Thursday, 19 July 2012

Poetry Session on July 13, 2012

This was the first time KRG attempted to harness the Internet to see if a semblance of physical presence could be afforded by the Skype application to allow traveling members to attend. Although it is commonly used to connect people in a video session remotely, Skype did not work on the day because a reliable broadband connection could not be established. Joe and KumKum in Boston were keen to attend; the Internet failure was a disappointment for all.

 Talitha and Gopa

Kamala Das (Kamala Surayya, when she died) must now rank as number one in the frequency of choice by KRG members. 


A most unlikely poet to read was Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games. His verse which would have been rejected at a club poetry contest, nevertheless won an Olympic gold medal; talk of match fixing!

 Gopa and Bobby

As ever the discussions in the group were lively and led in many directions. Here are the readers pictured at the end of the session:

 Anna, Talitha, Priya, Bobby, Gopa, Sunil, Mathew

For a full account, click below.
Poetry session on July 13, 2012

Present: Bobby, Gopa, Priya, Talitha, Sunil and Mathew; Joe and Kumkum
via Skype briefly.
Absent: Zakia (guests), Kavita (unexpected guests), Sivaram (travel), Thommo (on a record making jaunt in a Tata Nano)
Guest: Anna Philipose, Talitha’s cousin

The poetry session of July 13 held keen interest. If it went as planned it would have pioneered remote reading at KRG. Joe and Kumkum who were away in Boston on travel were to join in via Skype.

Bobby mailed the group a day prior about the proposed remote participation by KumKum and Joe:  
A small step for Skype but a giant step for KRG...

Mathew had successfully tried out the connection but on the evening it was not stable, sad to say. The sound and picture were too poor to enable reading of any quality. A sample of what happened.
8 a.m in Boston and 5.30 p.m at Yacht Club India
A garbled unclear audio: Good morning… Hello, hello…can you hear us??

Bobby remarked, “Neil Armstrong must have sounded like this.”
Go ahead…hear…yes…
Gone, it’s gone…

Sunil : It reminds one of the bad old days of trunk calls…. Number please….
Hello Joe, can you hear us, can you see us…
Okay we will carry on…
Ok bye

A few phone calls and quick mails were exchanged between the distant KRG duo and the larger group at the CYC, to convey their poetic disappointment. The session began on this note. Too bad – Joe and Kumkum were sorely missed.


Talitha read a poem by Emily Brontë, known more for her classic novel, Wuthering Heights, than her poetry. The poem, The Night Is Darkening Round Me, also called Spellbound, was written in November 1837. It was one of the 45 poems that were part of the Gondal saga. Gondal was a mythical island in the North Pacific about which Emily and her younger sister, Anne, had written poems and stories since childhood. The speaker in the poem is Augusta Geraldina Almeda, the fatal heroine of Gondal. It is a dramatic lyric.

Talitha said she was reading How To Fall In Love With a Poem, a book by the American poet Edward Hirsch; she found this short, seemingly simple but intense poem there. Priya said it had the same mood as Wuthering Heights.

Talitha pointed out the feminine rhyme scheme and the use of a large number of figures of speech in the poem. She said it was a well-crafted poem. It captured the mysterious immobility that had come upon the protagonist.

Bobby chose to read a poem that went with the contemporary mood of the world's biggest sporting event, the Olympics, that are scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks in London.

He came upon an essay, Champions of Verse, Poetry’s Relationship With the Olympics, in The New York Times:

A poetry Olympiad was held alongside the Olympics in ancient times. Bobby said he had no idea that that the Olympics once included the arts, especially poetry, until he read this article.

The relationship between poetry and the Olympics goes back to the very origins of the Games. In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming bodies covered with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. 
Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes. The refined cultural ambience of the ancient Olympics would put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.

Criticism could be meted out brutally: when the Sicilian dictator Dionysius presented sub-par poems in 384 B.C., disgusted sports fans beat him up and trashed his tent. At other Greek athletic festivals, like those at Delphi, dedicated to Apollo, the god of poetry and music, verse recitation was featured as a competitive event, along with contests for the lyre and choral dancing.

For much of the 20th century, poetry was an official, medal-winning competition in the Games. The French visionary who revived the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, always insisted Greek-style arts contests should be allowed alongside athletics. His dream was realized in 1912 at Stockholm, where literature, together with music, painting, sculpture and even architecture, became Olympic events in the so-called Pentathlon of the Muses, in which all submissions had to be “directly inspired by the idea of sport.” In seven Olympiads, writers — almost always poets — were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals alongside sprinters, weight lifters and wrestlers. The general literature category was then expanded in 1928, 1936 and 1948 to include specific contests for epic and lyric poetry.

De Coubertin himself was no slouch: he took the very first gold medal
in 1912 for his Ode to Sport, which he entered under twin
pseudonyms, one French, one German. It reads, unsurprisingly, like a
florid evocation of the classical ideal (though somewhat lacking in poetic inspiration):
O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life,
O Sport, you are Beauty! You are the
architect of that edifice which is the
human body
O Sport, you are Justice! The perfect
equity for which men strive in vain in
O Sport, you are Audacity! The
meaning of all muscular effort can be
summed up in the word ‘dare’. …

Bobby read a stanza from Pindar’s (5th century BC) Isthmian Odes, translated by Geoffrey S. Conway.

For this year’s games the panel of literary experts has decided to adorn London Olympic village with a line from Tennyson’s Ulysses to sum up the gritty determination of that ancient wanderer:
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Bobby quoted Emily Dickinson’s cheery line, which he truly enjoys:
Fame is a bee.
It has a song —
It has a sting —
Ah, too, it has a wing.

Priya noted that a Cultural Olympiad had been held last week, from June 26 to July 1, in London, as a prelude to the Olympics. Called Poetry Parnassus, it was an international poetry event in the spirit of the Olympic Games, a gathering of poets across the world nominated to represent each of the 204 countries participating in the summer Olympics. The six-day gathering, possibly the largest poetry event in the world (definitely in Britain) included workshops and discussions with representative poets.

Priya read The Adulterous Citizen by Tishani Doshi, who represented India. It will appeal to folk who who straddle the world and make several places their home. Here is the ending line:
to lie in the folds on one city while listening to the jagged, carnal breaths of another

You can read an interview with her at the event, and a video of her reciting the poem, here

Priya also read Phrase Book by Jo Shapcott, the poet who represented the host country, Britain. Ms Shapcott is a poet, editor and lecturer who has won the UK’s National Poetry Competition twice, as well as several major literary awards, such as the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Collection, the Costa Book Award, the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection, etc. The raging sentiments in Britain against Iraq War and Tony Blair’s government were discussed since Shapcott’s poem dealt with it at one level. Blair continues to maintain he was right in his decision, although the justifications presented by him in Parliament are now seen to be based on known falsehoods. The group were debated the matter.

What is the voting system used to select the poet who will represent a country at such international events? Many felt that a different poet's work would have done better justice to the great poetic tradition of India.


Gerard Manley Hopkins was the poet read by Gopa. She chose to read Spring and Fall. As a student Gopa was inspired by this poem and she continues to be stirred by it. His second poem Brothers brought about a lively discussion whether the ‘brother’ in the poem was Hopkin’s lover. But though he had attractions toward men, there is no evidence of any physical involvement. Hopkins’ sprung rhythm, his conversion to Catholicism, his strong religious views, and his homoerotic impulses were discussed. It may be noted that out of self-abnegation his poems remained unpublished during his lifetime.


Mathew read poems by the black American poet, Claude McKay (1889-1948). Claude McKay, a Jamaican American writer and poet, was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance and wrote three novels: Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933). McKay also authored a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932), and two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940). His book of poetry, Harlem Shadows (1922) was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance. His collection, Selected Poems (1953), was published posthumously.

McKay was attracted to Communism in his early life, though he was never a card-carrying member. He was a highly political novelist, said Mathew. His early poems are apolitical. The group felt that his verse was steeped in romantic language and old world imagery. Talitha found it to be sickly sweet, and possessed of a self-conscious lyrical quality. The short poems Mathew read were: A Memory of June, Flower of Love and The Tired Worker.

Talitha, overcome by the saccharine sweetness of the language, called him the 'Sarojini Naidu of Harlem.' She quoted the frequent use of exclamatory phrases like: O whisper, O my soul, O dawn, O my rebel heart, etc. as being of Wordsworthian vintage.


Sunil brought the whole session to a state of excitement by reading Kamala Das. No other poet seems to stir the group as much as she has done in the past. Kamala Das has been read before but she is always a treat to read. Talitha said she had read her before at a session. Priya said she had interviewed the poet, who defined her present state, as a 60- year-old, to be a “river in spate” She was a jilted lover at the time when Priya met her and yet she was spirited and full of verve. See

Sunil read My Grandmother’s House and said it reminded him of his ammuma’s house. The next poem he read was In Love, from Summer In Calcutta, where the poet talks of her “unending lust.” The group felt that she lived in far more liberal times and that she would be attacked now, as the artist M.F. Husain was, for free expression of art, unconcerned with the sensibilities of the larger society. Talitha’s cousin Anna Philpose joined in by telling the group her (generally favourable?) views on Kamala Das' poetry. The poet’s views on feminism, eroticism, death, and conversion to Islam were briefly discussed.

The session ended with Mathew taking a photograph of the group.

The next reading of the novel, Three Men In a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome is scheduled for August 10.

The Poems 

The night is darkening round me
The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go. 
Emily Jane Brontë


If ever a man strives
With all his soul's endeavour, sparing himself
Neither expense nor labour to attain
True excellence, then must we give to those
Who have achieved the goal, a proud tribute
Of lordly praise, and shun
All thoughts of envious jealousy.

To a poet's mind the gift is slight, to speak
A kind word for unnumbered toils, and build
For all to share a monument of beauty.

Pindar, stanza from one of his Isthmian Odes, translated byGeoffrey S. Conway

The Adulterous Citizen
I am an adulterous resident; when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile; citizen of the country of longing.   
SUKETU MEHTA, Maximum City

When it comes to it,
there’s only the long, paved road
that leads to a house
with a burning light.
A house you can never own,
but allows you
to sleep in its bed
without demanding sex,
eat from its cupboards
without paying,
lie in the granite cool of its tub
without drowning.
And only when the first shards
of day slice through
the blinds
of the basement windows
nudging you
with something of a whisper,
something like, Maybe it’s time to go –
do you finally drag
your suitcases
up the carpeted stairs,
out the front door,
on to the summer pavements.

It is nothing
like losing a lover,
or leaving behind
the lanes of childhood.
Nothing like scaling
the winged walls of memory
to discover your friends
have packed up their boxes
and vanished.
More like stumbling
into a scene from the future,
where the ghost
of a husband
beckons with pictures
of a family
you no longer recognize,

and other peoples’ children
race across the grass,
lulling you into belief
that you can always return like this –
without key in hand,
to lie in the folds of one city,
while listening to the jagged,
carnal breaths of another.
Tishani Doshi
from Everything Begins Elsewhere
(Bloodaxe Books, 2012)

Phrase Book
I’m standing here inside my skin,
which will do for a Human Remains Pouch
for the moment. Look down there (up here).
Quickly. Slowly. This is my own front room

where I’m lost in the action, live from a war,
on screen. I am an Englishwoman, I don’t understand you.
What’s the matter? You are right. You are wrong.
Things are going well (badly). Am I disturbing you?

TV is showing bliss as taught to pilots:
Blend, Low silhouette, Irregular shape, Small,
Secluded. (Please write it down. Please speak slowly.)
Bliss is how I was in this very room

when I raised my body to his mouth,
when he even balanced me in the air,
or at least I thought so and yes the pilots say
yes they have caught it through the Side-Looking

Airborne Radar, and through the J-Stars.
I am expecting a gentleman (a young gentleman,
two gentlemen, some gentlemen). Please send him
(them) up at once. This is really beautiful.

Yes they have seen us, the pilots, in the Kill Box
on their screens, and played the routine for
getting us Stealthed, that is, Cleansed, to you and me,
Taken Out. They know how to move into a single room

like that, to send in with Pinpoint Accuracy, a hundred Harms.
I have two cases and a cardboard box. There is another
bag there. I cannot open my case – look out,
the lock is broken. Have I done enough?

Bliss, the pilots say, is for evasion
and escape. What’s love in all this debris?
Just one person pounding another into dust,
into dust. I do not know the word for it yet.

Where is the British Consulate? Please explain.
What does it mean? What must I do? Where
can I find? What have I done? I have done

nothing. Let me pass please. I am an Englishwoman.
Jo Shapcott

How lovely the elder brother’s
Life all laced in the other’s,
Lóve-laced!—what once I well
Witnessed; so fortune fell.
When Shrovetide, two years gone,
Our boys’ plays brought on
Part was picked for John,
Young Jóhn: then fear, then joy
Ran revel in the elder boy.
Their night was come now; all
Our company thronged the hall;
Henry, by the wall,
Beckoned me beside him:
I came where called, and eyed him
By meanwhiles; making my play
Turn most on tender byplay.
For, wrung all on love’s rack,
My lad, and lost in Jack,
Smiled, blushed, and bit his lip;
Or drove, with a diver’s dip,
Clutched hands down through clasped knees—
Truth’s tokens tricks like these,
Old telltales, with what stress
He hung on the imp’s success.
Now the other was bráss-bóld:
Hé had no work to hold
His heart up at the strain;
Nay, roguish ran the vein.
Two tedious acts were past;

Jack’s call and cue at last;
When Henry, heart-forsook,
Dropped eyes and dared not look.
Eh, how áll rúng!
Young dog, he did give tongue!
But Harry—in his hands he has flung
His tear-tricked cheeks of flame
For fond love and for shame.
Ah Nature, framed in fault,
There ’s comfort then, there ’s salt;
Nature, bad, base, and blind,
Dearly thou canst be kind;
There dearly thén, deárly,
I’ll cry thou canst be kind.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

(poems of Claude McKay)
A Memory of June
When June comes dancing o'er the death of May,
With scarlet roses tinting her green breast,
And mating thrushes ushering in her day,
And Earth on tiptoe for her golden guest,

I always see the evening when we met--
The first of June baptized in tender rain--
And walked home through the wide streets, gleaming wet,
Arms locked, our warm flesh pulsing with love's pain.

I always see the cheerful little room,
And in the corner, fresh and white, the bed,
Sweet scented with a delicate perfume,
Wherein for one night only we were wed;

Where in the starlit stillness we lay mute,
And heard the whispering showers all night long,
And your brown burning body was a lute
Whereon my passion played his fevered song.

When June comes dancing o'er the death of May,
With scarlet roses staining her fair feet,
My soul takes leave of me to sing all day
A love so fugitive and so complete.

When first your glory shone upon my face
My body kindled to a mighty flame,
And burnt you yielding in my hot embrace
Until you swooned to love, breathing my name.

And wonder came and filled our night of sleep,
Like a new comet crimsoning the sky;
And stillness like the stillness of the deep
Suspended lay as an unuttered sigh.

I never again shall feel your warm heart flushed,
Panting with passion, naked unto mine,
Until the throbbing world around is hushed
To quiet worship at our scented shrine.

Nor will your glory seek my swarthy face,
To kindle and to change my jaded frame

Into a miracle of godlike grace,
Transfigured, bathed in your immortal flame.

Flower of Love
The perfume of your body dulls my sense.
I want nor wine nor weed; your breath alone
Suffices. In this moment rare and tense
I worship at your breast. The flower is blown,
The saffron petals tempt my amorous mouth,
The yellow heart is radiant now with dew
Soft-scented, redolent of my loved South;
O flower of love! I give myself to you.
Uncovered on your couch of figured green,
Here let us linger indivisible.
The portals of your sanctuary unseen
Receive my offering, yielding unto me.
Oh, with our love the night is warm and deep!
The air is sweet, my flower, and sweet the flute
Whose music lulls our burning brain to sleep,
While we lie loving, passionate and mute.

French Leave
No servile little fear shall daunt my will
This morning. I have courage steeled to say
I will be lazy, conqueringly still,
I will not lose the hours in toil this day.

The roaring world without, careless of souls,
Shall leave me to my placid dream of rest,
My four walls shield me from its shouting ghouls,
And all its hates have fled my quiet breast.

And I will loll here resting, wide awake,
Dead to the world of work, the world of love,
I laze contented just for dreaming's sake
With not the slightest urge to think or move.

How tired unto death, how tired I was!
Now for a day I put my burdens by,
And like a child amidst the meadow grass
Under the southern sun, I languid lie

And feel the bed about me kindly deep,
My strength ooze gently from my hollow bones,
My worried brain drift aimlessly to sleep,

Like softening to a song of tuneful tones.

The Tired Worker
O whisper, O my soul! The afternoon
Is waning into evening, whisper soft!
Peace, O my rebel heart! for soon the moon
From out its misty veil will swing aloft!
Be patient, weary body, soon the night
Will wrap thee gently in her sable sheet,
And with a leaden sigh thou wilt invite
To rest thy tired hands and aching feet.
The wretched day was theirs, the night is mine;
Come tender sleep, and fold me to thy breast.
But what steals out the gray clouds like red wine?
O dawn! O dreaded dawn! O let me rest
Weary my veins, my brain, my life! Have pity!
No! Once again the harsh, the ugly city.

(Poems by Kamala Das)
My Grandmother's House
There is a house now far away where once
I received love ....... That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved
Among books, I was then too young
To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon
How often I think of going
There, to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie
Behind my bedroom door like a brooding
Dog ... you cannot believe, darling,
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved ..... I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers' doors to
Receive love, at least in small change? 

In Love
O what does the burning mouth
Of sun, burning in today's,
Sky, remind me….oh, yes, his
Mouth, and….his limbs like pale and
Carnivorous plants reaching
out for me, and the sad lie
of my unending lust.
Where is room, excuse or even
Need for love, for, isn't each
Embrace a complete thing a finished
Jigsaw, when mouth on mouth, i lie,
Ignoring my poor moody mind
While pleasure, with deliberate gaiety
Trumpets harshly into the silence of
the room… At noon
I watch the sleek crows flying
Like poison on wings-and at
Night, from behind the Burdwan
Road, the corpse-bearers cry ‘Bol,
Hari Bol' , a strange lacing
For moonless nights, while I walk
The verandah sleepless, a
Million questions awake in
Me, and all about him, and
This skin-communicated
Thing that I dare not yet in
His presence call our love.

All round me are words, and words and words,
They grow on me like leaves, they never
Seem to stop their slow growing
From within... But I tell my self, words
Are a nuisance, beware of them, they
Can be so many things, a
Chasm where running feet must pause, to
Look, a sea with paralyzing waves,
A blast of burning air or,
A knife most willing to cut your best
Friend's throat... Words are a nuisance, but.
They grow on me like leaves on a tree,
They never seem to stop their coming,
From a silence, somewhere deep within...

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