Poetry at Sangam



July 2017

Here’s the July issue, brilliantly curated by Ranjit Hoskote.

But first, there’ve been changes at Poetry at Sangam.

We are delighted to announce that the well known Raza Foundation has extended its support to us. Raza Foundation is an arts and culture organization initiated by the late master painter Sayed Haider Raza who was determined to create spaces for various art and culture programs, publications and fellowships for younger talent as well as carry research into the work of acclaimed masters. Importantly, Raza wanted to promote creative expression and freedom of thought and ideas to a larger public. This mission is being ably carried forward by the Raza Foundation Trustees led by poet and thinker Ashok Vajpeyi.

The multi talented Rahul Soni, writer and translator our webmaster since the journal’s inception has joined HarperCollins (India) Publishers as its Literary Commissioning Editor. This is indeed wonderful news for writers even though we miss him deeply. You can read his translations here and the issue he has curated here.

In his place the talented independent filmmaker Saurabh Agarwal has joined us as webmaster. His interests include South Asian traditional knowledge systems and enquiries into oral languages as a prism for disappearing world views. We heartily welcome Saurabh.

In the essays section we carry Ashok Vajpeyi’s India and the Plurality of Dissent. This is important reading in our troubled times. We’re also very happy to present two new poems by Ranjit Hoskote on his page here.

Ranjit and I go back decades. I know him as poet, translator, cultural curator and gracious friend, ready to support a variety of valuable causes, sometimes at great personal risk. Our first collaboration has been an unmitigated pleasure. With a mind like mercury – swift -moving, responsive, deep and full of light Ranjit constantly sent updates that soothed my somewhat frayed nerves. I’m sharing the concealed architectonics of this issue with snatches from our correspondence. ‘Greetings from Berlin!’ he mails early on; among his most recent,’ …I will be, variously, in Hausach, Frankfurt and Vienna…’ , smoothly working over transitions of temperature, time, food, friends, presentations. In between, ‘…she’s on board our adventure. Her poems will come in soon, as mentioned in my previous email.’ About the unsolicited submissions he replies,…but regret that they do not fit within the curve of my constellation of poets’. At a time when I’m feeling frail, this balm of reassurances is better than any medicine. ‘I’m going to read through everything, get on with any to-and-fro that might be required, and have everything pretty much in order for you and Saurabh​ by…’; while to Saurabh’ ‘please don’t be alarmed at what might look like Spellcheck run wild … poems also contain occasional foreign or invented words – again, no cause for alarm…’  . As you can see, the tone is always witty and elegant, with flashes of exhilaration and the hard work palpable.

Finally, he mails,‘…thank you so much for inviting me into the Sangam universe!’ Thank you, Ranjit, so very much. Vivat! Florat!

— Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Two New Poems by Ranjit Hoskote

Essay: India and the Plurality of Dissent by Ashok Vajpeyi

Curatorial Note

Ranjit Hoskote

Nearly thirty years have passed since I read Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoir, Hope Against Hope. Yet I feel a renewed thrill of recognition whenever I think of the passage in which she recalls how a poem would begin to take shape for her husband Osip. Not on the page, not in handwritten lines or on a typewritten draft, but on the “moving lips”. We think of the poet, navigating the labyrinth of a hostile city or adapting himself to the rigours of internal exile, his mouth forming words, shaping a music of images, testing the grain of tonality. That moment survives the mortal poet, the silence of the prison camp. It is the poet’s afterlife. His “moving lips” move again whenever a reader, whether in Moscow, St Petersburg and Voronezh or far away, discovers and spells out those incantations again.

Poetry has at least four possible beginnings. First, as with Osip Mandelstam, in the moment of breath: in orality, an origin it shares with chant and song. Second, in the mark of the hand: the Greek graphein, ‘scratching’, indicates both writing and drawing. I think here of Tagore’s late poems: the pen drifts from word towards image, script mutating into phantasms of dream, dread and hope. Third, in print, that archetypal medium of modernity, and its linguistic and visual potentialities: in line lengths, spacing, the shocks and schisms of typography. I think of Mayakovsky’s collaborations with Lissitzky and Rodchenko, manifested in design and layout; of avant-garde mise-en-page: scatter patterns of words, testimony to the interplay between phrase and silence, pulse and void. And fourth: in the palimpsest, which is generated when poets work with ancestral resources, translating or arguing with their predecessors, writing over and around their poetry – literally or figuratively. I think of the versions of the Ramayana, the Theban plays, the Iliad, and Beowulf, texts travelling and mutating across the borders of time, geography, medium and culture.

All these originary moments deposit their dazzling traces in the work of the six poets who have responded with warmth and generosity to my invitation to contribute to the July edition of Poetry at Sangam: Robert Sheppard, James Byrne, K. Srilata, Rhian Edwards, Alice Miller, and Arun Sagar. I am deeply grateful to these friends and colleagues: poets of varied location, generation and practice, whose work, and the curve of whose thought, I admire and respect. I have known them in multiple, often overlapping contexts – of friendship, conversation, and collaboration; through the sharing of ideas and platforms, jokes and stories. I have read them on the page and online; shared hours of delight and excitement with them, variously, at literature festivals, a pub in Liverpool, a journey from gig to gig across Wales, a library garden in Bombay, a castle in Stuttgart – and am deeply grateful to them for joining me in the present adventure.

Highly distinctive as they are, the practices of all these poets are informed by a lively curiosity about the self, the world, and everything between. They approach the archival and the unfolding resources of the language in a spirit of play, of inventiveness. Their poems activate a vibrant counterpoint between an intimisme of detail and a persuasive awareness of the world’s turbulences. In their work, I sense that subliminal experience of a relay between guha and akasha, the cave-as-retreat and the sky-as-expanse, the space of formal control and the space of conceptual and affective risk, which characterises all memorable poetry. These poets straddle art forms, media, formats, and sites of production; several of them have strong artistic and political commitments to translation. Sheppard is a blogger, a practitioner of experimental prose, and is closely engaged with the visual arts; he and Byrne have co-edited an anthology; Byrne is co-founder and editor of an influential poetry journal; Edwards is a musician and a cultural activist; both Srilata and Miller write fiction; Miller writes plays; Sagar served on the editorial committee for an online literary magazine.

These marvellous writers re-affirm that poetry, at its best, is a protest against fossilised habits of thought, against the instrumentalisation of language by slogan, formula, cliché; against the amnesia, the fragmentation of attention, and the constriction of sensibility that are encouraged by the demagogues and hypnagogues who dominate public life. Sheppard, Byrne, Srilata, Edwards, Miller, and Sagar reclaim memory, time and intensity of focus for us, their readers – and these are immensely precious gifts.

I would conclude by thanking my friend, fellow poet and comrade at many barricades down the years, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, editor of Poetry at Sangam, for her gracious invitation to act as guest editor for this edition. My collegial gratitude, also, to Poetry at Sangam’s webmaster, Saurabh Agarwal. It has been a very special pleasure to collaborate with them.
Alice Miller

James Byrne

K. Srilata

Robert Sheppard

Rhian Edwards

Arun Sagar