Sunday, June 5, 2016

Poetry Session – June 3, 2016

Monsoon in Kerala

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

Shoba, Pamela, KumKum

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

A general help for Dropbox is to be found at

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

Shoba, Pamela, KumKum

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

KumKum, Preeti


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

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


Full Account and Record of the Poetry Session June 3, 2016

Present: Shoba, Pamela, KumKum, Joe, Preeti
Absent: Thommo (called away to church at the last moment), Zakia (away on tour), Sunil (Masonic Lodge work), Priya (away on tour), Talitha (trip to Delhi), Kavita (last minute guest), Saras (last minute guest)

The next readings have been fixed and the dates are on the blog site:
Fri Jul 1, 2016 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Fri Aug 5, 2016Poetry.
Fri Sep 24, 2016 The Gropes by Tom Sharpe

1. Gopa
Rabindranath Tagore

This is the beginning of the joyous monsoon season and Gopa decided to select a poem on rain, and who better to descant on the subject than Rabindranath Tagore? Gopa selected one of his monsoon poems and submitted voice files of her reading the poem on rain ( Rabindranath has written so many). It is called Brishti pore tapur tupur, and you can listen to the Bengali by clicking on the link. She recited the English translation, The rain falls pitter-patter, which can also be heard by clicking on the link.

Joe took the liberty of adding a rather romantic Hindi song, on rain and lovers. It is Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhulegi Woh Basaat Ki Raath, sung by Mohammed Rafi, from the film Barsaat Ki Raath; Salil Chowdhury is the music composer. Again you can hear it by clicking on the link.


2. KumKum
O.N.V. Kurup

KumKum selected a poet she had heard at the Nov 2010 Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram, O.N.V. Kurup. Here is her introduction, verbatim:

ONV Kurup was a celebrated Malayalam poet, lyricist, and essayist. He was also a professor of Malayalam Literature, and taught two generations of students at various Colleges and Universities in Kerala. His success as a lyricist for Malayalam film songs may have overshadowed his other achievements, and but it gained him great popularity. His lyrics were scored by well-known music composers like Devarajan Master and Salil Chowdhury.

Kurup died on February 13, 2016 at the age of 86. He and his wife enjoyed a long married life. They had two children, a daughter who is a practicing medical doctor in the UK; and a son, who works for the Indian Railways.

ONV received many awards for his literary achievements; the Jnanpith Award and the Padma Vibhushan were among them. Interestingly, he also received the Filmfare award 13 times for the Best Lyricist. Besides, he got the National Film Award for the Best Lyricist, twice. ONV was honoured with numerous other awards for his poems and lyrics. I met poet ONV at the Hay Festival in Trivandrum in Nov 2010. I listened to him recite his poems and answer questions from the audience. One of the poems he recited had this beautiful analogy, describing the Sun as the husband and the nine planets as his wives; the fruitful Earth, being his favourite among them.
O mother Earth,
Most favourite bride of the blazing sun,
You've lost your pristine bridal dress.

It was reported in our blog at

Since I do not know Malayalam, I missed a great deal that afternoon.Yet, I think the encounter was thrilling. I found ONV to be a very patient and mild spoken man. Unfortunately, I could not find English translations of his poems online; but there is a collection of his poems, titled This Ancient Lyre, translated by various people, published by the Sahitya Akademi, edited by A.J. Thomas:

However, I have a copy of his long (150-page) fiction-poem called Ujjayini in an English translation by A.J. Thomas, editor of the Sahitya Akademi literary magazine, Indian Literature. The poem is about Kalidasa's unrequited love for Malavika. Yes, the same poet who composed the long poem Meghadut in the 5th century AD. I shall read two passages where Malavika is introduced to the reader.

The first passage begins
Is there, on words, the fragrance
of soil after fresh showers?

Kalidasa, invited to the court of Vikramaditya, was one among the Navaratnas at his court. He catches sight of Malavika and this verse marks his first introduction to her and notes:
Is it the rising thrill
of the earth cuddled by rain?

Or a rustic Malwa maiden
in wet clothes after menstrual bath
and disentangling her hair,
bashfully bending her head?

In the second passage the news has reached the emperor that Malavika, whom the emperor coveted, is secretly meeting the poet, Kalidasa. Vikramaditya ruminates
Is she the sweetheart of
the poet, whose fame's
cool moonbeams make this
Ujjayini shine brighter?
Whatever that be, can he
forfeit the maiden he coveted?


3. Talitha
Steven Charleston

Talitha could not come but submitted a short meditation to the Dropbox, by a native American poet of the Choctaw Nation, Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston. He has made a habit of daily writing down a prayerful reflection, and over time the reflections have been collected in a book called Cloud Walking. Joe read the poem, reading for Talitha.

Charleston instructs the weary soul
you are more beautiful than sunrise.
Don’t stop now.
There is so much more for you to be
and so many surprises just around the corner.

4. Saras
Vikram Seth

Saras submitted a number of poems of Vikram Seth from his recent collection Summer Requiem, but being detained at the last moment by unannounced guests, she was not there to express her appreciation. Fortunately, Joe had heard VS recite the villanelle Can't at the Hay Festival in TVM. There's a picture of the poet with KumKum in the blog at

with the ending lines of the delightful villanelle inscribed:
I must, I simply must get out of bed
And press that reset button in my head.

You must read the poem. And look on the page at the signature of VS in Malayalam!


5. Shoba
Maya Angelou

Shoba chose Maya Angelou as her poet, perhaps after Shakespeare, the most recited poet at KRG sessions. It is titled When Great Trees Fall, and tells the effect on us of great personages falling away from our lives. They leave a feeling on un-feeling and the poem describes this state and ends by saying
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

So, though they are gone they leave a residue that lives and inspires us.

6. Joe
Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 and graduated from Yale in 1957. He wrote for Time magazine and published an article on civil rights in 1963 for the New Yorker about integrating the university of Georgia. Ever since he has been a staff writer there. From 1967 to 1972 he wrote a series of articles for the New Yorker about USA, travelling around the country.

But what made him a poet was a piece he published in The Nation titled If You Knew what Sununu. The poem works because Americans pronounce 'knew' as 'nu.' John Sununu was elder President Bush’s chief of staff, and Governor of New Hampshire before that. It goes like this
If you knew what Sununu
Knows about quantum physics and Greek
And oil explorations and most favored nations
And the secret handshake of Deke,
Maybe you, too, like Sununu,
Would adopt a principal rule,
That you are the brightest, your light the lightest,
And everyone else is a fool.

Trillin has been writing for The Nation since 1978, and contributed a poem a week (published as Deadline Poet in 1994); there’s a book of poems called The Bush Administration in Rhyme, which came out in 2004.

Trillin was married to his wife Alice since 1965; she died in 2001. He has two daughters, and has published over 30 books, including 3 novels. He was awarded the Thurber prize for American Humour in 2012.

He said he always felt he was a bit off-centre and it started with one time in school when he heard a verse from the Bible, and got up and did a parody of it, which got him ejected from the class. Trillin says being funny in print is a whole different game from being funny as a stand-up comedian where timing is everything; lines which when written out don’t sound funny can be so when mouthed by a professional. His father who became a restaurant owner used to write 2-line rhymes about food, and have it displayed.

As a columnist with deadlines to meet he said he would start writing and eventually think of something. All subjects are game for humorous verse, even the Holocaust, with the passage of time, according to him. Exaggeration is a tool in the hands of the humour writer. For example, he once wrote that the language laws in Quebec are so strict that in a school assembly in that province you can’t show a film of English-speaking mimes!

Two poems were planned but only the one about the varieties of Chinese cooking was read by Joe. The other one about the Y2K bug (which was to bring civilisation to a halt in the year 2000) is in mono-rhyme, i.e., a single rhyme runs throughout the poem at the end of every line; that poem is even better in its humour.

7. Pamela
Naomi Shihab Nye

Her choice was Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian American poet who has spent time in Jerusalem. Her poems issue from everyday life in the streets, and she is considered an international poet. She was educated in San Antonio, Texas. Her first collection Different Ways to Pray (1980), explores experiences of different cultures. She has continued to publish poetry and one of her collections won the Voertman Poetry Prize. In another collection she has confronted the Palestine-Israel conflict.

She is an active voice for Arab-Americans and made a collection of her poems to reflect that experience, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) . She has also made poetry recordings for children and done translations. She is an acclaimed children's writer, and wrote a novel for young adults called Habibi. The word means 'my love' or 'sweetheart' in Arabic. She claims that to counteract negativity “writers must steadily transmit simple stories closer to heart and more common to everyday life. Then we will be doing our job.”

8. Preeti
George Gordon Lord Byron

Preeti arrived late and we did not have her poems in our Dropbox. I put it there later. The two poems are, She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron, and Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? by William Shakespeare. Preeti drew her pairing of the poems from the 1989 film, Dead Poet's Society (the late Robin Williams was the teacher, who repeated the slogan 'Carpe Diem' to the the boys in school). She said she would justify her pairing and its connection with the film later.

The first poem eloquently etches a picture of the woman in the reader's mind and one cannot help asking: who was she? It was Anne Hathaway, his cousin by marriage whom Lord Byron met at a gala event, and being overawed by her beauty wrote this poem that very night. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She_Walks_in_Beauty

We have no idea of the provenance of Sonnet 18. About whom did WS write this?
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

William Shakespeare, the Cobbe portrait

But what we can say is the lines are eternal and the woman will not fade from memory because WS has graven this ending couplet:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.




Readings


The poems are available to KRG readers in the KRG Dropbox on the Web. They will be transferred here shortly to make them accessible to everyone who reads the post on this blog.
1. Gopa
Her introduction to the poem by Rabindranth Tagore is here.
Here is the recitation in Bengali of the poem Brishti pore tapur-tupur
And here is the English translation.

2. KumKum


3. Talitha


4. Saras


5. Shoba


6. Joe


7. Pamela


8. Preeti


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