Favourite Poems: March 2018

This year, I’ve decided to read a poem a day. It gets difficult to quantify, sometimes, mainly because a) I’m exploring what’s poetry supposed to mean, and b) I like reading poetry collections. In addition to poem/day, I’m also trying to read a poetry collection each month*. (But at this point I’m sure I’m just showing off.)

But, since I am doing this for myself, and I am too lazy to think of things to blog about (unless you read my poetry blog where I post more often) I thought hey, why not combine the two, and compile a list of great poems I’ve read every month!

The idea for this series is for me to post at least four poems (one poem/week) that I especially enjoyed every month. This way I can keep a check on myself (with respect to reading) and have something to blog about.

I know it’s mid-April, but I’ve been especially lazy, okay? Bear with me.

Fr March, I’d decided to read non-white/straight/male poets. So I read a lot of translations, women poets, contemporary poets, etc. And I’m not a hipster to talk about that as an “experience”, but I realized how hard it is to find poems like that online.

But, here’s a list of my favourite poems for March:

1) The Patriot, by Nissim Ezekiel

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting –
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming –
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers –
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

I’m assuming he wrote this during The Emergency, but it is still relevant, right? To the point that I couldn’t believe it was written so long ago!

2) The Brocade Border, by Kanaka Ha. Ma
Trans: Arundhathi Subramaniam (from Telugu)

Tell me, how can a brocade sari
without an embellished border
be beautiful?
Isn’t it the border that carries,
with the susurus of pleats,
the imperious swathe of body and pallu?

Flowers, creepers, mangoes, grape-clusters, temples, peacocks …
the body, a sea of dreams
the pallu, a night sky.
But it is the quivering earth-edged border
that takes the breath away.
A simple-bordered sari without body or pallu
like the artless mirth of a woman unadorned.

Were she to turn around,
she’d be a serpent-streak across the fence,
here one moment and gone the next.

Hint of foot, radiant flicker of toe beneath border,
her gait, a shimmer of mehendi.

Try as you might to unravel this sari –
game of dice darting between its folds –
it will not yield the secret of its infinitude.

Of course, brocades are necessary to enhance the allure
of lovely women.
And to pin down the vagrant stars and moon
a beguiling sari is all you need.
Yes, we must learn to resist its seductions
but here anyway is a tip:
in today’s world, civilized folk are advised to attach
a matching ‘fall’ to safeguard their borders.

In all honesty, I heard the poet read it out loud in Telugu in a poetry reading I attended in February, and boy, don’t I wish I knew the language! That was my reaction to the poem Lonavala Dawn as well, a rather visceral poem in Chinese (that’s what it says on the website, not sure which language they are referring to exactly) about Lonavala, a small hill station not an hour from where I stay.

4) Nani, by Kamala Das

Nani, the pregnant maid hanged herself
In the privy one day. For three long hours
Until the police came, she was hanging there
A clumsy puppet, and when the wind blew
Turning her gently on the rope, it seemed
To us who were children then, that Nani
Was doing, to delight us, a comic
Dance…..The shrubs grew fast. Before
the summer’s end
The yellow flowers had hugged the doorway
and the walls. The privy, so abandoned,
Became an altar then, a lonely shrine
For a goddess who was dead. Another
Year or two, and, I asked my grandmother
One day, don’t you remember Nani, the dark
Plump one who bathed me near the well?
Grandmother
Shifted the reading glasses on her nose
And stared at me. Nani, she asked, who is she?
With that question ended Nani. Each truth
Ends thus with a query. It is this designed
Deafness that turns mortality into
Immortality, the definite into
The soft indefinite. They are lucky
Who ask questions and move on before
The answers come, those wise ones who reside
In a blue silent zone, unscratched by doubts
For theirs is the clotted peace embedded
In life, like music in the Koel’s egg,
Like lust in the blood, or like the sap in a tree.

I definitely didn’t expect what was going to happen in this poem, and good lord, was I shocked! I thought about the lines They are lucky/ Who ask questions and move on before/ The answers come for an unhealthily long time, and don’t think I’ll forget them any time soon.

5) Advice to women, by Eunice de Souza

Keep cats
if you want to learn to cope with
the otherness of lovers.
Otherness is not always neglect –
Cats return to their litter trays
when they need to.
Don’t cuss out of the window
at their enemies.
That stare of perpetual surprise
in those great green eyes
will teach you
to die alone.

*I read The Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes as my poetry collection for the month, and again, I loved most of the poems in it.

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