Monday, June 29, 2015

Poetry Reading – Jun 26, 2015

We had ten readers, including a new reader Shoba Cherian, for this monsoon session of poetry. Appropriately two readers chose to celebrate with rain poems.

Pamela, Kavita, Shoba, Talitha

We noted some landmarks. June was the 750th birth anniversary of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy and other works. Vikram Seth has come out with a collection, Summer Requiem, of poems he has been writing over the past couple of decades.
Joe, KumKum, Gopa, Ankush, Priya

We are now dues paying members at KRG (annual subscription of Rs 300) since the Cochin Yacht Club has decided to charge us for holding meetings in their Library.

Kavita, Shoba, Talitha

Thommo, our ever-adventurous evergreen member will be setting out in July for a six-month drive across 40 countries. Final arrangements with sponsors and obtaining customs documents (Carnet de Passages en Douane) are afoot.

Thommo, Pamela

Pamela brought a cake to celebrate her birthday on June 27. Along with birthday wishes sung for her, KumKum distributed chocolates as a token of her joyous visit to her children and grandchildren in USA.

KumKum, Gopa, Ankush, Priya

Here are we all at the end of the session:

Joe, Shoba, Kavita, Talitha, KumKum, Thommo, Priya, Gopa, Ankush, Pamela

Full Account of the Poetry 
Reading on Jun 26, 2015
Present: Pamela, Joe, Talitha, KumKum, Priya, Ankush, Thommo, Kavita, Gopa
Absent: Vijay Govind (?), Preeti (out of town), Zakia (Ramadan), Govind Sethunath (out of town), CJ (out of town), Sunil (gone to Thrissur)
New Reader trying out: Shoba Cherian
The next reading for the novel Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro has been fixed 
for Wed Jul 22, 2015.  
1. Pamela
Pamela chose to explore the ghazal form once more, this time it with Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Tum aaye ho na. Faiz was born in 1911 near Sialkot in Punjab in what is now Pakistan. He was brought up in a secular tradition of Islam by his father and went to a mission school, and later he studied Urdu, Persian, and English at the Government College, Lahore. He did his MA in English Lit in 1932 and also got a Master's degree in Arabic. In his college days he became a left-leaning member of the Communist Party.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
He married Alys, a British national (and Communist Party member) who was a co-student at the Government College, Lahore. They had two daughters. He was a lecturer and then a professor, first in Aligarh and then in Lahore. During the war he joined the British Indian Army, but was given a desk job. He opted for Pakistan at Independence. In 1947 he became editor of the Pakistan Times. He was arrested in 1951 in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and came under a cloud.
He published his first literary work in 1947. In his lifetime he wrote eight books and received many prizes, including the Lenin Peace Prize. As a revolutionary poet he was against tyranny and dictatorship, and never compromised. Political themes occur in his poetry. He suffered greatly for his leftist inclinations and went to jail and later was in exile in UK for a while. He returned and prospered under Z.A. Bhutto's regime but came under a cloud again when Bhutto was executed by Zia ul Haq's regime. He died a broken man in 1984.
Faiz has been a great figure in the arts and literature, and is highly esteemed on both sides of the border. Vikram Seth who loves Faiz translated a couple of shers movingly:
Raat yuN dil meiN terikhoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane meiN chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
Jaise sahraon meiN haule se chale baad-ae-naseem,
Jaise bimaar ko be-wajaah qaraar aa jaaye.
Last night your faded memory came to me
As in the wilderness spring comes quietly,
As, slowly, in the desert, moves the breeze,
As, to a sick man, without cause, comes peace.
(translation taken from the collection Mappings, the very first authored by Vikram Seth and published by P. Lal from the Writers Workshop, Calcutta)
Pamela mentioned that much of the ghazal is symbolic of the poet's imprisonment and loss of freedom. Indeed it opens with a line that speaks of the dawn (freedom) never appearing no matter how long one waits. After reciting the ghazal in Urdu Pamela sang it for us, in the Tarannum style, as she said. This provoked instant applause. Joe asked where is Takhallus in the last sher, the customary mention of the author's name or pen-name? It's missing. Joe also asked if the interpretation of this ghazal as being about imprisonment and freedom is supported. Pamela replied yes, just look at the last sher
Qafas se aaj sabaa be-qaraar guzri hai
the breeze passed by the prison today in disquiet
But love too is about enslavement, is it not?
2. Kavita
This being the monsoon season in Kerala, Kavita (and later Priya) took up poems with rain as the theme. Kavita's is from The Crescent Moon collection of Rabindranath and the poem is called The Rainy Day. It paints a scene when the rain is slashing down on a village near the river and describes all the things that happen: palm trees bending, crows sitting bedraggled, the cows lowing, the fishermen rushing about catching fish in the ponds – and a child who only wishes to run out and experience the thrill of the rain.
Rabindranath Tagore
KumKum said Rabindranath has many poems about the rain. Priya liked the appearance of the laughing boy in the poem. It's true to life. Someone asked if the child who is being admonished not to go out, actually stayed indoors. The consensus was it is too difficult to keep children indoors in the rain, especially in in the countryside. Shoba mentioned a comparison with 'Nia.'
A few points about the translation. 'Fishes' is inappropriate in this context as the plural; fish would do. 'Ford' is a place in the river so shallow you can walk across; the word 'ghat' or pier might have been more right. Crows are more likely to have 'bedraggled' wings than draggled ones as a result of the rain.
3. Shoba Cherian
Shoba, attending her first session at KRG, was introduced by Thommo. She teaches French at the Rajagiri School, and chose a poem by Jacques Prévert which is often set for school syllabi since it has simple vocabulary, but the surface simplicity is deceptive. It's an impish poem, capable of interpretation in several ways. Children are getting a look-in at adult behaviour.
Jacques Prévert
Shoba was going to read line-by-line from the French and have the readers decipher the meaning with her help, but they requested her to provide the all-important sound and rhythm of the whole poem by reading it before explicating.
The poem ends with an ignored person, most probably a woman, crying:
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.
Joe advanced the notion that this is a woman in a restaurant who was completely ignored by a man at a nearby table. She observed him closely having a coffee and a cigarette, and then leaving, without so much as a glance in her direction:
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
This would have been galling to her, if she was vain and considered herself attractive. Others gave different interpretations of the human situation: two people who had had a quarrel the night before, ignoring each other next morning at breakfast. Or maybe it symbolises the end a whole relationship.
Here's a short wordless prize-winning film on the poem, which supports the quarrel theory, but breaks with the poem in having the man look once fleetingly at the woman:
The restaurant theory is elaborated in this short
But the best voice I heard on the Web for this poem is here:
When Shoba asked a student in her class how she felt about such silences, the child replied that it was fine so long as it was the father remaining silent at breakfast (he generally ignored her anyway), but if her mother failed to chat with her it would be very sad.
Here's a page with plenty of links (some of which misfire) that pays homage to this Parisian poet:
And now for a short bio of the poet taken from the Web:
Jacques Prévert, France's most widely read poet since Victor Hugo, was born in Paris in 1900. He left school in 1915 and worked at various jobs until 1920 when he served in the military in Lorraine and with the French occupation forces in Turkey.
In 1925 he began to associate with the surrealists, including André Breton and Louis Aragon. "Expelled" from this group by Breton in 1930, because of his "occupation or character", he responded with a savage satirical attack on Breton, titled "Death of a Gentleman". His first poems were published in the same year, and in 1931 there appeared his first major success: "Attempt to Describe a Dinner of Heads in Paris - France", subsequently published in the collection Paroles.
In the 1930s he worked with a theatre company, the "October Group", linked to the Communist Party though not always reflecting the Party's views. In 1933 he attended the International Workers' Theatre Olympiad in Moscow for the première of his play, "The Battle of Fontenoy". In the same years he began writing film scripts, his first film ("It's In The Bag") appearing in 1932.
Paroles, Prévert's first collection of poetry, appeared late in 1945. Patched together by René Bertelé from forgotten newspapers and reviews, cabaret songs, and scribblings from the backs of envelopes and the paper tablecloths of cafés, Paroles is widely considered Prévert's best work. By the mid-1960s more than a million copies of it and other collections of his poems were in print.
Jacques Prévert died of lung cancer in 1977. Two further poetry collections, Soleil de nuit (1980) and La cinquième saison (1984) were published posthumously.
4. Talitha
Talitha chose a war poet of WWI who is different from the other poets of that war. This poet first came to her notice when she read the first two lines of the poem as an epigraph in some other context:
I have a rendezvous with Death   
At some disputed barricade,
Here is a bio from the Poetry Foundation web site:
Alan Seeger’s promising poetic career  (1888 – 1916) was cut short when he died serving in the French Foreign Legion during World War I. He is best known for his war poem, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, and has often been compared with Rupert Brooke, a contemporary English soldier-poet who also died in World War I. Brooke too idealised war and was equally handsome, seducing quite a few girls before he went off to gain glory at the front.
Alan Seeger
Seeger has been criticized for his impersonal, conventional, and idealising verses, but critics acknowledge these as being the weaknesses of youth. James Hart in the Dictionary of Literary Biography explained, “He needed more time to move from a stock and outmoded romanticism to a more distinctive and original style, from a style full of abstractions to one more concrete and personal.”   The son of a businessman, Alan Seeger was born June 22, 1888, in New York City, and grew up in a wealthy and cultured home in Staten Island. His sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Charles (who became a noted musicologist), were close in age. Seeger attended the Staten Island Academy and then the Horace Mann School in Manhattan until the age of twelve. His family then moved to Mexico City; in 1902 Alan returned with his brother Charles to New York to attend the Hackley School, in Tarrytown. Following his graduation from the Hackley School, Seeger attended Harvard University, where, as a budding poet, he was influenced by the Romantic poets while other fresh poets at Harvard, such as T.S. Eliot, who was experimenting with more modern verse. He also translated Dante and Ariosto and helped edit the Harvard Monthly, where he published many of his poems. He graduated from Harvard with a BA in 1910.   After graduating, Seeger moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. There he attempted to live out his romanticized notion of bohemian life, living wholly through the senses (as opposed to the mind). His father was not pleased. Still, Seeger continued writing poetry and slept on the couch of his classmate and notorious revolutionary, John Reed. After two years Seeger decided New York did not live up to his ideals so, with funding from admiring friends, he left for Paris.   In Paris, Seeger reveled in his new friendships among the artists in the Latin Quarter. He found his ideals of beauty embodied by the city. There is also evidence that he fell in love, in the poems Do You Remember Once  and The Rendezvous. When war broke out between France and Germany in 1914, Seeger enlisted in the French Foreign Legion to defend his beloved France.   Apparently seeking the utmost of excitement in life, Seeger also had a fatalistic streak, and seemed attracted to the possibility of dying. Victor Chapman, in Victor Chapman’s Letters from France, questioned Seeger’s emotional state before joining the Legion: “Seeger was an appalling wreck before the war.” In his letters, Seeger told of crowded quarters, filth, cold and misery; but only his romantic views of the war make their way into his poetry, unlike that of more realistic and anti-war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. His admiration for Sir Philip Sidney and familiarity with the age of chivalry caused him to cast his comrades as mediaeval crusaders. Ever a fatalist, the outcome of the war was of less interest to Seeger than the glory of comradeship and adventure.   Seeger’s poem I Have a Rendezvous with Death tells of an expected meeting between the narrator and Death himself. Though the narrator of the poem regrets leaving behind life’s pleasures and love, he does not fear or abhor death. Instead he is stoic, making the rendezvous a matter of honor. Hart described the curious relationship between the narrator and Death: “The union of fallen soldier and Death is, not based upon any profound philosophical or religious belief, but upon a vague romantic fusion of nature’s beauty, sexual love, and life in some undefined other realm.” His Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France is considered less self-aggrandizing and egocentric, and therefore a stronger work, but Rendezvous remained more famous. In 1916, Seeger died (ironically on July 4th) in the attack on Belloy-en-Santerre, where he was shot in the stomach. Following his death, the French military awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. He was buried in a mass grave.   Seeger’s collected Poems were published in 1917 to mixed reviews. Critics often find that Seeger had not yet matured as an artist, displaying too much of his enthusiasm for the Romantic poets. H.F. Armstrong, in Dial, compared Seeger to his contemporary Rupert Brooke, and laments that the two poets did not live long enough to realize their potential:
A large part of the poems in this volume can reasonably well stand on their strictly literary merits. . . . We like to think that if Rupert Brooke had lived he would have eliminated from his final volume some of the unnecessary gaucheries of expression, as well as some of the unworthy compositions which were rushed into print under the impulse of the sudden fame brought about by his death. The same thought occurs in the case of Alan Seeger.
Still, Seeger’s poetry remained popular throughout the war with soldiers in the trenches and with supporters at home. The French have particularly honoured Seeger as a poet who memorialised the fighting that took place in their country during World War I, and they have published numerous tributes to him since his death.
He died on the 4th of July 1916. There's a monument in Paris dedicated to the American volunteers, and it's based on Seeger's likeness.
Let us consider this poem to see if it suffers in its expression, or its sentiment, from some alleged 'immaturity' which critics from on high would like to vilify. The poem is shot through, not with a longing for death, but with a premonition; yet there's uncertainty –
It may be I shall pass him still.
So far from a longing for death, it is the descriptions of what the poet could be leaving behind that move him
When Spring brings back blue days and fair
which is a beautiful phrase, repeated again in the image:
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.  
The last para provides a stark contrast between where he'd rather be (Pillowed in silk and scented down) and the soldier's fateful knowledge that death rides with him to the front – as indeed it did for Alan Seeger and other soldiers in WWI. There's no silly romanticising of glorious death in war; this poem expresses a yearning from the barricades for beauty, which will be crushed by the fighting soldier's constant companion, death.
Here's a hushed recitation of the poem:
And here is the much-loved folk singer Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014), nephew of the poet Alan Seeger as it turns out, reciting the poem:
5. Joe
Joe, having discovered a new poem from Norman Mailer, burst into it with great éclat, but first took care to provide the OED etymology of the word 'fuck' in order to get a precise understanding of a word NM so relishes that he has been called the 'Talmudist of Fucking,' by the critic Alfred Kazin.
Norman Mailer
It comes from Dutch 'fokken', to mock, to strike, to beget children. In Norwegian 'fokke' means to copulate. Old Icelandic 'fjuka' means to be driven by a storm. Middle High German 'fochen' is to hiss, to blow. One of the first usage examples given in the OED from 1719 is this:
She'd dance and she'd caper as wild as a Buck
And told Tom the Tinker she would have some fuck.
Mailer’s gifts of imagination and force of expression are everywhere on display in his prose. One day Joe was sitting in the town library in Arlington, close to his daughter's place (Rachel) and picked up an edited volume of about 700 letters of Mailer. Skipping through them he came across an ardent one to a woman called Norris Church, dated Sep 12, 1975. He gathered later on the correspondent was to become Mailer's sixth and last wife, the one to whom he remained married to the end, the one who kept his brood of children by sundry other marriages together. A picture of her shows a woman of great beauty, the kind you associate with the vivacious American movie stars of the fifties.
Norris Church
Well, here is Norman Mailer writing, five years before they were married, to his future wife. All Joe did was to lineate and rearrange the words, and compress it to half its length. It was a poem singing out on its own without assistance from anyone. Joe admits he cut into Mailer’s flamboyant speech without bowdlerising him, however; the original had 8 occurrences of the word ‘fuck’, the poem has only 3, and as for the one c-word in the letter it lurks somewhere in the poem. Incidentally, this was the world premiere recital of this poem.
Bio: Norman Mailer is a famous American writer of the second half of the twentieth century, contemporary with a great number of well-known writers - Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, John Updike, and so on. He was born in 1923 in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn. He wrote twelve novels over 59 years, the first being, The Naked and the Dead, about his time in the military in WWII. It was a best seller. This was followed by Barbary Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955). He was a prolific essayist and journalist for hire. and a confirmed letter-writer of over 40,000 letters. He was also a boxer and a boxing enthusiast who covered the Ali-Foreman fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974 based on which he wrote a novel The Fight in 1975. He was often seen on TV and in one of the chat shows where he was a guest along with Gore Vidal he headbutted Vidal for criticising him in print. Vidal’s response was icy: ‘Once again words fail Norman Mailer’, he said. But in fact words never failed Mailer –  he was exuberant in his prose.
Mailer did come out with two volumes of verse, Death for the Ladies (and Other Disasters) and Modest Gifts: Poems and Drawings,  but they were slight and lacking in effort according to people who dismissed them as the trivia of a prose-writer unable to devote himself to the Muse of poetry, Calliope. Here are a couple of samples from these volumes:
Listen my love the hour is late my side has an ache If you don't get a taxi my heart will break. Deaths For The Ladies
Modest Gifts: Poems and Drawings is a book of his selected poems and a hundred of his drawings.
6. KumKum
Come time to select a poet KumKum gets nervous, for there is a standing joke about Rita Dove, the poet she chose once, whom Joe characterised as a poet not to love. Dana Gioia came to her notice through a free issue of a literary magazine that was floating around at one the American airports, probably Boston. A poem of his seemed promising, and then KumKum read more and was convinced she had her poet. Mr Gioia, born in 1950, was raised in California. After graduating from Stanford, he did his Master's in Comparative literature from Harvard, before returning to Stanford to do his MBA.
Dana Gioia
There followed a life in business and commerce for fifteen years in which he rose to be VP of General Foods. Then he resigned and dedicated himself full-time to writing and the arts. He is a poet first, but also writes critical essays. An essay that became rather famous is a defence of poetry, published in the May 1991 issue of Atlantic Monthly titled Can Poetry Matter?:
It elicited a huge reader response, both positive and negative. Gioa has published several books; the first collection of his poems was titled Pity the Beautiful.
KumKum said she chose Gioia's poems which turn upon the simple things of life. They appeal to you and need for their appreciation neither a dictionary, nor any learned exegesis. They are mostly rhymed.
In the first one we have the curious case of flowers that have arrived and nobody knows for whom or why; they sit around
and we can't throw out a gift we've never owned
The next one is a true rain poem, as it meditates on an event from long ago which also happened on a rainy day. It was raining cataracts outside the rented wedding hall, the poet and his woman friend were invitees of the bride and groom. They stole a few moments from the main event and stepped out in the patio to enjoy the summer rain and some inexplicable intimacy occurred. He wonders
Why does that evening's memory Return with this night's storm –
It reflects the thought of Faiz in his ghazal:
Raat yuN dil meiN teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane meiN chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
Gioia was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. government's arts agency from January 2003 until January 2009. In August 2011, Gioia became Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California where he now teaches. For more see the wiki entry:
7. Gopa
Gopa chose to read from Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales. KumKum and Joe were present at the release of a new illustrated edition in Delhi two years ago:
You can look up that entry for the account of a wonderful evening when the master himself entertained us with readings from five of the tales and interspersed his remarks with much humour and humane knowledge.
While many of the tales have morals they are not explicit always, and you can find failings in the so-called heroic animals too. When a person asked VS if he had any words of encouragement for young writers, his apposite reply was not to get put off by the frogs of the world; VS drew attention to the frog’s ironical critique at the end about the nightingale’s song:
                     … she should have known
That your song must be your own.
“Use your own voice,” therefore.
Vikram Seth, when he was younger
The tales are fast paced and appealing to children because they are rhymed. VS uses an extensive vocabulary, so children will learn new words and expressions, and will delight in his nimble versification. Vikram Seth truly needs no introduction to our readers. What's new from him is a collection of his verse coming after 25 years (if you discount The Rivered Earth), titled Summer Requiem, released in UK in Feb 2015, and due to be published by Aleph in India in Oct 2015:
Vikram Seth has revealed how the collapse of a long-term relationship with French violinist Philippe Honoré contributed to “periods of darkness” that have delayed his sequel to A Suitable Boy.
Despite being offered more than £1m by his publisher for A Suitable Girl in 2009, Seth suffered writer’s block and turned to poetry to cope with the trauma of his split from Honoré, the inspiration for Seth’s 1999 novel An Equal Music.
“It [the split] was a loss of love and it really affected me,” says Seth, who negotiated his way out of the Penguin contract before signing another with rival Orion.
Reflecting on the healing nature of poetry as he publishes Summer Requiem, Seth says: “Poetry is there to console, amuse or enlighten. Yes, it is true that you are more likely to write when things are bad …
The revised date for the release of A Suitable Girl by Orion is some time in 2017. He is actively at work on that.
8. Ankush
The following history of Esther Morgan, the poet, is taken from:
Esther Morgan is the author of three books of poetry, of which the third, Grace, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize in 2011. Her poetry is subtle, quiet, delicately paced.
Esther Morgan was born in 1970 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. After a childhood of writing poetry, she took it up again seriously in her early twenties, while working as a volunteer at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, Cumbria. An MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia followed in 1997, and she received an Eric Gregory Award (for promising poets under 30) in 1998.
Esther Morgan
  After taking part in an exchange program with Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, she returned to UEA and edited four editions of the poetry anthology Reactions.   Her first collection, Beyond Calling Distance, was published by Bloodaxe in 2001; it won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Its poems are full of silence, with short lines and spare stanzas surrounded by reverberating white space.
She’s lost a word and searches for it everywhere
(The Lost Word)
The silence leaves me with something just beyond my reach
All summer she listened to the heat-stilled world, her thumb resting on the rusted bell
(Last Summer)
  They’re full of people who struggle to speak, to give themselves a self to speak with. In ‘Self Portrait’:  
She is drawing and redrawing herself, her skin sore from erasure.
  There is a sense of space – wide landscapes, and time, and the smallness of people within them, intensified by close attention to prosodic detail.   The Silence Living in Houses, her second collection, came out with Bloodaxe in 2005 – inspired by time spent as caretaker of an un-renovated Edwardian house in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Houses have spirits, and in this collection the poet both wonders about and then invents a ghost:  
I am making a ghost for this house so I can sleep safe at night,  her footsteps light on the stairs . . .
  Esther Morgan has written of being interested in the “hidden lives” that occupy a space. Mystery, not knowing, is also a kind of enclosure. The atmosphere is almost tangible, and the poems are completely assured.   In 2010, she won the Bridport Poetry Prize for her poem ‘This Morning’, which appeared in book form the following year in her third collection, Grace (Bloodaxe). Grace was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.   In the title poem, the vase –  with its “cut flowers” – “or the thought of them” signals the mystery of the difference between inside and outside. The light is fading;  
In the stillness, everything becomes itself:  the circle of white plates on the kitchen table  the serious chairs that attend them even the roses on the papered walls  seem to open a little wider.
Currently Esther Morgan is combining freelance teaching and editing work, and her role as Historic Recordings Manager for the Poetry Archive, the world's largest online collection of poets reading their own work, and working on her next collection.   After four years in Oxfordshire, she moved back to East Anglia, and now lives in Suffolk.
9. Priya
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was an American poet, born in Maine. He taught in Bowdoin College, Maine, and later at Harvard College, Massachusetts. He is among the five 'Fireside Poets', all New Englanders whose work became very popular in America . They all wrote in metre in rhymed stanzas, facilitating memorisation by students. The others in the group were Holmes, Whittier, Bryant, and Lowell. Longfellow retired in 1854 and lived in Cambridge, MA, to have time for his writing. His home on Brattle Street is now a museum (KumKum and Joe have visited it more than once). His first wife died as a result of a miscarriage and he was distraught. Many years later he pursued his suit with a woman called Fanny Appleton, who took seven years to say 'Yes' and that yielded the one and only love poem from Longfellow's pen, The Evening Star. His wife gave birth to six children, but the sad event of an accidental fire to her dress brought her life to a close, and left the poet quite desolate.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
During his lifetime critics accused Longfellow of imitating European exemplars, and writing for the masses.
Longfellow translated Dante's Divine Comedy over several years, and published it in 1867; thereafter he continually revised it. Longfellow wrote in many forms: free verse, blank verse, hexameters, sonnets, heroic couplets, and sonnets. One of his very popular poems, The Song of Hiawatha, sold over 50,000 copies in just 3 years. Longfellow became lionised as a poet, the most popular poet in America, and it was common for him to earn upwards of $3,000 for a single published poem in 1874. Compare that with what one of the most prestigious magazines, The New Yorker, pays for a 36-line poem, 150 years later: just $460 ( )
To read more about Longfellow go to the wiki site
Priya chose a rain poem by Longfellow (How Beautiful is the Rain) to commemorate the present monsoon season. It is full of quiet descriptions of rain effects, yet does not come alive or leap off the page. But we in Kochi do enjoy the rain.
10. Thommo
Thommo looked for Larkin and stumbled across Pete Crowley who was an assistant to Larkin in his life, at the Library, perhaps where Larkin worked. Joe said he read that Larkin will get a stone memorial in Westminster Abbey's Poets Corner, but it's unlikely to have his most famous lines inscribed upon it: They fuck you up, your mum and dad. See
Thommo was attracted to the poem A biker's funeral. The description reflects how the poet (a biker himself?) was moved to see fellow bikers gathered to honour one of their own:
Who will forget this funeral? Four hundred strong in the nave we stood, family and friends both young and old and a phalanx of bikers in leathers and boots.
Who will forget that send-off from
his fellow bikers when three score
or more bright gleaming motorcycles
with a thunderous roar led off the hearse?
The other poem by Pete Crowley (his name does not bring up anything on the Web about the poet) is a student's recollection of Larkin after having to read Larkin's poetry at the university. 
Philip Larkin
The familiar face comes to the poet's mind, then a dream, and Larkin's fear of death. It's a tossed-off poem. Nothing profound, just bits and pieces of memories, like the aspidistra plant and the gravestone and the Earl Grey tea he drank out porcelain cups (KumKum will approve the cups).
The Poems
1. Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 – 1984)
Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezar guzri hai Talaash mein hai sahar, bar bar guzri hai
Junoon mein jitni bhi guzri, bakaar guzri hai Agarcheh dil pe kharabi hazar guzri hai
Huii hai hazrat-e-naaseh se guftguu jis shab Woh shab zaruur sar-e-koo-e-yaar guzri hai
Woh baat saare fasaaneh mein jis ka zikra na tha Woh baat unko bahut naagavaar guzri hai
Na gul khile hein, na un se mile, na mai pii hai Ajeeb rung mein ab ke bahaar guzri hai
Chaman mein ghaarat-e-gulchiin se jaane kya guzri Qafas se aaj sabaa be-qaraar guzri hai
Neither have you come, nor has this night of waiting come to an end in your search, the dawn has passed by again and again
All the nights spent in the madness of obsession, have been purposefully spent although this heart has been afflicted thousands of time
The night I had to listen to the exalted preacher’s discourse that night must have been spent in the lane of the beloved
What was not mentioned even once in the whole tale that has turned out to be most disagreeable to her
No flowers have bloomed, couldn’t meet her, did not get to taste wine in strange colors, has this spring passed
What grief the garden had to bear due to the flower plucker’s ravaging the breeze passed by the prison today in disquiet.
2. Rabindranth Tagore (1861 – 1941)
The Rainy Day (from collection The Crescent Moon)
SULLEN CLOUDS are gathering fast over the black fringe of the forest.
O child, do not go out!
The palm trees in a row by the lake are smiting their heads against the dismal sky; the crows with their draggled wings are silent on the tamarind branches, and the eastern bank of the river is haunted by a deepening gloom.
Our cow is lowing loud, tied at the fence.
O child, wait here till I bring her into the stall.
Men have crowded into the flooded field to catch the fishes as they escape from the overflowing ponds; the rainwater is running in rills through the narrow lanes like a laughing boy who has run away from his mother to tease her.
Listen, someone is shouting for the boatman at the ford.
O child, the daylight is dim, and the crossing at the ferry is closed.
The sky seems to ride fast upon the madly-rushing rain; the water in the river is loud and impatient; women have hastened home early from the Ganges with their filled pitchers.
The evening lamps must be made ready.
O child, do not go out!
The road to the market is desolate, the lane to the river is slippery.
The wind is roaring and struggling among the bamboo branches like a wild beast tangled in a net.
3. Jacques Prévert (1900 – 1977)
Déjeuner du matin Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.


He poured the coffee Into the cup He poured the milk Into the cup of coffee He added the sugar To the coffee and milk He stirred it With a teaspoon He drank the coffee And put back the cup Without speaking to me He lit a cigarette He blew some rings With the smoke He flicked the ashes  Into the ashtray Without speaking to me Without looking at me He got up He put his hat On his head He put on  His raincoat Because it was raining He went out  Into the rain Without a word Without looking at me And I I took my head In my hands And I wept
(Translation by Alastair Campbell )
4. Alan Seeger (1888 – 1916)
I have a rendezvous with Death   
I have a rendezvous with Death   
At some disputed barricade,   
When Spring comes back with rustling shade   
And apple-blossoms fill the air—   
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.   
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—   
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,   
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.   
God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,   
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,   
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,   
Where hushed awakenings are dear...   
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,   
When Spring trips north again this year,   
And I to my pledged word am true,   
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Sonnet 10: I have sought Happiness, but it has been
I have sought Happiness, but it has been
A lovely rainbow, baffling all pursuit,
And tasted Pleasure, but it was a fruit
More fair of outward hue than sweet within.
Renouncing both, a flake in the ferment
Of battling hosts that conquer or recoil,
There only, chastened by fatigue and toil,
I knew what came the nearest to content.
For there at least my troubled flesh was free
From the gadfly Desire that plagued it so;
Discord and Strife were what I used to know,
Heartaches, deception, murderous jealousy;
By War transported far from all of these,
Amid the clash of arms I was at peace.
Sonnet 2: Not that I always struck the proper mean
Not that I always struck the proper mean
Of what mankind must give for what they gain,
But, when I think of those whom dull routine
And the pursuit of cheerless toil enchain,
Who from their desk-chairs seeing a summer cloud
Race through blue heaven on its joyful course
Sigh sometimes for a life less cramped and bowed,
I think I might have done a great deal worse;
For I have ever gone untied and free,
The stars and my high thoughts for company;
Wet with the salt-spray and the mountain showers,
I have had the sense of space and amplitude,
And love in many places, silver-shoed,
Has come and scattered all my path with flowers.
5. Norman Mailer (1923 – 2007)
Gorgeous Bitch
Your hair is as red as the last of sunset
On a hot summer night,
Your eyes are the golden umber of the last rare
cloud before it darkens.
My sailboat's bucking
Like a horse in a steeplechase,
It's storming and caroming
As if it's going to tip over;
But it's you rolling me over
As if I'm steeped in tea,
Sometimes fucking, or even
Just holding me.
I can close my eyes and feel you
As a rich real presence in my arms
Your hair, your aura – it's orange and red,
The rose-red waves rippling off your heart;
I see into your emotions and feel
The true woman there, big as her heart and her love
Which could grow strong as a fire –
And wrathful if ever I betray it!
What a marvelous big girl you are,
I feel the cool in the center of your fire
That quenches the heat in me.
When you kissed me in the cab
It was like discovering the taste of flesh and fruit.
Your lips have changed:
Once they were sweet, ardent, and hungry,
But simple. Now I can't have enough of your mouth
Your full, wanton mouth;
The fruit-meats of your lips mock me
Telling the stories of where they've been,
All of the woman in you comes in at the mouth,
Comes like sin at the mouth,
Your soul shaking like a leaf
In the sweet eye of your slit
Whose welcome sets the wet wings astir
To leave me floating up to your fuck storm.
Oh, you gorgeous bitch, something's happened,
We've forged a taste for each other
A taste that's clean and free,
Caring neither of love nor not-love,
So now we can be free of each other
For, a part of our bodies would want to stick and fuck,
Coupling in the sunlight from dawn,
And all the tender red of your heart
Bleeds through my closed eyes in sweet choices –
Should we fornicate, french-kiss, tickle our napes,
Or lie in that blessed simmer of love,
Half asleep for hours, glued each to the other's spine?
Let's use each other up,
We could fuck up the fucking, or fly into storms,
Disagree on who we should be –
But together we'll discover the arts of living ...
Woman, I know you are equal to me,
As bad, as good, as brave, as dumb
And as full of sugar ...
Soon I'll be there to collect on this poem,
To turn the lights down and fan the fire of your ardor.
6. Dana Gioia (b. 1950)
Thanks for Remembering Us
The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.
The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.
Summer Storm
We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.
We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.
The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.
To my surprise, you took my arm–
A gesture you didn't explain–
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.
Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.
I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn't speak another word
Except to say goodnight.
Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm–
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?
There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.
And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different. 
The Sunday News
Looking for something in the Sunday paper,
I flipped by accident through Local Weddings,
Yet missed the photograph until I saw
your name among the headings.
And there you were, looking almost unchanged,
Your hair still long, though now long out of style,
And you still wore that stiff and serious look
You called a smile.
I felt as though we sat there face to face.
My stomach tightened. I read the item through.
It said too much about both families,
Too little about you.
Finished at last, I threw the paper down,
Stung by jealousy, my mind aflame,
Hating this man, this stranger whom you loved,
This printed name.
And yet I clipped it out to put away
Inside a book like something I might use,
A scrap I knew I wouldn't read again
But couldn't bear to lose. 
So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead. 
7. Vikram Seth (b. 1952)
The Nightingale and the Frog
Once upon a time a frog
Croaked away in Bingle Bog
Every night from dusk to dawn
He croaked awn and awn and awn
Other creatures loathed his voice,
But, alas, they had no choice,
And the crass cacophony
Blared out from the sumac tree
At whose foot the frog each night
Minstrelled on till morning night
Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks.
Insults or complaints or bricks
Stilled the frogs determination
To display his heart's elation.
But one night a nightingale
In the moonlight cold and pale
Perched upon the sumac tree
Casting forth her melody
Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog
And the whole admiring bog
Stared towards the sumac, rapt,
And, when she had ended, clapped,
Ducks had swum and herons waded
To her as she serenaded
And a solitary loon
Wept, beneath the summer moon.
Toads and teals and tiddlers, captured
By her voice, cheered on, enraptured:
"Bravo! " "Too divine! " "Encore! "
So the nightingale once more,
Quite unused to such applause,
Sang till dawn without a pause.
Next night when the Nightingale
Shook her head and twitched her tail,
Closed an eye and fluffed a wing
And had cleared her throat to sing
She was startled by a croak.
"Sorry - was that you who spoke? "
She enquired when the frog
Hopped towards her from the bog.
"Yes," the frog replied. "You see,
I'm the frog who owns this tree
In this bog I've long been known
For my splendid baritone
And, of course, I wield my pen
For Bog Trumpet now and then"
"Did you… did you like my song? "
"Not too bad - but far too long.
The technique was fine of course,
But it lacked a certain force".
"Oh! " the nightingale confessed.
Greatly flattered and impressed
That a critic of such note
Had discussed her art and throat:
"I don't think the song's divine.
But - oh, well - at least it's mine".
"That's not much to boast about".
Said the heartless frog. "Without
Proper training such as I
- And few others can supply.
You'll remain a mere beginner.
But with me you'll be a winner"
"Dearest frog", the nightingale
Breathed: "This is a fairy tale -
And you are Mozart in disguise
Come to earth before my eyes".
"Well I charge a modest fee."
"Oh! " "But it won't hurt, you'll see"
Now the nightingale inspired,
Flushed with confidence, and fired
With both art and adoration,
Sang - and was a huge sensation.
Animals for miles around
Flocked towards the magic sound,
And the frog with great precision
Counted heads and charged admission.
Though next morning it was raining,
He began her vocal training.
"But I can't sing in this weather"
"Come my dear - we'll sing together.
Just put on your scarf and sash,
Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! "
So the frog and nightingale
Journeyed up and down the scale
For six hours, till she was shivering
and her voice was hoarse and quivering.
Though subdued and sleep deprived,
In the night her throat revived,
And the sumac tree was bowed,
With a breathless, titled crowd:
Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent,
Mallard and Milady Trent,
Martin Cardinal Mephisto,
And the Coot of Monte Cristo,
Ladies with tiaras glittering
In the interval sat twittering -
And the frog observed them glitter
With a joy both sweet and bitter.
Every day the frog who'd sold her
Songs for silver tried to scold her:
"You must practice even longer
Till your voice, like mine grows stronger.
In the second song last night
You got nervous in mid-flight.
And, my dear, lay on more trills:
Audiences enjoy such frills.
You must make your public happier:
Give them something sharper snappier.
We must aim for better billings.
You still owe me sixty shillings."
Day by day the nightingale
Grew more sorrowful and pale.
Night on night her tired song
Zipped and trilled and bounced along,
Till the birds and beasts grew tired
At a voice so uninspired
And the ticket office gross
Crashed, and she grew more morose -
For her ears were now addicted
To applause quite unrestricted,
And to sing into the night
All alone gave no delight.
Now the frog puffed up with rage.
"Brainless bird - you're on the stage -
Use your wits and follow fashion.
Puff your lungs out with your passion."
Trembling, terrified to fail,
Blind with tears, the nightingale
Heard him out in silence, tried,
Puffed up, burst a vein, and died.
Said the frog: "I tried to teach her,
But she was a stupid creature -
Far too nervous, far too tense.
Far too prone to influence.
Well, poor bird - she should have known
That your song must be your own.
That's why I sing with panache:
"Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! "
And the foghorn of the frog
Blared unrivalled through the bog.
8. Esther Morgan (b. 1970)
1. This Morning
I watched the sun moving round the kitchen,
an early spring sun that strengthened and weakened,
coming and going like an old mind.
I watched like one bedridden for a long time
on their first journey back into the world
who finds it enough to be going on with:
the way the sunlight brought each possession in turn
to its attention and made of it a small still life:
the iron frying pan gleaming on its hook like an ancient find,
the powdery green cheek of a bruised clementine.
Though more beautiful still was how the light moved on,
letting go each chair and coffee cup without regret
the way my grandmother, in her final year, received me:
neither surprised by my presence, nor distressed by my leaving,
content, though, while I was there.
2. Detail It may be that somewhere else
more important things are at stake:
angels and infantas,
robes and raiment,
a haloed revelation,
with uplifted hands,
that the truth’s already blazing away,
a woman’s life is being changed for good.
I’d rather put my faith
in a light like this:
the chastening gaze
of a china cup
set against the pewter dish
the colour of an overcast sky;
its delicate and sobering touch
as if remembering the face of a loved one
who ate at this table daily.
3. To My Godmother
I thought I understood something
of the pain it caused you,
signing my name each birthday
with love
as if I could remind you
more than anything else.
I thought it was just your daughter
you missed, not seeing
that meant everything
she was missing from,
that thirty summers later
it means everything still.
Forgive me –
I did not know then
how grief works,
how it steeps the clear world
like dye from a red dress
that keeps on running.
4. Grace
You’ve been living for this for weeks
without knowing it:
the moment the house empties like a city in August
so completely
it forgets you exist.
Light withdraws slowly
is almost gone before you notice.
In the stillness, everything becomes itself:
the circle of white plates on the kitchen table
the serious chairs that attend them
even the roses on the papered walls
seem to open a little wider.
It looks simple: the glass vase holding
whatever is offered –
cut flowers, or the thought of them –
simple, though not easy
this waiting without hunger in the near dark
for what you may be about to receive.
9. H.W. Longfellow (1807 1882)
How Beautiful is the Rain!
How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
The sick man from his chamber
Looks at the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.
From the neighbouring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Engulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard's tawny and spotted hide
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand:
Lifting the yoke-encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapours that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man's spoken word.
Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.
10. Pete Crowley
1. Have you heard of him?
"How are you keeping then", she wrote,
“still going on O.K? Me,
I’m at college now, doing English lit.
This term its Philip Larkin —
I think he’s brilliant,
a bit depressive, but
he’s really written some good stuff —
have you heard of him?"
Into my mind there came that long
lugubrious clean-shaven face
that always smelled of after-shave,
those heavy black-rimmed spectacles,
the hearing aid that always whistled,
that stylish belted macintosh he wore,
and his spacious room with its sprawling desk
on which incongruously sat
an aspidistra and a photograph
of Guy, the gorilla, next to where
his secretary, Betty, placed the tray
of Earl Grey tea in porcelain cups,
but most of all did I recall
his voice — its deep, slow,
rich cultured tones. So great a loss,
so modest too. Upon his small
meat white gravestone you’ll find
no flowery epitaph, just:
"Philip Larkin / 1922 – 1985 / writer."
He feared death — its endless emptiness,
but don’t we all, deep down?
I’ll not forget his generous friendly smile
last time we met just a little while
before he died. We were not close,
but yet, he told me once that he’d dreamt of me
and I too, when he was dead, once dreamt of him,
so I may justly say to you,
“Its true, I’ve heard of him”.
2. A biker’s funeral
The wind blows cold through the churchyard trees
and sadly tolls the passing bell
as mourners shuffle up the leaf-strewn
narrow path between the leaning stones.
He was just twenty-five, so young
so full of life, and love of life
in a head-on crash on his motorbike.
From far and wide we’ve gathered here
to pay respect to our young friend.
I’ve never seen the church so full,
oh death, how can you be so cruel?
Who will forget this funeral?
Four hundred strong in the nave we stood,
family and friends both young and old
and a phalanx of bikers in leathers and boots.
Between the holy platitudes
and hymns they played his favourite songs,
one had to smile to hear within
so kind a man and in his way
that ancient august church of stone
come belting out the vibrant tones
of modem rock and heavy metal.
Who can forget the coffin passing
in procession like a royal barque,
the biker’s helmet on its lid
resplendent in heraldic tones
— rich gules, azure, argent, or,
a shining light of knightly splendour?
Who will forget that send-off from
his fellow bikers when three score
or more bright gleaming motorcycles
with a thunderous roar led off the hearse?
In memory of Stephen (Reggie) Pearce of Kilnsea, 1980 –  2005)

No comments: