Friday, September 20, 2013

Poetry Reading – Sept 19, 2013

This session was held in Thommo and Geetha’s home with wonderful snacks to leaven the proceedings. As usual the potpourri of poets came from several parts of the world: Lebanon, UK, India, Turkey, and Ireland.

Priya, & Esther

The death of Seamus Heaney on Aug 30, 2013 prompted two readers to reach for his verse. Limericks made a comeback once again, and some quite recent examples are included.

Talitha

A major upcoming anniversary is to be celebrated, Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary on April 23, 2014, with recitations from his plays and sonnets, and music from the songs.

KumKum, Talitha, Priya, & Esther

Here we are at the end of the session:

Joe, Sunil, KumKum, Talitha, Esther, Priya, Thommo, Geetha


For a fuller account click below.

Full account and record of KRG Poetry session on Sep 19, 2013

Present: Joe, KumKum, Talitha, Priya, Esther, Geetha, Thommo, Sunil
Missing: Bobby
Absent: Sivaram (on tirth), Kavita (not in town), Zakia (in Bengaluru), Mathew (last minute emergency)

We were meeting in Thommo’s place because the Library at the CYC was being used during renovation elsewhere in the club. The wonderful result was Geetha served us coffee and bondas with McVities biscuits. We are glad to know that Geetha is no longer unnerved by the KRG group, and she may join us even while continuing with her teaching at Choice School for two more years.

We decided to have a celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary (April 23, 2014). The last such celebration we had was in 2009 when Talitha organised ‘Shakescene’:

You will recall the KRG Elizabethan Singers rendered three beautiful songs from Shakespeare’s plays and a sonnet set to tune by Thommo. We need a keyboard player; Esther volunteered and Joe said this talent makes her a precious member of our group.

The dates for the remaining sessions of the year are agreed as follows:
Fri Oct 11, 2013 Emma by Jane Austen 
Fri Nov 8, 2013 Poetry 
Thu Dec 12, 2013 The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 

Our next reading will be at the CYC and although Joe & KumKum will miss the Oct and Nov sessions on account of their trip to USA, Joe promised to send sound files as a stand-in for attendance, if Priya will play them on her computer to the reading group. Priya agreed. She will be the convenor for the next two sessions. Once Priya was asked by the Manager at CYC, it seems, what we all do in the library when we meet. Do we read the library books? And why is the discussion so animated? Should the Club provide curtains for the group to veil their raucous rumblings?

Thommo said he had been urging CYC for a long time to begin a library. At the Cochin Club in Fort Kochi, the library was inaugurated by buying wholesale the library of the Quilon Club (a planters’ club of Harrison’s Malayalam company) when that closed down.

Joe, KumKum, Mathew & Priya are following the online Modern Poetry course offered free by Univ of Pennsylvania through Coursera:


Talitha
Lewis Carroll - the young Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 1898)

Lewis Carroll’s humorous verse from Through the Looking Glass was read by Talitha. It is a great piece of mock-ironic humour with many famous lines such as this:
No birds were flying overhead
   There were no birds to fly
(a kind of post-Armageddon scene, said Talitha).

Perhaps the most famous quote from here is:
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
   "To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
   Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
   And whether pigs have wings."

Joe said this poem was a great favourite of his children who’d stay rapt when he read it out to them at ages 5 and 6.

So too the lines:
‘I weep for you the Walrus said,
   ‘I deeply sympathise.’
With sobs and tears he sorted out
   Those of largest size,

Talitha used a book by Derek O’Brien, Speak Up, Speak Out : My Favourite Elocution Pieces and How to Deliver Them. This elicited some information on his father Neill O’Brien, erstwhile chief of Oxford University Press in India, and representative for Anglo Indians. He taught English at St. Xavier’s College, College, when Joe was there. His mother was a Bengali. Derek, his son, has a media company, Derek O’Brien Associates, and was a one-time quizmaster on TV and is now Trinamul Congress MP.

Lewis Carroll’s Home Page is here:


KumKum
Rabindranath Tagore (1861  1941)

Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Sept 10, 1913, a hundred years ago. He was the first Asian to get the prize. In an unusual gesture, this year, the Swedish Govt, jointly with the Indian Govt celebrated the occasion through various cultural events in both the countries.

KumKum thought of presenting Tagore to KRG Readers once again, but this time as a story teller in Verse. Tagore wrote many long poems which are actually one-act plays with different characters saying their parts.

Some of these he took from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Folk tales from different parts of India; some were from religious texts, and some others were his inventions.

The one she read is titled Karna-Kunti Sangbad from Rabindranath's book Kahani. It is a well-known story from the Mahabharata. A day before Karna was to face Arjuna in the war, the worried mother, Kunti, meets Karna alone, and tries to entice him away to the side of the Pandavas. She tells him the truth of his birth and that she, Kunti, is his real mother. But, Karna remains steadfast.

The poem in Bengali is one of Rabindranath's best in this genre. Ketaki Kushari Dyson, poet, author, and an accomplished translator of Tagore's works, has done a superb job in her translation of the poem, which Joe nevertheless has tinkered with. These are excerpts of the poem taken from KKD’s book of translations, i won't let you go:

Talitha mentioned that Karna had been disadvantaged earlier in the Mahabharata in seeking the hand of Draupadi, on account of his humble birth. But here he is revealed as being of noble lineage, unknown to him. At the end of the war Kunti will have five sons, for either Arjuna or Karna will die. Krishna played foul and disabled a weapon of Karna and he was killed while attempting to lift his chariot out of a rut. Here from the Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karna
“Karna was the son of Surya (a solar deity) and Kunti. He was born to Kunti before her marriage with Pandu. Karna was the closest friend of Duryodhana and fought on his behalf against the Pandavas (his brothers) in the famous Kurukshetra war. Karna fought against misfortune throughout his life and kept his word under all circumstances. Many admire him for his courage and generosity. It is believed that Karna founded the city of Karnal.

Many believe that he was the greatest warrior of Mahabharata since he was only able to be defeated by Arjuna along with a combination of 3 curses, Indra's efforts and Kunti's request.”

Joe wondered whether this English version from the Bengali of Rabindranath, abridged by KumKum to shorten the long poem, could be considered a translation of a translation, since the original story must have been in Sanskrit.

The talk turned to the Gitanjali as a translation, which Talitha said was not done by Rabindranath. A critique of that is here by Joe:
Tagore could not resist the urge to simplify when he translated some of his poems into English. The Gitanjali translation, which he made himself first and then got some help from WB Yeats in redaction, is taken by modern critics as an example of the disservice he did himself as a poet. To quote Fr Pierre Fallon (a Jesuit who taught Comparative Literature in Jadavpur University when I was in college at St Xavier's): “The Western Gitanjali loses much of the musical beauty and evocative power of the original poems.” Yet he calls it a 'jewel' in the category of English religious poetry.

Priya said you can get many Bengali channels on TataSky dish network by paying Rs 35/- per month extra over the basic charge. Everyone lamented that WorldSpace radio became defunct some years back. Another site, said Sunil, is the Internet radio site TuneIn:


Joe
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Seamus Heaney has 12 collections from Death of a Naturalist (1966), to Human Chain (2010), his last representing mostly ruminations on the end of life after his stroke in 2006. He won many prizes: the Forward (2010), T.S. Eliot ( 2006) for the collection District and Circle, Whitbread (1996) for his translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995; "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past", in the words of the Nobel citation.

He taught for a while at Harvard for several years (one semester a year), and was at Oxford as Professor of Poetry, and Queen’s College. Born in Northern Ireland, he was a Catholic and nationalist who chose to live in the South. He once wrote this in protest when he was classified as ‘British’ poet in an anthology published in England:
Be advised, my passport's green
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast the Queen
.

Born in farm country in N Ireland in Bellaghy in Londonderry County, he was the eldest of many children, the clever one who got a scholarship and made it to Queens University in Belfast (St. Columb’s College). He never forgot his country origins and made great use of farm imagery and rural situations in his poetry. In this respect he was like Ted Hughes whom he greatly admired. He was a writer of great distinction on poetry with published volumes of his lectures and in the volume of literary criticism Finders/Keepers his prose shows his wide reading and great discernment.

One of his famous poems is the first one in his first collection in 1966, called Digging. After an admiring description of his father digging in the field, it ends:
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

He became a full-time poet and writer in 1972 and gave up his teaching career when he realised he had found his unique voice in a career as poet. One of the sad events of his boyhood was when a younger brother was killed in an accident. He transformed this into a poem called Mid-term Break.

He was troubled by the sectarian violence in N Ireland, deploring the terrorism and the need to take sides. He used his poetry to state the painful truth he saw. Frank McGuinness, the Irish playwright, said: "During the darkest days of the conflict he was our conscience: a conscience that was accurate and precise in how it articulated what was happening.”

He was a man greatly loved for his personal kindness and courtesy, and for his encouragement of younger poets. He magically retrieved a love poem from his stroke incident in 2006, when his wife, Marie, drove with him in the ambulance. He confesses he was scared at being taken to hospital, grief-stricken at being helpless, and a bit weepy. He suddenly felt a rush of love which came out in the poem called Chanson d'Aventure:
There are a couple of more poems Joe read.

Talitha referred to pome Miracle where the question is posed whether it is a religious poem or a secular one, since Heaney, though raised a Catholic, ceased to observe the religion in worship. The poem draws attention to the faith of the attendants who let down a paralytic man through the roof into the presence of Jesus, seeking a cure. In a similar vein is the story of the woman with an ‘issue of blood’ who is cured when she touches the hem of the garment worn by Jesus.


Priya
Heaney was the poet she too chose; he died recently on Aug 30 at the age of 74. The first one, Blackberry-Picking, is a sensuous description of the act of picking the berries and its transformation in the hands of those who handle it and eat it. Blackberries can become erotic subjects in the hands of a poet such as Heaney.  Bluebeard (palms sticky as Bluebeard's) is the person of whom wives inquire about the fatal private room in the house at their peril. Priya said Yeats died in 1939, when Heaney was born. Talitha quipped that since Joe also was born in 1939 (as he confessed earlier), ‘who knows on whom the mantle has fallen.’ KumKum noted that she would have been fed up when Joe retired from his academic career, had he not shown this other inclination toward literature and poetry.

The second poem Priya read was titled Requiem for the Croppies. Here’s an explanation:
The croppies were called such because they wore their hair cropped—to oppose the foppish, long-hair favoured by the aristocracy of the time.  They did carry barley in their pockets. And, on June 21, 1798 at Vinegar Hill, they were cornered and many were slaughtered by artillery bombardment.  They made two futile attempts to break the British line. The British buried the bodies in mass, shallow graves—but the seeds of rebellion were sown—and bore fruit when the barley in their pockets came up–nourished by their own bodies–and bore fruit again in, 1913, 1916, 1969 and beyond—whenever the revolutionary spirit could not be killed.


Sunil
Nazim Hikmet (1902 – 1963)

The poet chosen was Nazim Hikmet, born in Salonika in the days of the Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloniki in Greece). You may read his biography at:

He was the first modern Turkish poet, and grew up when Kemal Ataturk took charge of Turkey. There is a movement to bring back his bones from Greece to Turkey now. Thommo noted that in Turkish the normal Muslim names spelled with ‘a’ are replaced by ‘e’. The conversation digressed to the Syrian civil war afoot, and America’s itching to bomb and intervene. There is nothing so favoured as instability in the Middle East by the big powers, all keen to have first options on the oil wealth there.

Faces of Our Women is a lovely poem celebrating women, and it won KumKum’s heart. Afterwards the conversation turned to the recent controversy over a Miss America winner of India extraction, whose dusky complexion came in for the usual Twitter abuse. Everyone was disgusted at the continuing Indian ideals of beauty that value fair skin. The stupid ads fronted by Shah Rukh Khan advertising ‘Fair and Lovely’ cream for Rs 10/- was an example held up to ridicule. Think of the late Smita Patil, think of Nandita Das.

Talitha said although Malayalis are no less enamoured of fair-skinned women, Malayali poets do not denigrate the woman called ‘karutha penna,’ dark lady. Thommo mentioned his father having been so fair that when he went to the Customs to take delivery of a foreign car (Plymouth Fury) imported for the use of his white boss in Dunlop, he was saluted and addressed as the white man.

Priya said the complexion demanded in Bihar for brides is either ‘cream and peach’ or ‘milky white.’

The first poem, Hiroshima Child, has been translated well according to Talitha. Joe was reminded of the darkest poem in Vikram Seth's The Collected Poems, on p.169. It is about the fateful day on Aug 6, 1945 when Hiroshima was reduced to vaporous rubble by an atom bomb. It is titled A Doctor’s Journal Entry for August 6, 1945. There is no way of excerpting from this long 64-line poem in couplets, for it unfolds one continuous scene of desolation. The doctor tries to cope, and realises, one by one, the calamitous effects on him, and on the other citizens of that single blinding flash. We are brought face to face with the horror and degradation visited on people by nuclear explosions. Seth has researched and read the eye-witness accounts of the atomic blast and captures them in all their stark horror.


Esther
Jerry Pinto (1966 

Her choice was Jerry Pinto, the Goan writer who lives and works in Mumbai. He won the Hindu Lit for Life prize last year for his book Em and the Big Hoom. It took a decade or more in the writing. You can read his bio at:

He has worked at many jobs in his life. An earlier book of his Helen, the H-Bomb on the cabaret artiste Helen of Hindi movies won a prize for film books. Jerry Pinto calls himself a poet first and has published two volumes of poetry. His mother was bipolar and suffered the alternating mood swings that characterise the disease. The first poem Esther read, Bedside, speaks of the son nursing the mother. These lines are quite striking:
I have survived to write these lines
To turn you, baste you and marinate
Our twinned lives into a poem.

The son is devastated that he could not hold on to his mother the way he wanted. These lines knell his lasting regret:
Mummy, find it in you to forgive me
And I will try to be bigger than my guilt
And forgive myself.


Geetha
Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)

She chose Kahlil Gibran. Geetha found The Song of the Rain a lovely poem with imagery:
I emerge from the heard of the sea
Soar with the breeze. When I see a field in
Need, I descend and embrace the flowers and
The trees in a million little ways.

This year Thommo said there is a worry about the crop in Kerala on account of continuous rain. In his 32 years residing here he cannot recall such a lashing of rain, almost every day since June 1, 2013.

Joe said Gibran had many women admirers for his poetry. His wiki entry notes, “Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kahlil_Gibran)

But there is a suspicion his inspirational verse is a bit mushy, somebody said. His verse has been read twice before at KRG once in 2008, and then again in 2011 by Zakia:


Thommo
Edward Lear (1812 – 1888)

Thommo indicated he was going to bring down the literary altitude of the reading group by dealing in Limericks. Not at all, said Joe, who enjoys limericks and uses them to twit friends and relatives, or sometimes to greet them. Here’s one of his recent efforts:
There was a gal from Madras
Who was due to be put out to grass,
But she said at seventy:
“Though I’m much past twenty,
As a woman I’m still bindaas.”

Indira Outcalt recited this memorable one at a previous KRG reading:
Said the Duchess of Alba to Goya:
'Paint some pictures to hang in my foya!'
So he painted her twice:
In the nude, to look nice,
And then in her clothes, to annoya.


Joe was startled to come across these two referenced paintings staring at each other across a hall in The Prado museum in Madrid. See

A recent limerick caused a flutter at BBC when Stephen Fry was livecast on TV and recited this:
There was a young chaplain from King's
Who talked about God and such things;
But his real desire
Was a boy in the choir
With a bottom like jelly on springs

Unfortunate and regrettable, said BBC.

Limericks are often bawdy and they form the staple exchange at men’s gatherings. Nobody at KRG can baulk at this, at once bawdy and literary:
There once was a poet called Donne
Who said 'Piss off!' to the sunne:
The sunne said 'Jack
Get out of the sack,
The girl that you’re with is a nun'

Lear began the craze with his nonsense verse in 1845. More about the history and the formal metre can be read at:

Moe references are here:
A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
Abscissa & Mantissa bring you Limericks!
Wordsworth Book of Limericks



Poems

Talitha poem by Lewis Carroll

The Walrus and The Carpenter 

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?
"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.


KumKum poem by Rabindranath Tagore
Excerpts of the Dialogue between Karna and Kunti from Karna-Kunti Sangbad, a long poem from Rabindranath's book Kahani.

Karna.    On sacred Jahnavi's shore I say my prayers
               to the evening sun. Karna is my name,
               son of Adhirath the charioteer, and Radha is my mother
               That's who I am. Lady, who are you?
Kunti.    Child, in the first dawn of your life
               it was I who launched you into this world.
               That's me, and today I've cast aside
               all embarrassment, to tell you who I am.
Karna.    Respected lady, the light of your lowered eyes
               melts my heart, as the sun's rays melt
               mountain snows. Your voice
               pierces my ears as a voice from a previous birth
               and stirs strange pain. Tell me then,
               by what chain of mystery is my birth linked
               to you, unknown woman ?
Kunti.    Oh, be patient,
               child, for a moment! Let the sun-god first
               slide to his rest, and let evening's darkness
               thicken round us — now let me tell you, warrior,
               I am Kunti.
Karna.    You are Kunti ! The mother of Arjun !
Kunti.    Arjun's mother indeed! But son,
               hate me not for that.
Karna.    I salute you, noble lady. A royal mother you are:
               so why are you here alone? This is a field of battle,
               and I am the commander of the Kaurava army.
Kunti.    Son, I've come to beg a favour of you —
               Don't turn me away empty-handed.
Karna.    A favour? From me!
               Barring my manhood, and what dharma requires,
               the rest will be at your feet.
Kunti.    I have come to take you away.
Karna.    And where will you take me?
Kunti.    To my thirsty bosom — to cosset you.
Karna.    A lucky woman you are, blessed with five sons.
               And I, just a petty princeling, without pedigree —
               where would you find room for me?
Kunti.    Right at the top!
               I would place you above all my other sons,
               for you are the eldest.

Karna.    By what right
               would I aspire to that state? Tell me how
               from those already cheated of empire
               I could possibly take a portion of that wealth,
               and a mother's love, which is fully theirs.
               A mother's heart cannot be bought
               or procured by force. It's a divine gift.
Kunti.    O my son,
               by divine right you are descended
               of my womb — and by that same right
               return again, in glory; disregard all —
               take your own place amongst your brothers,
               in my maternal love.
Karna.    Then why
               did you consign me so ingloriously —
               without family honour, no mother's eyes to watch me —
               to the mercy of this blind, unknown world? Why did you
               let me float away on the current of contempt
               so irreversibly, banishing me from my brothers?
               You put a distance between Arjun and me,
               whence from childhood a subtle divide
               of bitter enmity distances us
               and causes an irresistible aversion —
               Mother, have you no answer?
Kunti.    Who knew, alas, that day
               when I forsook a tiny, helpless child,
               that from somewhere he would gain a hero's power,
               return one day along a tortuous path,
               and with his own cruel hands hurl weapons at those
               born of the same mother!
               What a curse this is!
Karna.    Mother, don't be afraid.
               I predict the Pandavas will win.
               Let me stay with the losers, whose hopes will be dashed.
               The night of my birth you left me upon the earth,
               nameless, homeless. Likewise, today
               be ruthless, Mother, and just abandon me:
               leave me to my defeat, without fame or hero's lustre.
               Only this blessing give me before you leave:
               may greed for victory, for fame, and for kingdom,
               never deflect me from a warrior's path to salvation.
(Rabindranath wrote this on 26 February, 1900)

Joe poems by Seamus Heaney
1. Mid-term Break:
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble,'
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

2. Chansond'Aventure
Love's mysteries in souls do grow
   But yet the body is his book
I
Strapped on, wheeled out, forklifted, locked
In position for the drive,
Bone-shaken, bumped at speed,

The nurse a passenger in front, you ensconced
In her vacated corner seat, me flat on my back--
Our postures all the journey still the same,

Everything and nothing spoken,
Our eyebeams threaded laser-fast, no transport
Ever like it until then, in the sunlit cold

Of a Sunday morning ambulance
When we might, O my love, have quoted Donne
On love on hold, body and soul apart.
II
Apart: the very word is like a bell
That the sexton Malachy Boyle outrolled
In illo tempore in Bellaghy

Or the one I tolled in Derry in my turn
As college bellman, the haul of it there still
In the heel of my once capable

Warm hand, hand that I could not feel you lift
And lag in yours throughout that journey
When it lay flop-heavy as a bell-pull

And we careered at speed through Dungloe,
Glendoan, our gaze ecstatic and bisected
By a hooked up drip-feed to the cannula.
III
The charioteer at Delphi holds his own,
His six horses and chariot gone,
His left hand lopped

From a wrist protruding like an open spout,
Bronze reins astream in his right, his gaze ahead
Empty as the space where the team should be,

His eyes-front, straight-backed posture like my own
Doing physio in the corridor, holding up
As if once more I'd found myself in step

Between two shafts, another's hand on mine,
Each slither of the share, each stone it hit
Registered like a pulse in the timbered grips.

3. A Kite for Aibhín
After ‘L’Aquilone’ by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)
Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

4. Scaffolding
(a very confident poem from his first book)
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

5. Miracle
Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let‐up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid‐out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

[Written after his heart attack in 2006, from which he took a year to recover; Heaney is not a religious person. ‘Miracle’ uses the Biblical story of Jesus healing the paralysed man (Mark 2, 1‐12) to refer to the poet’s own recovery from a stroke. Is this a religious or a secular poem?]


Priya poems by Seamus Heaney
Blackberry-Picking 
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Requiem for the Croppies
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley...
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp...
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching... on the hike...
We found new tactics happening each day:
We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until... on Vinegar Hill... the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August... the barley grew up out of our grave.

Death Of A Naturalist
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.


Sunil poems by Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963, Turkey)
Hiroshima Child 
I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead

I'm only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I'm seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind

I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead

All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play

The Faces Of Our Women
Mary didn't give birth to God.
Mary isn't the mother of God.
Mary is one mother among many mothers.
Mary gave birth to a son,
a son among many sons.
That's why Mary is so beautiful in all the pictures of her.
That's why Mary's son is so close to us, like our own sons.
The faces of our women are the book of our pains.
Our pains, our faults and the blood we shed
carve scars on the faces of our women like plows.
And our joys are reflected in the eyes of women
like the dawns glowing on the lakes.
Our imaginations are on the faces of women we love.
Whether we see them or not, they are before us,
closest to our realities and furthest.


Esther poems by Jerry Pinto
Bedside 
I watch your face hanging open
Your warm wet mouth, your tongue flickering
Your spectacles grimy, your hair alive
Your forehead broad and wasted
Your cheeks alternately limp and bulging.
I do not need to watch your body
I have tended it often
Eased its pains with capsicum plasters
And prayed I was easing your mind too
With my litany fresh off the shelf:
Tegretol, Anxol, Espazine, Hexidol
Neurobion, Arrovit, Shelcal, Diazepam.
I cross your palm with powder
And pray, entire rosaries and masses,
satsangs and majlises, that you should not
Tell my future.
When I last lifted you off the floor
You were sitting close to my bed.
You did not expect to fall
Not under the knowing eyes of
Mother of Perpetual Succour.
I direct your gaze to the falling slipper
Of the child in her arms.
It falls, you told me some lives ago
Out of fear of the foretold future
I understand that slippage
But you? You live it.
Some nights you let me sleep in patches
I have grown used to it, relying on my
Ability to turn you off, and your pain.
I have survived to write these lines
To turn you, baste you and marinate
Our twinned lives into a poem.
But I wish I could keep
My heart unguilty, my love fresh
My thoughts wide-ranging, my eyes new
and that wound — inflicted on days of empathy —
raw and open.
What happened to the in-betweens?
The Erle Stanley Gardners and the Agathas?
The monotonous card games and the inedible food?
The forced Vicks-ings and the rage of Tiger balm?
Did we take them away
With our conscientious powder formulae?
There are many options I know
The glaze of stillness and the panacea of
forgetfulness
Or the black snot that stained granny’s kerchief
A trust in the occult, born of grief.
A faith in God, born of habit.
So many options and I, on auto-pilot
Cross your palm with powder.
Outside, I turn my face to the sun
Laugh, play, pun, work, entertain, function.
I know from a few grim examples
And one bright shining one
How the world fetes facades.
I have grown used to seeing the one I devised
Reflected in your laughter-silted eyes.
Inside, I shrink from metaphor and magic
I have no beliefs here, only a watchfulness.
My world condenses into an ink-stain
As your voice trails after me from room to room.
I made promises for you, standing in the toilet
By the skull of the Cyclops that drank my piss
I broke those promises, one by one
And know that is why I cannot love.
Mummy, find it in you to forgive me
And I will try to be bigger than my guilt
And forgive myself.

Drawing Home 
Were I to draw my home, I don’t think
I would do it quite like this drawing of yours.
All these right angles and hinges bear no resemblance
To my memories of suddenness and curves, odd shapes
And our balancing act: four on a trapeze.
Still I don’t resent your drawing.
I rather like it, in fact; this way of making coherent
Scenes of such randomness.

You could play one camera. I could be the other.
We could ask for a neutral third so that
Between the three of us, we’d miss nothing.
You could look for the big picture and I
For nuance. The third camera, full-frontal, unblinking
Could mediate. We might arrive at something
Between your version and mine.


Geetha poem by Khalil Gibran
Song Of The Rain VII 
I am dotted silver threads dropped from heaven
By the gods. Nature then takes me, to adorn
Her fields and valleys.

I am beautiful pearls, plucked from the
Crown of Ishtar by the daughter of Dawn
To embellish the gardens.

When I cry the hills laugh;
When I humble myself the flowers rejoice;
When I bow, all things are elated.

The field and the cloud are lovers
And between them I am a messenger of mercy.
I quench the thirst of one;
I cure the ailment of the other.

The voice of thunder declares my arrival;
The rainbow announces my departure.
I am like earthly life, which begins at
The feet of the mad elements and ends
Under the upraised wings of death.

I emerge from the heard of the sea
Soar with the breeze. When I see a field in
Need, I descend and embrace the flowers and
The trees in a million little ways.

I touch gently at the windows with my
Soft fingers, and my announcement is a
Welcome song. All can hear, but only
The sensitive can understand.

The heat in the air gives birth to me,
But in turn I kill it,
As woman overcomes man with
The strength she takes from him.

I am the sigh of the sea;
The laughter of the field;
The tears of heaven.

So with love -
Sighs from the deep sea of affection;
Laughter from the colorful field of the spirit;
Tears from the endless heaven of memories.

Thommo Limericks

There was an Old Man on whose nose
Most birds of the air could repose;
But they all flew away at the closing of day,
Which relieved that Old Man and his nose.
(Edward Lear)

A clergyman told from his text
How Samson was barbered and vexed,
And told it so true
That a man in the pew
Got rattled, and shouted out 'Next!"

Brigham Young was never a neuter,
A pansy or fairy or fruiter.
Where ten thousand virgins
Succumbed to his urgin’s,
We now have the great state of Utah.
(Anon)

A visitor once to Loch Ness
Met the monster, which left him a mess.
They returned his entrails
By the regular mails
And the rest of the stuff by express

There was an old man from Bicester,
Walking one day with his sister,
When a bull with one poke
Tossed her into an oak,
And the silly old bloke never missed her.
- Anon

A French poodle espied in the hall
A pool that a damp gamp let fall,
And said, “Ah, oui, oui!
“This time it’s not me,
“But I’m bound to be blamed for it all.”
- Anon

There was a young fellow named Fisher
Who was fishing for fish in a fissure,
When a cod, with a grin,
Pulled the fisherman in—
Now they’re fishing the fissure for Fisher.
(Anon)

There was a young lady of Kent,
Who always said just what she meant.
People said, “She’s a dear,
“So unique, so sincere.”
But they shunned her by common consent.
- Anon

Cried a slender young lady called Toni
With a bottom exceedingly bony
"I'll say this for my rump
Though it may not be plump
It's my own, not a silicone phoney!"

I sat next to the Duchess at tea;
It was just as I feared it would be.
Her rumblings abdominal
Were simply phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was me!

A skeleton once in Khartoum
Asked a spirit up into his room;
They spent the whole night
In the eeriest fight
As to which should be frightened of whom

There was a man from Kerala
Who refused to eat off an ela
When asked why he wouldn’t
He replied that he couldn’t
‘Cause he was a cultured fella


2 comments:

Priya said...

Joe, one can get to hear Rabinder sangeet if you subscribe to Active Music from Tata Sky, along with other kinds of songs like English classics, Bhajans, Hindi Bollywood mix etc.

There is an interesting take on Seamus Heaney's Blackberry Picking to be a sensual poem, "steamy". Could anyone sense that?

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Dear Priya,

re: Blackberry-Picking, is it 'steamy'?

I wrote, "Blackberry-Picking, is a sensuous description of the act of picking the berries and its transformation in the hands of those who handle it and eat it. Blackberries can become erotic subjects in the hands of a poet such as Heaney."

'Steamy' is generally used of visual scenes that excite the sexual appetite. I don't sense anything like that.

Tks for the TataSky info.

- joe