Eight of us met for a session of poetry and we had a guest, Martin Enckell, a poet from Finland who was spending time in India. Priya met him for an interview and invited him to join.
The Dropbox is gaining ground as a way of sharing poems so everybody has an electronic copy before the session. In case anyone is having a problem, please send the links to the poems, if not, just the titles of the poems and the poet name to Joe and he will try to scare up the poems from somewhere and put them in the folders of the KRG Dropbox.
Martin Enckell, Pamela, KumKum, Priya
We had some all-time favourite poets like Vikram Seth, and some lesser known performance poets who are making the current scene in England and elsewhere. Amid them we had a novelist and a playwright trying their hand at poetry.
Poetry gives us a wide sampling of writers and enables us to enjoy at a single session the cultural contributions of a diverse group. Invariably, in coming to grips with new writers there is a difficulty but the readers advance ideas to clarify points, and others come up with alternate interpretations. Poetry with its characteristic requirement that the sound and the sense amplify each other, offers an open field for the human voice.
Martin Enckell, Pamela, KumKum
We heard from one of our old readers, Ankush Banerjee, that he is back in town and may put in an appearance soon. Old readers are welcome to drop in if they are in town. We miss them all.
KumKum, Pamela, Priya, Thommo, Preeti, Martin Enckell, Joe, Hemjit (seated)
Full Account and Record of the Poetry Session on Feb 10, 2017
The dates for the next readings are confirmed as follows:
Fri Mar 10, 2017, 5:30 pm – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Present: Zakia, Thommo, Hemjit, Pamela, KumKum, Priya, Joe, Preeti
Absent: Shoba, Saras, Sunil, Kavita
Guest: Martin Enckell
Jordan Zandi is the author of Solarium, named by both The New Yorker and The New York Times as one of the best poetry books of the year
According to a blurb from his publisher, Sarabande Books, Jordan Zandi grew up in the rural Midwest, and in 2011 graduated with an MFA in poetry from Boston University, where he was the recipient of a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship to Bolivia. His poetry has appeared in The New Republic and Little Star. Henri Cole, the critic said “Solarium is a completely original gem of a book ... there is a sweet spirit haunting his guileless poems.” The New Yorker commended the weirdness and clarity of Zandi’s mind as revealed in his debut collection, Solarium. The Publishers Weekly noted: “Like Wallace Stevens, Zandi delights in riddles, anecdotes, and mysterious landscapes; his colorful scenes suggest more than they explain.”
The title poem from his collection which Zakia read is a medley of recollections from his midwestern upbringing on the open prairie. There's a coyote sinking its teeth into a haunch of meat, the sun rising amid the roses, a train crawling over the lonely distance, a mouse as a pet, eating quinces, and wishing his heart was as big as the world. Is the poet trying to make sense of the past? The essential thing is whether in the process he carries along his reader. I agree with the NY Times that sometimes Zandi's lines are deliberately goofy, but in a funny way you like to continue reading them.
Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. Richard Bach wrote the book as the life of a seagull, who graduates from ordinary life to a higher plane. This seagull makes friends with another wise seagull who teaches him to move into new worlds. He returns to Earth to teach his discovery and spread the love of flight. The book became a best seller and Bach wrote many other books that had a wide circulation. Seagull was made into a movie.
Bach also wrote Messiah's Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul, which was mentioned by someone.
A poet by the name of Eberhart took up the story and cast it into sonnets, 15 altogether. Thommo chose Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 to recite. Joe asked if the philosophy behind the poem was a little vague, in the manner of Kahlil Gibran. Thommo pointed to Nos. 14 and 15 as providing the answer:
The flock had cast him out and set him free.
his freedom took him to a higher realm where nothing lay beyond reality,
Pamela thought the poet is child-like.
John Donne, portrait as a young man
John Donne was an English poet and priest in the Church of England. He is a metaphysical poet, but has a strong vein of sensual charge in his writing. Among his most famous lines are these taken from Divine Meditations 14:
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
In Holy Sonnets 17 he turns the death of his wife into a resolution for his life:
Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravished,
Wholly in heavenly things my mind is set.
Donne is famous for his incantation in the Divine Meditations 17:
No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were.
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
Donne did not want to take Holy Orders, but James I commanded him to and he became Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London in 1621 and held the position until his death. He had a reputation as an eloquent preacher and fully 160 of his sermons survive.
He married Anne More and got thrown in prison because her father didn't approve but he was released, and had 12 children by her. He was frequently hard up. He wrote plenty of erotic poetry, a fulsome example of which is To His Mistress Going to Bed.
Donne's suggestive poetry has sparked many limericks such as this one:
There once was a poet called Donne
Who said 'Piss off!' to the sunne:
The sunne said 'Jack
Get out of the sack,
The girl that your'e with is a nun.'
The ‘canonisation’ of the poem's title is canonisation for love:
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for Love.
Joe noted that 11 or 12 children meant there was no impediment to love in Donne's case. Hemjit added a correction that Donne wrote this poem before he was married.
4. Martin Enckell
Martin Enckell, our guest, invited by Priya to meet our group also decided to recite one of his poems which has been translated into numerous languages from the Swedish original. It is called Saint Petersburg, the capital of Russia (and of Finland) until 1917 and the Revolution. Peter the Great started building it in the 17th century. Helsinki is only a 3-hour train ride from Saint Petersburg, a beautiful city that during WWII (known as the Great Patriotic War in that part of the world) became the victim of a cruel siege by the Wehrmacht forces of Nazi Germany lasting 872 days with the loss of 1m civilian lives. Its architecture features many lovely buildings – cathedrals, museums, stadiums, stations, palaces, the Marinsky ballet theatre, the Hermitage - the largest museum in the world - and of course the Neva River. The city was a cradle of Russian culture.
The poem has powerful images of death facing death. It's a homage to Saint Petersburg and the women who kept life going.
Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet, wrote a series of poems called The Requiem; it is is introduced by a paragraph that briefly states how she was selected to describe the months of waiting outside Leningrad Prison, along with many other women, for just a glimpse of fathers, brothers or sons who had been taken away by the secret police in Russia. Her own son was among those arrested by the police in 1938. One of the remarkable facts about poetry (which flourished in Russia, in spite of the terror of the secret police) was that Akhmatova and others memorised everything and kept it in their heads and passed it on to others orally, and it was only in 1963, for example, that a copy of the Requiem was published in Munich; but in Russia only in 1987.
The poet Osip Mandelshtam once remarked prophetically: "Poetry is respected only in this country—people are killed for it." He himself met his death as punishment for his poem on the subject of Stalin, never written down but recited to a number of friends, one of whom betrayed him.
The darkness in the poem does not have to do with winter, but with the history. KumKum remarked that the poem is shot through with pain, the pain of the entire 20th century. Zakia felt the poem makes you feel that the pain is still ongoing.
Martin said he returned to Saint Petersburg often. Kolkata reminded him in some ways of SP because of the old palaces, now decaying. He mentioned that in the Russian Orthodox Church the Mother of God is always in the centre. Martin thought Kali (on which subject he has written another poem) represents that figure, but KumKum said, Kali is not the mother principle in the Hindu pantheon, perhaps Durga is.
Vikram Seth in Oxfordshire
Vikram Seth, a favourite poet of Pamela, was once again her choice with two poems, titled Mistaken, and A Style of Loving. The first poem shows how VS can make a poem from so slight an event as a passing glance in a library. One interpretation is that it was a gender preference confusion at work in this poem. This was in his California days which seem to have transpired in a state of bisexuality. The poet genuinely mistook the other person for someone he knew; she loved him thinking he was ready to return love.
The second poem is more eloquent and touching, the exchange of friendship for love, a bargain that is the subject of a recent film by Karan Johar called Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Is it to be dosti or aashiki?
Were we to become lovers
Where would our best friends be?
From there the discussion moved to the public stance VS has taken (he is a private person, otherwise) against the Supreme Court's decision when it refused to support the Delhi High Court's reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises gay sex, among other things. The famous India Today cover embodies his courageous stand, ‘Not A Criminal.’
Later an NGO field a petition seeking a review of the apex court's judgement in December 2013 that had struck down an earlier Delhi High Court decision de-criminalising gay sex. VS happened to be attending the Kolkata Literary Meet 2014 when the decision was announced that the review petition had been rejected by the justices and unnatural sex reaffirmed as abhorrent. The next morning he distributed hundreds of copies a poem he had written, and asked it to be distributed free of copyright:
Through love's great power
Through love's great power to be made whole
In mind and body, heart and soul –
Through freedom to find joy, or be
By dint of joy itself set free
In love and in companionhood:
This is the true and natural good.
To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak –
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.
Everybody stood and clapped when VS finished reading it!
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet who lived from 1883 to 1963. He was a successful medical doctor, practicing in New Jersey, USA. His father was an Englishman, and mother a Puerto Rican. Williams wrote his first poem when very young. He relished the excitement of writing poems, yet he remained a part-time poet all his life. It was his interest and devotion to medicine that took priority.
Williams' favourite poets were: Keats, for his mastery with words, elegance, rhymes and perfect metre. And, Walt Whitman, for his free verse, which offered Williams "an impulse toward freedom and release of the self."
Williams met Ezra Pound at the University of Pennsylvania, and after that he could not ever shrug off Pound's influence on his poetic journey.
KumKum chose several poems of Williams and recited four which she considered his best, Pastoral, The Farmer, The Right of Way, and The Horse. The last poem has the striking metaphor of a car for the horse on a cold day:
like fumes from
exhausts of a car
Poets write about little things of no ‘vast import to the nation.’ So Williams in Pastoral surveys the derelict houses of the poor on backstreets and makes a catalogue of the derelictions:
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
Priya liked his attention to the small things. KumKum said Williams was a very good doctor, a paediatrician making house calls.. He was also well-known as a poet.
Priya chose two poets to expose, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Bertolt Brecht. The first is better known as a novelist and the second as a playwright.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1994
There is nothing like prison to concentrate the mind and gain an appreciation of the essential things that make life worth living, in Solzhenitsyn's case, ‘the freedom to breathe freely.’ The man who spent eight years in a Gulag forced labour camp (for writing derogatory comments in a private letter about the conduct of the war in which he was a decorated soldier) concludes:
As long as there is fresh air to breathe
under an apple tree after a shower,
we may survive a little longer.
Priya was introduced to these writers by a Slovenian artist (?). Solzhenitsyn wrote famous works like The Gulag Archipelago, The Cancer Ward and The First Circle; Thommo said like most Russian authors he is a bit tedious (is that true of Nabokov and Pushkin?). Solzhenitsyn was a prickly temporary migrant to the West and when invited to deliver a convocation speech to Harvard in 1978 he said:
But the [West's] persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life.
Fortunately for the West he returned to Russia and has not been heard from since.
The second poem of Priya's by Brecht is also about exile, and asserts its transient nature. The migrant will soon go back, for
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.
We are in a period of anxiety about migrants and walls with happenings in USA and UK. But aren't we all migrants? Perhaps, this little cartoon by Peter Brookes of the London Times may help to ally fears:
Meena Kandasamay, dalit & feminist poet
Ms Kandasamy is a poet from Chennai, who identifies strongly as a dalit and a feminist. She has written a novel, Gypsy Goddess, and 3 books of poetry and has published her poems and performed at literary festivals worldwide. Her parents are teachers and she grew up going to a Kendriya Vidyalaya. She mentions the school taught only English and Hindi; her loss of native Tamil writing was a significant handicap, which she made up for by self-study and since then she has translated numerous Tamil poets. She is proud of her Tamil roots and the language, particularly its resistance to Sanskritisation. The only thing she regrets about Tamil is that it gave the word for outcasts to the English language: pariah. She was an academic herself in Chennai, and took a PhD, but decided to give up teaching and make writing her full-time occupation, precarious as it is for one who is primarily a poet.
For a while she was editor of a Dalit magazine. She has written at length on the subjugation of women by upper castes, and the terrorising of dalits that still goes on in rural areas and whenever there is a rumour or real event in which a Dalit tries to have a relation with an upper-caste person. She has written with deep insight and very analytically about the Hindutva movement and its casteist agenda, it patriarchy, its moral policing, and its role in keeping dalits in their place. However she says, “The struggle to annihilate caste will be victorious, and it will owe a great deal to the Dalit people and their relentless struggle.”
Ankush Bannerjee recited some poems by her in June 2014 at KRG. The first poem, Lines addressed to a warrior, begin with an ambiguous invitation:
There is an erotic undercurrent as she continues:
The territory she talks of teasingly is made clear in her last line. She dedicated Lines addressed to a warrior to the men of Durban who made passes at her wherever she went when she attended Poetry Meet Africa, 2010.
Mulligatawny Dreams, the second poem, speaks of her love of English but her longing is for another kind of english which has shed its colonial cast and assumed the simplicity of the East. Vain thought but it makes for a lively poem.
Preeti chose a spoken word poet (meaning she performs as well as writes poetry), Yrsa (pronounced yersah) Daley-Ward. She is a writer born in England to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father. Yrsa was raised by her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in the small town of Chorley in the North of England. Her first collection of stories On Snakes and Other Stories was published by 3:AM Press. Bone is the title of her new book.
You can hear her recite the first poem, True Story, by skipping to 6:52 min at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAZEWdb_vMg
She says she went to a poetry workshop when she was in South Africa to work as a model in Capetown, and they set a homework on writing about discord in the home. She thought to herself, “God, I can do that.” And True Story was the outcome.
Here’s an interview with her:
She is also an actress and her IMDB page is at
Preeti recited a second poem by Yrsa titled Scent. The poet is having trouble forgetting a lover even after three years, and says ‘I can't undo the problem of your scent.’ The refrain is repeated at the end:
and I can’t clean you off my skin.
Jordan Zandi (born ?, MFA in Poetry from Boston University in 2011)
And daybreak! The sun
I thought I saw God spread out
in the roses again—
I will be taken up
like flame in a cloud like a cinder in fire
to outflap the empyrean—
Dead things gumming the sidewalk.
Tell me: What good is a life that wears away?
I chew the red wire,
then the blue wire.
Then through the flowered wallpaper—
Oh! Look at this charming table:
already set; built for a mouse;
and silent as a banquet hall
after the guests have gone.
I was a dead thing once.
On the back porch once—
facing the square
of my mother’s rose-
garden, with the northfacing windows
full-opened in June, and other flowers,
the names I’ve forgotten, all gone
I’ve heard the train horn bawl out again
from across the river, first sound
I remember, tolled
thru the walls of an empty house,
have watched the coyotes come loping
over across these frost-flocked rows of the field—
‘Quick—to the window, Mother
come see—the coyote
he’s dragging a haunch by the bone.’
He’ll lay it down, lie down
beside it, then sink
his teeth in the flitch.
The dream is big, the dream is fancy:
The dream is big and fancy.
The rodent: cuddly; but a little dirty.
I’ll keep him as a pet, I’ll pet him like
Remember summer, Jordan?
Eating quinces, spitting the seeds?
And how you never ate quinces again
when they laughed when you called them quinces?
And now there are no more quinces?
I do remember quinces.
Beautiful ones—I see you everywhere.
Hiding inside yourselves
Sometimes time is iron. Swing it hard
hear it whoosh.
At the door, the red curtain is still flapping.
Who will go in?
The one who is going
No, I do not die here.
The year is wrong.
and today no cloud cover.
I wish my heart was as big as the world,
The sun sitting up
ever so slowly—
July 16, 2013
Lawrence Eberhart (born June 23, 1936)
Jonathon Livingston Seagull - A Poem (A Heroic Crown of Sonnets)
1. The Breakfast Flock To fly was so much more than flapping wings and while the Breakfast Flock besieged the fleet that chummed the water, Jonathon had things to do besides a squawking fight to eat. The thousand gulls began another day, their raucous screeching testimony to their group-think need to aggregate that way, for they could see no other thing to do. Yet Jonathon would so much rather fly. He lived to fly while others flew to eat. He flew a hundred feet into the sky and practiced learning a new turning feat. A disgrace others would not take so well, So tight a curve he tried, he stalled and fell.
2. Level Flight So tight a curve he tried, he stalled and fell. But unashamed, (though seagulls never stall), he stretched his wings and tried again- as well you note: he was not common after all. He found thaf when less than a half wingspan above the water he could float on air, effortlessly, a most efficient plan that let him glide most far without a care. But others cared! His dad and mother asked" "Why Jon, can't you just do like all the rest and leave low flying to the birds so tasked- the pelicans who surely do that best?" "Be like others, avoid the social stings "Conform", they said, try doing seagull things.
3. Being Obedient "Conform", they said, try doing seagull things. He really tried for several days that week. He tried to wear his mother's apron strings; he screeched and dove and fought with wing and beak. He flocked around the piers and fishing boats and dove for scraps of fish and tossed out bread. He chaffed against the boredom that promotes. At last he simply let go of his fish, an old and hungry chasing gull was pleased. To learn to fly was Jonathon's real wish and now the opportunity was seized. I'll not conform to nonsense they compel- I'll study flight and soon I will excel.
4. Fixed Wing Flight I'll study flight and soon I will excel Alone, way out to sea again, his need to learn was something not to quench or quell; this week his goal was working on his speed. He learned why gulls don't make such speedy dives; at seventy, the wings become unstable the upstroke fails regardless how one strives; that upstroke used by gulls was off the table So Jon decided trying something man had used, a fixed-wing for his fast descent. 'Til fifty MPH he flapped and then his wings he held quite rigid, but still bent. Two thousand feet he plunged in that great fall. He broke the gull speed record after all.
5. Speed Record He broke the gull speed record after all. exceeding ninety MPH- then crashed. He dreamed while knocked unconscious by his fall and sought to solve that problem, unabashed. He woke with wings like ragged bars of lead but weight of failure yet loomed even worse. He wished he'd simply sink and end up dead, for failures seemed his own repeated curse. But sinking low he heard a voice within "I'm limited by nature, am I not? If meant for speed I'd have wings short and thin- like falcons and would not have to be taught." He'd join the flock, and once again act right. By accident he flew toward home at night.
6. Epiphany By accident he flew toward home at night; "It's dark!", an inner voice intoned, get down!- for gulls you know will never find this right." "If you were meant to fly at night you clown, an owls night eyes and you'd have charts for brains and the short wings of falcons… short wings- wait." The answer pushed a rushing through his veins, short wings have been the missing needed trait. So, now he rose two thousand feet above- "I'll fold my wings and fly on tips alone." No thought of death- pursuing what he loved he "knew" that he'd just found his new speed zone. Re-born, rejoiced, he leaves behind banal, he left Flock-thought for inspiration's call.
7. 200 MPH he left Flock-thought for inspiration's call. He dove, his wings now clamped against his side it was as if some laws he would annul. At such amazing speed it was a ride. The faintest twitch of wingtips promptly eased him from his dive, and shot him over waves- a cannonball of grey- and he was pleased; His vows abandoned for the life he craves, now practice was required and sun-up found him some five thousand feet above the fleet about to dive again and to astound. He did just that in manner not so neat. He'd learned to speed but hadn't planned it right; he just missed hitting flock of gulls in flight.
8. Banished He just missed hitting flock of gulls in flight, but learned that day to turn at speed, the loop, the roll, the pinwheel, too to his delight! the Council came together as a group and shamed him for his acts! He was cast out. The days beyond, he found himself alone but that was not what sorrow was about, it was their missing what they might have known. The flock refused the glory learning brought. They would keep scrabbling after chopped fish heads while delicious fresh fish were easily caught by streamlined dives beneath the waves instead. Then Jon saw how good life could really be, The flock had cast him out and set him free.
9. Years later The flock had cast him out and set him free. Two gulls as pure as starlight flew beside him friendly, smiling; their wings couldn't be an inch from his wingtips on either side. He tested them. One knot above stall speed, then dives, slow rolls, and loops; they matched each move. They passed completely every test indeed "We're brothers came their words so strong and smooth. "We've come to take you home for you have learned. One school is finished- yet another waits." At last he said "Let's go, and up he turned with gulls he thought were heaven's delegates. He'd spend his time at mental freedom's helm; his freedom took him to a higher realm.
10. The Elder His freedom took him to a higher realm. The same old Jonathon looked through his eyes, but form had changed enough to overwhelm. Seagulls here all seemed satisfied and wise. "Chiang…",(said to one soon to leave this world), "this isn't heaven after all is it?" "Your wings are not the only part unfurled, my son, you're learning and will never quit." And heaven's not a time or place at all; it's being perfect- barriers all surpassed! You'll find perfection, if such speed's your call, when going any takes no time. That's fast." Keep learning son, and you'll begin to see where nothing lays beyond reality.
11. An Instructor Where nothing lays beyond reality, Jon let his love become his life's new goal. He found some others outcast such as he, assuming what was meant to be his role. When Fletcher Lynn Seagull became his charge, outcast because his dream was just to fly, Jon felt an obligation to discharge, Jon taught him how- and more, he taught him why. For now, 'twas not for him alone he strove, but for all blinded by their seagullhood. He sought to share life's very treasure trove, to teach the Flock their blindness was not good. The mission seemed to some to overwhelm, one needed only guidance at the helm.
12. Return to Flock One needed only guidance at the helm. and Jonathon was now the one to teach. "Your mind can go to any place or realm; there is no speed that lies beyond your reach." To seven students he announced, "It's now that to the Flock we turn." Some anguish rose among his group. "By law we're outcasts, how can we return?" Jon told them how it goes. "We're not now flock, and where we wish, we go." and thus they flew, a tight formation group, they were perhaps the very first airshow! The Flock's unblinking eyes all watched the troop. Within Flock's view their training did persist. When soul's not free one finds one's dreams dismissed.
13. Overcoming the Physical When soul's not free one finds one's dreams dismissed. One day with dangling wing a gull approached "It takes two wings to fly--but still, I've wished..." "You want to fly, and so you will", Jon coached." And when he did, he screamed, "Look at me fly!" A thousand gulls approached the training class now eager to be shown just how and why. Jon taught that ritual habits must not last. For laws restricting freedom are contrived; they served up order only at great cost, and while the Flock continued to survive the thrill of living freely had been lost. Enlightenment must several realms enlist, Far more than physical events exist.
14. Passing the Torch Far more than physical events exist. Your body's just a picture in your mind, and vagaries of time are part of this. You're anywhere you want to be, you'll find. When Jonathon left - thought himself away, a student stepped into the teacher role. And Fletcher knew that he too'd learn some day and teleport to Jon on beach or shoal. For while we're here and now it's also true that now is also everywhere right now and quantum physics makes up part of you through multi-universes any how. Enlightenment consists special things To fly was so much more than flapping wings
To fly was so much more than flapping wings So tight a curve he tried, he stalled and fell. "Conform", they said, try doing seagull things. I'll study flight and soon I will excel He broke the gull speed record after all. By accident he flew toward home at night; he left Flock-thought for inspiration's call. He just missed hitting flock of gulls in flight. The flock had cast him out and set him free. his freedom took him to a higher realm where nothing lay beyond reality, one needed only guidance at the helm. When soul's not free one finds one's dreams dismissed. Far more than physical events exist.
John Donne (1573-1631)
For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his honor, or his grace,
Or the king's real, or his stampèd face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.
Alas, alas, who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.
Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
Call her one, me another fly,
We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phœnix riddle hath more wit
By us; we two being one, are it.
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.
We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for Love.
And thus invoke us: "You, whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes
(So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize)
Countries, towns, courts: beg from above
A pattern of your love!"
4. Martin Enckell
Martin Enckell (born 1954)
in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers,
in the city where death’s sphinx
rests in double majesty, and where the mothers
bear the bread home, out to the infinities of kneeling concrete,
where the children, the children increasingly often refuse to find their way home,
in this city of the mothers, and the sphinxes,
life writes its shadow script, as in fever,
as if an enormous tubercular angel had lain down to die
over the Neva’s delta, over the mirage of stone and the marsh river’s dark reflections,
over golden pinnacles and cupolas, over feverish gold, over façades doomed to beauty,
over palaces and portals where raw cold mist drifted in, over the trampled jewel
and the suburbs that mock, over the weighed-down marshes, and over weighed-down fates,
dizzying fates, and harrowed, that were scattered,
and are still scattered, into nothingness – in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers.
she is old and bent, she begs, begs her way in
behind your eyes, by one of the passages down to the underworld,
and you implore her, implore her not to look like your mother,
night after night her youth rolls in over you,
night after night you approach requiems she will never write,
night after night she freezes into pictures you have no access to
in a white dress, by the window, in that light cool room,
she stands listening to the lingering echo
from a gate that has slammed shut, watching as through veils
the retinue of phantoms from the Marinsky, sylphides and future doomed
who silently stride across the Neva’s frail dark ice
dawn after dawn death stands
and polishes, caresses, caresses her doorknob,
dusk after dusk she locks you
in her gaze, a gaze that has swept over a whole century
and in a black decolleté dress, in the icy palace,
she dances then, all night long, her bridal waltz
with ghost after ghost, until she dances with the dawn
in whose eyes red spiders gleam, and she hears the iron gates
slam shut about the rooms, the rooms where the taiga and the tundra begin
night after night she freezes into the memories where death constantly divides,
night after night she approaches those she loved, over the Styx,
night after night she rolls a waxworks of torments over you,
she is one of the many, one of the dumb, she is all and each,
who stood and waited, for months and years, who stood and queued
and waited, outside Kresty, the martyrdom, the prison that sanctified the word.
life writes its corroding shadow script over the most beautiful of cities,
as though an angel, an enormous tubercular angel, were trying to bless all that is doomed,
by letting itself be blessed down in the slowly sinking foundations of beauty,
while death, indifferent, apparently indifferent, watches death, in double majesty,
out of frozen stone, above the river, above the Styx – in the city of the mothers, in Saint Petersburg.
Vikram Seth (born 1952)
I smiled at you because I thought that you
Were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew
Between two strangers in a library
Something that seems like love; but you loved me
(If that's the word) because you thought that I
Was other than I was. And by and by
We found we'd been mistaken all the while
From that first glance, that first mistaken smile.
A Style Of Loving
Light now restricts itself
To the top half of trees;
The angled sun
Slants honey-coloured rays
That lessen to the ground
As we bike through
The corridor of Palm Drive
Have reached a safety the years
Can claim to have created:
Picnic, movie, ice-cream;
Talk; to clear my head
Hot buttered rum — coffee for you;
And so not to bed
And so we have set the question
Were we to become lovers
Where would our best friends be?
You do not wish, nor I
To risk again
This savoured light for noon's
High joy or pain.
William Carlos Williams (1883 - 1963)
When I was younger
It was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best
of all colors.
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.
2. The Farmer
The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planned.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
darkened by the March clouds---
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
Down past the brushwood
the rain sluiced wagon road
looms the artist figure of
the farmer--- composing
3. The Right of Way
In passing with my mind
on nothing in the world
but the right of way
I enjoy on the road by
virtue of the law--
an elderly man who
smiled and looked away
to the north past a house---
a woman in blue
who was laughing and
leaning forward to look up
into the man’s half
of an old man
at the door--
4. The Poem
It’s all in
the sound. A song.
Seldom a song. It should
be a song—made of
scissors, a lady’s
5. The Horse
The horse moves
to his load
He has eyes
like a woman and
back his ears
and is generally
the world. Yet
he pulls when
he must and
pulls well, blowing
like fumes from
exhausts of a car.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (born 1918)
Freedom to Breathe
A shower fell in the night and now dark clouds drift across the sky,
occasionally sprinkling a fine film of rain.
I stand under an apple tree in blossom and I breathe.
Not only the apple tree but the grass round it glistens
with moisture; words cannot describe the sweet fragrance
that pervades the air. I inhale as deeply as I can, and the
aroma invades my whole being; I breathe with my eyes open,
I breathe with my eyes closed-I cannot say which gives me
the greater pleasure.
This, I believe, is the single most precious freedom that
prison takes away from us; the freedom to breathe freely
as I now can. No food on earth, no wine, not even a woman's kiss
is sweeter to me than this air steeped in the fragrance of flowers,
of moisture and freshness.
No matter that this is only a tiny garden, hemmed in by five-story
houses like cages in a zoo. I cease to hear the motorcycles backing
radios whining, the burble of loudspeakers. As long as there is fresh
air to breathe under an apple tree after a shower, we may survive a little
Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956)
On the Term of Exile
No need to drive a nail into the wall
To hang your hat on;
When you come in, just drop it on the chair
No guest has sat on.
Don’t worry about watering the flowers—
In fact, don’t plant them.
You will have gone back home before they bloom,
And who will want them?
If mastering the language is too hard,
Only be patient;
The telegram imploring your return
Won’t need translation.
Remember, when the ceiling sheds itself
In flakes of plaster,
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.
Translated from the German by Adam Kirsch
Meena Kandasamy (born 1984)
1. Lines addressed to a warrior
creep into the hollows
of my landscape—my eyes click lock:
no more the drawing of the gates.
set up your home your office
the writing desk and the trading post.
ignore the sand-brown
of my skin—a willing blind
i’ll never know black from white.
take me and talk of your finer finish
stunned i yield, so script your stories here.
adjust the pace and pulse
of marching armies—and house
your machine guns, its manuals.
populate me with anthems
the songs of wrath and those of war.
draft words that echo
of gunfire, to accompany
my lone dance of submission.
though prose mad and power crazy, you
conquer me, never with malice or manhood.
fill up all my blank skin
to resound with the strike of scimitars,
the sadness of success.
have all your battles lost, or won,
chronicled across my line of down.
2. Mulligatawny Dreams
anaconda. candy. cash. catamaran. cheroot. coolie. corundum. curry. ginger. mango. mulligatawny. patchouli. poppadom. rice. tatty. teak. vetiver. i dream of an english full of the words of my language. an english in small letters an english that shall tire a white man’s tongue an english where small children practice with smooth round pebbles in their mouth to the spell the right ra an english where a pregnant woman is simply stomach-child-lady an english where the magic of black eyes and brown bodies replaces the glamour of eyes in dishwater blue shades and the airbrush romance of pink white cherry blossom skins an english where love means only the strange frenzy between a man and his beloved, not between him and his car an english without the privacy of its many rooms an english with suffixes for respect an english with more than thirty six words to call the sea an english that doesn’t belittle brown or black men and women an english of tasting with five fingers an english of talking love with eyes alone and i dream of an english where men of that spiky, crunchy tongue buy flower-garlands of jasmine to take home to their coy wives for the silent demand of a night of wordless whispered love . . .
Yrsa Daley-Ward (born ? )
1. True Story
It isn’t that dad doesn’t love you or your brother
said Mum, greasing up our ashy legs with Vaseline
Or that your auntie Amy’s a man stealing back-stabbing, cheating bitch
who can’t keep a man so she has to steal somebody else’s.
We just don’t see eye to eye on much, that’s all
and he wouldn’t stop eating cashew nuts in bed
It’s not that you mother and I hate each other
said Dad, pushing a crumpled ten pound note into my chinos pocket
…or that I forgot about your birthday
but I need time to think now. I’m moving in with Amy
and anyway, your mum cooks with too much salt.
It wasn’t so much an affair, you understand
said Auntie Amy, lacing up my brothers small Nike trainers
and picking out my knots with the wooden comb shaped like a fist
but a meeting of minds outside of our respective vows
And bodies, muttered mum, when I told her later.
Two faced tramp. What a joke.
Don’t tell anyone I said that.
Don’t tell anyone I said that.
It’s not as though your mums exactly an angel, either
said dad with blood red eyes
and a pulsing vein in his forehead
finishing the last of his whisky
and auntie Amy hissed, Easy Winston, you’ve had enough
and dad said, Don’t tell me what to do
not even my wife yet, and you think you know it all.
It not that your family are going to hell, necessarily
said grandma, boiling up the green banana, yam and dumpling
and grating the coconut onto the rice and peas
They must just accept Jesus Christ into their lives
and put away the drink and sin and all the lies.
Now go and wash your hands and set the table.
Don’t worry, child.
We’ll pray for them tonight.
(You can hear her recite this by skipping to 6:52 – 8:31 min at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAZEWdb_vMg )
I have written you out of my memory.
Still, the middle of my face
refuses to be told.
I’m undone. Perhaps it is the air in my head.
Three years. And I did too much work on our love.
and I can't undo the problem of your scent.
It is a horrid and complicated fact.
My fifth sense an ambush. I walk by the bakery, chip shop,
flower stall, shopping centre,
leather goods store
all the Mornings in Lancashire still smell like you.
Last week I was caught in a storm overseas.
When the rain smell drove me silly
all I could see were your eyes.
Now home, I light the stove. I cook new food these days
from recipe books. Now that you’re gone I can fry meat.
I buy a perfume I know you hate
and spread it on your side of the bed.
you greet me in waves I can not decipher.
Last night I smelled you in a dream.
It is a thumbprint now
but I can't forget the loss.
I dreamed you beautiful.
nothing beautiful. But
and I can’t clean you off my skin.