Saturday, February 13, 2016

Poetry Reading – Feb 10, 2016

We had eight regular readers and two guests who read poems at the first Poetry session of the year. It was the first to be attended by a toddler:

 Babe Ruth

The poets were from all over the globe. Our own Talitha was read by her mother, Sheila Cherian. There were poems by Americans, a Romanian, several Indians, Britishers, and even a French poet in translation.

Zakia, Talitha, baby Ruth, Deepti, Pamela

Poetry can be sad, it can be funny
It can provoke laughter, but will it ever make money?

Shoba, Saras, Thommo

 It can subvert dictatorship
And promote linguistic scholarship

Sheila Cherian

Elves from Middle Earth's axis
Can contend with a proud man's proboscis

Sheila; Shehnaz briefing Deepthi on the Date Nut cake recipe 

In Tamil regions a bully may wink and smile
But old familiar faces are out of style

Thommo & Zakia

Rabbi and rabboni from the Middle East
Can travel the sidewalk that ends in Midtown East

Talitha, Deepthi, baby Ruth

Three persons may be found in you and me
That's what he says, the poet Seshadri

Thommo, Zakia, and baby Ruth

But tender pink foot-soles will never be slapped,
Until, in nylon, women's legs come wrapped

It was an exhilarating session; we cannot end without stimulating our salivary glands once again for the wonderful date-nut cake we had. Thank you, Shehnaz!

Here we are gathered at the end for our customary group portrait:

Full Account and Record 

of the Poetry Session Feb 10, 2016

Present: Shoba, Thommo, Pamela, KumKum, Joe, Zakia, Talitha, Saras
Guests: Sheila Cherian, Shehnaz, Deepthi Mathew and baby Ruth
Absent: Sunil (away to Thrissur on work), Priya (sick), Preeti (?), Kavita, Ankush

The next readings have been fixed for the following dates:
Fri Mar 11, 2016 
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Fri Apr 22, 2016 
Poetry, special session where all will read from Shakespeare's works to commemorate his 400th Death Anniversary the next day.

A subscription dinner or lunch will be fixed to bid farewell to Talitha who is moving to Thiruvananthapuram in Mar/Apr. It will be a great loss to our reading group.

Date and walnut cake recipe
by Shenaz Ahmed

100g butter (salted)
100g sugar
1cup / 100g chopped dates
1cup water
1tsp baking soda
1cup  / 100g maida
1tsp vanilla essence
Pinch of salt (in case of unsalted butter)

Take the water and bring it to boil. As the water begins to boil, add the dates and the baking soda. Take it off the heat and let it cool.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/ 300°F.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. 
Sieve the maida and set aside. If you are using unsalted butter, then add a pinch of salt to the maida before sieving it.
Now add 1/3rd of the dry mix into the batter and then ½ of the water and dates mixture. Alternate the dry and wet mix ending with the dry. 
Fold in the nuts.
Pour mix into an 8"x8" greased pan and bake for 40 min.
This cake rises well. So divide the batter if needed.

1. Deepthi Mathew
Adrian Henri (1932 – 2000) trained as a painter in Newcastle and taught at the Liverpool Art College in the 1960s. He burst onto the scene as a writer (along with Brian Patten & Roger McGough) with the Penguin anthology The Mersey Sound (1967), one of the best-selling poetry books of all time (over a quarter of a million copies to date). He collaborated with pop musicians and performed his poetry on stage in UK and abroad. This helped widen the audience for poetry among the 1960s youth of Britain. He was influenced by the French Symbolist school of poetry and by surrealist art. For more, see his website

The first poem Love Is describes the different experiences of human boy-girl love and is as eloquent in its way as St Paul in 1 Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

The poem works its way to a climax of opposing tropes with the final stanza:
Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
Love is...

Through this all Deepthi's daughter, Ruth, a few months old, was watching; in her short life she has experienced the pervasive nature of love, reinforced by the existential refrain, Love Is.

The second poem is perhaps more for children, one can't be sure. One could add a coda to Henri's poem on a more pessimistic note:
Food is made with it
Flowers are sprayed with it
I hate that stuff

2. Sheila Cherian
Talitha's mom decided to recite a poem from the slim book of religious poetry published by her daughter Talitha Cherian Mathew, titled Crossing the Kidron, 2016. Her brother, Tarun, did the line drawings illustrating the poems. 

The Kidron is a river flowing from Jerusalem eastwards into the Dead Sea. In this symbolism it separates the city where Jesus taught and had his triumphal entrance only a week before, from the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed to the Father, hours before his crucifixion. Crossing the river is analogous to taking the irrevocable step toward death in the pilgrimage of life.

The poem Rabboni (meaning 'master' in Aramaic) is the story of Mary Magdalene returning to the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty, and subsequent happenings as told in the gospel of John Ch 20, verses 1 to 18. See

Mary asks of a man she thinks is the gardener where lay the body of Jesus they had put in the tomb. And when he replies calling her 'Mary' she instantly recognises the familiar voice of the living Jesus. The poem ends with Jesus quizzing her as to his nature, just as he had earlier quizzed the apostles "Who do you say I am?"

3. Talitha
Talitha recited two songs from the series Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien who has become a phenomenon after the films of that name were released in 2001-03 long after his death; see

To quote from wikipedia
Set in the fictional world of Middle-earth, the films follow the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he and a Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and thus ensure the destruction of its maker, the Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker). The Fellowship becomes divided and Frodo continues the quest together with his loyal companion Sam (Sean Astin) and the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) unite and rally the Free Peoples of Middle-earth in the War of the Ring.

Map of Middle Earth

A mini-biography of Tolkien is at

along with photos and a picture of the gravestone shared with his wife. Tolkien exploited his academic mastery over Old English and linguistics to create several languages for his hobbit books. Tolkien became Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford in 1945 and remained there until his retirement. Here he is in a recording in an elaborate language, Quenya, elocuting an Elvish poem called Namarie, or Galadriel’s lament, from The Fellowship of the Ring novel:

It is lovely to hear his voice. Namarie translates as 'Farewell,' and the poem in English reads:

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years
numberless as the wings of trees! The long years
have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue
vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the
song of her voice, holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of Stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like
clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies on the
foaming waves between us, and mist covers the
jewels of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost for
those from the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe
even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

The first poem, Bilbo's Song, is sung toward the end of his life by Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, as well as a supporting character in The Lord of the Rings. He ruminates:
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

The other poem is also a song, by Sam, the companion of Frodo Baggins who is dead and they have failed in the attempt to destroy the One Ring. Sam sings this to jolly himself. Both songs have been set to music and they were played at the session from an iPad; the voice is that of Adele McAllister and the Youtube links are given after the text of the poems.

There is a Tolkien Society whose website is

4. Zakia
Zakia read a poem, Three Persons, by poet, essayist, and critic Vijay Seshadri who migrated to USA with his parents at the age of five. He earned a BA from Oberlin College and an MFA from Columbia University.

Seshadri is the author of Wild Kingdom (1996); The Long Meadow (2003), which won the James Laughlin Award; and 3 Sections (2013), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. The Pulitzer committee described the book as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

Seshadri has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the NEA, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has worked as an editor at the New Yorker magazine and has taught at Bennington College and Sarah Lawrence College, where he currently directs the graduate non-fiction writing program.

Here is a review from the New Yorker:

And an interview which is revealing:

Vijay is the son of of one of KumKum's close friends and exercise buddy in Morgantown, WV, Champaka, the poet's mother. She confessed she does not really understand what Vijay is up to most of the time. KumKum did not recognise the characters in a poem The Long Meadow, which is an episode from the Mahabharata. See if you can

But once Joe visiting the parents took down a volume of Vijay's verse from the bookshelf and read a couple of poems with great warmth, leading them to believe he not only fathomed the poem but managed to communicate it to them. One was Survivor from the collection The Long MeadowHowever, most would leave the matter of comprehension of Seshadri's poems as a reader who wrote, “Seshadri's words pulsate with a vague yearning to be understood and to understand.”

Vijay Seshadri writes for the New Yorker

Perhaps Vijay Seshadri in this poem, Three Persons, is hinting that a person transforms (in the words of Whitman, “I contain multitudes”) over time, but the three persons are not identified precisely. John Ashbery is a New York (Brooklyn really) poet whom Seshadri resembles closely in being opaque and quixotic. You can hear Seshadri recite this poem at

and on the linked page ('Read Q & A') is a brief pointer to who the 'you' might be.

5. Thommo
Thommo read a poem by Charles Lamb who is mainly known for his prose work, Essays of Elia, and for the children's book, Tales from Shakespeare, which he co-wrote with his sister, Mary Lamb. He was in the literary circle of Coleridge and Wordsworth and wrote poems too. Unfortunately, his sister Mary had periods of great mental instability in one of which she killed her mother. She had to be placed in a private mental institution. Charles himself suffered from mental problems. He clerked for the East India Company, which Thommo says in modern parlance may mean he was an officer; but the verb 'to clerk' is listed as the pedestrian occupation of acting as a clerk, in the OED.

Essays of Elia is a collection of his essays written under the pen-name Elia for London Magazine. Wordsworth admired Lamb as a prose stylist and indeed you will rarely come across sentences rolling on as smoothly across a page. Here, for example, is the beginning of Macbeth as narrated by Charles Lamb:
WHEN Duncan the Meek reigned king of Scotland, there lived a great thane, or lord, called Macbeth. This Macbeth was a near kinsman to the king, and in great esteem at court for his valour and conduct in the wars; an example of which he had lately given, in defeating a rebel army assisted by the troops of Norway in terrible numbers.

The two Scottish generals, Macbeth and Banquo, returning victorious from this great battle, their way lay over a blasted heath, where they were stopped by the strange appearance of three figures like women, except that they had beards, and their withered skins and wild attire made them look not like any earthly creatures.

His recounting of twenty plays of Shakespeare for children with his sister, Mary, attained great popularity and that work is still in print in numerous editions. She did the comedies, and he the tragedies.

The poem, The Old Familiar Faces, is an elegy written in a melancholic mood for times past and happy days lost to memory. His childhood playmates are gone, his drinking buddies are gone, his love is lost:
all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

The poem is in tercets mainly in iambic pentameter. The repeated refrain 'old familiar places' is a cry from the heart. Lamb is clearly recalling his own past. He did have a love, Fanny Kelly, who turned down his suit; the 'friend of my bosom' whom he considers 'more than a brother' is thought to be Coleridge. The reader may benefit from a review when it was selected as Poem of the Week by the Guardian columnist, Carol Rumens:

Consult the wiki entry for more biographic details:

6. Saras
Shel Silverstein was an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children's books. In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune in 1964, Shel talked about the difficult time he had trying to get this first book published, The Giving Tree. “Everybody loved it, they were touched by it, they would read it and cry and say it was beautiful. But . . . one publisher said it was too short. . . .” Some thought it was too sad. Others felt that the book fell between adult and children's literature and wouldn't be popular. It took him four years before Ursula Nordstrom, the legendary Harper & Row editor, decided to publish it. She even let him keep the sad ending, Shel remembered, “because life, you know, has pretty sad endings. You don't have to laugh it up even if most of my stuff is humorous.”

Nordstrom later encouraged him to write poetry for children. Not having studied poetry he developed his own quirky style (isn't poetry and art all about developing an individual style?) like this
If you had a giraffe . . .
and he stretched another half . . .
you would have a giraffe and a half . . .

Nobody loves me, Nobody cares
Nobody picks me peaches and pears.

Born in Chicago, he started drawing by age seven and then writing. Girls didn't want anything to do with him. “By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit." This is from an interview with Jean Mercier in Publisher's Weekly (24 Feb 1975)

He developed his own style in drawing without imitating, except that he admits his debt to Al Capp. In 1957, Silverstein became a leading cartoonist in Playboy, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. The critic Otto Penzler said of Silverstein, “Not only has he produced with seeming ease country music hits and popular songs, but he's been equally successful at turning his hand to poetry, short stories, plays, and children's books. Moreover, his whimsically hip fables, beloved by readers of all ages, have made him a stalwart of bestseller lists.” You can read all this and more at the wiki entry

Each poem by Silverstein is accompanied by a cartoon. When Saras finished reading Where the Sidewalk Ends KumKum burst out with a hooray, saying she understood it, prompting laughter among the other readers who had just been though Seshadri's poem. Messy Room has a lovely twist at the end after the room has been described in detail, and everything that's untidy about it; the recognition dawns at the end that it is the author's own room! It's a kind of mea culpa, and a slyer way of saying what is noted in the gospel of Matthew:
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

KumKum said the poem was lovely, particularly the surprise ending. The third poem I Cannot Go To School Today is funny but Saras didn't read it in the interest of allowing time for others.

7. Shoba
Shoba read from poet Bharat Trivedi, Birth Of My Poem. He is a commerce graduate from Bombay U and lives in Bahrain. He has been writing since his college days. This poem is published on the Web, not in a book. His auto-biography on the Web notes:
Am a Commerce Graduate from Bombay University! Born and brought-up in Bombay (Mumbai) but currently i live with my family in BAHRAIN (M. East). Employed as a Financial Accountant with leading Import firm in Gulf.

I’m a down-to-earth Male, but often ride on white-winged Pegasus to unexplored continents and unknown lands to pen poems. a ‘budding’ poet. though I’ve been writing poems since my college days, but I became serious about poems, almost four years ago, when my near & dear ones encouraged me to enter in ‘International World Poetry Contest’ and one of my poems made it to the finals!

My poetries revolve around words and imagery, but Melancholy usually peeps in most of my poems, through a tiny key-hole. I strongly believe - “Life is pendulum swaying between a tear and a smile”…

My Interests:
Creative Crafts, Reading, Writing, Movies, Music, Computers and Poetry (of course) …

So much for Bharat Trivedi; now you can read his poem about tender pink footsoles that will be slapped, about his precious poetry clinging to his milkless hairy breast, and so forth. KumKum lavished praise on it as 'beautiful' but Joe was silent.

8. Joe
Brian Hooker (1880-1946) was an American poet and lyricist. He attended Yale, graduating in 1902. He published his poetry in various magazines and wrote libretti for two operettas, Mona (1912) and Fairyland (1915). He is noted for his translation in 1925 of the play Cyrano de Bergerac (CdB) written in 1897 by French author Edmond Rostand. José Ferrer played Cyrano in an acclaimed 1946 Broadway production and went on to win an Oscar when he starred in the 1950 B&W film adaptation which is on youtube:

Thommo noted that José Ferrer also played the role of the Turkish Bey in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). You can read all about this fine stage and film actor who was the first Hispanic to win an Academy Award, at his wiki site

The original play is written in Alexandrines (12-syllable lines much used in French poetry before the 20th century) but the translation is in blank verse (regular unrhymed lines, mostly iambic pentameters).

José Ferrer closeup as Cyrano de Bergerac

 The story concerns a dashing swordsman and poet, who has but one handicap – a large nose that fills him with a sense of unworthiness. He dare not court the woman he loves, Roxane, but on the other hand he will brook no insult to his nose. Roxane, however, falls in love with a cadet recruit in the guards, Christian, who after an inadvertent remark on Cyrano’s nose, insinuates himself into his good graces. Christian is in love with Roxane and Roxane with him, but they have not spoken. The recruit does not possess the wit to win his lady, and the whole play is about how Cyrano confesses his own love for Roxane in the guise of ghosting letters for Christian. Not only letters, but even in live balcony scenes, Cyrano coaches Christian to speak words he prompts from the shadows.

The film is famous for the sword-fencing, but also for the poetic gasconade which punctuates Cyrano’s normal speech, and the fine sentiments in which he clothes his romantic love – expressed at second hand. Joe remembers reveling when he saw the movie as a teenager with school mates and he thought Cyrano was the guy who had it all, including the nose.

70 poems of Hooker are available on the Web at

These are taken from his volume titled Poems, published by Yale University Press in 1915:

Joe read from one of the three or four famous speeches in the play Cyrano de Bergerac. But as an introduction he read an original sonnet, Andante, of Hooker to give a taste of the kind of verse he wrote on his own inspiration. It is a sonnet consisting of an octet and a sestet in the Petrarchan rhyme scheme: abba abba cde cde

The Cyrano speech Joe chose for the main presentation is the 'No Thank You' speech in which Cyrano responds to the Captain of the Guards who admires him, but advises prudence and a bit more deference to the powerful elite – the Cardinal, the Comte de Guiche and Vicomte de Valvert who have it in their power to advance his career. But Cyrano asserts his lofty independence and refuses to kowtow to anyone:
At a word, a Yes, a No, to fight — or write
But never to make a line I have not heard in my own heart.
To travel any road under the sun, under the stars,
Not care if fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne,

9. KumKum
KumKum chose two poems from the book Love Stands Alone – Selections from Tamil Sangam Poetry – translated by M.L. Thangappa (Penguin).

Tamil Sangam poetry was composed a long time ago by a core group of poets, and others added their contributions. The Sangam period extended roughly between 300 BC to 300 AD. KumKum first heard about this poetry from a friend, the late Mrs. Indrani Manian, who retired as professor of Tamil at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in New Delhi. She stayed with KumKum and Joe in 1992 on her way back from a Tamil Literary Conference in USA to which she had been invited.

Venkatachalapathy in the introduction says, “According to tradition, there were three Sangams, or academies, in ancient Tamil Nadu where poets congregated to debate and authorise literary works.” The works of the first Sangam and second Sangam are completely lost to us. But scholars and the researchers have identified many poems that were composed and compiled during the third Sangam. They were written on palm leaves; it is difficult to produce diacritical marks on leaves and this results in ambiguities that have to be settled by the context.

Though there exist many translations in English of ancient Tamil Sangam Poetry, KumKum chose the Penguin volume, because the translations were done by Sri M. L. Thangappa, an authority on Tamil literature. It was the winner of the 2012 Sahitya Akademi Translation Award.

The poems have several characteristics. The language is sparse and in that respect it is close to modern English poetry. A great many poems deal with women's lives, which does credit to the male poets of the era: they closely observed and entered into the interior lives of women, whom they surely appreciated for their strength. There is a folk colour to the poetry in its lack of sophistication, but even the trivia are not missed by the eye of the poet. There seems to be no influence of Sanskrit poetry, with its elaborate language conventions and poetic forms.

Thangappa has divided the volume in two parts. The first part is Akam – poems about love and emotion are included here. The second part is Puram; the themes of these poems are everything else.

The second poem ends on these lines
And that rascal
looking piercingly at me
out of the corner of his eyes
winked and smiled.

Thommo laughed and said guys have not changed in a thousand years!

10. Pamela
Her choice was a Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu. A brief bio of his by Bloodaxe Books, his publisher, is at their website

Marin Sorescu was born in a family of peasants. He studied Russian and then Romanian at the Univ of Iasçi and later became editor of a literary journal. He often drew and doodled and began oil-painting seriously in 1989.

Hands Behind My Back - Selected Poems by Marin Sorescu

During the time of the dictator Ceauçescu one had to learn a kind of allusiveness and irony that would prevent writers from being nailed for direct criticism of the government. A journalist, Nemoianu, has described Sorescu like this: “His reactions to an increasingly absurd political régime were always cleverly balanced: he never engaged in the servile praise of leader and party usually required of Romanian poets, but nor did he venture into dissidence. He was content to let irony do its job… His texts are masterpieces of allusion and adroit manoeuvring…” Later there was a period of openness and free expression. The poems are plain-spoken and contain sly expressions of humour. During the repression of the Ceauçescu regime he chose irony and indirect symbolism over direct confrontation. After the censorship was lifted Sorescu's plays filled auditoria in Bucharest.

In the present poem, Paintings, the poet imagines himself interacting with paintings in museums, and then the paintings disappear and the authorities get after him. He finds it hardest to steal Rembrandts
there’s darkness —
The terror seizes you, his men don’t have bodies,

Van Gogh's paintings
whirl and roll their heads,
And you have to hold on tight
With both hands

This must be a reference to the painting Starry Night:

He refers to Four Seasons of Pieter Brueghel; actually Brueghel painted six works of the different seasons and five have survived. Here's the one called Hunters in the Snow (1565):

The stealing of paintings in the poem ends thus:
So I’m caught in the end
And get home late at night
Tired and torn to shreds by dogs
Holding a cheap imitation in my hands.

KumKum's idea is that these are copies he has made of the original, working laboriously in the gallery with his easel and oil paint tubes. But maybe it is a cheap knockoff he has bought off the sidewalk, who knows?


1. Deepti Mathew
Adrian Henri (1932 – 2000)

Love is...

Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is.

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don't put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is

Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
Love is...

The Stuff
Japanese cars are made in it
Sardines are laid in it
I like that stuff

Broken glass is found in it
Lovers lie in it
I like that stuff

Women's legs come wrapped in it
Fish get trapped in it
I like that stuff

Teachers always write with it
Dover's cliffs are white with it
I like that stuff

2. Sheila Cherian
Talitha Mathew (born 1958)

Lilies leap up in lavish bloom before
eyes too strained
to “consider” them,
Grass green and damp beneath her weary feet,
Pale sunshine paints the anxious east,
Dapples the perplexed pebbles on the way.
Behind her looms the darkness
of the empty tomb.
It’s not yet day.

Where have you laid Him, sir?
Speak, speak, - if you have taken Him away –”
(For I was there,
I heard the order, the centurion's sudden shout:
Staurotheto kai staurotheto
Crucify him, yes, and crucify!
I saw Him die...
Was there something more to do?
Some torture unimaginable?)
Where, where's the broken body
Of my Lord?”

Mary!” The voice is soft but carrying,
a thunderclap from a clear opal sky
Falling on the bewildered panels of her mind –
It cannot be – we came but to embalm him
with spices and with fragrant nard and myrrh!
It cannot be – I saw the pain impale Him,
I saw the spear plunge right into His side...
Can He live still and with such blazing life,
And yet – that joy that angels
dare not look upon,
The voice that rang through Galilee,
That calmed the clamour of the sea –
and quelled the captious Pharisee,
Calls now to me!

And so,
Aghast, astounded, stumbling
to make sense of this,
Not knowing what to call Him, frozen there,
Framed by the earliest light of this strange day,
She searches for words to describe
Him, living, laughing, standing there –
I am come that you might find life
and lots more of it! Abundance of it!”
and then she finds the plainest words,
the most familiar and the best:
Rabboni, Master mine –
It is you, after all

Yes, but who do you say that I am?"
*Kyrios? Logos? Theos? Just Rabbi – or divine?

(from Crossing the Kidron by Talitha Cherian Mathew, 2016)
Footnotes: Kyrios = Lord, Logos = Word, Theos = God – all in Greek
Rabbi = teacher, Rabboni = master in Aramaic

3. Talitha
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973)

Bilbo's Song
I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.[3]
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.
(Music: sung by Adele McAllister)

Sam's Song at the Doorstep of Cirit Ungol
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
(Music:, sung by Adele McAllister)

4. Zakia
Vijay Seshadri (born 1954)

Three Persons
That slow person you left behind when, finally,
you mastered the world, and scaled the heights you now command,
where is he while you
walk around the shaved lawn in your plus fours,
organizing with an electric clipboard
your big push to tomorrow?
Oh, I’ve come across him, yes I have, more than once,
coaxing his battered grocery cart down the freeway meridian.
Others see in you sundry mythic types distinguished
not just in themselves but by the stories
we put them in, with beginnings, ends, surprises:
the baby Oedipus on the hillside with his broken feet
or the dog whose barking saves the grandmother
flailing in the millpond beyond the weir,
dragged down by her woolen skirt.
He doesn’t see you as a story, though.
He feels you as his atmosphere. When your sun shines,
he chortles. When your barometric pressure drops
and the thunderheads gather,
he huddles under the overpass and writes me long letters with
the stubby little pencils he steals from the public library.
He asks me to look out for you.

We hold it against you that you survived.
People better than you are dead,
but you still punch the clock.
Your body has wizened but has not bled

its substance out on the killing floor
or flatlined in intensive care
or vanished after school
or stepped off the ledge in despair.

Of all those you started with,
only you are still around;
only you have not been listed with 
the defeated and the drowned.

So how could you ever win our respect?--
you, who had the sense to duck,
you, with your strength almost intact
and all your good luck.

(The poem Joe recited to Seshadri's parents in their home, from The Long Meadow)

5. Thommo
Charles Lamb (1775 – 1834)

The Old Familiar Faces
I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days,
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies,
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I loved a love once, fairest among women;
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her —
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man;
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.

Ghost-like, I paced round the haunts of my childhood.
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces —

How some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

6. Saras
Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)

1. Where The Sidewalk Ends
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

2. Messy Room
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

Publisher's Weekly (24 Feb 1975) interview with Jean F. Mercier

I Cannot Go To School Today
I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more--that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut – my eyes are blue –
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke –
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is – what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is . . . Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

7. Shoba
Bharat Trivedi (born

Birth Of My Poem

I am pregnant with a pink petite Poem
pulsating in my mind’s womb.
After months of creepy cramps,
countless kicks and
sharp labour pangs of painful paternity
Now the time has come to deliver …

My outstanding offspring!
Should I welcome you?
into this world of atrocities and hatred,
where love is just a four-lettered foul word,
emotions have distorted into frenzied outbursts,
and sweet dreams have turned into creepy nightmares …
I’m not a heartless poet to choke you
to an instant painless death!
No, I can’t strangle my potent poethood
to a genderless abortion…

Soon, you will be pushed out of my bulging belly,
while sweat gathers on my tense brow and
my wet upper lip gleams like a silvery moustache
and you will be born…
your tender pink foot-soles will be slapped,
till your first new born cry echoes in my excited ears!

Oh my precious prized poetry,
Cling to my milk-less hairy breast and
suckle the nectar of love
from the fountain of my fatherly affection,
while I sing a loving lullaby for you!
Though, our unique bond of umbilical cord is severed,
your advent renders a new connotation
to my forlorn lonely life.
So come on, Let’s celebrate!
the birth of my poem…

8. Joe
Brian Hooker (1880-1946)

Now gently sinks the long sweet Summer day
In blossom-breathing dimness. The sharp wings
Of chattering swallows touch with mystic rings
The shadowy pool. The last wide Western ray
Glows tawny-crimson. And from far away,
Each breeze that stirs the timorous poplar brings
The moan of herds, the call of feathered things,
The song and laugh of little ones at play ...

All beauty. Pain and passion seem as far
From this calm spot as yon grim city, spread
Behind the smoke-topped mountains, where the breast
Of patient earth sobs to the ceaseless jar
Of steel on stone, the clash of bells, the tread
Of slumberless myriads. Here is only rest.

When you pass by me swiftly,
For a moment all the air
Thrills with the breath of your passing
And the summer of your hair.

So, in the dark and the distance,
There comes between sigh and sigh
A breeze and a breath of beauty,
As the thought of you drifts by.

3. Cyrano de Bergerac – No Thank You! Speech

Your precious independence! Your white plume!
How do you expect to succeed in life?
What would you have me do?
Seek the patronage of some great man,
And like a creeping vine on a tall tree
Crawl upward, where I cannot stand alone?
No thank you! Be a buffoon
In the vile hope of teasing out a smile
On some cold face? No thank you! Eat a toad
For breakfast every morning? Make my knees
Callous, cultivate a supple spine, –
Wear out my belly grovelling in the dust?
No thank you! With my left hand scratch the back of any swine
That roots up gold for me while my right,
Too proud to know his partner’s business, takes in the fee?
No thank you. Shall I use the fire God gave to burn incense all day long?
No thank you.
Struggle to insinuate my name into the columns of the gazette?
Calculate, scheme, be afraid, love more to make a visit than a poem,
Seek introductions, favours, influences.
No thank you. NO I thank you. And again I thank you.
But to sing, to laugh, to dream, to walk in my own way,
free with an eye to see things as they are.
A voice that means manhood, to cock my hat
Where I choose. At a word, a Yes, a No, to fight — or write
But never to make a line I have not heard in my own heart.
To travel any road under the sun, under the stars,
Not care if fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne,
Yet with all modesty to say:
My soul! Be satisfied with flowers, with weeds, with thorns even,
But gather them in the one garden you may call your own.
In a word I am too proud to be a parasite,
And if my nature lacks the germ that grows
Towering to heaven like the mountain pine,
I stand not high maybe, but alone!

9. KumKum
Selections from Tamil Sangam Poetry – translated by M.L. Thangappa. (Penguin India)

1. If an elephant is fed
If an elephant is fed
with rice
harvested from the fields
even a small strip of land
will feed him for days.
But when the elephant
enters the fields to forage,
more rice is trampled upon
than eaten.
Acres of land lie ravaged.

Likewise, when a wise king
collects his taxes
his coffers will be full
and the country too will prosper.
But when a weak king
and his ignorant, ostentatious officers
harass the people for taxes
his kingdom will be like the fields
trampled by the elephant.
He gets nothing
and his country, too, will suffer.
Pisirandaiyar on Arivudainambi,
the Pandyan king

2. The bully as lover
Hear this story friend:
Mother and I were at home
A starnger came to the door
asking for a drink of water.
Mother said,
Pour him water
from our jug of gold.’
I went and poured water for him.
he grasped me by the wrist.
Shocked, I cried,
Mother, see what he is doing!’
Then I knew. It was he —
the bully of our younger days
who used to tease us
by trampling on our sandcastles,
plucking the garlands from our hair
and running off with our playthings.
But alarmed at my cry
mother came running.
What could I do?
I lied to her:
This fellow just hiccupped
while drinking the water.’
My credulous mother
began to massage his back.
And that rascal
looking piercingly at me
out of the corner of his eyes
winked and smiled.

(what the girl told her friend)

10. Pamela
Marin Sorescu

All the museums are afraid of me,
Because each time I spend a whole day
In front of a painting
The next day they announce
The painting’s disappeared.

Every night I’m caught stealing
In another part of the world,
But I don’t even care
About the bullets hissing toward my ear,
And the police dogs who are onto
The smell of my tracks,
Better than lovers who know
The perfume of their mistress.

I talk to the canvases that put my life in danger,
Hang them from clouds and trees,
Step back for some perspective.
You can easily engage the Italian masters in conversation.

What noise of colors!
And hence I’m caught
Very quickly with them,
Seen and heard from a distance
As if I had a parrot in my arms.

The hardest to steal is Rembrandt:
Stretch a hand out, there’s darkness —
The terror seizes you, his men don’t have bodies,
Just closed eyes in dark cellars.

Van Gogh’s canvases are insane,
They whirl and roll their heads,
And you have to hold on tight
With both hands,
They’re sucked by a force from the moon.

I don’t know why, Breughel makes me want to cry.
He wasn’t any older than me,
But they called him the old man
Because he knew it all when he died.

I try to learn from him too
But can’t stop my tears
From flowing over the gold frames
When I run off with The Four Seasons under my armpits.

As I was saying, every night
I steal one painting
With enviable dexterity.
But the road’s very long

So I’m caught in the end
And get home late at night
Tired and torn to shreds by dogs
Holding a cheap imitation in my hands.

(from Hands Behind My Back, translated by Gabriela Dragnea, Stuart Friebert, and Adriana Varga.)

Bio of Marin Sorescu from Marin Sorescu Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1983, translated by Michael Hamburger (MH). Bloodaxe Books Ltd (December 31, 1983):

Another bio:


Priya said...

I am disappointed at having missed such a vibrant poetry session. what interesting mix of pets and poems. beautifully narrated by Joe.

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Priya,

Yes, we missed you and you missed a delightful session. Nice of you to comment - thanks.

- joe