We, at Poetry at Sangam were invited by Menka Shivdasani to inaugurate the Mumbai chapter of the international 100 Thousand Poets for Change festival held at the iconic bookshop Kitabkhana on the 22nd of September, 2016. The evening’s theme was ‘Writing in Troubled Times.’ Literature, because of the many functions it performs in society and its very nature as creative expression speaks of freedoms, the breaking of parochial and sectarian boundaries and of ruptures and renewals as it marks the moment, however dark this may seem. The poems may be prescient of tragedy or sing of resistance.
Yet every act of writing is one of hope for the writer – here the poet – has invested her time, energy and creativity to touch with clarity our troubled and troubling times to create a space for attentiveness.
In this spirit we presented poems from the pages of Poetry at Sangam in six languages, five in translation with eight poets, translators and readers performing. These ranged from anti-war poems to mystic bhakti songs of love, haikus of defiance to eco-poetry and more. It was a full house, appreciative to the last word that buoyed us for the Mumbai reading was the first of many that we hope to continue with the goodwill of poets, readers and organizations in various cities.
Here are links to the event.
My thanks to the poets and translators – almost 90 thus far from 13 countries – who have wholeheartedly helped sustain our endeavours in every way, all along. And to the wonderful Bangalore bookshop Atta Galata that supports issues of our quarterly journal and readings. I also thank the Poetry at Sangam core team – Rahul Soni – my right hand and blessing, the amazing Arshai Sattar and ever cheerful DW Gibson. And of course you the readers who make it all worthwhile.
Here’s more on participating poets, translators and readers:
Mohan Gehani is the author of eleven books that include Sindh Jo Ithas-Jhalkoon (Glimpses of History of Sind) awarded by National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language and Ta kwaban Jo Chha Thindo awarded by Sahitya Akademi. His translations include Sami’s Shalokas with Menka Shivdasani. He’s actively connected with SINDHIYAT MOVEMENT to preserve Sindhi identity and inclusion of Sindhi language in 8th Schedule of Indian constitution. Other awards include the World Sindhi Council’s Saeen G M SAYED memorial award, Sahitya Akademi Award and the A J Uttam and Sundri Uttamchandani Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shizuko Suzuki (1919 – ?): A haiku poet whose writing life runs parallel to the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-1952). Her first book, Shunrai (Spring Thunder), was published in 1946 soon after the Japanese surrendered, and became an instant bestseller selling nearly 5000 copies. Her second book, Yubiwa (The Ring) was published in 1952, after the end of the Occupation, after which she disappeared without a trace.
Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Europe and America, Mariko Nagai has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for the Arts, among others and has won the prestigious Pushcart Prizes for both in poetry and fiction. Mariko Nagai is the author of Histories of Bodies: Poems (2007), Georgic: Stories (2010), Instructions for the Living (2012), and Dust of Eden (2014). She is an Associate Professor at Temple University Japan.
Nivedita Sekhar is a 20 year old Media graduate who enjoys art, poetry and music. She has been learning all about Japan’s culture and language with the intention of translating it into her own work. This is her first Haiku recital.
Hemant Divate is a poet, translator, editor and publisher of avant-garde poetry. His collections in Marathi, Chautishiparyantchya Kavita and
Mustansir Dalvi is an Anglophone poet, architect and translator. His first book of poems in English, Brouhahas of Cocks (2013), is published by Poetrywala. His poems have appeared in several anthologies.. He has been Associate Editor at the online poetry workshop Desert Moon Review and the editor of their bi-annual e-zine The Crescent Moon Journal.
Dalvi’s translation of Iqbal’s influential Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa from the Urdu as Taking Issue and Allah’s Answer (Penguin Classics, 2012) has been described as ‘insolent and heretical’. His latest book is Struggles with Imagined Gods, translations of poems from the Marathi by Hemant Divate (Poetrywala, 2014).
Menka Shivdasani is the author of two collections of poetry, Nirvana at Ten Rupees, and Stet. She also co-translated Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition Poetry, (Sahitya Akademi). Menka’s work has been extensively represented in anthologies and literary magazines, both in India and elsewhere. Her poem, “An Atheist’s Confessions,” is included in Mumbai University’s English textbook. She edited an anthology of Indian poetry for the significant journal www.bigbridge.org, and edited an anthology of women’s writing by SPARROW. Menka is the Mumbai coordinator of the global movement, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and a founder member of Asia-Pacific Writers and Translators Association. She had played a key role in founding the Poetry Circle in Mumbai.
Joy Goswami was born on 10 November 1954 in Kolkata. One of the most powerful poets in the post-Jibanananda Das era of Bengali poetry, Goswami has published nearly fifty titles, including a novel in verse, and several collections of critical essays. Awarded Ananda Puroshkar (twice), the Bangla Academy Puroshkar, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad in 2011. Goswami has been a voice against violence, war and genocide.
Sampurna Chattarji is a poet, novelist and translator. Her fourteen books include the poetry collections Absent Muses (Poetrywala, 2010) and The Fried Frog (Scholastic 2009); the novels Rupture and Land of the Well (both from HarperCollins); and Dirty Love (Penguin 2013), short stories about Bombay/Mumbai. Her translation of Joy Goswami’s Selected Poems (Harper Perennial, 2014) was shortlisted for the Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry. Sampurna was the 2012 Charles Wallace writer-in-residence at the University of Kent, Canterbury, where she wrote her fifth poetry book, Space Gulliver: Chronicles of an Alien (HarperCollins, 2015). You can find her online at http://sampurnachattarji.wordpress.com/
Roselyne Sibille gives writing and listening lessons at the University of Aix-en-Provence, created poetry workgroups at the University of Avignon and organizing writing workshops in the Sahara Desert for the association L’Ami du Vent. Caroline Calloch says: “… Roselyne Sibille’s word music vibrates between two poetic silences.” She has published several collections and collaborative works, including Lumière froissée (with paintings by Liliane-Eve Brendel), Par la porte du silence (with Bang Hai Ja), Versants and Tournoiements.
Karthika Nair was born in India, lives in Paris, and works as a dance producer and curator. She is the author of Bearings, poetry; DESH: Memories, inherited, borrowed, invented and The Honey Hunter, a children’s book illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. Nair was the principal storywriter and scriptwriter of DESH, choreographer Akram Khan’s multiple-award-winning dance production. Her extraordinary and poetic reworking of the lives of the women in the Mahabharata Until the Lions has won numerous awards.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 –1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, “widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets”. His writings include one novel, several collections of poetry, and several volumes of correspondence. While Rilke is most known for his contributions to German literature, over 400 poems were originally written in French and dedicated to the canton of Valais in Switzerland.
David Need is a scholar and poet who teaches South Asian Religions and International Comparative Studies at Duke University. His recent scholarship includes papers on Jack Kerouac and Buddhism, and on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as translations and essays on Rig Vedic poetry and ritual. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals. He curates the Arcade Taberna reading series hosted at his house in Durham.
Vibha Kamat teaches French at the Alliance Française de Mumbai.
Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, cultural theorist and curator. His collections of poetry include Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems 1985-2005 (Penguin, 2006) and Die Ankunft der Vögel (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2006). His translation of the 14th-century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded has been published as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He has curated or co-curated numerous exhibitions, including the 7th Gwangju Biennale (Korea, 2008). Hoskote was a Fellow of the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, and at other prestigious residencies.
The songs of the Kashmir Saivite mystic Lal Ded resonate with courage to touch her star-strewn visions and divinations of the self in the world. In an excerpt from the lucent introductory essay from Ranjit’s book, I, Lalla, he writes, ‘Revelation comes to Lalla like a moon flowering in dark water. Her symbols and allegories can be cryptic, and yet the candour of her poems moves us deeply, viscerally.’
Adil Jussawalla is the author of four collections of poems: Land’s End, Missing Person, Trying to Say Goodbye and The Right Kind of Dog. Maps for a Mortal Moon, a collection of his prose, selected and edited by Jerry Pinto, has recently been published by Aleph Book Company. He won the 2014 Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry collection Trying to Say Goodbye.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s books include speculative fiction, cross-genre non-fiction, a novel, two poetry collections, translations of Tamil mystic Andal and two poetry collections (Editor). Awarded for Outstanding Contribution to Literature by the Indian Government, her work’s translated into six languages. Her work is included in various anthologies, journals and online sites. Editor, Poetry at Sangam. http://poetry.sangamhouse.org/ www.priyawriting.com
Sharing happy news: Poetry at Sangam is now supported by Atta Galatta.
Book lovers warm to the words ‘Atta Galatta’, the bookshop in Bangalore that stocks over 10,000 titles in regional languages, particularly from the South, as well as those in the English bhasha, besides hosting performances and readings. The roomy red brick-walled space is welcoming, enhanced by the smell of coffee and cookies that caresses books and comfortable chairs. The couple behind Atta Galatta, Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar are most welcoming to what I still consider the most endangered of literary arts, poetry. Atta Galatta is also hosting the inaugural Bangalore Poetry Festival on 6th & 7th August, 2016.
Now to our new issue.
‘Janice Pariat ranks among the finest young Indian poets,’ I wrote back in our December 2013 introduction to her work at Poetry at Sangam; she was among the first group of poets whose work we showcased. Janice is also a remarkable writer of long and short fiction as awards and nominations testify. Go get her books; check it out yourself. But first, read this quarter’s fantastic issue that Janice has guest edited with wit and élan; the selection flies like a banner of fire over water.
— Priya Sarukkai Chabria
I am weary of earnestness.
Of earnest poets writing earnest poems read aloud earnestly at poetry readings. It might not even be bad poetry. Just sweetly, cloyingly earnest. And it’s bearable, even endearing perhaps, in small doses, this seriousness. But how insufferable to posture perpetually as a Poet. How irredeemably boring. So my first intention upon having been invited to guest edit Poetry at Sangam was “no earnestness, please”. Which doesn’t mean these six aren’t serious, or utterly devoted, to their craft. But they have a sense of humour. A wryness. An ability to look at themselves from a distance with a comic eye. To be free-wheelingly Dylanesque, in a way, about it all. (“Yippee!” He once sang. “I’m a poet, and I know it/Hope I don’t blow it.”)
I called for irreverence.
Underrated as it is today. And important. When there seems to be fewer and fewer things we’re permitted to laugh at. Or be irreverent about.
And my poets have risen to the occasion.
Zachary Bushnell, born in New Jersey and “raised between states” offers us, among others, Pussy Sestina. (A most fitting place, I imagine, for a lyric tradition born of praising courtly love, to end up.) Here, he claims, in “Constructing sanctuaries to pussy, / one must be overly careful not / to overdo the Thing.” And master of form as he is, he doesn’t. Ever. Bushnell’s poetryscapes are scathingly contemporary. Touched, always, by the gently surreal, and filled with odd communions. In Transplant, the “blond hirsute pig” rooting through detritus is “similar twin”. In Gratitude as a Kind of Continuation (Tweet), “The blue bird contains the occasion / For declaring war.”
In lines that evoke a similar sense of explosion-upon-contact, Sridala Swami gives us the four-part Three False Starts and a Conclusion. She is laconic. Poet with a candid, throwaway skill. “My ambition now,” she says at the beginning of the poem, “is to hide effectively which is to say, I would like / to do nothing superlatively well.” What she also does well is language—not the usual she is in love with words bunkum—with a poststructuralist’s eye. “For spell read landmine / For any war read The War … For artifice read reserve, read modesty / Read garden. Foreign field.” And to that question, “who are we anyway”, she replies “trees”. That have lost their way.
Amanda Calderon also reveals similar linguistic wildness. For her, in Composite Tiger, the creature is “so wide you thought it was a cinema.” “It played a newsreel across its spine.” There is, in her words, constant surprise. A supple newness. And touching delicacy. She has, in these poems, an eye for the ancient. In Yurt, poem like a display in a museum of cultural anthropology, it is laid out: skin, musical instrument, weaving. The patterns that map our lives. It’s a bid to infuse life into “objects”, to avoid the museumization of things. So that even if “Nature is nothing but information / It is undeniably beautiful.”
Also wandering galleries, Tishani Doshi offers us in O Great Beauties! an archive of solemn women. Painted on canvas through the ages, unsmiling. “But Ladies, fripperies aside, I must hasten. / I must ask dear daughters of important houses, / heroines of epics, Helens, whores, how did you know / to obscure your true selves? Wherefrom the maturity / to swallow your grins and hide your teeth? … How did you perfect the art of staring so well?” It is an important question. It is playful. And through the heart of these poems runs (to borrow from Swami) “the wonder that is the thing that survives.” So to a beloved, Doshi promises in Love in the Time of Autolysis not a red rose or a satin heart, but that “When you die, Love, I will leave you out like a Zoroastrian.” That she will touch his skin as he turns from “man to farm”. Behind Doshi’s lyricism lies steeliness.
What we also find, quietly, in Vijay Nambisan’s work. Here is someone who once told an acquaintance who proclaimed “we don’t need poetry” that “poetry does not need you”. Indeed it doesn’t. But poetry needs Nambisan. His sardonic wit, and droll humour. Coupled with a formal precision designed to make you weep. So for Narendra in To Vivekananda, Jr, nothing less than the heroic stanza, deployed to scathe: “Narendra, when the gods come calling / Will you render strict account / Of all the times you might have fallen / Off your high and mighty mount?” For the ducks in the series of Duck Poems a gentler mix of free and blank verse, and here too we see the lovely odd communions. The quiet revelations. In Buoyancy, “Ducks have, in water, a feeling that they are / Not quite all there … I too, sometimes / Catch myself looking down to see if my feet / Are still on earth.”
Once Nambisan’s published companion in the two-poet collection Gemini, Jeet Thayil does not offer us a poem. Instead he gives us rage in poetic form. Also sadness. Origins, selected from his new novel, will sweep and carry, halt and suspend, wreck and pillage, you. Your heart. It is divine itinerary. It reads Biblical. An unstoppable outpouring of sordid warning and soaring prophecy. Take this, all of you, and eat of it. For this is “ennui sold as spirit food.” Do this in remembrance of me.
Here, they are all together, these irreverants.
Read them, for you must.
— Janice Pariat
Poetry at Sangam is supported by the iconic bookstore Atta Galatta
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