Monday, April 20, 2015

Ibn 'Abd Rabbih: from 'The Unique Necklace'

The internet is a strange and wonderful resource and among its wonders is The New Inquiry's Sunday Reading. This week's SR has a contribution by kitabet that I went and read, because who doesn't like cats, especially when their paws have been dyed with henna?

Exploring David Larsen's blog, I found his translations from Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's, I suppose it's an anthology? called 'The Unique Necklace'.

Here's a short portion from that post, because it's not a single poem, but a collection of responses in verse.

Read the whole post here

from The Unique Necklace

by Ibn 'Abd Rabbih translated by David Larsen

Abu 'l-Bakhtarī said: The tales I used to hear of Abū Fahma, a madman of Baghdad with a gift for poetic improvisation, led me to seek him out. Our meeting came about in a lane of the city, where I said to him, "How are you today, Abū Fahma?" He replied in verse:

  "Today I awake at the edge of a cliff. Through you
      the way lies open to the wellsprings of my ruin.
   I see you turning, but not toward me.
      Whose heart is least corrupt you least attend.
   O you whose absence prolongs my lovesickness:
      it is a sickness with more regret in it than love."
Abu 'l-Bakhtarī said: At this I withdrew from my sleeve a small bouquet of narcissus, and pressed it on him with my wishes that God prolong his life. He stood smelling them for a time, then delivered these verses:

  "On my wedding day, there came from the South great spattering
      clouds decked out with rain so black that they were brown.
   Then kicked in the East Wind with its fecundating showers,
      and the curtailment of our nuptials was hard to bear.
   Our babe was born still. Labor pains came on,
      and there was parturition, and that was the issue.
   Springtime wove a shroud, and as one hand
      the dew and breeze gave color to its fabric.
   It was [this] flower's composite yellow, white petals
      cupping ornaments of unsmithed gold 
   on emerald columns raised aloft with the morning,
      like unto the sun in eye-like beauty." 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Li-Young Lee 'To Hold'

Today's poem is Li-Young Lee's 'To Hold'. On my laptop is a folder of poems that I've read somewhere of the other and liked enough to copy down. Often, I've not provided myself with a link or a bibliography; bad habits. 

This is one of those poems. It's also easy to see why I liked and saved it. There's an audio version here read by the poet.

To Hold

by Li-Young Lee

So we're dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I'm lucky,
she'll remember a recent dream and tell me.
One day we'll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.
Until then, we'll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn't for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I'll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Swar Thounaojam 'A sentry converses'

So it appears that I haven't posted a poem in some days. This must be remedied.

I was on twitter when Swar tweeted about the Indian army molesting women in newly-under-AFSPA Arunachal Pradesh, when I remembered her poem from a Guardian poetry workshop some years ago.

Also, that workshop happened to be about writing letters and my poetry prompt last month at The Sideways Door was about letters unsent on never received. 

Finally, that workshop was by Kate Clanchy, whose book Meeting the English sounded interesting (but I found I couldn't finish it. I am thinking of giving up my library membership altogether, since I never seem to begin or finish the books I borrow.)

Enough of coincidences; they have nothing to do with the poem, which I've always found powerful. 

           A sentry converses 

           by Swar Thounaojam
Ibungo, how is your urn?
Does it still hold you?

First they put a garage over you
Then a plot of chives and shallots
Now it is a tea stall
and underneath the bench, on which I sweat sipping my tea,
is you - 14 months old and gone for 12 years.
Your mother cried she gave you the greater love.
So good you and your brother
were such unthinking children
and that you died.
Loud, unlike love is such drivel to grow up with.
You were too young to know you had a big head.
So let me tell you - you had a gigantic head
and never cried.
First, people said you were a good-natured child.
Then you became too odd - a never-crying child.
You were shown to doctors, who showed
you were wrong somewhere.
They were about to fix you properly
When you just left.
I think of you often,
wishing you were my real brother:
I could have claimed your death as my valid sorrow
and rig people to explain
my unsound quiet with it.
Now I will beat my heels,
right where the spade struck first to bury you.
There, can you hear it?
Ibungo, you never grew up to know me.
But remember this is your Che, your big sister,
Guarding your life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scroll Poetry Column 2: Heard melodies

I have been wrestling with the formatting of a poem and if I can't figure it out, I will scan it and put up an image.

In the meantime, what I thought was a fortnightly column for Scroll has apparently been changed into a weekly. The second column is now up here.

In it, I find myself talking once more about a teacher of mine, and Eliot and Leonard Cohen. Oh and AK Ramanujan. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rukawat ke kiye khed hai

It is raining in Hyderabad. These are unseasonal rains, and in certain districts, accompanied by hailstorms and the consequent destruction of standing crops. For lots of people this is not good news.

But here, where it kindly rains mostly late in the evening, or at night and in at dawn, where I don't have to deal with sewage-y roads and the jerul's flowered branch is weighed down by rain so ALL the flowers are right outside my window, i can't bring myself to complain.

In fact, I can't even bring myself to be online, let alone looking for poems or post them.

So, as long as the weather is not summer when it should be, I won't be posting.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Afzal Ahmed Syed 'A Dog's Death'

Yesterday, I didn't post a poem because I was out all day and then sprained my neck (or something) and then it sort of rained and there was no question of being online.

This morning, I am sifting through things I do not want to and with a sense of relief, I found someone on twitter had linked to this poem by Afzal Ahmed Syed. That in turn made me pull out his collection Rococo and Other Worlds, from which this poem below:
 Rococo and Other Worlds
 Rococo and Other Worlds
 Rococo and Other Worlds

A Dog’s Death

by Afzal Ahmed Syed translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi

Air Vice-Marshal Manocher Nadirshaw
taking his dinner
during a civilian flight
chokes on a bone
and dies

Throw another dog
before just such a bone

Thursday, April 09, 2015

New column in Scroll

Every other Wednesday, I will write a column in Scroll on my poetic influences. Or something - basically, I will write about whatever happens to catch my fancy that also has to do with poetry, however tangentially.

Here's the first one. It's on Rilke (whose poems you must read but whose photo you must avoid looking at if you possibly can).

(I really should aggregate these column in full on the blog, no? One day they'll disappear on the site and I won't be able to see what I wrote or where. Well, I will, but not online, and someone stop me from allowing words out of my mouth I can't seem to stop.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Alfonso Gatto 'A Day Where the Hour'

On a day when the news is full of cops killing people who were unarmed, I don't know what to post. I daren't look online. The new books of poetry mostly have their spines intact. Instead, I look in another shelf that contains precious books that are out of print and will never be found outside of chance encounters on pavements with second-hand books.

I said 'encounters' when I was trying to avoid the word. 

From an ancient copy of Italian Writing Today, here's Alfonso Gatto. I have the page propped open with a CD cover, trying not to stress the spine.

 A Day Where the Hour

by Alphonso Gatto, translated by Gavin Ewart

A day where the hour of death is
may not be the place, but the bier
goes down everywhere towards it doors
of darkness, the earth does not learn

the name which its living chose for it.
In the invisible boundaries that you touch,
from the sky to the mountains to the trees where you arrive
dying to look at it again with your eyes,

the earth is the distance and your journey.
But, once there, is earth all near to itself,
the perpetual eavesdropping of a mirage 
that fixes on every eyelash its thorn.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Sawsan al-Areeque 'More Than Necessary'

One of my friends at the IWP was a writer and filmmaker from Yemen. It was the first time ever that the IWP was hosting a writer from that country. Now, things are a mess in Yemen and I have spent the last week worrying about Sawsan. 

This is one of her poems. I am remembering her reading this poem aloud in Arabic; a little gesture emphasising a word or a line. I hope she is okay.
 More Than Necessary

translated by Sawsan al-Areeque & Willa C. Richards
When I allow myself
to be myself
I am surprised
that the rose on the balcony
more than necessary
and nighttime in the city’s face
more than necessary
and the moon on my dining table
is too near.
Then I decide to allow myself
to be half myself
until I do not feel these things
more than is necessary.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Sideways Door April Prompt

April has a reputation, probably deserved, for being the cruellest month. And since it's being cruel to me, I don't see why I shouldn't pass that particular parcel of delights on to people reading The Sideways Door.

Here is this month's prompt.

Kaloji Narayana Rao 'We should remember'

Today's poem comes at the request of my son, who has heard of the poet Kaloji Narayana Rao in his Telugu class. I looked for translations but of course was hard put to it to find [m]any.

This poem, 'We should remember', appears in Velcheru Narayana Rao's book of modern Telugu poems in translation, titled Hibiscus on the Lake.

I've had to take screenshots of the pages from Google Books, so here they are.

We should remember

by Kaloji, translated by Velcheru Narayana Rao


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Delay in April's Sideways Door

This month's prompt at The Sideways Door will be delayed by a couple of days.

There's usually a lot of formatting to be done because it's poetry, and that takes time. There are people on leave and the column will go up, therefore, on Monday.

(That's tomorrow).

Anonymous 'The budding Bronx' & 'Thirty purple birds'

Lots of birds sighted this morning. And they were all on the wing. My laptop is heating in the heat and I just can't go looking for poems I don't know.

So here is are two poems about birds (on the wing).


The Budding Bronx

by Anon

Der spring is sprung
Der grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is?

Der little boids is on der wing,
Ain't dat absoid?
Der little wings is on der boid!


Thirty Purple Birds

by Anon

Toity poiple boids
Sitt'n on der coib
A' choipin' and a' boipin'
an' eat'n doity woims.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Marin Sorescu 'Fountains in the sea'

Apparently we are to have no water for the next two days while the HMWSSB does some maintenance work. Since they've chosen a water supply day to do their repairs, it means that on either side of today are two days when there is no supply anyway. 

So three days without water. 'No matter how much, there is still not enough.' 

    Fountains in the sea

    By Marin Sorescu

    Translated By Seamus Heaney and Ioana Russell-Gebbett
    Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
    Cunning life keeps asking for more and then a drop more.
    Our ankles are weighted with lead, we delve under the wave.
    We bend to our spades, we survive the force of the gusher.

    Our bodies fountain with sweat in the deeps of the sea,
    Our forehead aches and holds like a sunken prow.
    We are out of breath, divining the heart of the geyser,
    Constellations are bobbing like corks above on the swell.

    Earth is a waterwheel, the buckets go up and go down,
    But to keep the whole aqueous architecture standing its ground
    We must make a ring with our bodies and dance out a round
    On the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water.

    Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
    Come rain, come thunder, come deluged dams washed away,
    Our thirst is unquenchable. A cloud in the water’s a siren.
    We become two shades, deliquescent, drowning in song.

    My love, under the tall sky of hope
    Our love and our love alone
    Keeps dowsing for water.
    Sinking the well of each other, digging together.
    Each one the other’s phantom limb in the sea.
    “Fountains in the sea” from The Biggest Egg in the World by Marin Sorescu. Published by  Bloodaxe Books in 1987.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Eunice de Souza 'She and I'

One of the first full collections of poetry I ever remember reading (as opposed to single poems, or poems in anthologies), is Eunice de Souza's Women in Dutch Painting - a book that is now out of print and can't be had for love or money, though most poems from it are to be found in A Necklace of Skulls (assuming that is still in print).

Someone had gifted my mother a copy, and its nearly-plain brown cover with the title seemed friendly. The poems were short, as all of de Souza's poems are but I realised very quickly that they packed a punch.

Looking over that collection this morning while thinking up a column and remembering a person I knew in school who'd disappeared, I found this poem and it seemed fortuitous.

She and I

by Eunice de Souza

Perhaps he never died.
We've mourned him separately,
in silence,
she and I.

Suddenly, at seventy-eight,
she tells me his jokes,
his stories, the names of
paintings he loved,
and of some forgotten place
where blue flowers fell.

I am afraid
for her, for myself,
but can say nothing. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Danez Smith 'alternate names for black boys'

I can't remember the timeline*, but possibly just before Ferguson (and therefore prophetically), Danez Smith wrote a poem called 'alternate names for black boys'.

At the same time, poets like Frederick Siedel were asked to write poems in big magazines and the question of who can speak and for whom, and what means became current once again.

I am remembering this poem and another one that Smith wrote for Michael Brown, because earlier in March this year, Kenneth Goldsmith did a "performance" (for mostly white people) which was basically a version of the autopsy report of Michael Brown.


So I wanted to remind myself of what a poem that is political and angry can sound like.

alternate names for black boys

 by Danez Smith

1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
8. gone
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath


*I checked: the poem appeared in Poetry in March last year and Michael Brown was shot dead in August 2014. So yes - prophetic. Or just a good hand on the pulse.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sarah Gridley 'Thicket Play'

Poetry Month begins so I thought I'd post a poem a day, even if I don't manage to write one every day.

Beginning with a poem from Sarah Gridley's Green is the Orator:

Thicket Play
by Sarah Gridley
I asked the sun to stay outside.

I called its effort disentangled. I put the body
there as marker, held up as if in place of. Or else, a thing stooped
down upon, and snapped.

Pictured then as clasped inside.

Claw paw hand: I made the body as mainly its branches.
                 One branch I called the childhood coffer.

Inside it were
              the many reasons.

(From here.)