Poetry at Sangam



February 2014

It’s February. The month of professing love in many ways. We, at Poetry at Sangam, do so by offering you poems by Birgit Kempker, Naveen Kishore and Sridala Swami. All three poets profess their love for language and the act of writing as they translate themselves.

German poet Birgit Kempker writes essays, retranslations, songs, does installations of various kinds; she is an experimental artist. Her writing has the shamanistic and hallucinating wraparound texture of dream as it mixes prose and poetry as she ‘tries to be real’. The link to the Sphinx of Pontresina where she also resides is here: http://www.xcult.org/sphinx/index.html. (Ask a question and ye shall be answered!) We present translations from Shame and her other books. “Shame lays bare levels of personal identity which language seems almost to have been invented to conceal ‚” writes Bruce McPerson. On this collaborative process with renowned poet Robert Kelley he adds, “The form it assumes as a book is beautifully complex and intriguing.” The translations we present have more to do with transmitting to the reader the process of translation and collaboration than offering a correlative object or linguistic iconography. The first is an introduction to herself by herself in her English, the second an excerpt from Scham/Shame by Kempker and Kelly; the last is an excerpt from Exercise in Drowning translated by Andrew Shields, Peter Waterhouse and herself.

Naveen Kishore is well known as the publisher of Seagull Books, the imprint that resolutely demands its readership rises up to meet the writing. We are delighted to bring you his contemplative poems. These are in the manner of the Makura No Soshi, the lyrical ‘pillow books’ of Heian literature that comprise of poetic jottings. Or in the hallowed tradition of the writer’s notebook. Entries are marked by the date of inscription; few arrive with titles like 29th June: Writing, where he homes in on the glow that wraps the writer at work, ‘Ready and waiting for the cue. The orchestra gathers around the conductor. Rain bearing clouds ready to pour. Nerve-ends like trumpets willing to blow.’ With lucent, disarming ease Naveen Kishore makes us question the nature of the prose-poem; he deploys the full stop unconventionally, and with breath-taking aplomb. ‘But wait. Listen./To the stones. Breathing.’ Each full stop demands. We reflect. On each word. On its fullness. And mystery. ‘Language is breathing… ; and the poem, that which takes our breath away, yet gives it back and allows us to live,’ Naveen Kishore writes. Though his poems range over themes of revolt and renewal, the act of writing and the weight of memory, they are poised on the moment of awareness breaking; they sing of startling connections with heart-wrenching beauty : ‘The tree combing its branches./ With light gifted from the stars./ … The boat breaking its moorings./ Sailing upon the clouds.”

Celebrated poet, blogger at http://spaniardintheworks.blogspot.com and photographer Sridala Swami wrote in the introduction to her first collection, ‘The part that gets caught up and shivers in response to the world is the voice of the engaged poet.’ More, she explores the resonating unsaid through ellipses and allusions within the varying conceptual climate of her work. A ladder of words climb down the page as we ascend into her world of transformed minutiae, ‘… granite dust is incense/ the roads, dark kolams.’ At other times it turns deeply disturbing as in, ‘He flew. This is what occurs to me./ I still dream of flight/ as if the bowl of heaven is an illusion/ just because I can see right through it.’ Often there’s a sense of the absurd lurking in Sridala Swami’s poems; in others a tipping into the natural world or the horizon of the unknown as in the yearning Dear Stranger Deciphering This Ancient Script she writes, ‘Dear salvager, dear rescue artist, dear hauntologist:/ What have you done?/ I wrote to escape attention. There was a brief sentence I had to serve before remembrance could be not about what has been. I wanted to fall like dust and be renewed in leaves.’

‘The reader’s freedom,’ William H. Gass wrote, ‘is a holy thing.’ Read on.

Wishing you the truths behind the clichés of moonlight, wine, roses; wishing you the transformations of yearning.