Sunday, March 18, 2012

Poetry Session on Mar 16, 2012


The session was unique in that men outnumbered women 3:1 at the start. The poetry of of the Mithila poet, Vidyapati, figured, and also the poetry of the earliest Indian English poet, Derozio.

 Priya

We had a guest from America, Thomas Duddy, who has spent the past ten years coming annually to reside in Fort Kochi for extended periods. He is a retired professor of English literature who has taught in many colleges, and knew poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov.

 KumKum and Thomas Duddy

The recitation ranged from the sophisticated cynicism of Andrew Marvell, to the abstract symbolism of Lawrence Durrell, who is better known as a novelist. 

   Sunil, Arundhati, and Sivaram

One poet was repeated for the third time: Angelou – testament to her popularity. Here are the readers at the end of the session in the Library of the Cochin Yacht Club. The late joining of Arundhati Nayar reduced the majority of men from 3:1 to 2:1 ! We are still waiting for Verghese Samuel to join the poetry sessions.

  Thommo, Priya, Tom, KumKum Sivaram, Arundhati, Mathew, Sunil, and Joe

Click below to read a full account of the session ...

Kochi Reading Group Poetry Session on Mar 16, 2012


Attending: Sunil, Mathew, Joe, Thommo , KumKum, Priya, Sivaram
Absent: Verghese (impervious yet to the charms of poetry), Gopa (away from Kochi), Soma (no reason), Talitha (away for family emergency), Zakia (house moving), Bobby (away abroad)
Guests: Thomas Duddy, retired English literature professor from America, and Arundhati Nayar, furniture designer in Kochi.
The next fiction book for reading is to be selected by Sunil and Mathew. Future dates are:
Apr 13, The Stranger by Albert Camus
May 11, Poetry
Jun 15, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


Thomas Duddy
 
Tom thanked KRG for the invitation to recite. He said the poem he had chosen by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) belonged to the type called carpe diem (Latin, 'enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe') poems, celebrating the joy of the present. Andrew Marvell is primarily known for this much-anthologised poem. Here's another by his slightly older contemporary, Robert Herrick:
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Herrick, Marvell, Ben Jonson Richard Lovelace and others belonged the the school of Cavalier Poets, who wrote in a light style on everyday matters. They grew up in a Latinate tradition, and espoused the elegance, cynicism and rationalism of Latin poets.

Tom recited from memory – his eyesight is degenerating and he has made it his aim to memorise the sonnets of Shakespeare before he totally loses vision. He has come up to Sonnet 50. When he was done reciting Marvell's poem, a round of spontaneous applause sounded!

Sivaram asked if the phrase 'time's wingèd chariot' comes from this poem. Yes, answered, Tom. He pointed to the lines:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

noting the looming image embedded there. KumKum said that Joe often quotes the mocking cynicism of these two lines:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Joe's rejoinder was that he quotes these lines only when an embraceable woman appears! But KumKum pointed out that no embraceable women, only policemen and fishermen, are present when he declaims such lines on the beachwalk in Fort Kochi.

Joe noted the well-structured three stanzas of the poem and the variety of images that run through them; these have the effect of deflecting attention from the mechanical nature of the underlying iambic tetrameter lines, rhymed in pairs. Though, it becomes easier to memorise for that reason.

Tom revealed the structure of the poem as as a syllogism: If clause (if there was time), But clause (but there is no time), followed by a Therefore clause (let us have our pleasure now). Rhyming in a natural way is not easy, said Tom, particularly to rhyme without the poem becoming 'sing-songy'. The emotional flow is too intense to notice the rhyme. Just so, added Joe, it is the images that break out every few lines that keep the poem fresh, and so attractively on the edge.


Sivaram
Maya Angelou has been recited twice before and Sivaram chose a poem of hers that takes up the issue of discrimination against blacks in USA, which could equally apply to Harijans in India (I believe the current word is Dalits). The language is sweet and the thought is powerful, said Sivaram.

KumKum recalled the discomfiture of Bobby at the men being outnumbered by women in our regular meetings. He would have been pleased that the situation was reversed at this session as there were two women (herself, and Priya) when we started, but six men were on board. Thommo mentioned that it was for this reason, to emphasise and celebrate women in the KRG setting, that he had chosen to recite Phenomenal Woman by the same poet on a previous occasion (Aug 13, 2010).

Sivaram noted the great stage presence and confidence of the poet when she appeared at a reading, when she was chosen to recite On the Pulse of the Morning at the inauguration of President Clinton in 1993. Sivaram was in USA at the time studying in Ohio and recalled listening to the broadcast. Thommo mentioned Ms. Angelou had a rough childhood. Joe asked what it was. It included divorced parents, sexual abuse and rape. What a wonderful recovery!

Tom liked the lines:
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise

It comes from the strut of a proud woman. Joe said in his greener years he would imitate the swaggering gait of Afro-American youth, which was absolutely unique.

KumKum
Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was an American poet, born in1884. Hers was a short life, yet she was able to leave behind several volumes of beautiful poems. Most of her early life she was sick; later it was an unsatisfactory love-life that plagued her. Love and Nature were important subjects of her poems. KumKum enjoyed reading her poems, because of their simplicity, directness and musical rhyming patterns. Teasdale committed suicide in 1933.

In 1917, her most celebrated collection of poems, Love Songs, was published. It became very popular. She won three awards for this book: the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, The Columbia University Poetry Society Prize, and the annual prize from the Poetry Society of America.

Joe asked if the first poem (There Will Come Soft Rains) is about war-time. Line 7 mentions war, and the poem could be seen as a statement that even war cannot overcome nature which will replenish the earth after war's destruction.

KumKum said the poem After Love is a gem. No pretensions, slight words, yet it affects you. These poems have a place in our lives, KumKum said. She regretted that Sara Teasdale is relatively unknown today. Tom replied that when he was in college in the fifties everyone read Teasdale, but in the sixties the entire canon was rewritten by the onset of the drug culture.

Priya found the poems feminine and delicate. If a man could write such poems he would be an effeminate man. Or an androgynous one, said Joe. Or a metrosexual, added, Sivaram. Priya didn't like such words. But they are used a lot on page 3 of the Times of India, featuring Bollywood, Mollywood, and all the other forested areas of our culture.


Thommo
 Thoreau was a philosopher and poet. Thommo chose to read his poem, I Knew A Man By Sight. It reads like a succession of limericks, said Thommo, but proceeds by stages confronting a stranger in different parts of the world until he becomes the familiar other:
As I had known him well a thousand years.

Thoreau wrote Walden after his experiment living in the woods alone. He wrote his reasons:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Gandhi was influenced by the ideas of 'Civil Disobedience' which Thoreau advocated to fight injustice peacefully. Thommo did not learn about his poetic work until he came to this session. Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau )

Thommo laid out some maxims of Thoreau for us to reflect upon:
If misery loves company, misery has company enough.

City life is millions of people being lonesome together.

What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.
Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

To regret deeply is to live afresh.

A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only, and ignorant with its ignorance.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science.

Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.




Mathew
 Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) was an Israeli poet, born in Germany. He is considered the greatest poet of modern-day Israel. Amichai immigrated with his family at the age of eleven into Palestine in 1935. He attended a religious high school in Jerusalem. He was a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah, the defense force of the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine. As a young man he volunteered and fought in World War II as a member of the British Army, and in the Negev on the southern front in the Israeli War of Independence.

Amichai was a student at Teachers College in Jerusalem, and became a teacher in Haifa. After the War of Independence, Amichai studied Bible and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Encouraged by one of his professors at Hebrew University, he published his first book of poetry, Now and in Other Days, in 1955.

In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War. Amichai published his first novel, Not of This Time, Not of This Place, in 1963. He was a poet in residence at New York University in 1987. For many years he taught literature in an Israeli seminar for teachers, and at the Hebrew University to students from abroad. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehuda_Amichai )

He later became an advocate of peace and reconciliation in the region, working with Arab writers. Since he lived continuously in Jerusalem for the longest time, he came to love the city and wrote many poems about it. A pervasive humanism flows through his work, often irreverent, and not afraid to take on the the orthodoxies of life in Israel. He wrote in Hebrew, but his work has been translated into ~40 languages. Ted Hughes was a fan of his work. Although Israel does not have a poet laureate, he became such de facto in his lifetime, and was mourned by all when he died of cancer in 2000. He had been a candidate for the Nobel prize.

In the first poem (What kind of a person are you), Amichai is asserting his own individuality against the mechanical contraptions of the twentieth century and its dehumanised buildings:
Now I stand at the side of the street
Weary, leaning on a parking meter.
I can stand here for nothing, free.

Tom found the allegory of the last two lines of the second poem (An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion) a striking summation of the country's history:
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

It refers probably to Abraham searching for a ram to kill instead of his son when his slaying hand was stopped by an angel, and the other reference is to the wise men from the East who came in search of the child Jesus. Some readers thought it could also refer to Moses found in the bulrushes.

(Re: “Chad Gadya” — it is an old Aramaic fable sung at the end of the Passover seder — often associated with a sense of relief that the long evening is finally over.

The playful ditty traces a cascade of events beginning with a baby goat being devoured by a cat. Each verse adds a link to the chain reaction; a dog comes and bites the cat, a stick beats the dog, fire burns the stick, water puts out the fire … and on it goes. Each successive verse gets longer until the fable ends in a final karmic stroke; God kills the Death Angel. It’s part morality play, part Rube Goldberg device.

It’s also a great metaphor, making its appearance in a painful contemporary poem by Yehuda Amichai. Amichai’s metaphor — the terrible Chad Gadya machine — is pitch-perfect for the Arab-Israeli conflict, with violence generated and regenerated by self-righteous rage, desperation and vengeance.) http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/63868/in-the-name-of-peace-chad-gadya-machine-must-stop/

The translations of Amichai's verse are into vers libre.


Priya
Vidyapati Thakur (1352? - 1448?), also known by the sobriquet Maithil Kavi Kokil (the poet cuckoo of Maithili) was a Maithili poet and a Sanskrit writer. The name Vidyapati is derived from, Vidya (knowledge) and Pati (master), connoting a man of knowledge. Vidyapati's poetry was widely influential in centuries to come, in the Hindustani as well as Bengali and other Eastern literary traditions. Indeed, the language at the time of Vidyapati, the prakrit-derived late abahatta, had just begun to transition into early versions of the Eastern languages, Maithili, Bengali, Oriya, etc. Thus, Vidyapati's influence on making these languages has been described as "analogous to that of Dante in Italy and Chaucer in England."

Vidyapati is as much known for his love-lyrics as for his poetry dedicated to Lord Shiva. His language is closest to Maithili, the language spoken around Mithila (a region in the north Bihar), closely related to the abahattha form of early Bengali.

The love songs of Vidyapati, which describe the sensuous love story of Radha and Krishna, follow a long line of Vaishnav love poetry, popular in Eastern India, and include much celebrated poetry such as Jayadeva's Gita Govinda of the 12th century. This tradition which uses the language of physical love to describe spiritual love, was a reflection of a key turn in Hinduism, initiated by Ramanuja in the 11th century which advocated an individual self-realisation through direct love.

The songs he wrote as prayers to Lord Shiva are still sung in the Mithila region of India, and form a rich tradition of sweet and lovely folk songs.

The influence of the lyrics of Vidyapati on the love of Radha and Krishna on the Bengali poets of the medieval period was so overwhelming that they largely imitated it. As a result, an artificial literary language, known as Brajabuli was developed in the sixteenth century. Brajabuli is basically Maithili (as prevalent during the medieval period, whose script is close to Bengali, said Priya) but its forms are modified to look like Bengali. Rabindranath Tagore composed his Bhanusingha Thakurer Padabali (1884) in a mix of Western Hindi (Braj Bhasha) and archaic Bengali and named the language Brajabuli as an imitation of Vidyapati (he initially promoted these lyrics as those of a newly discovered poet, Bhanusingha). The songs are sung to this day, and KumKum chimed in to say she has the experience of singing it in her mother's home. Other 19th century figures in the Bengal Renaissance like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee have also written in the Brajabuli. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidyapati ). Aurobindo translated 41 poems of Vidyapati into English. You may listen to Maithili songs by going to:


Mention was made of reciting the Lalita sahasranama, a sacred Hindu text dated to the 12th century A.D. for the worshippers of the Goddess Lalita Devi, i.e., the Divine Mother, in the form of her and the male gods' feminine power, Shakti. Lalita is the Goddess of bliss, for "Lalita" means "She Who Plays". The Lalita sahasranama is supposedly one of the most complete stotras, one need only recite it to gain total salvation. The names are organised as in a hymn, i.e. in the way of stotras, to recite the one thousand names of the Devi. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lalita_sahasranama )

Sivaram noted that in Hinduism the physicality of love is celebrated and even sacred devotional poetry is full of it. (consider the second song, River and Sky).

Joe wished to hear Priya recite in Maithili, but she confessed she did not know the language, nor did she have access to the original of Vidyapati.


Joe
Lawrence Durrell (1912 - 1990)

We are celebrating the 100th birth anniversary of Lawrence Durrell, poet, novelist, travel writer, translator of Greek poets, and brother to the equally well-known naturalist and author of animal stories, Gerald Durrell. LD was born in India, and educated in his early years at St. Joseph's, Northpoint by the Jesuit fathers. He was treated well there, but acquired a distaste for Christianity. He had a more favourable notion of Tibetan Buddhism. He was sent off to England at the age of ten to be educated and was totally alienated by the experience, and became an 'outsider' forever in his mind. His family moved to Corfu after his father’s death to live more cheaply, and there was set the famous book My Family And Other Animals written by his brother, Gerald.

Lawrence Durrell's first work at age nineteen was a book of poetry called Quaint Fragments, written in 1931. During the war he served as a British civil servant and diplomat in the Levant and he delivered some lectures for the British Council in Argentina, collected in A Key to Modern British Poetry. After the war he continued to write about his travels (Prospero's Cell is magnificent writing), and then came the late fifties when he wrote his most famous novels, the quartet called Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea. It was praised by critics for its writing, and its ability to give a sense of the time and the place . The novel is set in Alexandria, “the great winepress of love!”

Joe learnt many new words by reading these novels when he was a student, and recognised at once a style completely different from the novels he had read till then. These novels eased the strain of earning a living for LD. He published many collections of poetry, but regretted he would not be considered among the best. He wrote: “I think really I'm a poet. In poetry perhaps I'm not of sufficient size myself; but it leaks into my prose.”

One of his dicta is this precious notion of poetry:
Prose can be constructed, but poetry comes from nothing. It surprises even the poet.

LD died in 1990 after being married four times. One daughter by his first wife survives and has written her mother's biography.

The poems of Durrell had an impact on the listeners. Joe cautioned that it is not clear exactly what Durrell is talking about quite often. The sense, Sivaram retorted, is often in the total sound and sensuous impression left by the lines, not in the precise meaning of the individual lines, for instance consider this about an express train:
Night falls. The dark expresses
Roll back their iron scissors to commence
Precision of the wheels' elision
From whose dark Serial jabber sparks
Swing swaying through the mournful capitals

KumKum said she had never read Lawrence Durrell's poems. Tom recalled that in the late fifties to early sixties, when the Alexandria Quartet came out, they were talked about much, and you had to read them to claim to be counted among the progressives. Joe noted that there are many novelists who made their name in prose fiction, but considered themselves primarily as poets: our own Vikram Seth, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Lawrence Durrell. Priya remembered that Seth's first novel was in verse; indeed in sonnets of the particular form used in Onegin by Pushkin; not the English forms practised earlier, but iambic tetrameter rhymed with feminine and masculine rhymes. 

However, Joe thought LD's best prose is in a little travel book he wrote called Prospero's Cell (referring to Shakespeare's play), with gorgeous descriptions of the island of Corfu:
Our life on this promontory has become like some flawless Euclidean statement. Night and sleep resolve and complete the day with their quod erat demonstrandum; and if, uneasily stirring before dawn, one stands for a moment to watch the morning star, which hangs like a drop of yellow dew in the east, it is not that sleep (which is like death in stories, beautiful) has been disrupted: it is the greater for this noiseless star, for the deep scented tree-line and the sea pensively washing and rewashing one dreams. So that, confused, you wonder at the overlapping of the edges of dream and reality, and turn to the breathing person in whose body, as in a sea-shell—echoes the systole and diastole of the waters.


Tom liked the unusual descriptions and pairing of words, e.g., 'consenting night', squinting rains', and such lines as:
Landscapes of drumming cloud and everywhere
The lack of someone spreading like a stain.


Sunil
Sunil confessed he is new to poetry. Thommo noted that he too was reintroduced to poetry by KRG, having let his college reading of poetry lapse into the distant past. Kumkum stated that Sunil's wife has noted the change that came over him: “Astonishingly, my husband has started reading poetry. What have you done to him?”

Sunil recalled reading Derozio in his Pre-University days in college. Derozio belongs to the Bengal Renaissance which has been written about in the book Awakening by Subrata Dasgupta:

Derozio , it seems, is the first Indian to write prose and poetry in English. He lived at a time when India hardly existed as an idea, and the renaissance had a lot to do with making people conscious of their past, and thereby inspiring them to grasp a more promising future. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (18 April 1809 – 26 December 1831) was a fiery Indian teacher and poet. As a lecturer at the Hindu College of Calcutta, he invigorated a large group of students to think independently; this Young Bengal group played a key role in the Bengal renaissance.

He was born at Entally-Padmapukur in Kolkata on 10 April 1809. He attended David Drummond's Dhurramtallah Academy school, where he was a star pupil, reading widely on topics like the French revolution and Robert Burns. Drummond, "a dour Scotsman, an exile and a 'notorious free thinker'", instilled in him a passion for learning and superstition-free rational thinking, in addition to a solid grounding in history, philosophy and English literature.

In May 1826, at the age of 17, he was appointed teacher in English literature and history at the new Hindu College. He encouraged students to read Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and other free-thinking texts. He encouraged questioning the orthodox Hindu customs and conventions and infused in his students the spirit of free expression, the yearning for knowledge and a passion to live up to their identity, while questioning irrational religious and cultural practices.

He took great pleasure in his interactions with students, writing about them:
Expanding like the petals of young flowers
I watch the gentle opening of your minds…

On account of his unorthodox (legendarily free) views on society, culture and religion, the Hindu-dominated management committee of the college expelled him as a faculty member. The charges curiously resembled those for which Socrates was arraigned: corrupting the youth with novel ideas. Though facing penury, Derozio continued interacting with his students; indeed, he was able to do more, helping them bring out several newspapers, etc. However, at the end of the year, he contracted cholera, which was fatal at the time, and died on 26 December 1831 at the age of 22. Being a Christian apostate, he was denied burial inside South Park Street Cemetery; instead he was buried just outside it on the road. His bust was unveiled at the Esplanade. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Louis_Vivian_Derozio )



Arundhati

Jayanta Mahapatra is an Oriya writer, who has worked in English and Oriya. He is one of the well-known Indian English poets. He took to writing poetry when he was into his 40s. The publication of his first book of poems, Svayamvara and Other Poems, in 1971 was followed by the publication of Close The Sky Ten By Ten. One of Mahapatra's better remembered works is the long poem Relationship, for which he won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1981. He was the first among Indian English Poets to bag the honour.

Mahapatra was conferred the Padma Shri title in 2009 by the President of India and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Ravenshaw University on 2 May 2009. Also awarded Litt.D. degree by Utkal University, 2006. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayanta_Mahapatra )

You can read more about his style and concerns in poetry at:

Mahapatra writes:
My own writing has always reflected an Oriya sensibility and I have felt myself to be an Oriya poet, who happened to write in English. I suppose our sensibility, the Indian sensibility, is different from the Western one, and this fact stands in the way of the Western reader.


You can learn more about his work at: www.jayantamahapatra.com/


Joe mentioned that the US Library of Congress has a South Asian Literary Recordings Project. Writers and poets in various Indian languages have donated their voice recordings and they can be downloaded from the website:

Priya alerted readers to the excellent work, slim at 118 pages, by the poet Denise Levertov, in collaboration with the scholar of Bengali, Edward Dimock of the University of Chicago, in translating devotional songs about Krishna. It is titled In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali. The English reader gains access to the songs and poems of Jayadeva, Vidyapati, Chandidas, Mirabai, and others. Dimock writes:
The burning of human love and longing comes, in poetry at least, from a spark of the divine; man's yearning “for a twin of the flesh,” as one of the Vaishnava poets says, is a reflection of some primordial, long-forgotten lust, and pain of separation.


To conclude the session Tom sought permission to recite a bonus poem, A.E. Housman's When I Was One-and-Twenty:
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.


Tom said when he was teaching, the students would cry out: “We want more of these kind of poems!”

You can read more about Housman, a great classical scholar of Latin, at:




The Poems

Thomas Duddy
To his Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.



        But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


Sivaram

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

KumKum
Poems by Sara Teasdale
There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

After Love
There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.

You were the wind and I the sea --
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
Beside the shore.

But though the pool is safe from storm
And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
For all its peace.

Spring Rain
I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

I remembered a darkened doorway
Where we stood while the storm swept by,
Thunder gripping the earth
And lightning scrawled on the sky.

The passing motor busses swayed,
For the street was a river of rain,
Lashed into little golden waves
In the lamp light's stain.

With the wild spring rain and thunder
My heart was wild and gay;
Your eyes said more to me that night
Than your lips would ever say. . . .

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

Did You Never Know?
Did you never know, long ago, how much you loved me --
That your love would never lessen and never go?
You were young then, proud and fresh-hearted,
You were too young to know.

Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it
Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year --
Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking,
I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

It Is Not a Word
It is not a word spoken,
Few words are said;
Nor even a look of the eyes
Nor a bend of the head,

But only a hush of the heart
That has too much to keep,
Only memories waking
That sleep so light a sleep.


Thommo
Poem by Henry David Thoreau
I Knew A Man By Sight
I knew a man by sight,
A blameless wight,
Who, for a year or more,
Had daily passed my door,
Yet converse none had had with him.

I met him in a lane,
Him and his cane,
About three miles from home,
Where I had chanced to roam,
And volumes stared at him, and he at me.

In a more distant place
I glimpsed his face,
And bowed instinctively;
Starting he bowed to me,
Bowed simultaneously, and passed along.

Next, in a foreign land
I grasped his hand,
And had a social chat,
About this thing and that,
As I had known him well a thousand years.

Late in a wilderness
I shared his mess,
For he had hardships seen,
And I a wanderer been;
He was my bosom friend, and I was his.

And as, methinks, shall all,
Both great and small,
That ever lived on earth,
Early or late their birth,
Stranger and foe, one day each other know.


Mathew
Poems by Yehuda Amichai
What Kind Of A Person
"What kind of a person are you," I heard them say to me.
I'm a person with a complex plumbing of the soul,
Sophisticated instruments of feeling and a system
Of controlled memory at the end of the twentieth century,
But with an old body from ancient times
And with a God even older than my body.
I'm a person for the surface of the earth.
Low places, caves and wells
Frighten me. Mountain peaks
And tall buildings scare me.
I'm not like an inserted fork,
Not a cutting knife, not a stuck spoon.

I'm not flat and sly
Like a spatula creeping up from below.
At most I am a heavy and clumsy pestle
Mashing good and bad together
For a little taste
And a little fragrance.

Arrows do not direct me. I conduct
My business carefully and quietly
Like a long will that began to be written
The moment I was born.

Now I stand at the side of the street
Weary, leaning on a parking meter.
I can stand here for nothing, free.

I'm not a car, I'm a person,
A man-god, a god-man
Whose days are numbered. Hallelujah.
(Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav)

An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Goat On Mount Zion
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.
(translator unknown)

Another version, translated by Chana Bloch:

An Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mount Zion
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
and on the opposite mountain I am searching
for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
both in their temporary failure.
Our voices meet
above the Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants
the child or the goat to get caught in the wheels
of the terrible Had Gadya machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes
and our voices came back inside us, laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or a son
has always been the beginning
of a new religion in these mountains.

Priya
Poems by Vidyapati
Signs Of Youth
Radha’s glances dart from side to side.
Her restless body and clothes are heavy with dust.
Her glistening smile shines again and again.
Shy, she raises her skirt to her lips.
Startled, she stirs and once again is calm,
As now she enters the ways of love.
Sometimes she gazes at her blossoming breasts
Hiding them quickly, then forgetting they are there.
Childhood and girlhood melt in one
And new and old are both forgotten.
Says Vidyapati: O Lord of life,
Do you not know the signs of youth?

River And Sky
Oh friend, I cannot tell you
Whether he was near or far, real or a dream.
Like a vine of lightning,
As I chained the dark one,
I felt a river flooding in my heart.
Like a shining moon,
I devoured that liquid face.
I felt stars shooting around me.
The sky fell with my dress,
leaving my ravished breasts.
I was rocking like the earth.
In my storming breath
I could hear my ankle-bells,
sounding like bees.
Drowned in the last waters of dissolution,
I knew that this was not the end.

Says Vidyapati:
How can I possibly believe such nonsense?

As the mirror to my hand,
the flowers to my hair,
kohl to my eyes,
tambul to my mouth,
musk to my breast,
necklace to my throat,
ecstasy to my flesh,
heart to my home --

as wing to bird,
water to fish,
life to the living --
so you to me.
But tell me,
Madhava, beloved,
who are you?
Who are you really?

Vidyapati says, they are one another.
(translated by Edward Dimock and Denise Levertov)

The moon has shone upon me,
the face of my beloved.
O night of joy!

Joy permeates all things.
My life: joy,
my youth: fulfillment.

Today my house is again
home,
today my body is
my body.
The god
of destiny smiled on me.
No more doubt.

Let the nightingales sing, then,
let there be myriad
rising moons, let Kama's
five arrows become five thousand
and the south wind

softly, softly blow:
for now my body has meaning
in the presence of my beloved

Vidyapati says, Your luck is great;
may this return of love be blessed.


Joe
Poems by Lawrence Durrell
Je est un autre.” – Rimbaud
He is the man who makes notes,
The observer in the tall black hat
Face hidden in the brim:
He has watched me watching him.

The street-corner in Buda and after
By the post-office a glimpse
Of the disappearing tails of his coat,
Gave the same illumination, spied upon,
The tightness in the throat.

Once too meeting by the Seine
The waters a moving floor of stars,
He had vanished when I reached the door,
But there on the pavement burning
Lay one of his familiar black cigars.

The meeting on the stairway
Where the tide ran clean as a loom:
The betrayal of her, her kisses
He has witnessed them all: often
I hear him laughing in the other room.

He watched me now, working late,
Bringing a poem to life, his eyes
Reflect the malady of De Nerval:
O useless in this old house to question
The mirrors, his impenetrable disguise.


Night Express
Night falls. The dark expresses
Roll back their iron scissors to commence
Precision of the wheels' elision
From whose dark Serial jabber sparks
Swing swaying through the mournful capitals

And in these lighted cages sleep
With open eyes the passengers
Each committed to his private folly,
On hinges of wanhope the long
Sleeping shelves of men and women,
A library of maggots dreaming, rolls.

Some retiring to their sleeping past,
On clicking pillows feel the flickering peep
Of lighted memories, keys slipped in groves
Parted like lips receiving or resisting kisses.
Pillars of smoke expend futurity.

This is how it is for me, for you
It must he different lying awake to hear
At a garden's end the terrible club-foot
Crashing among iron spars, the female shrieks,
Love-song of steel and the consenting night.

To feel the mocking janitor, sleep,
Shake now and wake to lean there
On a soft elbow seeing where we race
A whiplash curving outwards to the stars,
A glowing coal to light the lamps of space.


The Tree of Idleness
I shall die one day I suppose
In this old Turkish house I inhabit:
A ragged banana-leaf outside and here
On the sill in a jam-jar a rock-rose.

Perhaps a single pining mandolin
Throbs where cicadas have quarried
To the heart of all misgiving and there
Scratches on silence like a pet locked in.

Will I be more or less dead
Than the village in memory's dispersing
Springs, or in some cloud of witness see,
Looking back, the selfsame road ahead?

By the moist clay of a woman's wanting,
After the heart has stopped its fearful
Gnawing, will I descry between
This life and that another sort of haunting?

No: the card-players in tabs of shade
Will play on: the aerial springs
Hiss: in bed lying quiet under kisses
Without signature, with all my debts unpaid

I shall recall nights of squinting rain,
Like pig-iron on the hills: bruised
Landscapes of drumming cloud and everywhere
The lack of someone spreading like a stain.

Or where brown fingers in the darkness move,
Before the early shepherds have awoken,
Tap out on sleeping lips with these same
Worn typewriter keys a poem imploring

Silence of lips and minds which have not spoken.


Sunil
Poems by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
To My Native Land
My country! In thy days of glory past
A beauteous halo circled round thy brow
and worshipped as a deity thou wast—
Where is thy glory, where the reverence now?
Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last,
And grovelling in the lowly dust art thou,
Thy minstrel hath no wreath to weave for thee
Save the sad story of thy misery!
Well—let me dive into the depths of time
And bring from out the ages, that have rolled
A few small fragments of these wrecks sublime
Which human eye may never more behold
And let the guerdon of my labour be,
My fallen country! One kind wish for thee!

The Harp Of India
Why hang'st thou lonely on yon withered bough?
Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;
Thy music once was sweet - who hears it now?
Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;
Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:
O! many a hand more worthy far than mine
Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,
And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine
Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel's grave:
Those hands are cold - but if thy notes divine
May be by mortal wakened once again,
Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!


ArundhatiPoem by Jayanta Mahapatra
One day, standing in a corner of a strange city
One day, standing in a corner of a strange city
I felt I was blind to the real meaning
of whatever I had done all along to my life.
I remembered the wide world I kept tempting
to innocence, the past and the future
that lusted for my death, and the magic
of a day that gave a dry little sob and sighed.
There was this poison my blood would carry
to my heart those dreams and desires
as they kept being fulfilled in the world
carrying enormous human costs with them.
This poem of mine which was never an answer,
shook the surrounding darkness like a bell
and quietened, finding itself
lying about my life. All the poem could do
was to close its eyes and fed the breeze
and the sun in its face. It disregarded
the hour between night and dawn, when
most of us die, and my sleeplessness lay there,
waiting for the fear of the wholeness of life.

That day, standing in the corner of a strange city,
the world spoke to me in an unintelligible language.
The silence of history rang with noiseless trumpets
and echo-less drums; the city became
my own skeleton that intruded like an aline
inside my flesh. Was there a voice at all?
People were all around me and we were
all alive at the same time. Our realities
were different and our heroisms were lies.
My blood had gone naked so long
that my veins decayed not saltiness,
and reality was a soft, perfumed bridal bed
with a scarlet sheet that was a potential market
for a country used to live on without memories.
It wasn't clear if the fate fo the people was mine,
whether the key to my life had been
handed to me by a blind man who was not
blind at all at the end of this marathon;
and that revenge, loosened of its moral code,
was to be revelled in as an assuring feat –
the past of the land was on parade
and the faces of tradition were defying masks.
I was suddenly aware that nothing could ever
repair things, napalm could flower on the breasts
of a young girl ot give democracy its wings,
may mind a dead leaf caught by a lazy autumn breeze.
Like a dying man confined to his bed, paralysed
but aware, was poetry itself,
watching the ones he loved pilfer his familiar goods.

11 comments:

paul said...

Fantastic Joe. Thank you for the work
that makes this worth reading.

Shipra said...

It was a wonderful Poetry Session. Thank you, KRG folks, enjoyed your committed participations.

We meet again on the 13th of April when we will discuss Cammus' The Stranger. The book was selected by Bobby. I hope he will be present at that session to lead the discussion.

Joe, it is very nice to read your blog. And I enjoyed your poems by L. Durrel. I did not know he wrote such lovely poems.

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Bobby,

I am glad you enjoyed the post of the Mar 16 Poetry session, especially as you weren't there to experience the delight. It is the very idea of the blog to allow others to share remotely, though they cannot yet participate remotely -- not even asynchronously by sending in voice readings, or textual commentary.

Hope to tackle that some time in the future.
Joe

Joe said...

Hello KumKum,

Yes, wasn't it an occasion to remember?

We all become acquainted with poets and poems we did not know existed. That's the nice thing about the KRG Poetry sessions.
-- joe

Priya said...

Prof Tom Duddy's recitaion was truly the highlight of the session for me. I cannot imagine reciting from memory.
A very enjoyable session indeed and the reading the blog makes it come alive once again.
The poems of the Isareli poet too were very beautiful.
Thank you Joe for keeping this wonderful group simmering.

Linda Prentiss said...

I enjoyed reading these poems and seeing your photos. I knew Tom Duddy when he lived on Long Island many years ago. We shared some pleasant summer evenings boating in the moonlight on the Great South Bay in Moriches, New York. Please say hello to him, from Linda Carter Prentiss. Maybe he will remember me.

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Linda Carter Prentiss,

I am happy you derived some pleasure from reading the poems and commentary. The blog helps us recall the events, long past, we all enjoyed. For instance, the all-Shakespeare reading we organised two years ago, complete with Elizabethan songs recorded at:
http://kochiread.blogspot.in/2009/05/shakescene-all-shakespeare-poetry-event.html


I spoke to Tom on his mobile (cell) phone and he remembered you very well as Linda Carter, and regretted you had disappeared from his life. He did not even know he was on our blog with a photo, for his eyesight is not good enough to make it enjoyable to read on the Internet. Yet there, without the benefit of Facebook or Twitter, he's been revealed to you.

When he comes to our house tomorrow he'll dictate a note to you. Please watch this post's comment area; or better still if you send e-mail to me at kjcleetus followed by gmail.com, he'll write to you directly.

betta said...

Caro Thomas Duddy, finalmente ti ritrovo dopo tanto tempo! come stai? sono contenta di rivederti nel mondo della poesia
elisabetta lovato

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Elisabetta Lovato,

I am Joe Cleetus, writer of this blog, and friend of Tom Duddy, who spends time in Fort Kochi, Kerala, India, where I live. He is here now and I told him about the message and he recognised you immediately and wanted to return your greetings. He does not do e-mail any more but if you have an e-mail address that he can write to, I can transmit a message he dictates. His eyesight is bad from macular degeneration, but he is still writing poetry, and is currently revising a long poem.

You can also write a message for him to me at kjcleetus@gmail.com

joe

Jaydeep Sarangi said...

I'm interested to read my lines there....with you.Jaydeep Sarangi

Jaydeep Sarangi said...

Glad to know the activities of The Kochi Reading Group.Would like read there sometime...wishes,Jaydeep Sarangi
e mail: jaydeepsarangi@gmail.com