Poetry at Sangam



September 2014

This September we present A. Anupama’s poems and, from the Arabic, Naseer Hassan’s poems translated in collaboration with poet Jon Davis.

US based poet, critic and translator A. Anupama restlessly ranges over continents of culture in her poetry. Yet her voice is variously rooted – in ancient Tamil poetic genres, Western forms like the sonnet and the sestina, and American hybrid – and sings with insight, imagination and audaciousness from each location. Anupama’s poems combine this multiplicity of influences and genres with assurance, elegance and beauty. Their after burn smoulders with a rare persistence and fragrance. ‘My influences,’ she writes, ‘and their combination are probably the key to my unique design. Classical Indian poetry and traditions are one important thread. My education in molecular biology, genetics, and other sciences, along with my work in orthopedics publishing, is another significant strand. Also, I like to use photography as an additional layer of metaphor with my poems…’ In A Seashore Lotus, Dreaming she borrows markers of Tamil Sangam love poetry and effortlessly weds these with the American colloquial to startle and delight us: ‘… If I find a shell comb, I will leave it for you/ under the boardwalk stairs’. The witty Sonnet From The Dark Lady plays with memories, love, ‘arrogance’s untended flame’ and survival: ‘Yet you are dead forever now, but now and then/ at my door looking, against the glass windows. Our eyes bow,/ leaning into that tender steep, silence itself tapping time…’ In the everyday she finds luminosity, for clearly the call of the spiritual taps into her work.

Iraqi translator and poet Naseer Hassan was at the Iowa International Writers Program at the University of Iowa in 2011 when he travelled to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and there met poet and professor Jon Davis. Soon they were working on translating Hassan’s profound, rigorous and fragmented poems from the Arabic, that journey through outer and interior landscapes while echoing with an oneiric familiarity. Here’s the fragment titled “Whirlwind, Coincidence, Eternity”. ‘Within the colored dust, the whirlwind slept/ a cup that ascends and awakens/ empty signs/ remnants of clothing and times …// And a shocking moment like Love, when Love is distant and permanent/ close and intermittent…// Other people were here, on this “whirling moment’s” seat inside stillness.’ We carry the entire Section V: The Absolute, Too from Dayplaces: Showdowns on the Beauty of the World and its Depression along with Davis’ eloquent and keening introduction, “Under the Water of Wars”: A Note on Structure and Translation. In Waxwings Literary Journal Davis says, ‘I could see that his (Naseer Hassan’s) poetry was cosmopolitan, modernist in intent, but sometimes postmodernist in technique. The postmodernist techniques (including acknowledging the destabilization of the self or what you call “the precariousness of a first-person perspective”) were not intended to be lightly ironic; they mirrored instead the chaotic times Naseer had lived through, but which, in Naseer’s view, the whole world has endured: “The agony here is the world’s agony, which can mean everything’s agony, my agony, the nation’s agony, the agony of human life, and so on, but of course this is one side of the world, the other side is its beauty.”

This month’s poems, contributed with goodwill to Poetry at Sangam, will linger like the scent of camphor which fills the senses long after it has flamed before one’s eyes.

Read on…