Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Poetry Session on Aug 13, 2010

 The next session of the KRG will be on Oct 1, 2010 to read The World According to Garp.

Summer vacations halved the attendance for the Poetry Session in August. A new intending member was introduced Ms. Minu Ittyipe, a journalist. The absence of so many readers, you might think, would have reduced the intensity of the discussion, but take a read of the full account linked below to find out what happened.

Minu, Talitha, Amita, Thommo

 The poets were diverse in nationality: English - 4, American - 1 , Indian-American - 1 , and Australian.- 1

The poems recited ranged from sonnets (Elizabethan and Italian), to blank verse and tercets; and even prose-poems, a category that did not exist before post-modernism. Religion, language identity, and assertion of women's place in the world, were the powerful themes advanced by the poetry recited. These subjects enlivened the discussion that ensued.

Priya, Talitha, Amita, Thommo

Here is a link to the full account and record of the session on Aug 13, 2010


Kochi Reading Group Poetry session on August 13, 2010
Attending: Minu Ittyipe (new member), Talitha, Thommo, Priya, Amita
Bobby, Indira, Zakia, Joe, and Kumkum were out of town. Soma did not attend.

Minu Ittyipe, a new member was introduced by Talitha. Minu is a journalist.

The reading began with Talitha reading two sonnets by Shakespeare – Sonnets XVIII & CXVI, and a sonnet by Milton, Sonnet XIX. Shakespeare wrote 150 sonnets and addressed them to the mysterious Mr. W.H., and to The Dark Lady in the later sonnets. Brevity of time, love, and other obvious themes were discussed. Some themes recur. Talitha said that Shakespeare believed that men love more than women can. To this Thommo replied that because a greater number of published writers are men, they express their point of view and hence this general feeling. A small lively debate on love and gender ensued till the allotted 12 minutes for reading and discussion had passed.

In sonnet CXVI “ever fixed”refers to a sextant (love, says S, can't be measured with a sextant). This sonnet, like many others of S refers to the passage of time and its ultimate power to cause oblivion. S says there is something that outlasts time and death.
rosy lips and cheeks” – the passage of time;
edge of doom” – the day of judgment;
death bragging” is an example of personification. S picks up these ideas and develops them.

Sonnet XIX – Milton wrote it when he was going blind. He had to eventually get his daughter to transcribe for him. This sonnet has an Italian rhyme scheme abba, abba, cdc, cdc. Basically there are only two rhymes because in English there aren't too many rhyming words with the same ending, unlike Italian. “talent” refers to the parable in the New Testament, condemning those who do not use their talents, though 'talent' there actually means a Roman coin, 'talentum.' Milton refers to his sight as his talent.
fondly” means foolishly (archaic).
prevent that murmur” – stop  us from grumbling.
stand and wait” – since God does not need our works, even those who are incapable of work, serve Him.

One can clearly see the movement in his thought: sadness, despair becomes a resolution in the second half.

In Wordsworth's sonnet, The World is Too Much With Us, the structure is an octave and a sestet, which is quite common among sonneteers. The rhyme scheme he uses is abba, abba, cd, cd, cd. Here are some meanings:
Proteus” – sea god who can change in shape
Triton” – Poseidon
wreathed horn” – spiral horn like a ram's horn
The meaning is : if a pagan could see divinity in nature, how much more should I?

Priya read from Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustum. That being a poem of over 7,000 lines she chose a few passages of the epic. Talitha said that Arnold was more known for his literary criticism rather than as a poet. He is most famous for his poem Dover Beach. Talitha said Milton and Arnold have written a poem in epic style copying the structure of an extended simile (as Homer did). Since it is written as an epic the poem has these extended similes:
As some rich woman …. so Rustum eyed.”
Like some young cypress …. softly reared.”

the structure of the poem is unrhymed iambic pentameter, what is also called 'blank verse.'

Arnold has a sad and melancholy tone in all his poetry. He has exploited the sound of words such as Oxus, Chorassian waste, Persepolis, Orgunje.

Pamere” – refers to the plateau from which the Oxus flows; the Amu Darya or Oxus flows into what is today Kazakhstan.

Split current” – the power that the father and son could have had was split because they were separated.
Oxus curdled” – a beautiful image.

Why does the poem end like that? – A positive and upbeat ending with Sohrab reaching the river. The river is a metaphor for Life.

In the introduction Priya said that Arnold was a bridge between the Victorian poets and the Modernists. Priya wished that some one like Indira , Joe or Madhav Sharma (whom she missed because she could not attend the last poetry reading) was there to read this poem as it one that could be recited with passion, being full of drama, dialogues and emotional twists. The group discussed the role of the River Oxus in the poem and whether Arnold saw it as a sign of hope and used it thus, or was it just a poetical setting?

Amita chose to read two poems by Sujatha Bhatt, a Gujarati expat poet: Search For My Tongue and Nanabhai Bhatt in Prison. The first had some lines in Gujarati with translation. The poem puts across the sense of loss and alienation when one has to adopt a foreign tongue because of migration or displacement for some reason. The fear of losing the mother tongue is a common among expatriates. Expat writers seek to go back to discover their roots in the motherland, and hear the language and immerse themselves in the culture., e.g,, Taslima Nasreen wants to come back to Bengal and hear the Bengali voice. This is important for writers.

Amita said this poem has been prescribed for the GCSE syllabus in UK as part of the “poems from other cultures.” The idea is to make British kids  understand foreign cultures entering their country, and be more tolerant of them. The UK is now a multi-cultural society. Talitha regretted that in spite of all this outreach, there is not a great deal of tolerance among the British.

Structure – the poems are written in prose (is that an oxymoron?)

On the Internet there was a graphic explanation of the poem where a graphic new tongue grew wherein the old one shriveled, dried up and died. Talitha felt that it would make a yucky visual. Amita agreed. Priya said that the loss of a mother tongue was indeed a sad situation but so common that soon kids in Kerala would not be able to speak in Malayalam. Talitha mentioned that today in India kids learn Hindi and not Malayalam. This was so because English was required for jobs! Thommo echoed the view and said his nephew could not read road signs in Malayalam. He also noted that the French are nationalist about language, and refuse to speak in English as that’s not their mother tongue.

The next poem which Amita read was again a simple poem by Bhatt about her grandfather who spent time in jail during the Civil Disobedience movement and how he read Tennyson, his favourite poet, to pass the time in prison. Amita chose this because she liked the fact that the poet's grandfather was a follower of Gandhi, known for his Gandhian way of life.

Thommo paid the ladies a 'literal' tribute by reading Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. The poet's surname came from her first husband, a Greek gentleman. Thommo said he had chosen the poem because of the male- female debate between the members after Bobby expressed that men were outnumbered by women in the reading group. Talitha said that since Thommo was the only male present for the reading, he was the rose among the thorns! Thommo demurred: he was the thorn among the roses. One more woman member was attending today (Minu).

Phenomenal Woman proved to be a lovely poem and everyone enjoyed it. Talitha especially commended the anti-Barbie image and the statement it makes that you cannot explain why someone is attractive. Minu said having an attractive woman  in the workplace can lead to problems (bad vibes between men and women, and 'other' vibes too!). However, Thommo mentioned his daughter hated her time in an all-women office (why?). Talitha said you now have the G.I. Woman (female soldier?) who is determined to succeed in male preserves.

The poet’s life was discussed and Thommo said that Maya Angelou was only the second poet to be invited to read a poem at the formal investiture ceremony of the US President, in her case that of Bill Clinton. The group also discussed harassment of women in the workplace for minor reasons. Minu said that a woman was asked to quit her job for being dressed indecently and wondered if the same action would be taken in the case of a man. Talitha said that a woman was asked to quit her job because of her BO (body odour). The discussion went on till Amita pointed out that we were digressing from the main point.

Minu read a refreshingly different poem by a living Australian poet, Les Murray. She got meet him for 15 mins in Kochi when he came to read his poems in Jan 2006 under the auspices of the Australian Government. He was a huge man. Les Murray did not care for the old-established poets. He exclaimed: ”Balls to Keats!” 

The poet, Minu said, was a sort of a rebel and rebelled against the literary world for depending so much on the English poets and writers when Australia had so much to offer. He was pointing to poetry of the Aborigines who inhabited the country for 60,000 years. They wrote everything, including their laws, in the form of poetry. The white settlers came in 1788 and brought prose.

Les Murray said in his address in Kochi that before English became the language in Australia it was poetry that was the main medium of communication, whether in plain conversation or legal work or prayer too. It was just poetry. Poetry was like Truth, like Religion – this is an aboriginal idea and a huge concept.

Minu read the poem Religion and Poetry. It was complex. She found it similar to WB Yeat’s The Second Coming --
Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon   

Talitha interpreted it differently, saying Les Murray has used the image of a crested pigeon, and a parrot, not that of a falcon. Also Les said God is not in the centre. Instead human consciousness, body and dreaming are fused together. If we accept that humans are fundamentally poetic, rather than rational or irrational, it has some interesting consequences.

God is in poetry” – the power to change and inspire
mirror” – religion sees the mirror image; poetry sees the facets (?)

Darkness presupposes Light. Everything is 'given', in a religious sense.

Structure – Tercets. It begins with a short line. The lines become longer, perhaps one syllable at a time.

Murray’s apparent disregard for English poets caused Priya comment that it was rude and presumptuous; Thommo said that it was expected coming from an Australian. The reference to Huckleberry Finn remained unclear and the opening line of the poem is more of a didactic statement: that Religions are poems. This led to an extended debate. With that ended the poetry reading. Bobby, Indira, Zakia, Joe, Kumkum, Soma were all missed and we hope to have them all back with us on September 24 for The World According to Garp (well, it has been changed to Oct 1).

The Poems
Sonnet XVIII
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet CXVI
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet XIX.


WHEN I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
'Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?'
I fondly ask.  But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, 'God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.'

The World Is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Sohrab and Rustum
So on each side were squares of men, with spears
Bristling, and in the midst, the open sand.
And Rustum came upon the sand, and cast
His eyes toward the Tartar tents, and saw
Sohrab come forth, and eyed him as he came.
As some rich woman, on a winter's morn,
Eyes through her silken curtains the poor drudge
Who with numb blackened fingers makes her fire —
At cock-crow, on a starlit winter's morn,
When the frost flowers the whitened window-panes —
And wonders how she lives, and what the thoughts
Of that poor drudge may be; so Rustum eyed
The unknown adventurous Youth, who from afar
Came seeking Rustum, and defying forth
All the most valiant chiefs: long he perused
His spirited air, and wondered who he was.
or very young he seemed, tenderly reared;
Like some young cypress, tall, and dark, and straight,
Which in a queen's secluded garden throws
Its slight dark shadow on the moonlit turf,
By midnight, to a bubbling fountain's sound —
So slender Sohrab seemed, so softly reared.
And a deep pity entered Rustum's soul
As he beheld him coming; and he stood,
And beckoned to him with his hand, and said: —
"O thou young man, the air of Heaven is soft,
And warm, and pleasant; but the grave is cold.
Heaven's air is better than the cold dead grave.
Behold me: I am vast, and clad in iron,
And tried; and I have stood on many a field
Of blood, and I have fought with many a foe:
Never was that field lost, or that foe saved.
O Sohrab, wherefore wilt thou rush on death?
Be governed: quit the Tartar host, and come
To Iran, and be as my son to me,
And fight beneath my banner till I die.
There are no youths in Iran brave as thou."
So he spake, mildly: Sohrab heard his voice,
The mighty voice of Rustum; and he saw
His giant figure planted on the sand,
Sole, like some single tower, which a chief
Has builded on the waste in former years
Against the robbers; and he saw that head,
Streaked with its first grey hairs: hope filled his soul,
And he ran forward and embraced his knees,
And clasped his hand within his own, and said: —
"Oh, by thy father's head! by thine own soul!
Art thou not Rustum? speak! art thou not he?"
He spoke, and Sohrab kindled at his taunts,
And he too drew his sword; at once they rushed
Together, as two eagles on one prey
Come rushing down together from the clouds,
One from the east, one from the west; their shields
Dashed with a clang together, and a din
Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters
Make often in the forest's heart at morn,
Of hewing axes, crashing trees: such blows
Rustum and Sohrab on each other hailed.
And you would say that sun and stars took part
In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud
Grew suddenly in Heaven, and darked the sun
Over the fighters' heads; and a wind rose
Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain,
And in a sandy whirlwind wrapped the pair.
In gloom they twain were wrapped, and they alone;
For both the on-looking hosts on either hand
Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure,
And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream.
But in the gloom they fought, with bloodshot eyes
And labouring breath; first Rustum struck the shield
Which Sohrab held stiff out; the steel-spiked spear
Rent the tough plates, but failed to reach the skin,
And Rustum plucked it back with angry groan.
Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum's helm,
Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest
He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume,
Never till now defiled, sank to the dust;
And Rustum bowed his head; but then the gloom
Grew blacker, thunder rumbled in the air,
And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse,
Who stood at hand, uttered a dreadful cry:
No horse's cry was that, most like the roar
Of some pained desert-lion, who all day
Hath trailed the hunter's javelin in his side,
And comes at night to die upon the sand: —
The two hosts heard that cry, and quaked for fear,
And Oxus curdled as it crossed his stream.
But Sohrab heard, and quailed not, but rushed on,
And struck again; and again Rustum bowed
His head; but this time all the blade, like glass,
Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm,
And in the hand the hilt remained alone.
Then Rustum raised his head; his dreadful eyes
Glared, and he shook on high his menacing spear,
And shouted, Rustum! Sohrab heard that shout,
And shrank amazed: back he recoiled one step,
And scanned with blinking eyes the advancing form:
And then he stood bewildered; and he dropped
His covering shield, and the spear pierced his side.
He reeled, and staggering back, sank to the ground.
And then the gloom dispersed, and the wind fell,
And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all
The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair;
Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet,
And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand.
And, with a fearless mien, Sohrab replied: —
"Unknown thou art; yet thy fierce vaunt is vain.
Thou dost not slay me, proud and boastful man!
No! Rustum slays me, and this filial heart.
For were I matched with ten such men as thee,
And I were that which till to-day I was,
They should be lying here, I standing there.
But that belovèd name unnerved my arm —
That name, and something, I confess, in thee,
Which troubles all my heart, and made my shield
Fall; and thy spear transfixed an unarmed foe.
And now thou boastest, and insultest my fate.
But hear thou this, fierce Man, tremble to hear!
The mighty Rustum shall avenge my death!
My father, whom I seek through all the world,
He shall avenge my death, and punish thee!"
As when some hunter in the spring hath found
A breeding eagle sitting on her nest,
Upon the craggy isle of a hill-lake,
And pierced her with an arrow as she rose,
And followed her to find her where she fell
Far off; — anon her mate comes winging back
From hunting, and a great way off descries
His huddling young left sole; at that, he checks
His pinion, and with short uneasy sweeps
Circles above his eyry, with loud screams
Chiding his mate back to her nest; but she
Lies dying, with the arrow in her side,
In some far stony gorge out of his ken,
A heap of fluttering feathers: never more
Shall the lake glass her, flying over it;
Never the black and dripping precipices
Echo her stormy scream as she sails by: —
As that poor bird flies home, nor knows his loss —
So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood
Over his dying son, and knew him not.
So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead;
And the great Rustum drew his horseman's cloak
Down o'er his face, and sate by his dead son.
As those black granite pillars, once high-reared
By Jemshid in Persepolis,to bear
His house, now 'mid their broken flights of steps
Lie prone, enormous, down the mountain side —
So in the sand lay Rustum by his son.
And night came down over the solemn waste,
And the two gazing hosts, and that sole pair,
And darkened all; and a cold fog, with night,
Crept from the Oxus. Soon a hum arose,
As of a great assembly loosed, and fires
Began to twinkle through the fog; for now
Both armies moved to camp, and took their meal:
The Persians took it on the open sands
Southward; the Tartars by the river marge:
And Rustum and his son were left alone.
But the majestic River floated on,
Out of the mist and hum of that low land,
Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,
Rejoicing, through the hushed Chorasmian waste,
Under the solitary moon: — he flowed
Right for the polar star, past Orgunjè,
Brimming, and bright, and large: then sands begin
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league
The shorn and parcelled Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles —
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
A foiled circuitous wanderer: — till at last
The longed-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters opens, bright
And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.

                            Matthew Arnold
Search For My Tongue
You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,

(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)

(may thoonky nakhi chay)

(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)

(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)

(modhama kheelay chay)

(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)

(modhama pakay chay)
it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I've forgotten,
I think I've lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.
                            Sujatha Bhatt

Phenomenal Woman
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

                            Maya Angelou

Poetry and Religion
Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

                            Les Murray


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