Monday, April 10, 2017

Poetry Session – Apr 5, 2017


Seven readers attended, but several more would have come but for last-minute exigencies.

Karutha halwa

KumKum brought halwa to offer readers for the forthcoming Vishu celebration; Easter too is around the corner. Thommo ordered coffee for us and we were seated this time around two tables covered with elegant white tablecloths in a boardroom setting.

Two of the choices were novelists who turned their hand to poetry. Poets ancient and modern, famous and unknown, excited the senses of our readers.

Readers bring their wide experience to the poems and provide insights and appreciation. It is rare that a finely turned line misses an expression of relish. Often there are humorous sidelights to add a topical flavour to the readings.


From the relaxed comfort of the boardroom setting Joe forgot to use his camera to go around and capture the readers. Hence, there is only this final group picture:

Joe, Shoba, Thommo, Zakia, (seated) Saras, Hemjit, KumKum

Full Account and Record of the Poetry Session on Apr 5, 2017

The dates for the next readings are confirmed as follows:

Wed May 24, 2017, 5:30 pm – The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Present: Zakia, Thommo, Hemjit, KumKum, Joe, Shoba, Saras
Absent: Priya, Pamela, Sunil, Kavita, Ankush, Preeti

1. KumKum
Maura Dooley

The poet Maura Dooley was born in 1957. Though she was born, grew up, continued to live in England, she was of Irish extraction. She is a professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has worked for poets and poetry, organising creative writing courses. She was founding director of the Literature series at London’s Southbank Centre. She was responsible for starting up the major festival Poetry International after it had lapsed for 20 years.

Dooley has published several books of poems; Explaining Magnetism, Kissing A Bone, and Life Under Water are among them. Two of her collections were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.

Maura Dooley was introduced with these words at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in June 2009:
In her poetry, Dooley often descends in a subtle way to the deeper layers of human experience. The title of her most recent collection, Life Under Water, speaks volumes. Dooley dives under the surface, under the physical experiencing of reality, in search of the complex currents of emotion and memory that flow out of that perception.”

Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week editor at The Guardian, selected Dooley’s poem The Elevator. It is a short poem, and conveys a story. Carol describes the poem thus:
I like the quick, film-like movement of this poem, the focus-shifts from the leaves to the face to the river to the sunset to the glass. Wind-shaken leaves catch the external light differently, but it’s “this loveliest of springs” which is the subject described as “lit from within”. Some transforming illumination has occurred inside the central character, the unnamed young woman whose narrative point of view the poem adopts.

KumKum provided some clarifications regarding The Elevator. The narrator is imagining a strong personal connection with Leonard Cohen, the prolific Canadian singer and writer of songs, whom she has heard in multiple halls around the world. As an aside, Cohen died recently soon after Bob Dylan got his Nobel. You will recall Cohen said on that occasion, “Giving a Nobel to Bob Dylan is like pinning a medal on Everest”. Cohen has a connection with India via a Vedanta guru named Balsekar and you can read about here.


Leonard Cohen - giving a Nobel to Bob Dylan is like 'pinning  a medal on Everest'

Bob Dylan has now accepted the Nobel medal in a quiet ceremony when he happened to be playing in Stockholm on April 1. But he has to deliver a lecture by June, else he will forfeit the prize money of eight million kronor.

Note added on June 7, 2017:
As stipulated Bob Dylan delivered his Nobel lecture on June 4, 2017 in recorded form from Los Angeles and the text is available at the Nobel website.

In it Bob Dylan says “When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature.” He proceeds to consider the connection and finds strands of thought from Moby Dick to The Odyssey in his songs. But he says “Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read.” For more read 
Bob Dylan - Nobel Lecture. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 6 Jun 2017

Back to The Elevator. Colston Hall is a music hall in Bristol, England. The Royal Albert Hall is much more famous, but in London. To ‘blag’ is to obtain something by guile. The final words are quoted as though Cohen used it in introducing his performance in Toronto, the occasion of a chance meeting of the narrator and Cohen again:
D’you know where you’re going?
Is this where you wanted to be?

Was there a previous relationship between them? Is something being dredged up from the sticky layers of the past? Saras thought so. Hemjit remarked it may not be a romantic relationship, necessarily. Zakia thought the opening line was beautiful:
As an oyster opens,

Someone else said it was haunting to read the line:
Vertigo, fear, desire.

KumKum said the poet narrates a short story in each of the two poems chosen. In the second one, the narrator imagines in a dream that a boy is looking at her while tilting a glass of bubbly wine as they sit. It is a reverie by the river.
o, o, she almost had his name.
Remember me?

The o, o, represent bubbles rising from the wine ...


2. Hemjit

John Updike was an American poet. He wrote fiction, poetry, essays, and criticism in The New Yorker magazine for half a century. He was the author of 22 novels, 15 books of short stories, 7 collections of poetry, 5 children’s books, a memoir, and a play. Joe read his final collection of nonfiction, Due Considerations, which samples 70 of his book-reviews and essays. It is a collection that will afford a reader long hours in the delightful company of an urbane critic who points out marvellous things to be admired, and wraps his severest criticism in such fine prose that the subject of his criticism would be disarmed entirely. Updike is hailed as one among the three who won the Pulitzer Prize twice for fiction, for the Rabbit series novel (KRG read Rabbit is Rich by Updike in Mar 2009). His works dwell upon religion, marriage, infidelity, death, family obligations, etc.

In an interview Updike stated,
I began as a writer of light verse, and have tried to carry over into my serious or lyric verse something of the strictness and liveliness of the lesser form.

Even Updike's prose takes on the magical quality of poetry in dreamy descriptive scenes. Joe pointed out in Rabbit is Rich there occur passages like this:
he feels his way through the tummocks and swales of red earth crowded with shimmering green growth, merciless vegetation that allows not even the crusty eroded road embankments to rest barren but makes them bear tufts and mats of vetch and honeysuckle vines and fills the stagnant hot air with the haze of exhaled vapor”

which can become, with slight re-writing and sectioning into lines, a short poem:
He feels his way
Through the tummocks and swales;
The earth is red and crowded with
The shimmering green of vegetation
So inexorable
It allows not ev'n the crusty road embankments
To rest a barren mass, but makes them bear
The tufts and mats
Of vetch and honeysuckle vines
And fills the stagnant air
With the haze of vaporous exhalation.

Hemjit read the short story by Updike, Pigeon Feathers. He liked it so much that he went back later in life to read more. Pigeon Feathers is the name of the collection of stories in which the title story figures. The critic Arthur Mizener says in a review it is “not just a book of very brilliant short stories; it is a demonstration of how the most gifted writer of his generation is coming to maturity.”

A book a year came from the pen of this prolific author. And he was one of the few who made the comfortable switch between novelist and poet during his life, as the mood was upon him. Authors realise early on that one can rarely make a living writing poetry.

At some point Updike underwent a spiritual crisis, but overcame it, as he says, by reading Karl Barth and falling in love with men's wives. You can read an extended biography there.

Hemjit said a hoe, the agricultural tool to break the earth, is തൂന്വ in Malayalam. In the poem Hoeing, Updike describes the joy of handling manual farming tools which the modern generation seems to be unaware of. Saras liked the line
The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
..moist-dark loam —

Shoba responded with one of the chores that gives her dream-like pleasure, namely, washing clothes by hand. Thommo told about his father's sister's mother-in-law who would sweep the courtyard, doing the job until she was 95 years old. Joe likes washing dishes as an activity which disengages the brain. Mindlessness rather than mindfulness guides his choice of relaxing activity.

In the second poem, Perfection Wasted, death comes and takes away the individuality that characterises each human being; everything goes, the feelings, the wit, the response to others. Here is a metaphor that stands out:
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,

Joe regretted the sudden vanishing of enormous wisdom and experience gained over a lifetime when death intervenes. This led to a discussion of the memoir of tennis star Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography.



Joe read it and marvelled at the depth of the player's recollection. Agassi not only throws light on his own career, but somehow remembers tournament games he played along ago, even with low-ranked singles players like the Indians, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes – the latter is still around, but only plays doubles. He narrates the story of what a jerk Jimmy Connors could be. When he lost to Agassi, the older guy, Connors, tried to get under Agassi’s skin by telling reporters “I enjoy playing guys who could be my children. Maybe he’s one of them. I spent a lot of time in Vegas. [whereAgassi grew up]” Joe recalls that it was Shoba who loaned this scintillating biography to him.

Thommo said it was ghost-written, though the ghost is invisible in the book. The biography of Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, titled Jack: Straight from the Gut, was also ghost-written but the ghost writer is named on the front cover and Thommo said, besides a fee he got a cut of the royalty.


3. Saras

e.e. cummings had many talents besides poetry. He is noted as a water colourist; here is Chocorua Landscape, a 12 × 18 in piece he made:


cummings was a novelist too and wrote over 2,000 poems. He was a pastor's son, born in Massachusetts. You can read a comprehensive biography of him at the Poetry Foundation website

A few interesting facts are noted below taken from this site. His style is quite spare and a bit eccentric in orthography, spacing of lines, and punctuation. He was one of the first ‘typewriter poets’ after Ezra Pound who did their work not with the pen, but directly on the machine. He used it to achieve different visual effects. There is he says, ‘an inaudible poem – the visual poem, the poem not for our ears, but eye’.

cummings was Unitarian in belief, that is to say he belonged to a sect of Christian believers who deny the revelation of the Trinity (three distinct persons in one God) in the New Testament. An illustrious person who was also Unitarian in belief was Isaac Newton, the mathematician and physicist. He privately rejected the belief in Trinity and wrote extensively on the subject but did not publish; as a result of his belief he did not take Holy Orders which was the norm for Cambridge faculty then. Ironically, he was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge!

cummings’ father died in a locomotive accident, meaning perhaps a collision between a car and a locomotive. The poet was greatly upset by that. He had a unique way of stitching words together and experimented a lot as a typewriter poet, with commas, periods, and running words together. The unconventional syntax made him a law unto himself, and of course, imitation of such eccentricities is impossible. Saras said he was said to have used vulgar words, but she did not come across any in her reading; Joe suggested perhaps he had spelled the f-word fcuk. But take a look at cummings’ bawdy poetry and drawings, from his early work Erotic Poems before the typography got all knotted up.

During World War I he was an ambulance driver in in France. Later he fell in love with the city of Paris and spent time there, meeting the likes of Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. He wrote a comic strip called Crazy Cat and published children's literature. Joe asked whether cummings had lost the shift key on his typewriter. It seems not; it was much more deliberate, the effect he intended. His use of lower case, particularly of the lower case ‘i’ is sometimes used as a pun on eye. He would use the verbal and visual pun
eye / i / o o

Saras read the first poem which is like a hymn to the beauty of nature. All the senses of the poet awaken to the natural world in the climax:
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

The strange word ‘greenly’ offers a novel sense and the innovation is to be commended. The opening reminded Joe of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ famous poem, Pied Beauty:
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

The second poem of cummings is a love poem
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear;

The braces ( ) are meant to symbolically enclose the poet's heart. Zakia called it a beautiful poem. cummings got married to a friend’s wife and had a child by her, but they divorced soon after, when she fell in love with another man.


e.e.cummings (1894-1962) grave at forest hills cemetery, Jamaica plain

moRe famous for fooLing with punCtuaTion and Grammar thaN for his pOems This cambriDge-bOrn writer became one of tHe most reSPected literaRy vOiCeS of hiS generation [Boston Magazine epitaph]


4. Shoba

Alfred Edward Housman (1859 – 1936), was a great classical scholar, and a published poet late in life, whose short work, A Shropshire Lad, of 63 lyrical poems was published in 1896 and has remained in print ever since. He studied Classics at Oxford but didn't obtain the degree because he neglected subjects like philosophy that didn't interest him. Moses Jackson, a fellow student whom he became fond of, got him a job in London at the patent office; but nights were spent studying Latin and Greek. He made a name for himself as a private scholar, publishing articles regularly, and was called to teach at the University College London, becoming Professor there in 1892.


His unrequited love for Moses Jackson formed a melancholy strain in his life. The attentive reader will listen for those elements and recognise them in many of the poems of A Shropshire Lad. The poems are mostly in rhymed iambic tetrameter with a possible catalexis (one syllable lacking in the last foot of the meter). Take this famous example – impossible to forget once you've read it:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Housman continued to labour as a classicist establishing the correct texts of ancient but not so well-known Latin poets, such as Propertius and Manilius. He became a Fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge in 1911 and consorted with other greats there such as Bertrand Russell and Gertrude Stein. His second volume of poetry came out in 1922 (Last Poems). After his death in 1936 his brother, Laurence Housman, brought out two more volumes, More Poems and Complete Poems (1939).

Housman’s last years were spent in a nursing home in Cambridge. A Housman Society was formed and composers set many of his poems to music. The reader can find more biographic detail at the Poetry Foundation page. Further interesting details may be gleaned from the time when Joe dealt with Housman's verse in July 2013.

Shoba chose No. 23 from A Shropshire Lad that tells of a brief halt
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.

The Greeks and Romans believed the wind blew from twelve directions. Shoba said the poems tell of emotional responses rather than intellectual reflections.

About the poet Donna Word Chappell Shoba could not find a single word of biography on the Web, but she read The Earthworm and there was a peal of laughter at the end when the moral was brought out by a young student who had seen the earthworm being scotched when doused in alcohol:
"If you drink whiskey all the time,
you never will have worms!"

Then KumKum narrated a similar belief that Joe held. Once his cousin told him to throw away a mango because it had worms, but greedy Joe couldn't bear to throw away a whole mango. So he sliced into it and got rid of the wormy part and ate the rest. His cousin reminded him that worms lay eggs. In the middle of the night he woke up and asked KumKum to quickly give him the keys to the liquor cabinet for he felt a stirring in his stomach, and in the middle of the night he downed half a glass of whiskey neat before returning to a sound worm-free sleep.

Saras had another liquor yarn, this time about a patient who bit her husband, Rajendran’s hand in a spasm of pain. He wondered if he should have a tetanus shot. But the old servant spoke up in Malayalam, moley peydikanda, saaru devisom randu addikunondu (Don't worry, daughter, Saar has two drinks daily!).

From there the conversation drifted to non-alcoholic prophylactics, to wit lacto-bacillus (pro-biotic yoghurt). Taken daily it seems to act as a long-term anti-biotic. Hemjit gave the name of a medicine sold as a tablet called YOGUT  pertaining to the gut, intestine, stomach etc. Other brands are Allgut, Wellgut etc.

Here is another interesting short poem by Donna Word Chappell in the same vein as The Earthworm, about a panda bear:
A big old pudgy panda bear walked into McDonald's one day.
Ordered a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, and ate it all right away.
He paid his bill at the counter, then with a great big grin
He pulled out a big water pistol and shot the cashier in the chin.

He sauntered out to the sidewalk; the cashier followed him there.
Drying his face he said, "Why'd you do that? It wasn't really fair."
"In the encyclopedia, friend, the answer can be found."
The panda said, and then he left, saying, "Well, I'll see ya around."

The cashier looked it up that night. What he saw he couldn't believe.
The encyclopedia said, "Panda -- eats shoots and leaves."


Panda - eats shoots and leaves

The most Joe could find out was that Donna Word Chappell is in her seventies, contributes to Christian web sites, and some of her poems are quoted on Christian prayer web sites.


5. Thommo

Robert Bloch is best known as the author of Psycho, which became a spine-chilling movie by Alfred Hitchcock. He authored several books and short stories. He was lso a fan of the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street (not the more famous one of 221B Baker Street). In fact, he even wrote a poem about Pons, working several well-known detectives and private eyes in. So, I give you, Robert Bloch’s poem A Toast To Solar Pons.

In between we got the news from Thommo that Reliance Jio provides a plan of 2GB per day data with a SIM card for Rs 499 plan for 28 days, and another 2GB per day with a hotspot device.

Thommo looks for novelists who have written poems, and found his second poet in Kingsley Amis, whose novel, Lucky Jim, he had chosen with Priya in Dec 2011. Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE (16 April 1922 – 22 October 1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, various short stories, radio and television scripts, along with works of social and literary criticism. He is among the many novelists who have tried their hand at poetry, and after the attempt continue to remain famous for their prose. So Thomas Hardy found out, so D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, and oh so many more, including John Updike whose poems were read today.


In this poem Kingsley Amis is reflecting on his empty nest home, remembering the slight detail of a cold evening from long ago:
That cold winter evening
The fire would not draw,
And the whole family hung
Over the dismal grate
Where rain-soaked logs
Bubbled, hissed and steamed.

Why should that memory cling’, he wonders? – particularly now that he's got central heating and the house is warm at all times.

Amis's first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), which we read at KRG in Dec 2011, is perhaps his most famous, satirising the high-brow academic set of an unnamed university, seen through the eyes of its protagonist, Jim Dixon, as he tries to make his way as a young lecturer of history. The novel was perceived by many as part of the Angry Young Men movement of the 1950s which reacted against the stultification of conventional British life, though Amis never encouraged this interpretation.

According to his biographer, Zachary Leader, Amis was "the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century." He is the father of British novelist Martin Amis.

In 2008, The Times ranked Kingsley Amis thirteenth on their list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.


6. Joe
On picking up an anthology of poems (The Standard Book of British and American Verse, selected by Nella Brady, 1932) in his possession since boyhood, Joe realised that the most browned pages were those of the Rubaiyat, which he had recited to himself often at the age of ten or eleven.


About the Poet, Omar Khayyam, and his Translator, Edward Fitzgerald
Omar Khayyam, born at Naishapur in Khorassan in the very north-east of Iran (1048 – 1131) was a Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. He studied first with the scholar Sheik Muhammad Mansuri in the town of Balkh, in present-day northern Afghanistan, and then with the Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri in Khorassan. His blazing intelligence was put to work in his first works in mathematics and astronomy. His work on the calendar surpasses the western Julian calendar and equals the Gregorian calendar in accuracy, and was done a good four centuries earlier through observations at an observatory built for the purpose.

Omar Khayyam, died at Naishapur in the 1123; in science he was unrivalled in his time. Khwajah Nizami of Samarcand, one of his pupils, relates the following story: “I often used to hold conversations with my teacher, Omar Khayyam, in a garden; and one day he said to me, 'My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it.' And so it was years later when I visited his final resting-place!”


Tomb of Omar Khayyam in Naishapur

Omar Khayyam statue in the garden around his tomb

Rubaiyat comes from the word Ruba’i which is a Persian verse of 4-line stanzas; rubaiyat is the plural. The first, second, and fourth lines must rhyme, the third is blank. Edward FitzGerald (1809 – 1883), the translator, uses the AABA rhyme scheme in his famous 1859 translation, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; I will quote from the 5th edition, published posthumously in 1879.

What is dominant in Khayyam’s verse is the Doubt, and that appealed to me a lot when I was a lad. A copy of an anthology I have from that time, shows the pages of the Rubaiyat browned from frequent reading with fingerprint acidity. And although Hafez and Firdausi are far more honoured in Iran, I am content with Khayyam, rendered and made intelligible to me and countless others by Edward Fitzgerald, blessed be his name.



Rose, grown from the seed of a plant found on Omar Khayyam's tomb at Naishapur, planted on Edward Fitzgerald's grave in Suffolk

I pay tribute also to the one who made this transcreation. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge. He was quite rich by inheritance. While at Cambridge he came familiar with Tennyson and Thackeray, both later to outshine him in letters. However, a young friend, Edward Cowell, discovered a set of Persian quatrains by Omar Khayyám in the Asiatic Society library in Calcutta, and sent them to FitzGerald. Another less extensive copy was in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. EF learned Persian and tried to glean his understanding of the Persian quatrain-form, the ruba'i, essentially clinging to its rhyme scheme and choosing to render it as iambic pentameter in English. Khayyam wrote hundreds more than the 101 quatrains that figure in the 5th edition but he did not write them as one long unitary poem. EF reduced them to 101 and mashed up several and invented some.

The English speaking world would never have come under the spell of Khayyam but for this wonderful job resulting from the meeting of a 19th century sceptic and a 12th century agnostic and doubter. Jorge Luis Borges in an essay titled The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald wrote “FitzGerald dedicated his life to combining the series of quatrains, and re-organized them into a single, coherent text. A miracle happened: from the lucky conjunction of a Persian astronomer who ventures into poetry and an English eccentric who explores Spanish and Oriental texts, without understanding them entirely, emerged an extraordinary poet who resembles neither of them” (Jorge Luis Borges, 1967).

Its popularity grew until by the late 19th century it became known across the world. It has been translated into 70 languages and there are thousands of editions, illustrated by hundreds of artists and it has been set to music by more than 100 composers. The Oxford English dictionary refers to the Rubaiyat 82 times in the quotations index.

The poem’s attraction is that it is filled with vivid images and threading the verses lies a persuasive argument for doubting the doctrines of religion. The poet questions the facile hypotheses underlying the doctrines of those who proscribe pleasure in the name of religion. Wine he considers one of the chief pleasures and no poem rivals the Rubaiyat in praising the grape and its scintillating juice. You cannot read it without multiple verses sticking in your memory, not only for the rhetorical flights and arguments, but also for the way the verses flow.

Joe read 20 favourite quatrains out of the 101 in the fifth edition of the translation, and then adduced one more in the poet’s honour at the end:
Had you Omar been born in Malabar,
You would have been in toddy deep and far,
But since Iran was home to you on earth
The wine of Shiraz became your soma!

It is a pity that in the eagerness to root out the pitfalls of drink the Khomeini regime uprooted the vines of the Shiraz grape that had been growing continuously for thousands of years in that region of Iran. You can read about the End of the Vine in Iran. No matter, cuttings had already been taken to many parts of the world where they thrive, and when future rulers of Iran become more relaxed about eating and drinking, the vines can be transplanted back. For an interesting story on origins, see The Secret History of Shiraz Wine.

Thommo mentioned he came across a statue to Omar Khayyam in Bucharest during his European car journey. Here it is:
Statue of Omar Khayyám in Bucharest

Omar praised Mohammed and that's why he was able to get away with his free-thinking ways, said Thommo. Joe mentioned his tomb in Naishapur where a splendid new structure has been built over it. Another one will be unveiled in Astrakhan in S Russia. Mr Putin said Omar Khayyam is among his favourite poets.


A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
   Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
 Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!


7. Zakia

Zakia chose to expose Keki Daruwalla, the Indian poet, now based in Delhi. He was born in Lahore in 1937. His father was professor in the Government College, Lahore. In 1945 the family shifted to Junagadh and then Rampur. He got a Master's degree in Literature from Government College, Ludhiana, University of Punjab, and then spent a year in Oxford as a Queen Elizabeth scholar. He joined the Indian Police Service and later became assistant to the Prime Minister and retired from the Cabinet Secretariat as Additional Director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

He first published a volume of poetry, Under Orion, in 1970 under Prof. P. Lal's Writers Workshop, operating now under the guidance of his son, Prof. Ananda Lal. Daruwalla got the Sahitya Akademi Award, in 1984 for his poetry collection, The Keeper of the Dead. He returned the award in Oct 2015 after the Akademi failed to condemn the use of physical violence on authors in order to suppress free speech (they did belatedly pass a resolution). He was a Padma Shri awardee in 2014.

You can listen to the poet reading poems of his at a US Library of Congress website on South Asian recordings:

Mr Daruwalla has written collections of short stories and many collections of poems. In the poem Zakia chose, Before The Word, the poet muses on how human speech came about, and he marches the reader through Darwinian evolution to a time when pre-humans were swinging through the trees like baboons. He imagines a typically poetic origin of speech in the final lines:
What was it like before language dropped like dew,
covering the scuffed grass of our lives?

Since we had just heard from Joe about Omar Khayyam extolling the virtues of the juice of grapes (fermented) everyone laughed to realise that this poet's name signified that one of his ancestors must have been in the liquor trade (‘daru’). Immediately there was a chorus of readers submitting names of Parsees ending in -walla: Batliwalla, Palkhivala, Sodabottlewallah, SodaWaterBottleOpenerwalla, Topiwalla, Screwalla, etc.


The Poems


1. KumKum
Maura Dooley (born 1957)
The Elevator
As an oyster opens,
wondrous, and through mud
lets glitter that translucent
promise, so the lift doors
close and I am inside
alone with Leonard Cohen.

Vertigo, fear, desire.
I could unpeel myself here,
not just down to honest
freckled skin but through
the sticky layers of a past.

Surely he’d know me anywhere?

Remember that time in the Colston Hall,
how you sang only to me?

The Albert Hall, when I blagged
a press seat and you never once
took your eyes from my shining face?

Here, now, today, in Toronto,
how did you find me?
How did you know I’d be here?

He looks to where I stand
in the radiant silence,
the earth falling away beneath us,
till the silvery gates slide open
to release him. He steps out.
He steps out and I stand still.

D’you know where you’re going?”
he asks.
Is this where you wanted to be?”

2008, From: Life Under Water


In a dream she meets him again
The trees shake their leaves
in this loveliest of springs
lit from within, like the face
of the boy whose fresh glance
finds her as he tilts a glass
at a book or film, at life itself,
where they sit by the river
in the red and gold of dusk
while bubbles rise to the rim,
o, o, she almost had his name.
Remember me? Maybe she does.


2. Hemjit
John Updike (1932 – 2009)
1. Hoeing
I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
..of the pleasures of hoeing;
..there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.
The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
..moist-dark loam —
..the pea-root’s home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.
How neatly the green weeds go under!
..The blade chops the earth new.
..Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.


2. Perfection Wasted
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.


3. Saras
e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962)
i thank You God for most this amazing
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
(you can listen to the poet recite it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axH9A28CTjw)


[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

(you can listen to the poet recite it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4Qb9XmHXX4)


4. Shoba
A. E. Housman (1859 – 1936). From A Shropshire Lad. 1896.
XXXII. From far, from eve and morning
FROM far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.
Now—for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart—
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.


Donna Word Chappell
The Earthworm
Mrs. Brown had taught first grade
for twenty years or more.
She was a real good teacher;
all the folks knew that for sure.

One day in her zeal to teach
her students helpful things
She chose drinking whiskey,
and the problems that it brings.

She poured some whiskey in a glass
so they could plainly see,
Then showed to them an earthworm.
All the students squealed with glee.

"See how he wiggles and moves so fast,"
said Mrs. Brown, and then
She dropped him straight down in the glass.
They didn't understand.

She held the glass, and then she said,
"Now, come and look inside."
They looked, and it was plain to see,
he had shriveled up and died.

"Now children," she said tenderly,
"you've all looked at this worm.
"Can anyone explain today
the lesson that you've learned?"

All the students shook their heads,
but Johnny raised his hand.
"I know, I know," Little Johnny said.
"I know! I understand!"

Mrs. Brown saw Johnny's hand
and she was very glad.
With glowing eyes and a happy heart,
she looked at him and said,

"All right, Johnny. Stand up, now,
and tell them what you learned."
"If you drink whiskey all the time,
you never will have worms!"


5. Thommo
Robert Bloch ( 1917 1994)
A Toast To Solar Pons.
We don’t dispute the toil
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Invested in creating Sherlock Holmes;

And Miss Marple, fat and frisky,
Thanks to Miss Agatha Christie
Appears in a variety of tomes.

And a MacDonald – Ross –
Is never at a loss
For getting Archer into quite a bind;

While MacDonald’s namesake – John D. –
Created Travis McGee
Whose problem is that he is color-blind.

Wolfe, Poirot and Vance
Perchance enhance romance
Detection and deduction are their field;

And while Philip Marlowe guzzles,
Charlie Chan solves Chinese puzzles
And Perry Mason’s cases aren’t appealed.

But we salute a sleuth
Who dignifies, in truth,
The mantle of the master that he dons;

All the others, irrespective,
Must defer to our detective-
So, gentlemen - I give you - Solar Pons!


Kingsley Amis (1922 1995)
Wasted
That cold winter evening
The fire would not draw,
And the whole family hung
Over the dismal grate
Where rain-soaked logs
Bubbled, hissed and steamed.
Then, when the others had gone
Up to their chilly beds,
And I was ready to go,
The wood began to flame
In clear rose and violet,
Heating the small hearth.
Why should that memory cling
Now the children are all grown up,
And the house - a different house -
Is warm at any season?

Something nasty in the bookshop
Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

I travel, you see”, “I think” and “I can read'
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
Girls aren’t like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stayed up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn’t write.


6. Joe
Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131) and Edward Fitzgerald (1809 – 1883)
I.
WAKE! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

VII.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.

IX.
Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

XII. (the most famous quatrain)
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

XIII.
Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

XV.
And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

XXI.
Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears:
To-morrow—Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n thousand Years.

XXIV.
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!

XXVII.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

XXIX.
Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

LVII.
Ah, by my Computations, People say,
Reduce the Year to better reckoning?—Nay,
'Twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday.

LIX.
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute;

LXIV.
Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

LXX.
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd you down into the Field,
He knows about it all—HE knows—HE knows!

LXXI. (The second most famous quatrain)
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

LXXII.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help—for It
As impotently moves as you or I.

LXXX.
Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!

XCIX.
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mold it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

CI.
And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!
TAMAM SHUD


Joe's tribute to Omar, Astronomer-Poet:
Had you Omar been born in Malabar,
You would have been in toddy deep and far,
But since Iran was home to you on earth
The wine of Shiraz became your soma!


7. Zakia
Keki Daruwalla (born 1937)
Before The Word
Corn is great, on the cob or otherwise,
but before corn in the ear there was life.
Fire is holy especially for Zoroastrians,
but before fire too there was life.
Before the bowstring and the flint arrow sang,
there was life.
The word is great,
yet there was life before the word.
We can't turn romantic and say
we were into bird speech or river-roar then,
into the silence of frost
or the language of rain.
But forest speech and swamp speech
came through easier to us.
When lightning crashed,
the cry of the marsh bird was our cry,
and we flung ourselves to the other branch
like any other baboon.
As winter whined on windy cliff,
we shivered with the yellow grass.
In winter-dark a hundred eyes
flared yellow in the jungle scrub.
When seasons changed, blood coursed with sap
and flowered in meadows. We were at home.
Nor eyes nor bat cries bothered us.
What if we didn't know
a bat assessed reality
from the ricochet of its cry?
Though there were no words,
fear had a voice with many echoes.
Worship was quieter, adoration
spoke only through the eyes or knees.
What was it like before language dropped like dew,
covering the scuffed grass of our lives? 

2 comments:

Hemjit Bharathan said...

Mindlessness rather than mindfulness guides his choice of relaxing activity - a very beautiful sentence Joe.

Thanks as usual for the beautiful, expansive and enlightening elucidation.

Hemjit Bharathan said...

The Probiotic tablet I consume instead of Whiskey when I detect or imagine a strange rumbling

in my tummy is called YOGUT -pertaining to gut, intestine, stomach etc. Other brands are

Allgut, Wellgut etc.