Sunday, June 5, 2016

Poetry Session – June 3, 2016

Monsoon in Kerala

We had only five readers attending; three cancelled at the last minute, and a number of others were on tour. Amidst this plentiful monsoon, we had a meagre gathering. But five became eight, thanks to virtual attendance via the Dropbox.

Shoba, Pamela, KumKum

This was the first session designed to popularise the Dropbox file sharing method, which avoids having to pass around copies of the poems on paper for other readers. The copying expense is eliminated, and saving paper saves forests.

A general help for Dropbox is to be found at

Besides, Joe has provided pointers on on how to record a voice file and upload it, in case the reader is on tour but wishes to participate virtually by uploading the audio reading, a commentary, and biographical data of the author. Moreover, the shared files can be made available offline at the reading, on the readers' devices, even when there is no Internet access.

Shoba, Pamela, KumKum

Three of the poets had never been read before: O.N.V. Kurup, the celebrated Malayalam poet, Calvin Triffin, an American poet given to light verse and humour, and Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian-American. The other poets have all appeared on our lips before: Shakespeare, Byron, Vikram Seth, and Maya Angelou.

KumKum, Preeti


Talitha was to put in an appearance from TVM but couldn't come on account of a Delhi trip. Joe read her short submission, a meditation by a native American of the Choctaw Nation, Rev. Steven Charleston.

Here we are five in number physically, enhanced to eight by Dropbox virtually:
Pamela, KumKum, Preeti, Shoba, Joe

Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016) Beautiful person, fighter, poet


I feel very sad about Muhammad Ali. He was my contemporary and fought many a good fight apart from the one he called his job, 'beating up people.' But he did not deliberately try to hurt anyone. "The hype was part of my job, like skipping rope."


A more self-aware, undeceiving and undeceived, person you could not imagine in black America, unless it be Malcolm X. He also said "I may not talk perfect white talk-type English but I give you wisdom", which he did in abundant measure, for example: "At home I am a nice guy but I don't want the world to know. Humble people, I've found, don't get very far."



He was master of the short form poem:



and thought in aphorisms like a seer:


He was also an unrehearsed philosopher:


he had what it takes:


and could inspire others:


He had a message for America that the great Malcolm X could not deliver one-half as effectively:


A man who suffered defeats had words of encouragement for others:


He took his stand not only in the ring ('the real enemy of my people is here'):


Without tutoring he was a natural poet, his mind full of metaphors from the wide world, and his speech drenched in raging hyperbole that made professional speechmakers seem clichéd and boring. He never used the hackneyed locution 'at the end of the day' like TV pundits and ordinary mortals do, because for him it was a new morning always. 

As a sample of his poetic instinct, here is what he made up before he regained his title in 1974 against George Foreman (later, the huckster of the one-drop fryer). It has his immortal lines in wonderful black English:
You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait 'til I whup George Foreman's behind.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hand can't hit what his eyes can't see.
Now you see me, now you don't.
George thinks he will, but I know he won't.
I done wrassled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick.
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick ...

There's no doubt about his loudest assertion (echoes of John 8:58, before Abraham was, I am):


If there's a shadow cast on his claim, then it's in this great picture of another boxer, who couldn't go all the way because he was locked up in Robben Island jail and got deflected by another mission


Here's a tribute from one his opponents:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Robert Flanagan — The Narrow Road to the Deep North, May 14, 2016


This reading was a double occasion, first, to read from the novel by Richard Flanagan, and second, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our reading group's founding. The event was held in the new home of our dear hostess for the day and faithful member, Priya. Here is a picture of the eats that followed the reading:


The leading spirits at the beginning were Paul George ('Bobby') at whose bookshop, Just Fiction, the sessions used to be held; Indira Outcalt whose enthusiasm for literature kept it going with the participation of several keen Kochi readers of English literature; and the late Manjoo Menon, grand seigneur of matters cultural in Kochi, whose legacy lives on through the good works he started. Here is a news item from The Hindu newspaper about the early origins of the group by our own Priya:


Priya expressed her desire to 'be a part of this wonderful group' in a note she wrote to Joe on June 21, 2007, saying how excited she was from talking to the members. Later I wrote to her:
KRG is just a way to enjoy Litt with other folk who also enjoy; and to benefit from the enthusiasm others show when they come well-prepared. I added the 'diligent reader exercises' only so we could have fun by attempting something that stretches us (me too), and thus builds a few literary muscles we may never otherwise have known we had.


A rationale for our reading group is contained in an essay I wrote for Reading Week in June 2007 and sent to Priya (but never published):
When you read you think, when you think you derive your own illumination, and when you express it, you have the pleasure of your communication added to the writer's work, as a tribute.


We concluded the meeting with the hope the group will continue even though the composition must needs change over time. By recording the events in the blog we will capture our thoughts so they do not go poof! into the air and be forgotten, but will live as a reference for the future. And when the time comes Joe will give up authorship of the KRG blog to another willing soul! 

The Tenth Anniversary group