Monday, November 23, 2009

An Indian poetry special in The Literary Review

The new issue of The Literary Review, an American literary journal that has been published quarterly by Fairleigh Dickinson University for more than fifty years, is a special on Indian poetry. Edited by Sudeep Sen, it has about 200 pages of verse by 44 Indian poets.

Here are three poems from the journal that caught my eye for their quality of thought, delicacy of language and beauty of sound. The first one is by Robin S Ngangom:
After Cavafy

We believe we own them but
In the evening of a street not a soul will be found.
Only a few stars shuffling in the oily sky and
Orange trees for neighbours.
Here, they've lain huddled in December waiting
For Christmas to rock them on its pinewood floors
And in blue afternoons
You can see them drowsing in the barber sun.

Relentlessly, a dream has hemmed me in these hills
While the future has cast me as a bleak interpreter of signs.
And so many things to finish
That I did not pay attention to their birth,
There were no labor pains,
And they have shut me off from their hearths.
Some more poems by Ngangom ("Body", "Flight", "The Last Word") are here, and his book Time's Crossroads is available here.

And here is Karthika Nair's splendid villanelle, "Tempus Fugit":
Tempus Fugit

I think I would like to die watching you dance,
feet staying quicksilver skies, arms a swift crease
of light across longitudes. Stars rise from trance

at your touch, drape the stage with night while stagehands
mix music (bass from springtides, then soughing trees,
I think). I would like to die watching you dance

the tango with Mistress Time—trellised, by chance
or choice, in memory's arms—,transform a frieze
to light. Across longitudes, she twists in trance

till lips landlocked by your will blaze morning, lance
the inky continents, where—like yestreen breeze—
I think I would like to die. Watching you dance,

scissor land and sea, curve orbits with bare hands,
Time learns to whirl on lone, hennaed feet: release
of light on longitudes. Stars fall into trance

as you plummet out of life: no backward glance
of farewell, no thunder, no tears. With such ease
would I like to die, I think, watching your dance
—like lightning on longitudes—strike and entrance.
Often, when copying out poems or passages from books, one is able to better appreciate their qualities because the hand is so much slower than the eye, and so the mind stays with the words longer than it did the first time (this is one very good reason for keeping a notebook). I liked this poem by Nair even better while I was tracing it on my keyboard than when I read it the first time. Nair is the author of a recently published book of poems, Bearings. Some poems from this book are here.

Last, here is Anjum Hasan's "This Biography":
This Biography

My heart beat fast or did not beat at all;
I could not say all that I thought and thought
till words deserted me. I loved too abstractly.
I dreaded how all there was to give me was me—
like water, this biography. I unravelled far too easily
then fled to selfish deserts and slept on the hardest rocks.
I couldn't make what others made and broke and broke
and made, that sweet choreography. I went alone
and missed the world continually. I misread smiles;
I stuttered before open arms, but time passed too fast
for disappointment's imprint on the glass of memory.
I sought the future even when the blood swirled now,
I let the past decide too greedily. I kept searching out
the window, I tried to stay half hidden by the light.
Hasan is the author of the collection Street In The Hill. Here are some of her poems ("Mawlai", "Small Town", "To The Chinese Restaurant"), and some more can be read here.

Meanwhile, almost every Saturday in Mint Lounge you will find on the books page a new poem by an Indian poet, and here are three recent ones: "Ghost Sounds" by Aruni Kashyap, "Identification Marks" by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, and "New Delhi Love Song" by Michael Creighton.

And lastly, an old post about a great seventeenth-century Indian poet, Salabega: "Tigers in the poetry of Salabega and William Blake". This link gives a certain feline symmetry to this post, making it begin with a panther (the animal on the cover of The Literary Review is a fibreglass work by Bharti Kher) and end with a couple of tigers.

1 comment:

Vivek Sharma said...

Dear Chandrahas,

I reached your webpage through a search for poems in Indian portfolio of the Literary Review. The website refuses to show me Indian poetry, though many of the other issues seem to work.

I am glad that I came here though. I promise to return and will read other things posted here. The almost villanelle is well written as are other poems here (and now I really want to grab the issue of literary review)...

I am curious as to how one can submit anything to livemint (your page points me there, but there is no email specified for submissions).

(I don't know if my message will show you any email address, but I will return to see your response and other things).

Keep writing & best wishes for the 2010.