Friday, October 21, 2016

Poetry Session – Oct 18, 2016

 Pamela, KumKum, Saras

Eight of us met for a session of poetry with the keen anticipation of celebrating the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, announced only a week before. The singer, songwriter, and composer has not responded to the Swedish Academy as of this writing, but his many admirers were thrilled.

 Pamela, Saras, Priya, Thommo

Thommo came along with his guitar promising to sing some Bob Dylan numbers at the session and lead the group in a sing-along of his most well-known song, Blowin' in the Wind. This we did and you have clips of the singing linked to this post below.

Kavita, Thommo, Shoba having cake & Samosas to celebrate Sunil's birthday in absentia

We were glad to use the session to wish Sunil for his fifty-fifth birthday. The readers were treated to samosas, cake and coffee. Sunil could not be present as he had to go on tour to their estate in Kodagu.

Kavita, Thommo, Shoba, Pamela, KumKum, Saras having cake & Samosas to celebrate Sunil's birthday in absentia

We are eleven members now. It's a convivial group and all of us try our best to prepare for the readings and attend the sessions for the sheer enjoyment they provide. The question was posed by KumKum whether we could find two more faithful members to attend, since two regulars, Gopa and Talitha, have left town.

Kavita, Thommo, Shoba

Once again we encourage everyone to consult the lists of Poems and Poets recited to-date when choosing selections. Besides, there is a very powerful feature provided by Google in the Search this blog facility at the right of the main page.

The group at the end – Pamela & Kavita had to leave early

Full Account and Record of the Poetry Session on Oct 18, 2016

The dates for the next readings are confirmed as follows:

Fri Nov 11, 2016, 5:30 pm – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Fri Dec 2, 2016, 5:30 pm – Poetry

Absent: Zakia, Preeti (pulled out at the last minute)

1. Pamela
Poet-lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, born Asrar Hussain Khan, in Sultanpur, UP, in 1919, acquired a traditional education in Urdu, Persian and Arabic. He would have been a hakim (traditional doctor), having trained in Unani medicine. But his love for the ghazal led him to acquire a mastery of that form inspired by Mir, Ghalib and others. He was a student of the poet Jigar Moradabadi and became a participant in the Progressive Writers Movement along with other well-known poets. He went to jail for two years for writing against the British. Urdu was in a ferment, and so was a new politics to end exploitation. He caught that from the times in which poets like Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and others spoke up from the left.

Some critics say his foray into film lyrics (some 350 films) deprived Urdu literature. But are there higher forms of literature in Urdu than the ghazal? His contribution to that form could not have had a more inspired milieu in which to flourish than the romantic Bombay films of that era, when composers like Burman (father and son), O.P. Nayyar and Shankar Jaikishan were writing wonderful melodies and singers like Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt, and Mohammed Rafi were there to give voice to the lyrics. He got his break in Hindi films with the film Shahjahan (1946) and had his first hit number Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya with the incomparable K.L. Saigal under the music direction of Naushad, from whom he learnt that a film song should not forsake simple words, even when one attempts to fill it with meaning. How well he absorbed the lesson can be heard in these lines from long ago:
jab dil hi toot gaya, jab dil hi toot gaya
ham ji e kya karenge, ham ji e kya karenge
jab dil hi toot gaya, jab dil hi toot gaya

Sultanpuri's work spans five decades in which he worked with classical composers like Naushad, and later even with a modern composer like A.L. Rahman. He died on May 25, 2000 but his lyrics live on in the songs. For a summary of his work see:

Pamela sang the ghazal
ham ko junūñ kyā sikhlāte ho ham the pareshāñ tum se ziyāda
chaak kiye haiñ ham ne azīzo chaar garebāñ tum se ziyāda

Here is a short clip of her singing:

Pamela said it is about the proletariat telling the bourgeoisie 'we're no less than you.' About 40 secs are recorded.

2. Thommo
On Oct 12, 2016 the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, announced in Stockholm that the Nobel Prize in Literature had been awarded to Bob Dylan for 'having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.' Later Ms Danius, a literary scholar, said that Dylan 'embodies the tradition. And for 54 years, he’s been at it, reinventing himself, creating a new identity.

 ‘I think he will show up,’ said the Nobel’s permanent secretary.The Swedish Academy says it has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, days after it awarded him the Nobel prize in literature

She suggested that people unfamiliar with his work should start with Blonde on Blonde, his album from 1966. She compared him to Homer and Sappho, whose work was delivered orally. Asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician signalled a broadening in the definition of literature, Ms Danius jokingly responded, 'The times they are a changing', referencing one of Mr. Dylan’s famous songs.

'Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear,' she said. 'But it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry on the page ... It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and his pictorial thinking.'

 Bob Dylan with Joan Baez who was a superstar folk singer with a wide reputation long before Dylan was, and it was her stamp of approval that helped push him into the spotlight - a tumultuous relationship

Danius added: 'If you look back, far back, you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan. But we still read Homer and Sappho. He can be read and should be read. He is a great poet in the grand English tradition. I know the music, and I’ve started to appreciate him much more now. Today, I’m a lover of Bob Dylan.'
 Bob Dylan's books and albums also received a boost as Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and Blonde on Blonde were in the top 25 for CDs and vinyl on the US charts by Thursday night Oct 13, 2016

Supporting that resounding endorsement of Bob Dylan by the Swedish Academy, Salman Rushdie told The Guardian he was delighted with Dylan’s win and said his lyrics had been 'an inspiration to me all my life ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school.' He added ‘I intend to spend the day playing Mr Tambourine Man!’ Bob Dylan is considered one of the great lyricists of modern times having penned memorable hits such as Blowin' In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Leonard Cohen, another great lyricist, said giving a Nobel to Bob Dylan is like 'pinning medal on Everest'

Andrew Motion, former poet laureate of England, said the prize was 'a wonderful acknowledgement of Dylan’s genius. For 50-odd years he has bent, coaxed, teased and persuaded words into lyric and narrative shapes that are at once extraordinary and inevitable.' Joyce Carol Oates too praised the Academy for its 'inspired and original choice.'

Bob Dylan with Pope John Paul II

There are many colleges where seminars and courses on Bob Dylan's work have been under way for decades, e.g. this one at Harvard:

and here's the syllabus for a course at Boston University with references to scholarly articles:

Bob Dylan with Ali

The academic Simon McAslan who teaches a course on Dylan at Vanier College in Montreal says:
Dylan never underestimates the intelligence of his audience. All his songs ask the same thing in different ways: what do you think? how does it feel? And they ask us to answer these questions ourselves. In essence, Dylan is always asking, What is it to be human?

Bob Dylan - Notebooks with lyrics for 'Blood on Tracks'

Nevertheless there have been a number of critics who have come down heavily on the Swedish Academy for awarding a prize that should have gone to worthier literary figures in their opinion, such as Phillip Roth or Haruki Murakami. This is a typical opinion:
Is Bob Dylan a writer? Yes. Are his lyrics (and songs) among the greatest in the 20th century musical canon? Yes. Should his work be recognised as literature? No. His award means one less opportunity to celebrate those who have devoted their lives to books.
Bob Dylan - pastel drawings in Face Value, an exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery, are as tough and characterful as Dylan's songs

These critics may have a point and may yet get their way, for as of this writing on Oct 21 the Swedish Academy has had no response from Bob Dylan to the award. Will he show up on December 10 in Stockholm? 

But, in a telephone call on Friday Oct 28 with Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Dylan said: “I appreciate the honour so much,” adding: “The news about the Nobel prize left me speechless.” 

And, in a separate interview with the Daily Telegraph – his first since the award – he said he would “absolutely” attend an award ceremony “if it’s at all possible”. Dylan told the paper: “It’s hard to believe … amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?”

Bob Dylan did finally accept his Nobel Prize medal for literature, more than three months after the awards ceremony, at a private event in Stockholm on April 1, 2017 before a scheduled concert in the city. A spokesperson said the event went off very well and commented that the 75-year old singer was “a very nice, kind, man’.

He is expected to deliver a taped version of the customary Nobel lecture later. If he does not deliver a lecture by June, he will have to forfeit the prize money of eight million kronor

 Celebrities who joined the 1963 March on Washington - Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan performed

Meanwhile everyone at KRG is overjoyed by the award to this wonderful lyricist, and in celebration Thommo came with his guitar to sing a few songs from Bob Dylan's extensive repertoire over 55 years of his performance. He said that the lyrics of Jimi Hendrix's most famous song All Along the Watchtower (1968) were Bob Dylan's and he did not know that for the longest time. You can hear the clip at

 Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan

Dylan's best known protest song was The Times They Are A-Changin'

His birth name was Robert Zimmerman He doesn't tell you how he chose the name Dylan. Thommo narrated that Dylan went to the White House and sang and left without any fuss or photos before the event ended. All his songs are performed better by others according to Thommo, because Dylan's voice is not great.

The first song Thommo sang was Don't Think Twice It's Alright, a song about a break-up apparently with Suze Rotolo, a former girlfriend who appears on the cover of the album Freewheelin’

It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Even you don't know by now
It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It doesn't matter anyhow

Thommo next sang The Times They Are A-Changin'
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

Here is a video of Thommo singing for us – it is about 13 mins, consisting of these two songs and you can listen to them by clicking on the link here:

Finally the group sang the universally known song of Bob Dylan, Blowin' In The Wind, with that keenness reserved for golden oldies. The group singing was recorded and you can listen to it by clicking on the link below:

3. Shoba
Shoba chose Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the New England poet. Priya read a rain poem by Longfellow (How Beautiful is the Rain) to commemorate the monsoon season in June 2015. Joe has appended a longish bio of the poet to her reading, which is linked here:

The poem Shoba read is often anthologised, A Psalm of Life. It is an affirmation of purpose in life. The poet proclaims that every person can leave a mark in the world —
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Here is a picture of KumKum gazing at Longfellow House, his residence in Cambridge, MA, when we visited the place in 2007.

4. Joe
Wendy Rose, Native American poet - born 1948
Joe was reading a book at the Robbins Public Library in Arlington where their younger daughter, Rachel, lives. It is called Writing America by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, a guide through American literary history touching on matters usually omitted from the formal education of Americans. Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe (of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame), and Mark Twain are all there; but you also get Native American writers, African American writers, Asian American writers and Mexican American writers. All the glorious diversity that gets hidden in the mainstream narrative of American literature was spread out in the pages of the book.

Joe was particularly struck by the account of Wounded Knee, a creek in South Dakota. Wounded Knee was where the Wasichus (means 'takes the fat,' or 'greedy person') one hundred and twenty-six winters ago, on December 29, 1890, slaughtered some 150 Lakota men, women and children. The black deed was done by the US 7th Calvary Regiment near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (some estimate the actual number closer to 300). The Lakota people were killed that day using four Hotchkiss machine guns,

after they had all been surrounded and disarmed, and their bodies were left on the frigid wintry plains of the reservation before a burial party came next day to bury them in a mass grave.

And what was their fault? They were dancing the 'Ghost Dance' which the Oglala Sioux holy man, Nicholas Black Elk, had prescribed as a way of connecting mystically with their forebears.

In the book mentioned Joe came across a poem by Wendy Rose, I Expected My Skin and My Blood to Ripen [from her collection Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems 1965-1993] which commemorates this event, burned into the collective memory of those who inhabited America before the White Man came to North America and committed one of the largest genocides in history over a period of a century or so. The poet prefaces the poem with the catalog of a 1977 auction, offering the remains collected from the frozen dead Lakota of Wounded Knee: Moccasins at $140, hide scraper at $350, buckskin shirt at $1200, woman's leggings at $275, bone breastplate, at $1000.

Wendy Rose’s poems are nearly all protest poems. You can think of them as the vapours boiling off from the dark rage and pitiless confrontation of her people’s collective past. She is of Hopi and Miwok Indian descent on her father's side, mixed with European blood on her mother's side. Like many Native Americans who have been alienated from the roots of their past deliberately by US policy, she had to rediscover her identity. Besides being a writer she is also an anthropologist; you will note the imagery of digging for the remains of her ancestors in many poems. She is a feminist, of course, and has studied aboriginal cultures outside N America.

She was an instructor at UC Berkeley during 1979-83, where she did her PhD in Anthropology. Afterwards she was at Cal State, Fresno for a year and since 1984 she has been at Fresno City College. She is active in the American Indian Movement, and edits journals in her field and has been an instructor in Native American studies for the longest time. Five or six books of poetry have come from her pen and all the poems I am reciting are in the collection Bone Dance.

Joe read a second poem, Lost Copper, which has wonderful imagery, and has left a few more for readers who are interested to discover the vigour of Native American poetry in English.

5. Priya
Her reading was from The Aeneid, an epic by Virgil, or Publius Vergilius Maro, a Roman poet of the Augustan period who lived from 70 BC to 19 BC. His other two major works are The Eclogues (meaning 'selections' in Greek) and The Georgics. In the first he establishes the ideal of Arcadia, a poetic idyll of a place where people relax and sport without a care. We will come across it in the next novel by Waugh. The Georgics is mainly about how to keep a farm, raise crops and trees, breed livestock and horses, and there's much about beekeeping. It is known also for the adventure of Orpheus to the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice.

In The Aeneid Aeneas, the mighty foe of Achilles in the Iliad, flees the ashes of Troy, and begins an incredible journey to fulfil his destiny as the founder of Rome. His voyage will take him through stormy seas, entangle him in a tragic love affair, and lure him into the world of the dead itself — tormented along the way by the vengeful Juno, Queen of the Gods. Ultimately, he reaches the promised land of Italy where, after bloody battles and with high hopes, he founds what will become the Roman empire. The Aeneid is an unsparing portrait of a man caught between love, duty, and fate. Robert Fagles, who translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, retains all the gravitas and humanity of the original Latin as well as its powerful blend of poetry and myth. It features an illuminating introduction to Virgil's world by the scholar, Bernard Knox.
(Taken from the jacket blurb to the translation)

Virgil is said to have read sections from the Aeneid to Augustus the emperor and his household. Here is a picture:

Virgil is said to have recited some Books of the Aeneid to Emperor Augustus; Book 6 caused Augustus' sister Octavia to faint. It has served as a basis for later art, such as Jean-Baptiste Wicar's Virgil Reading the Aeneid'

Jesus was born in the Augustan age. As Luke 1:5 records about the birth of Jesus
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

In that age there was a prophecy of golden times to come, said Priya. Virgil also appears in later literature when Dante uses him as a prop to guide him to the nether world in The Divine Comedy. The Aeneid is written in dactylic hexameter (a dactyl is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable) used first in Homeric epic poems and imitated by the Latins. See
The reading selections of Priya came from the opening lines so famous in poetry:
Arma virumque cano,

which in Dryden's translation reads:
Arms, and the man I sing,

Priya picked up the next passage to read from Book Four, The Tragic Queen of Carthage, in the Fagles translation. Here she gives herself up body and soul, to the adventurer, Aeneas, with abandon, and cares not if her name is sullied when she enters a cave with Aeneas to shelter from a storm:
The skies have begun to rumble, peals of thunder first and the storm breaking next, a cloudburst pelting hail

The final selection which Priya did not read, was from the same Book Four when Dido discovers Aeneas, has left Carthage, leaving her compromised:
Oh, by God,”
she cries, “will the stranger just sail off
and make a mockery of our realm?

Dido curses Aeneas for his shameful flight and then commits suttee:
let him be plagued in war by a nation proud in arms,
torn from his borders, wrenched from Iulus’ embrace,
let him grovel for help and watch his people die
a shameful death!

6. Saras
Saras chose Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a poet who spearheaded the Harlem Renaissance. She recited The Weary Blues:
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.

You can picture a man in a honky tonk tavern playing the piano as you read this. Next was The Negro Speaks of Rivers, a poem that made him famous. In this audio Hughes recites the short poem, written at the age of twenty

And you can listen to a 10-min playful, but informative, lecture – A Crash Course – on Langston Hughes. The Harlem Renaissance combined formal poetry with the oral tradition:

His grandmother brought him up. She was the first woman to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. She passed on to the young Langston Hughes tales of slavery and heroism. Paradoxically his great-grandmothers were slaves, and his great grandfathers were slave owners – such is the complex racial history of America. He writes of the time with his grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston,
Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books — where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.

Hughes wrote a column for a Chicago newspaper which ran for twenty years, in which he gave voice to black people and their concerns. He began publishing stories about a character called Jesse B. Semple, often referred to as 'Simple.' It represented the voice of an ordinary black man in Harlem.

He was drawn to Communism and travelled extensively in the Soviet Union, and wrote sympathetically about the left, but never joined the Communist Party. Later he came under scrutiny by Senator McCarthy's infamous investigations to harass people who had leftist views, and renounced his sympathies.

Hughes wrote two autobiographies, and published 16 volumes of poetry, three short story collections, two novels, and nine children's books. For more about him read

A more detailed examination of his literary contribution is to be found at

Hughes could really get inside the mind of the African American people, as this poem, with a connection to jazz music of Harlem, indicates (he also wrote lyrics for jazz):
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
Since I come up North de
Whole damn world's turned cold.

I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong.
Yes, I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong,
But this world is weary
An' de road is hard an' long.

I fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
Fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
She made me lose ma money
An' almost lose ma mind.

Weary, weary,
Weary early in de morn.
Weary, weary,
Early, early in de morn.
I's so weary
I wish I'd never been born.

Saras then read Mother to Son, a poem which exhorts the boy to keep exerting:
Don't you set down on the steps.

7. KumKum
KumKum selected as the poet to read, Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), who was born in a village in the high Andean Mountains. Both her parents were from "mixed Basque and Indian heritage". They were school teachers. Her father left the family when she was very young. As a child she experienced poverty at close quarters.

Gabriela had her primary education in her village school, later, she became a teacher's assistant there, helping her mother financially. Gabriela continued her education by reading and writing profusely; ultimately, she did get opportunities to enter institutions of higher education. Gabriela Mistral is the pen name of Lucila Godoy Alcoyaga.

Gabriela Mistral devoted most of her life to being an educationist; later she also became a diplomat, and wrote poetry all along her life. She was never married. But brought up a nephew as her own child. Many of her intimate poems relate a mother's love for her child.

Gabriela Mistral was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, the first Latin American poet to achieve this honour.

Pablo Neruda, internationally recognised poet, was one of her students.The reader will find a more extended literary account of Mistral's work at

KumKum read three poems, A Woman, Those Who Do Not Dance, and The Rose.

8. Kavita
Kavita read from Sarojini Naidu, also known as 'The Nightingale of India.' The poem was Autumn Song, a generic poem about falling leaves signifying dreams of the heart that have disappeared. She asks:
why should I stay behind?

The reason one may call it generic is that the reader cannot feel the fluttering leaves rustling or crackling on the ground, or see its colours, or watch them tumble as they float downward in the mind's eye. There is very little imagery to draw the reader into the poet's mind and see the same visions. One may call it a 'lazy' poem in the sense that it does not do the hard work necessary to fill the reader's mind with what the poet sees – forget what the poet feels!

The second poem by Adam Gordon, an Australian whose first love was horses and steeplechasing, is more satisfying. See his bio at

Autumn is described as
When the burnt-up banks are yellow and sad,
When the boughs are yellow and sere

The contrast is between the child and the man. The child can gather when next year comes round again
Girl! when the garlands of next year glow,
You may gather again, my dear—

But the grown man's time is over and he must go with the fallen leaves
But I go where the last year’s lost leaves go
At the falling of the year.’

There's a sadness in both poems for the one left behind.


1. Pamela
Majrooh Sultanpuri (1919 – 2000)
Main akela hi chala tha janib manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye aur karvan banta gaya

Sawaal unka jawaab uka sukoot unka khitab unka
Ham anjuman mein sar na kham karte to kya karte

Majrooh! Likh rahe hain woh ahl-e-wafa ka naam
Ham bhi khade hue hai gunaahgaar ki tarah

Shab-e-intezar ki kashmakash na pooch kaise sahar hui
Kabhi ek chiraag jala diya kabhi ek chiraag bujha diya

Main hazaar shakl badal chuka chaman-e-jahaan mein sun ae saba
Ke jo phool hai tere haath mein ye mera hi lakht-e-jigar na ho

Taqdeer ka shikwa bemaani jeena hi tujhe manzoor nahi
Aap apna muqaddar ban na sake itna to koi majboor nahi

Majrooh’! Qafile ki mere dastaan ye hai
Rahbar ne mil ke loot liya rahbaron ke saath

Tum bhi chori ko yaqeen hai na kahoge achcha
Ab hamen dekh ke aankhen na churana hargiz

Jis taraf bhi chal padhe hain aabla payan-e-shauq
Khar se gul aur gul se gulistan banta gaya

Alag baithe hai phir bhi aankh saaqi ki padhi ham par
Agar hain tishnagi kaamil to paimane bhi aayenge

Shama bhi ujaala bhi main hi apni mahfil ka
Main hi apni manzil ka raahbar bhi raahi bhi

Shab-e-intezar ki kashmakash na pooch kaise sahar hui
Kabhi ek chiraag jala diya kabhi ek chiraag bujha diya

Zabaan hamari na samjha yahaan koi ‘Majrooh’ 
Ham ajnabi ki tarah apne hi vatan mein rahe
(Translation from Pamela is awaited)

ham ko junūñ kyā sikhlāte ho ham the pareshāñ tum se ziyāda
chaak kiye haiñ ham ne azīzo chaar garebāñ tum se ziyāda

chāk-e-jigar mohtāj-e-rafū hai aaj to dāman sarf-e-lahū hai
ik mausam thā ham ko rahā hai shauq-e-bahārāñ tum se ziyāda

ahd-e-vafā yāroñ se nibhā.eñ nāz-e-harīfāñ hañs ke uThā.eñ
jab hameñ armāñ tum se sivā thā ab haiñ pashīmāñ tum se ziyāda

ham bhī hamesha qatl hue aur tum ne bhī dekhā duur se lekin
ye na samajhnā ham ko huā hai jaan kā nuqsāñ tum se ziyāda

jaao tum apne baam kī ḳhātir saarī laveñ sham.oñ kī katar lo
zaḳhm ke mehr-o-māh salāmat jashn-e-charāġhāñ tum se ziyāda

dekh ke uljhan zulf-e-dotā kī kaise ulajh paḌte haiñ havā se
ham se sīkho ham ko hai yaaro fikr-e-nigārāñ tum se ziyāda

zanjīr o dīvār hī dekhī tum ne to 'majrūh' magar ham
kūcha kūcha dekh rahe haiñ ālam-e-zindāñ tum se ziyāda
Translation by Pamela:
Dare you teach us of fury? We were distressed more than you. We had our collars slashed through, O friends, way more than you.

The slashed-through heart needs patches today, the garments are but blood, A season there was when we did yearn, for Spring more than you.

To scale the peaks of loyalty with friends, to cater to whims of associates With smiles: then we had such desires as you do now we are disgraced more than you.

Go for the sake of your terrace, slice all flames off lighted candles
The gifts and crescent of our wounds suffice
Our celebrations alight more than you.

It is we who were slain always, and you who watched always from afar
Think not however that we have suffered, a loss of life more than you.

Chains and Walls is all you saw Majrooh, and yet we: see the world in a state of captivity more than you.

2. Thommo
Bob Dylan in Barcelona, Spain, 1984
Bob Dylan, born 1941
1. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right
It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

2. The Times They Are A-Changin’
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

3. Blowin’ In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

3. Shoba

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers, 
      Life is but an empty dream! 
For the soul is dead that slumbers, 
      And things are not what they seem. 

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
      And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
      Was not spoken of the soul. 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
      Is our destined end or way; 
But to act, that each to-morrow 
      Find us farther than to-day. 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
      And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
      Funeral marches to the grave. 

In the world’s broad field of battle, 
      In the bivouac of Life, 
Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
      Be a hero in the strife! 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! 
      Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,— act in the living Present! 
      Heart within, and God o’erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us 
      We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
      Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints, that perhaps another, 
      Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
      Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
      With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing, 
      Learn to labor and to wait.

4. Joe
Wendy Rose, born 1948

1. I Expected My Skin and My Blood to Ripen
[Items are pictured for sale that were gathered at the site of the massacre: Moccasins at $140, hide scraper at $350, buckskin shirt at $1200, woman's leggings at $275, bone breastplate, at $1000. — Kenneth Canfield, 1977 Plains Indian Art Auction Catalog]
I expected my skin and my blood
to ripen, not be ripped form my bones;
like fallen fruit I am peeled, tasted,
discarded. My seeds open
and have no future.
Now there has been no past.
My own body gave up the beads,
my own hands gave the babies away
to be strung on bayonets,
to be counted one by one
like rosary stones and then
tossed to the side of life
as if the pain of their birthing
had never been.
My feet were frozen to the leather,
pried part, left behind—bits of flesh
on the moccasins, bits of paper deerhide
on the bones. My back was stripped
of its cover, its quilling intact,
was torn, was taken away.
My leggings were taken like in a rape
and shriveled to the size
of stick figures
like they had never felt the push
of my strong woman’s body
walking in the hills.
It was my baby
whose cradleboard I held—
would’ve put her in my mouth like a snake
if I could, wouldn’t turned her into a bush
or rock if there’d been magic enough
to work such changes. Not enough magic
to stop the bullets, nor enough magic
to stop the scientists, not enough magic
to stop the money.

2. Lost Copper
Time to tend the fields again
where I laid my bone-handled spade to earth
and dug from its direct the shy child-songs
that made my mouth a Hopi volcano.
My hands retreat dusty and brown there being no water pure enough
to slide the ages and stone from my skin,
there bing no voice strong enough
to vibrate the skin and muscle apart.
Like a summer-nude horse I roll on my back
and fishtail my hips from side to side;
then on my belly my navel gone home,
I scrape my cheek and teeth and ride.
From there I rise of earth and wind
to the eight of one woman
and cup my breast to the hollow-gourd vine
to feed the palce that sent me songs
to grow from the ground that bears me:
this then my harvest
                                   squash-brown daughter
                                   blue collar pollen
                                   lost copper

To Some Few Hopi Ancestors
No longer the drifting
and falling of wind,
your songs have changed;
they have become 
thin willow whispers
that take us by the ankle
and tangle us up
with red meat stone,
that keep us turned
to the round sky,
that follow us down
to Winslow, to Sherman
to Oakland, to all the spokes
that leave Earth’s middle.
You have engraved yourself
with holy signs, encased yourself
in pumice, hammered on my bones
till you could not longer hear
the howl of missions
slipping screams through your silence,
dropping dreams from your wings.
Is this why
you made me
sing and weep
for you?
Like butterflies
made to grow another way
this woman is chiseled
on the face of your world.
The badger-claw fo her father
shows slightly in stone
burrowed from her sight,
facing west from home.

Three Thousand Dollar Death Song
Nineteen American Indian skeletons from Nevada … 
valued at $3,000. 
— invoice received at a museum as normal business, 1975

Is it in cold hard cash? the kind 
that dusts the insides of mens' pockets 
laying silver-polished surface along the cloth. 
Or in bills? papering the wallets of they 
who thread the night with dark words. Or 
checks? paper promises weighing the same 
as words spoken once on the other side 
of the mown grass and dammed rivers 
of history. However it goes, it goes. 
Through my body it goes 
assessing each nerve, running its edges 
along my arteries, planning ahead 
for whose hands will rip me 
into pieces of dusty red paper, 
whose hands will smooth or smatter me 
into traces of rubble. Invoiced now 
it's official how our bones are valued 
that stretch out pointing to sunrise 
or are flexed into one last fetal bend, 
that are removed and tossed about, 
cataloged, numbered with black ink 
on newly-white foreheads. 
As we were formed to the white soldier's voice, 
so we explode under white students' hands. 
Death is a long trail of days 
in our fleshless prison. 
From this distant point
we watch our bones auctioned 
with our careful quillwork, 
beaded medicine bundles, even the bridles 
of our shot-down horses. You who have priced us, 
you who have removed us — at what cost? 
What price the pits
where our bones share
a single bit of memory, 
how one century has turned 
our dead into specimens,
our history into dust,
our survivors into clowns. 
Our memory might be catching, you know. 
Picture the mortars, the arrowheads, the labrets 
shaking off their labels like bears suddenly awake 
to find the seasons ended while they slept. 
Watch them touch each other, measure reality, 
march out the museum door! 
Watch as they lift their faces 
and smell about for us. Watch our bones rise 
to meet them and mount the horses once again! 
The cost then will be paid 
for our sweetgrass-smelling having-been 
in clam-shell beads and steatite, dentalia 
and woodpecker scalp, turquoise and copper, 
blood and oil, coal and uranium, 
children, a universe
of stolen things.

The Parts of a Poet

the pottery goodness
of my body
               settled down on flowers
               pulling pollen in great 
               handfuls; full & ready

               parts of me are pinned
               to earth parts of me
               undermine song, parts
               of me spread on water,
               parts of me form a rainbow
               bridge, parts of me follow
               the sandfish, parts of me
               are a woman who judges.

5. Priya
Bust of Virgil in Naples (70B – 20BC)

Safe Haven After Storm
Book 1 – The Aeneid, beginning of the poem
Wars and a man I sing—an exile driven on by Fate,
he was the first to flee the coast of Troy,
destined to reach Lavinian shores and Italian soil,
yet many blows he took on land and sea from the gods above—
thanks to cruel Juno’s relentless rage—and many losses
he bore in battle too, before he could found a city,
bring his gods to Latium, source of the Latin race,
the Alban lords and the high walls of Rome.
Tell me,
Muse, how it all began. Why was Juno outraged?
What could wound the Queen of the Gods with all her power?
Why did she force a man, so famous for his devotion,
to brave such rounds of hardship, bear such trials?
Can such rage inflame the immortals’ hearts?

Book 4 – The Aeneid
The Tragic Queen of Carthage
The skies have begun to rumble, peals of thunder first
and the storm breaking next, a cloudburst pelting hail
and the troops of hunters scatter up and down the plain,
Tyrian comrades, bands of Dardans, Venus’ grandson Iulus
panicking, running for cover, quick, and down the mountain
gulleys erupt in torrents. Dido and Troy’s commander
make their way to the same cave for shelter now.
Primordial Earth and Juno, Queen of Marriage,
give the signal and lightning torches flare
and the high sky bears witness to the wedding,
nymphs on the mountaintops wail out the wedding hymn.
This was the first day of her death, the first of grief,
the cause of it all. From now on, Dido cares no more
for appearances, nor for her reputation, either.
She no longer thinks to keep the affair a secret,
no, she calls it a marriage,
using the word to cloak her sense of guilt.
Straightway Rumor flies through Libya’s great cities,
Rumor, swiftest of all the evils in the world.
She thrives on speed, stronger for every stride,
slight with fear at first, soon soaring into the air
she treads the ground and hides her head in the clouds.
She is the last, they say, our Mother Earth produced.
Bursting in rage against the gods, she bore a sister
for Coeus and Enceladus: Rumor, quicksilver afoot
and swift on the wing, a monster, horrific, huge
and under every feather on her body—what a marvel—
an eye that never sleeps and as many tongues as eyes
and as many raucous mouths and ears pricked up for news.
By night she flies aloft, between the earth and sky,
whirring across the dark, never closing her lids
in soothing sleep. By day she keeps her watch,
crouched on a peaked roof or palace turret,
terrorizing the great cities, clinging as fast
to her twisted lies as she clings to words of truth.
Now Rumor is in her glory, filling Africa’s ears
with tale on tale of intrigue, bruiting her song
of facts and falsehoods mingled . . .
Here this Aeneas, born of Trojan blood,
has arrived in Carthage, and lovely Dido deigns
to join the man in wedlock. Even now they warm
the winter, long as it lasts, with obscene desire,
oblivious to their kingdoms, abject thralls of lust.”
Such talk the sordid goddess spreads on the lips of men,
then swerves in her course and heading straight for King Iarbas,
stokes his heart with hearsay, piling fuel on his fire.

Book 4 – The Aeneid
But the queen from her high tower, catching sight
of the morning’s white glare, the armada heading out
to sea with sails trimmed to the wind, and certain
the shore and port were empty, stripped of oarsmen—
three, four times over she beat her lovely breast,
she ripped at her golden hair and “Oh, by God,”
she cries, “will the stranger just sail off
and make a mockery of our realm? Will no one
rush to arms, come streaming out of the whole city,
hunt him down, race to the docks and launch the ships?
Go, quick—bring fire!
Hand out weapons!
Bend to the oars!
What am I saying? Where am I? What insanity’s this
that shifts my fixed resolve? Dido, oh poor fool,
is it only now your wicked work strikes home?
It should have then, when you offered him your scepter.
Look at his hand clasp, look at his good faith now—
that man who, they say, carries his fathers’ gods,
who stooped to shoulder his father bent with age!
Couldn’t I have seized him then, ripped him to pieces,
scattered them in the sea? Or slashed his men with steel,
butchered Ascanius, served him up as his father’s feast?
True, the luck of battle might have been at risk—
well, risk away! Whom did I have to fear?
I was about to die. I should have torched their camp
and flooded their decks with fire. The son, the father,
the whole Trojan line—I should have wiped them out,
then hurled myself on the pyre to crown it all!
You, Sun, whose fires scan all works of the earth,
and you, Juno, the witness, midwife to my agonies—
Hecate greeted by nightly shrieks at city crossroads—
and you, you avenging Furies and gods of dying Dido!
Hear me, turn your power my way, attend my sorrows—
I deserve your mercy—hear my prayers! If that curse
of the earth must reach his haven, labor on to landfall—
if Jove and the Fates command and the boundary stone is fixed,
still, let him be plagued in war by a nation proud in arms,
torn from his borders, wrenched from Iulus’ embrace,
let him grovel for help and watch his people die
a shameful death! And then, once he has bowed down
to an unjust peace, may he never enjoy his realm
and the light he yearns for, never, let him die
before his day, unburied on some desolate beach!
That is my prayer, my final cry—I pour it out
with my own lifeblood.

6. Saras
Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967).

1. The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

2. The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

3. Mother To Son
Well, son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time  

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark

Where there ain't been no light.

So, boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps.

'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.

Don't you fall now—

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin',

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

7. KumKum
Gabriela Mistral (1889 – 1957)

1. A Woman
Where her house stood, she goes on living
as if it had never burned.
The only words she speaks
are the words of her soul;
to those who pass by she speaks none.

When she says “pone of Aleppo”
she speaks of no tree, but a child;
and when she says “ little stream”
or “mirror of gold” she speaks of the same.

When night falls she counts
the charred beams of her house.
Lifting her forehead she sees
the pine of Aleppo stand tall.
(The day lives for its night,
the night for its miracle).

In every tree, she raises the one
they laid upon the earth,
She warms and wraps and holds him close
to the fire of her breast.

2. Those Who Do Not Dance
A crippled child
Said, “How shall I dance?”
Let your heart dance
We said.

Then the invalid said:
How shall I sing?”
Let your heart sing
We said

Then spoke the poor dead thistle,
But I, how shall I dance?”
Let your heart fly to the wind
We said.

Then God spoke from above
How shall I descend from the blue?”
Come dance for us here in the light
We said.

All the valley is dancing
Together under the sun,
And the heart of him who joins us not
Is turned to dust, to dust.

3. The Rose
The treasure at the heart of the rose
is your own heart's treasure.
Scatter it as the rose does:
your pain becomes hers to measure.

Scatter it in a song,
or in one great love's desire.
Do not resist the rose
lest you burn in its fire.

8. Kavita
Sarojini Naidu (1879 – 1949)

Autumn Song
Like a joy on the heart of a sorrow,
The sunset hangs on a cloud;

A golden storm of glittering sheaves,

Of fair and frail and fluttering leaves,
The wild wind blows in a cloud.

Hark to a voice that is calling
To my heart in the voice of the wind:

My heart is weary and sad and alone,

For its dreams like the fluttering leaves have gone,
And why should I stay behind?

Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833 – 1870)

A Song of Autumn By Adam Lindsay Gordon
WHERE shall we go for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year,
When the burnt-up banks are yellow and sad,
When the boughs are yellow and sere?
Where are the old ones that once we had,
And when are the new ones near?
What shall we do for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year?’
Child! can I tell where the garlands go?
Can I say where the lost leaves veer
On the brown-burnt banks, when the wild winds blow,
When they drift through the dead-wood drear?
Girl! when the garlands of next year glow,
You may gather again, my dear—
But I go where the last year’s lost leaves go
At the falling of the year.’ 


Shipra said...

Another enjoyable Session recorded beautifully by Joe. Two members sang their poems at this session, an unusual event.
What an inspiring group we have in Kochi Reading Group! We enjoy being together, once a month. And, of course, all of us love literature, love to read, enjoy sharing our thoughts with the group.
We will miss Gopa Joseph, who has moved to Bangalore recently. And, Talitha Matthew, another old and star member of our group. She moved to Trivandrum.

Shoba said...

Dear Joe,
Thanks for a wonderful blog! Didn't know we could sing so well.