Friday, February 14, 2020

Two by Edwin Morgan & The Edwin Morgan Poetry Award

I remember some Scottish Valentine's Day short film from some years ago, where they went around asking people on the streets to recite their favourite love poem from memory, and the one a lot of people knew well was Edwin Morgan's 'Strawberries'.

It's a lovely poem, and in general I'm an Edwin Morgan stan, as readers of this blog know. 

So here are a couple of other love poems from him.





Oh, and the biennial Edwin Morgan Poetry Award is accepting entries, if you're a poet under 30 living in Scotland [and reading this blog, which, taken together, seems a trifecta of unlikeliness; but still]. I'm blogging about it because I've discovered some great poetry via the Award.

Details here. Deadline 2nd March.


Sunday, February 02, 2020

John le Carré's Olof Palme Prize speech

John le Carré doesn't do awards. Some years ago, he asked to be removed from the shortlist of the Man Booker International Prize saying he 'doesn't compete for literary awards. 

That may have something to do with the literary establishment not commonly considering spy thrillers as having "literary" merit, with le Carré being allowed to be the exception. Not unnaturally, le Carré took, ahem, exception to that unspoken judgement, and it took - it takes - courage to refuse any kind of prize, no matter how much confidence you have in your own writing, and how many books you've written.

Late last year, though, it was announced that John le Carré had been awarded the Olof Palme Prize, which is not a literary prize. It's sometimes awarded to writers, sure - Vaclav Havel won it soon after it was instituted; it's often won by UN folks, a lot by people working in the field of human rights; once, it has made an error of judgement by giving the award to Aung San Suu Kyi, but then lots of people made that same mistake. 

Olof Palme, whom I knew had been assassinated, but in that vague way that one knew of contemporary events while at school, was a name I mostly knew as a road in Delhi and what's more, not one that I ever had reason to be on often. I have visited his grave at Highgate, but the details of his life as social democrat and all-round leftie continue to elude me.

Prizes require the awardee to give speeches. It was a long moment of suspense in the year Dylan won his unlikely Nobel, whether he would actually deliver an address and collect his award, which is contingent upon the winner actually making a speech. No quick "When I was young, my father said, [silence] Actually, he said a lot of things. Thanks for this!" and a wave of a statuette is acceptable. Some measure of gravitas is expected and I don't know if any awardee has ever failed to live up to those expectations, though Dylan came close.

So le Carré had to give a speech at the end of January. I don't think I've ever heard his speak, much less deliver a speech. I don't know if the Olof Palme Prize speech is recorded; I must look for it.

But here's a transcript of John le Carré's speech. It's a moving one, thinking about Palme's life in parallel with his life as a minor spy and a major writer of spy stories.

Reading and thinking about Palme makes you wonder who you are. And who you might have been, but weren’t. And where your moral courage went when it was needed. You ask yourself what power drove him – golden boy, aristocratic family, brilliant scion of the best schools and the best cavalry regiment – to embrace from the outset of his career the cause of the exploited, the deprived, the undervalued and the unheard?
Was there, somewhere in his early life, as there is in the lives of other men and women of his calibre, some defining moment of inner anger and silent purpose? As a child he was sickly, and partly educated at home. He has the feel of a loner. Did his school peers get under his skin: their sense of entitlement, their contempt for the lower orders, their noise, their vulgarity and artlessness? Mine did. And no one is easier to hate than a contemptible version of oneself.
Graham Greene remarked that a novelist needed a chip of ice in his heart. Was there a chip of ice in Palme’s heart? He may not have been a novelist, but there was art in him, and a bit of the actor. He knew that you can’t make great causes stick without political power. And for political power, you definitely need a chip or two of ice.
The United States did not take lightly in those days, any more than it does now, being held to account by a nation it dismisses as tin-pot. And Sweden was a particularly irritating tin-pot nation, because it was European, articulate, cultured, rich, and white. But Palme loved being the irritant. Relished it. Relished being the outsider voice, the one that refuses to be categorised, the one that shouldn’t be in the room at all. It brought out the best in him.
And now and then, I have to say, it does the same for me.
There's a lot of good stuff in the speech, but as with everything else I read these days, I wonder how it speaks to the world we live in right now. 
This lit season in India, the Jaipu Literature Festival, as usual, draws the crowds and the talk. For several years, it's title sponsor has been Zee, which has always been dodgy, but since Modi came to power, has been complicit in spreading hatred and false news. Until nearly the start of the festival, the organisers failed to divulge that Zee was indeed their title sponsor. I wonder if the writers they'd invited knew. 
As far as I can tell, nobody who was invited and accepted, withdrew once they knew Zee was still the title sponsor. If they did, they haven't made their withdrawal public and said why. 
Who, in this country, at this time, is willing to be the irritant in the room? I'm not sure there is one (though Parvati Sharma wrote an honest piece about it recently). I know writers who have declined an invitation when it was made, but nobody has thought to ask them about it, and what views they have are aired on twitter (where they're worth reading. See: an exchange between Priyamvada Gopal and Sharanya Manivannan).
Back to le Carré. He's been producing, along with his sons, a lot of TV adaptations of his work and most of those are fantastic (barring only The Little Drummer Girl, which is a book I just cannot read, mostly for it's politics re Palestine). But something about this speech, so angry about the UK leaving the EU, saving the harshest words for Corbyn's Labour, seems also so final.
I hope I'm wrong, of course. He said, after Agent Running in the Field, that it was probably his last. If le Carré is not writing and being interviewed in advance of a new book being released, it seems unlikely that we'll hear from him again. That kind of final.
But if it is the last thing we hear from him, it's a good speech to end on. 


Friday, January 31, 2020

First Month, First Post

Even though it's the last day of the month in a year that might be the last of the decade or the first of a new one, I've done poorly on the renewed blogging promise I made to myself last year. 

I'm not surprised; are you?

Because what a couple of months it's been here. I'm going to put no links to anything, but it would be weird to look back ten years hence and see not one word on this blog about how the young and old, and especially the women have turned out on to the streets to protest the CAA, and the imminent NPR and NRC. [You'll have to look up the terms because I'm not going to explain.]

I still don't know why this, and not Aadhaar, not Kashmir, not any of the many things this government has been systematically doing to make real their ideal of the authoritarian state. But I'm grateful.

Some time in December, my mother, my son and I all went to a protest in Hyderabad. It was one of the earlier ones, but many of the people who turned up were well informed, had read up about stuff. Passersby slowed down to read the placards; some nodded along to what they saw. After a couple of hours my mum got dizzy so we gave her some water and then we left.

This can't be a precis of the last two months, it really can't. You won't know from spending time here, but there are times when events in the world consume all one's attention and this has been one of those times. What comes out of me, though, are photos of flowers and cats, silliness and a ton of retweets. All this is on twitter. Here, there's a silence I don't yet know what to make of or how to interrupt.

The bearing witness school of poetry is something I haven't been able to do for a while now. My first collection had a few poems that responded, immediately, to contemporary events. I felt like a kind of Lyra with the alethiometer, displaying a very temporary, instinctive talent. I couldn't do it now; and I'm not sure I would even if I could. 

But I've been listening to and reading those who can, and it's been wonderful to see poetry used again with purpose (as it were), to once more meaning something to people who have frequently claimed it doesn't move them, they don't understand it, all that. At the Hyderabad Lit Fest, the closing session in the poetry stream was a poetry of resistance session. I wasn't there because of reasons, but I was kind of responsible for the session and I'm told it went well. 

As I try to get back to writing after a two month hiatus, I try to keep in my heart the sheer doggedness of the protesters, turning up at a call in the middle of the night, turning up in the cold, participating in flash protests because there's no "permission" to gather and protest peacefully, turning up even though they must know with the same sinking feeling many of us have, that it's all going to get much worse before it gets better.

I don't know if I'll publish a book again. Other people are energised by the thought of how little time they have left, and write productively and well. I, conscious of the same feeling of time running out, feel torn between not bothering at all, and writing only for pleasure sometimes, and doggedly at others. One must work at something, after all.

Maybe I'll bring some of that doggedness to this blog this year. Don't hold your breath though.




Tuesday, December 03, 2019

It's always nesting season for ants



In the silver oak, the black kites have begun nesting for the second straight year, but in the trees around this place, the fire ants are always nesting, regardless of season. They find trees with large leaves - even plants - and glue them into nests, even until the leaves dry and the trees shed.

I imagine these nests rattling the mild breeze that sometimes seizes the trees in this season.

The fire ants have colonised everything. They're in t he guava tree, all long the walls, on every creeper and vine. We've tried vinegar and oil,soap, all the things internet forums say work on fire ants. I think it was in Harini Nagendra's and Seema Mundoli's book, Cities and Canopies, that they talk about how an infestation of fire ants is a symptom of a micro-ecology out of whack. I don't know why that makes sense, but it does in an intuitive way.

Think of the government institute close by that plays music all day long and well into the evening, supposedly to help their employees with stress relief. Think of the LED lights, some of which strobe most distressingly when they're nearly done, that makes the night brighter than it's supposed to be for all creatures but urban humans.

That's not even taking into account the kinds of plants people keep - all green leaves, no flowers or fruits - and the lawns that need litres of water to maintain (and a ton of pesticide, for the termites).

I hate the ants. I don't know how to get rid of them without also destroying all the other insect and animal life the lives around our house, though. Cutting down the trees that host the nests? Large-scale pesticide application? Please!

If anyone knows how to keep the fire ant population down, please let me know!

Monday, December 02, 2019

The fictional self

None of these thoughts are original but I've been thinking them for a few days and since I don't want this blog to be only a graveyard of remembrances to people who've died, here's what's been on my mind:

Interviews with artists, writers, musicians - the whole category of people about whom you want to know more because you experienced a work you liked or lots of other people liked. And because curiosity is a collective, besetting sin.

How exhausting it must be to reveal something of oneself each time. How much easier to curate a handful of things - not untrue - to share, and share so many times that it becomes an ingredient in a recipe, a thing detachable, a fiction edited with a critical eye and separated from oneself so that the rest can remain one's own, unknowable.

Each creative person's way of giving nothing away to the people they meet, because they give far too much away of themselves in their work. Look for them there.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sean Bonney, Tom Raworth

This morning I woke up to discover via Aaron Boothby that Sean Bonney had died. I knew his work only from the blog I've linked to, but have spent the morning reading screenshots others have put up on twitter, of texts from different works and things that are available to rad online.

Hopping from one poem to another, one poet to another, I was reminded of a post I'd made here some years ago. I thought the words were, Write six words, take away five and searched for that phrase, naturally turning up nothing. 

I googled it, with a vague feeling that it was Ian Hamilton Finlay. Nothing. 

Finally, I began to scroll through all the posts here tagged poetry. Of course I found it again, and of course I'd remembered it all wrong. It's Write six lines, drop five

And it's Tom Raworth, not Finlay. So much for memory.

Another lesson: save images on to your own computer, because web pages mutate and you get Dutch, literally, instead of the text/image you linked to years ago.

It's chasing that post down that also led me to find out that Raworth had died in 2017 and I never knew. So this morning, news of the death of two poets. 

Write six lines, drop five. What are you left with?


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Eleven: Absences

Last year's silence on this day is a gap through which a decade could be allowed to slip.

One year, in boarding school, we were on our way back from a week-long school trip. When we returned, the day after we were supposed to, all we wanted was to bathe and sleep.

Waiting for me in my room was a very fancy cake box with brownies, and a note from my father.

Maybe in the excitement of travel and the heedlessness of the teen years, I'd forgotten that he was to make a day visit. We demolished the brownies and did all the other things that were urgent on our list.

I didn't think then or later, that while we slept uncomfortably in a broken down bus, when someone started their period, when I brushed my teeth at a handpump in a field stinking of green but nasty things so the taste got in the mouth, that he would come, and wait, and write a note before leaving. 

All that indicated that he'd even been there was a bit of writing and a frilly paper doily half-transparent with butter. Those hours, these eleven years.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Me Today in Popula

It's unfair of me to announce the (month-old) arrival of Popula just when it's about to go behind a partial paywall, but there it is. They some excellent writing and if you can subscribe, you should.

I have two pieces on there, in a category they call Me Today. Just people around the world writing about the things that happen to them on any given day, the mundane, the fantastic, the sheer everyday-ness of living one's life.

The first one is about bees and the most recent one is about that eclipse in January.

I enjoyed writing these more than I have nearly anything else in the last year or so. I am grateful when the words come. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Surfeit

Though you wouldn't guess it from visiting my blog, I feel a surfeit of everything: bad news, books, music, media, emotions, people. 

I've been stepping back everywhere; I don't know what's left to step away from. Yet it seems possible to withdraw just a little more.

A month from now, approximately, it will be another blog birthday. Then actual birthdays. Then departures. Tempus is fugiting away.

I mean, others work harder when they realise they don't have much time left. Me, I chew my nails with a little more dedication. 

It's not like I don't have things to do. They're just not very productive things. They keep the wheels of my life turning; that's all.

Looking at these lines, I feel like I've achieved a kind of Thirukural-like pithiness of line and length* so I'll stop right here.

__

* In drafts. On the blog it looks like someone chose to ignore Thiruvalluvar's line scheme. That's the line between intention and execution.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

All Fools Day

I looked forward to birthday month. It turned out differently. 

It turns out that there are more things I can't talk about than I can. 

What I fool I've been. What a relief that this month is over. What a long summer, long year ahead.

I don't know so many things, but I know I don't want to talk. 

So maybe until May or thereabouts. 

Later.