out and back. And at some fork,
pause; and climbing in twilight though you may be,
somewhere, address this heart’s unease,
this heart’s unanswered wilderness.

******

Uttaran Das Gupta likes the wide historical view, and it keeps his poems on the sober path; they partake of life, but don’t get overly excited. Perspective is all. We see this in the following poem:

 

Walk, After Lunch

A deer park, a duck lake, a fort—

“It’s colder here, isn’t it?”—

“Yes; we’ll walk fast, ok?”

Distress clouds your eyes:

“You should’ve got your coat.”

 

“It was sunny when we came out.”

“Still!”

 

(Ma chère, what’s gone through the sieve…

what’s stuck in the net, we receive

like cactus flowers in a drought.)

 

“It’s still October,” says our friend.

 

She’ll be only too glad to take an auto.

We press on to the lake.

The fort was restored to defend

the water from the Mongol hordes.

These Khilji-Tughlaq ruins now boast

of peacocks, lovers and ghosts;

no one remembers Taimur’s sword.

 

The dusk is smoggy, the village is lit-up.

We hear jazz, Sufi,

and debate on rum or coffee.

 

“To not drink would be sacrilege!”

 

We each order one-and-a-half

measures of rum: the cold retreats.

Good I didn’t get the coat, it cheats

me of the warmth of friends.

 

—“Or rum?”

 

—And we laugh.

*******

And so goodbye to August, and thanks once again to Linda Ashok. After making this project my own, I am convinced Indian poetry in English is just as good as poetry from England, America, etc. Please support Indian poetry.

 

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