Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The day after getting back from my longest journey,
I realize I had this traveling business badly wrong.
Penned in an airplane, immobilized for hours on end,
Over clouds that bear the appearance of deserts,
Deserts that bear the appearance of seas, and seas
That are like the blizzards you struggle through,
On your way out of your Halcion-induced stupor,
I see what it means to stumble over the dateline.
The body is robbed of time, and the eyes of rest.
The carefully chosen word loses its locus.
Giddily you juggle the here and the hereinafter,
Keeping several languages and religions up in the air.
But runways are the same gray everywhere, and hospital rooms
The same bright. There in the transit lounge,
Where downtime remains conscious to no end.
The proverb from the bars of Atlantis swims into ken:
Travel is a foretaste of Hell.
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann. From Ashes for Breakfast, Faber&Faber. (Audio here. MP3).
Von meiner weitesten Reise zurück, anderntags
Wird mir klar, ich verstehe vom Reisen nichts.
Im Flugzeug eingesperrt, stundenlang unbeweglich,
Unter mire Wolken, die aussehn wie Wüsten,
Wüsten, die aussehn wie Meere, und Meere,
Den Schneewehen gleich, durch die man streift
Eeim Erwachen aus der Narkose, sehe ich ein,
Was es heißt, über die Längengrade zu irren.
Dem Körper ist Zeit gestohlen, den Augen Ruhe.
Das genaue Wort verliert seinen Ort. Der Schwindel
Fliegt auf mit dem Taush von Jenseits und Hier
In verschiedenen Religionen, mehreren Sprachen.
Überall sind die Rollfelder gleich grau und gleich
Hell die Krankenzimmer. Dort im Transitraum,
Wo Leerzeit umsonst bei Bewußtsein hält,
Wird ein Sprichwort wahr aus den Bars von Atlantis.
Reisen is ein Vorgeschmack auf die Hölle.
Friday, April 24, 2009
With a week to go before nominations for Oxford's new professor of poetry close, the competition has heated up after a new candidate threw his name into the ring alongside Derek Walcott and Ruth Padel.
The most high-profile position in British poetry behind the laureateship, the 300-year-old post has been held by the likes of WH Auden, Paul Muldoon, Matthew Arnold and Seamus Heaney. With graduates getting ready to vote for their choice on 16 May, so far Nobel laureate Walcott appears to be edging ahead, with nominations from 121 Oxford graduates to Padel's 96.
But a surprise new entry from Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra could upset the campaigns of the two current candidates. Mehrotra, a poet and literary critic who is currently professor of English at the University of Allahabad, has held visiting writer posts at universities around the world. The journal Fulcrum said his poems were "coded messages from the unconscious, but [that] there is an exceedingly conscious hand that crafts them".
The author of four collections to date, he is supported by writers including Tariq Ali, Amit Chaudhuri and Toby Litt, and was described by one of his nominators, Oxford English lecturer Peter D McDonald, as "one of the finest poets working in any language", and "a poet-critic of an exceptionally high order".
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Poets who haven’t had a lot of success and thus maybe feel that they have less to be cool about – these poets will draw attention to magazine credits, prizes, and fellowships by isolating the acknowledgements on its own page. Of course, these may also just be conscientious people who care about giving the deserving their due. Some will even go on for two or three pages, thanking their editors, publishers, professors, first readers, first sexual partners – anyone who ever shared, like, a ZIP code with the poems. Such poets are generous, thoughtful citizens. Good members of their community or support network. They will sometimes insist that their community or support network dramatically improved their poems, and that the lingering weaknesses are all theirs. They may be right. Still, I can’t help but wonder about the quality of poems that were raised by a village, poems that seem to have needed so much help from so many hands. Gratitude is good, but a poet who did her job in the first place probably wouldn’t - probably shouldn’t - need to be too grateful to anyone, let alone a vast, pandemic syndicate of friends, relatives, and editors.
Of course, most journals ask that poets acknowledge where their work first appeared. It's the rest of the people and sources and all other inspirations being acknowledged that gives me an 'ouch' moment.
I was thinking of this while reading Abraham Verghese's first novel (his other two books were memoirs), Cutting for Stone. If I have time, there's be more about this eventually, but one thing that puzzled me was the seven page acknowledgments followed by a page and a half of bibliography and I wondered if such a thing was necessary in fiction.
Verghese has given everyone their due: someone who showed him a copy of some book he's referred to; stray phrases that he has used that are from putative toasts by surgeons, poets ('The line "I owe you the sight of morning" is by W.S.Merwin from the poem "To the Surgeon Kevin Lin", originally published in The New Yorker. A limited-edition print of this poem prepared by Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press and signed by William Merwin hangs in my office.' Page 536, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese, Random House India, 2009), travel writers, and someone he'd like to acknowledge but cannot remember and 'would love to attribute to a source'.
I'm not really complaining. I find the whole seven pages very revealing and will need to go back to his other two books to see how he handled acknowledgments back then. But those were memoirs; this is fiction. And once again, this large, telling section demands some thought on the part of the reader. Of course writers acknowledge their sources, especially if it's a question of first-person accounts in recent history, or descriptions of events they have drawn upon in their narrative.
What I find unusual is the attribution Verghese has made to individual uses of (para)phrases from the works of others as if the substance of the fiction would collapse if the scaffolding of the sources were kept invisible.
I am also imagining a time when novels will once again return to the three volume format, where only the first volume is fiction and the other two are hefty annotations and elucidations that no one but a fan or a fanatic (or an undergrad) will read.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
2. Everyone's gifting Szerelem doors. Here's a blue door from Banno's. Not quite the regular door this one, Szer.
3. I am fascinated - fascinated, I tell you - by doctors and their stories. I realise this is actually a morbid fascination and something I probably need to go into therapy for (I also love House), but as in all such cases, I just can't help myself. This is one book I want to read:
Indeed, more than a couple of doctors in these tales would be brought before a state medical board today, if not put in jail. In “The Anesthesiologist’s Tale,” a surgeon with bipolar disorder stops taking his medications and loses his mind during a routine gallbladder operation, cutting wildly, lopping out part of the stomach, lacerating the aorta, eventually being jumped and restrained by orderlies, all the while threatening to sue. In “The Chest Surgeon’s Tale,” a self-described scoundrel boastfully recalls bedding student nurses while a young married surgeon; lying to get a nursing supervisor fired; and, in the most disturbing anecdote, purposefully thrusting an ungloved hand into the chest of a 14-year-old boy undergoing a heart operation.
The fact that we can treat disease, Nuland suggests, does not always mean we should. Would that more doctors today followed this basic maxim.
4. Saw Osaka Elegy in Bombay. My favourite bit is the scene at the theatre, though there's lots of stuff there. All on youtube.
The index finger on my left hand is blue all along my nail. On our way out, two men with cameras took hesitant steps towards us then changed our minds. The rest-of-the-day began at five minutes past seven.
Bombay made me feel like I'd taken a swig from a bottle of Corex; I felt nerveless and numb, sure I would bump into things to find myself somewhere I didn't plan to be simply because I was too woozy to pay attention. Three hours on Saturday evening from Yari Road to Thane.
I hate people who have magnetic poetry. I've wanted one for a long time. In Thane, (not just) our endeavours, made in a slightly alcoholic haze.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Here they are.
Now why does that haiku sound so familiar?
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
I was reminded of this most forcefully in the last week or so when I was doing a cull on Facebook. Having crossed 250 on my 'Friends' list, I was disgusted to find that a large number of people that Facebook insisted on calling my 'Friends' were, in fact, less than acquaintances; some I had never met and there were others I fervently wished I never had.
The word, I'm afraid, has to be both the most elevated and most debased one in recent time. Consider how it's used: 'Oh, we're just friends' (when you want to indicate that there's no romantic relationship involved); 'if we became lovers where would our best friends be?' (nauseatingly sentimental notions from Seth, as if the two must be mutually exclusive); 'my friends are my family' (this is probably true for many young people today and is both tragic and reassuring though not necessarily at the same time); the priceless 'will you make frandsip with me?' (which is just pathetic); and so on.
At its best it is a sacred relationship, one where freedom combines with responsibility towards another human being most felicitously. At its worst it is Facebook and related enterprises.
So, how different am I from the kids who asked me who my best friend was, when I expect social networking sites to be hierarchical and not call every person I am connected to a 'Friend'?
End note: I am as suspicious of people who claim friendship too easily as I am of those who say they have no friends at all.
PS: This was going to be longer but this should do.
PPS: Not very cogent, am I? KBPM's post makes me realise that I failed to say one thing I had wanted to: the annoying thing about the debasement of the word is not so much that it has taken place - well, it is annoying but I can bear with that - but that people do not sometimes recognise that they confuse one order of friendship with the other.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Now it is time that gods emerge
from things by which we dwell
The sky had nested itself in the rocks,
The regolith, the frozen poles.
They had digested its curled-up weather,
Its soufflé sunsets and Pavlova hurricanes
Locked in sub-surface cupboards of ice
Well beyond the nip of our tools.
Being vain men ourselves, our first
Thoughts were of mirrors, fleets
Of them hanging in the sky
To redirect and concentrate the sunshine,
And when they were built – a vast
Necklace of reflecting pearls in orbit,
Made from the scraps of sails,
Shafts of holy light appeared,
The sort that might bring simple
Shepherds to their knees
But which failed to convert
A single pebble of that
Endless beach. After fifty years
We took the mirrors
Out of their echelons
And sewed them together to make
Just two huge patchwork quilts
Of silver, each the size of the state
Of Michigan, focusing all
Their vicarious light on the poles.
At certain times, if the incline
Was right, a telescope would reveal
A planet multiplied by double reflection –
Trailing off like beads on a string into the curved
Darkness of space. A good sign, we thought,
The first step to an infinite universe
Of habitable worlds.
2. The Bombardment
When the mirrors failed to fill
With more than a puddle
The depressions of the minor deserts,
Our third plan was put into action.
We found the hypothesised asteroids
Out beyond the orbit of Saturn
Wandering lamely like demented
Children in trouble with their guardians
And dressed in torn frocks of ice,
Rich in ammonia, which gave them
A lemony blush, as though a crop
Of daffodils had appeared in this
Little quarter of the infinite.
We strapped our nuclear rockets
To their backsides and let them
Fart across the parsecs until
They crashed on Mars – thump
Thump. They sprinkled the arid
Plains with their valuable, volatile
Salts and compounds, disturbing
The sleep of the sky as it lay still.
The proto-colonies had long since left
And we witnessed a landscape shift,
Dusty weather clearing to reveal
The impacted prospects,
The new lowlands where ranges
Had been, and a shock of orange
Liquid brimming in the remembered
Courses. The rivers went where rivers
Had been, redefining the estuaries
And islands with sharp, golden shores.
We’d refilled the drained cup
Of the oceans, a trillion tons of water
Converged on a bed the size of Connecticut,
And we cast our nets in a sea of piss.
So much, we thought, for ecopoesis.
3. The Factories
Having done our violence,
Within sight of the tear-drop shaped
River Islands south of the Elysium
Volcanoes, out beyond the sulphur
Scablands and the potassium forests
We built our first factories.
They sat like any factories
Though fashioned out of native materials,
With silica and quartz-encrusted
Fumaroles they looked like colossal,
Empty evening gowns
Standing alone in the desert,
And had no product,
Only by-product, the halocarbons
We longed for, the CFCs,
The cocktails of halogens,
Fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine,
The redeeming pollution. It took
So much work to produce
The necessary filth, our complex grew
To the size of Maryland, trainloads
Of matter every day, trainloads
Of refined waste leaving, a work crew
Of thousands, as if bred for the sole
Purpose, and yet looking at those
Sequined chimneys you couldn’t swear
That anything was happening
Until one day we noticed how the air
Began to weigh heavily on us,
How we each began to feel that we
Were carrying a small child on our shoulders,
A little, grey-haired girl called
Barometric Pressure who told us
We had at last fastened the atmosphere
To the planet and that we could go
Naked for the first time in centuries.
4. New Forms of Architecture
From poor Mars to rich Mars,
But the only enduring thing we had
Was our language. We pitched tents
Of it. We shepherded information,
Penned and stalled ideas, farmed
Conversation, planted orchards
Of discussion which fruited,
Ripened then fell, spawning
New lines of thought, of argument.
And sometimes our talk
Was a shed of crumpled tin
And sometimes a limestone
Cathedral, until by the time
We had the chance to build
Something permanent, we felt
Almost afraid for the demolition
Of our own history, word by word.
And this made us shy from the question –
How should our cities look?
Until then our habitats had been
Mere attachments, things pegged,
Clipped, riveted or bolted
To the surface, memos on a planetary
Noticeboard, but when we had
The chance to work with stone,
To embed ourselves with foundations
And cellarage, we found ourselves
Reverting to classical forms, the old
Orders – columns, pediments,
Entablatures, scrolled finials,
Pilasters, though we lacked
The essential tools and skills
To make our parthenons anything
But rough-hewn, wonky
Approximations of venerable
Geometries – like Cornish mansions
Our schemes had all the ambition
But none of the craft.
Some of us planned to build
Venice from an old book,
As an island city it seemed
Strangely appropriate, palaces
Teetering on a brink, but it was enough
To have the idea only, its execution
Seemed neither necessary nor possible.
And we sided in the end with those
Who wanted to shake the habit
Of being human and take the chance
To start afresh and let our buildings
Somehow grow like the green corn
That had taken so well, that we should
Farm our houses and let their form
Be determined by their time and place.
And so the ancient cities of Earth
Made their reappearance.
We still had our bodies, that
Was the problem. Houses are somatic,
Born from our dimensions and habits,
Ur, Nineveh, Babylon, their dumpy
Ziggurats, trailing plantlife, floods...
It took our cities to remind us
We were human.
5. We Were Pedestrians
We called them the Icarus Years
Because nearly every day
A boy would fall out of the sky,
And girls, their parents,
Uncles, Grand Uncles, whole
Families, sometimes several
In one day, sometimes the sky
Was a weeping mosaic of silver
Parachutes falling slowly,
Seriously, the airbags bouncing
Unpredictably in market squares,
Scattering geese and goats, landing
Sometimes in a fountain or fish pond,
To then hatch with a sound of zips
And Velcro unfastening (how touching
Those sounds), and out they’d step,
Carrying a sack of photos and keepsakes,
A chair, the odd statue, and always
A packet of seeds.
It took the average factory worker
A thousand years to earn enough money
To emigrate to Mars, so that it was
Only the rich who fell from the sky.
Money travels just one way through space.
Perhaps that accounted for the looks
Of horror on their faces when they
Discovered how we lived, as goatherds,
Burlap-wearing scratchers of livings,
Bearded, Biblical, folksy. They were shocked
To find we were pedestrians. Mars
Was to have been a gateway to an infinite
Universe of habitable worlds, they
Told us, and look what you’ve done.
Where there could have been space ports,
Universities, bridgeheads to miracles
Exploiting low gravity and untold
Mineral wealth, there were chickens,
Cathedrals on crutches, mucky
Compounds. They lectured us
On economics, reminded us
That the ecopoesis of Mars consumed more
Of Earth’s energy than was used
From the founding of the Roman
Republic to the birth of The Beatles.
Of course, that was before
They ’d seen the maize we ’d cultivated
In green swathes all across
The Basin of Hellas, or the vineyards
That thrived on the tongue-shaped
Lava flows of the Tharsis volcanoes,
Or the lupin fields that dressed
With pink and purple skirts
The giant Olympus Mons.
They remembered the old pictures,
The bouldery tracts, courtyards
Of nothing, Empires of Emptiness.
They knew they would never
Want to go back.
6. Flora, Fauna, Geography
It was good to have new geography,
New shapes on the maps
To have so much to name
On the small, local scale of things.
We soon knew our way round.
The yellow lake (called Yellow Lake)
With its crystallised shores, almost
Named itself, as did the hill
In the shape of Brian’s nose
(Called Brian’s Nose). All this was new
And varied, and meaningful,
But when it came to animal
And plant life, we have to admit
We lack variety. So far, our ways
Are birdless. Try carrying an egg
From Earth to Mars without
Breaking it and you’ll see how
Difficult it is. And fledged birds
Cannot cope with zero gravity,
I’ve heard how they beat
Their wings to no effect, to fall
And drift regardless was something
Neither hawks nor nightingales
Could cope with. Insects were easier,
They came in boxes freeze dried,
Like gravel, though one had to remember
To pack a packet of the seeds of their
Feeding matter. So we planted nettle groves
For the butterflies, dock, rock rose, gorse,
But it is an edited evolution we enjoy,
The minimum needed to sustain
An eco system, we make up for
The absence by a burgeoning of fairytales.
And we tell our own histories
Over and over. My father, and my
Grandfather, dealt in horses – shoed them,
Broke them, sold them at fairs
In the fields beneath Neil Armstrong.
My mother sold milk and butter.
Her people were pig breeders
In Nixon where the pink rills bubble
And the downfall glitters on the plateau.
7. Looking Back
The last millionaires fell from the sky
A century ago. They brought with them
Sad stories of the lives they had left,
How a belief in unicorns and mermaids
Had revived, how the cities had been
Consumed by privet and laurel,
Of sickness, reforestation, wars of religion.
Our children listened entranced
And filled with longing to be
In the world of islands with all
Its rich, rewarding dangers.
Our atmosphere factories have begun
To take on something of the mystery
And charm of pyramids, though
They remind me more of coffee pots,
Or cafetières, and the pillowy mountains
Behind them with the croissant-shaped
Pebbles that strew their slopes always
Remind me that what we have made here
Is one vast room, world-sized,
Near whose ceiling two acorn
Moons float. Sofa hills. Lamp-stand mountain.
You have to keep a sense of proportion.
Last week the mirrors were ripped
To shreds as they re-entered the atmosphere,
And poured their mirrory rain over a field
The size of the state of Missouri.
From We Were Pedestrians
Friday, April 03, 2009
The Cinema Series continues, though there's only one essay this time, by editor Jabeen Merchant. I have to say, though, that given the theme, I wish we had last time's essays [Peripheral Visions] in this issue and this one earlier. This time, despite the extra month available, it was hard to get another contributor to hunker down and produce an essay - those who are busy making films frequently find they don't have time to write about making them!
Paromita is the notable exception: here's an essay by her in another journal you should bookmark - Phalanx.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
It's called Green Porno (2008-2009).
It is thus a charming surprise that Green Porno’s power lies in what porn all too often lacks. What is best about Green Porno is what is best about sex: It can be joyful, surprising, goofy, guileless, funny, and fun. Even the scenes wherein the male star expresses outright terror and loses his life are delicious. The denouement of “Bee” rivals those found in classical tragedy. “I would die . . . without my penis . . . I would bleed to death” are the bee’s final words, and, while undeniably hilarious, there is something oddly antibathetic about this swan song, as it takes us from the ridiculous to the sublime.
The brevity of the series’s eight films, their low-tech aesthetic, and (as she puts it) their “regular peaceful editing” all serve Rossellini’s aim of creating films for the “third and fourth screens.” Seeing them on the big screen is a rare treat; the release of Green Porno 2, which plumbs the sexual practices of marine life, only doubles the pleasure.
It's the 1st of April but I promise I am not pulling a fast one.
Now, who lives in Toronto? If nobody I know does, don't despair: here's Green Porno 2 on the Sundance Channel (also GP1, I believe.)
Oh, and here's Isabella Rossellini discussing the series.