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Dhaka Literature Festival 2015- An Overview

November 2015 brought with it tentative autumnal showers that kept winter firmly at bay in London, and news of the latest tragedy from home. On the last day of October, as children in London were donning generic and specific costumes to prompt a sugar high, publishers were being butchered by religious fundamentalists in Dhaka. A year of similar fatal attacks on freethinking, rationalist writers claimed another life. The incident was weighing heavy on my mind when I met Ahsan Akbar, a fellow Bangladeshi writer, with a third of the penultimate month of the year over.

Ahsan is a witty poet currently at work on a debut novel that is eagerly anticipated by his reputable writer friends – and he has many of them. He is also one of the directors of the Dhaka Literary Festival. He has befriended the distinguished men and women of letters in the course of fulfilling his responsibility of bringing them to the capital of Bangladesh for the annual celebration of literature for the past half a decade. We were attending a reading by one of them. Meike Ziervogel, like me, was due to travel to Dhaka in the following fortnight. She, like me, trusted the team behind the festival to have our best interests at heart, and remained committed to attending it. After a rendition of her precise, haunting prose, she reiterated this as she signed copies for waiting fans. She echoed the defiance of another guest, the esteemed Jon Snow: Now was the time to stand with Bangladesh, to show solidarity with those who were fighting for the soul of the country.

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Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune

These were the two memories – one deplorable, the other inspirational – with which I boarded the plane on the eve of the festival. I had opted for the functionality of the Abu Dhabi airport over the ostentation of the one in Dubai as my stopover. I sent a few messages to friends and family over WhatsApp and Facebook before departing for Dhaka. Upon arrival, I checked for replies repeatedly, but none came. The government had blocked most social media and messaging applications as a security measure following the murders and as a prelude to the imminent hangings of convicted war criminals. The religious right had called a hartal – political strikes that had steered so far from Gandhi’s principles of peaceful protest that success was measured in casualties and the number of vehicles burned – in response to the sentences, on the first day of the festival. This was especially problematic for me since I had to travel the length of the city to get from my parents’ residence, where I was staying, to the Bangla Academy, the historic location of the festival.

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Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune

I relied on my knowledge of safe modes of transport during hartals, and arranged an ambulance. This proved to be an unnecessary precaution, taken by an expatriate whose knowledge was showing some signs of rust. The famous resilience of Bangladeshis was in full display on the streets, flouting the inconsiderate, senseless moves of supposed politicians to go to work. The violence of hartals, the full force of which was felt in 2013 when they claimed more than a thousand lives, had also abated. I was greeted by a police roadblock when I reached the festival premises. The road on which sat Bangla Academy had been closed at the behest of the organisers. I walked past patrols of bored policemen sprinkled throughout the closed road, up to the entrance and, after being given a VIP pass, made my way to the Main Stage for the inaugural. The ambulance had collected me only after ferrying the hospital staff, which meant that, according to the schedule I was handed as I entered, I was late. The minister who was declaring the festival open, however, was running on Standard Bangladeshi Time. Therefore, despite my best efforts, I was early.

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Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune

Once it started, the first three hours, encompassing a musical recitation that I had missed, the inaugural and an opening plenary, set the tone for the rest of it. K. Anis Ahmed, a well-known Bangladeshi writer and publisher, and another festival director, delivered a succinct and comprehensive address in English and Bengali, establishing firmly the multilingual nature of the event. He touched on the absentees, as did Ahsan in his address. There are two types of writers in Bangladesh. The first is diligent and dedicated, constantly developing and contributing significant pieces, often with no reward. A handful of them had paid with their lives during the year, as their predecessors had during the independence movement. Their numbers had already been dwindling, arguably even skipping a generation since the new nation emerged. The second wants the fame without the work, the superficiality over the substance, the label that has not been earned. The growing English-language scene has seen more of the latter, the frauds, crawl out of their holes and multiply, believing their English medium education and overseas university degrees have equipped them to string two sentences together and pass themselves off as writers. They succeed at conning their way to the limelight because Bangladesh has simultaneously revered writers as intellectuals – dating back to the language and independence movements, and those who were slaughtered by Pakistani agents, to silence them – and had low rates of literacy and education.

A pratfall of these charlatans did not leave their Gulshan and Baridhara palaces in support of the written word and the freedoms of thought, speech and expression. At a time when these fundamental freedoms that make us human are under threat in Bangladesh and the region, when luminaries from foreign shores did not hesitate to show solidarity with us, the reprehensible actions of those who dare call themselves writers and Bangladeshis were conspicuous, were criminal. A few of the foreign guests had similarly absented themselves, citing security concerns. They should be reminded of what it means to be a writer. “We need to celebrate literature, and it is especially important to celebrate it in these troubled times when it is under attack in so many parts of the world…[W]e all belong to the country of imagination, and when an iron curtain comes down on our imagination, then it is time to act, and to act as writers,” said Nayantara Sahgal in her effortlessly eloquent keynote speech at the inaugural. The festival had begun, its special significance and greater duty to the world and literature underlined.

The opening plenary, vague and imaginative in equal measure in its title, “The World is Round”, set its sails to the wind unleashed by the inaugural. No sooner had the first question been asked by the moderator than the discussion took on a revelatory political flavour that audience participation at the end encouraged rather than dampening. Jon Snow, Jude Kelly and Ramachandra Guha represented the fair, rational and brilliant truth-seeker, the reactionary whose single-minded worldview is expressed in every sentence uttered, and the artful centrist that lend sensible political discourse the perfect blend of information and entertainment. Appetite whet, I raced to the Lawn, another of the six locations used for concurrent sessions – there were at least three running at the same time for the rest of the festival – for a quick look at the launch of Himal Southasian’s special issue on Bangladesh, before interrupting it to take in a tete-a-tete about culture and performance art through the ages between two of Bangladesh’s most celebrated actors, Aly Zaker and the effervescent Asaduzzaman Noor. The former, especially significant as one of two international magazines that had dedicated entire issues to Bangladesh for the very first time, kept the political flame that had been lit alive, while the latter delivered on its promise of mirth. The organisers had performed a minor miracle by getting the schedule back on track by then. I took a break to avail myself of the Authors’ Lounge’s hearty lunch service.

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Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune

 

A steady trickle of people was beginning to grow the sparse audience of the morning – a result of a working day and the trepidation of a hartal – by the time I made my way back to the sessions on offer. The first day saw the festival stretch its poetry muscles, showcase Bangladeshi writing, and delve into science, courtesy of Harold Varmus, an American Nobel Laureate who had defied his State Department’s overly cautious travel advisory. I met Naushad Ali Hussein in between sessions, a primary school classmate I had last seen almost two decades previous. Naushad, it seemed, had veered away from his mathematical inclinations at school towards the arts. He, along with the ever-exuberant Rajib Rahman Johney and Karina Zannat, was leading an energetic, enthusiastic and incredibly helpful team for Jatrik, the production company behind the festival. Headquartered inside what appeared to be a box office encased by glass converted into an office, the three were called on to solve problems of varying magnitudes – a jetlagged guest needed to go to the hotel, another needed a mobile phone charged, yet another needed to know where best to get jamdanai saris and how to get there, while another was nowhere to be found – during my poor attempt at catching up with Naushad. I was approached by a smiling volunteer, identifiable by the distinct purple “DLF 2015” t-shirt she had on and a similar badge to mine which gave her a different designation, who asked if someone had been assigned to me. When I answered in the negative, she promptly rectified the oversight. Progga Noshin is a bright, cheerful student from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, one of the private universities that have grown in the country since the turn of the century, to try to make up for the egregious shortcomings of the state institutions. She made the remainder of the festival both enjoyable and considerably easier to navigate.

Dhaka may be unfashionable compared to some of the exotic hosts of literary festivals, but the emphasis on programming in 2015 made it a standout event. The main motivation behind the attending public was the quality of the programming and the topics of discussion, to learn from and be inspired by substance, not superficiality. An example was the session on science fiction on the second day. None of the panellists were household names in Bangladesh, but the interest in that particular kind of writing had resulted in all the seats being taken, people cramming inside and standing where they could, and two small queues outside the KK Tea Stage’s ajar doors. They caught the Cuban rock-star and writer, Yoss, explain how his mother cries when she reads his stories, and when she asks him how he can keep a dry eye, he replies, “My tears are on the page.” The hunger for science fiction had been met with a constructive dialogue between him, Marcel Theroux, Ranbir Singh Sidhu and the Bangladeshi writer Saad Z. Hossain, and the audience that plumbed the depths of the genre’s standing as more than pulp-fiction, as being relevant to understanding life through the ages, the human condition, even politics.

The second morning had already brought a pleasant surprise. Scholastica, one of leading Bangladeshi English-medium schools, had arranged a school trip to the festival on the Thursday. The hartal had forced them to cancel. The students were not to be deterred, however. They had forsaken their weekend sleep and convinced their teachers to reschedule the trip for Friday. Some had had to wake up at five in the morning to join the group that arrived at Bangla Academy before its doors had opened. Their hunger and determination gave the lie to the age of media sensationalism that constantly reminds us of the erosion of values and digitalisation killing literary and intellectual pursuits. Identifiable by their uniforms – white shirts and navy blue trousers for the boys, white shalwar-kameez with navy blue dopattas for the girls, the white in each case carrying the multi-coloured school logo – I spotted them listening intently to Sandip Roy, Mahesh Rao and myself discuss short stories with the Nepalese journalist Bikash Sangruala. Mahesh’s likening of short stories to flings and novels to long-term relationships was exemplified the former pair’s irrepressible wit and verve that entertained a largely young audience shaking off sleep. I later learnt that students of some of the other established schools had joined those from Scholastica, their civilian clothing allowing them to blend into the crowds thronging sessions on Palestine, Cuba, translation, feminism and the minor languages of Bangladesh.

Jon Snow, Kunal Basu and Zafar Sobhan were especially generous with their time when approached by the young minds in between sessions. The latter is the editor of Dhaka Tribune, a formidable English-language daily that was the festival’s title sponsor. En route to a session, I stopped by their stall to see what they were doing. Rumana Habib oversaw a warm, spirited and accessible team. Their planned activities included a poetry booth – a highbrow version of the carnival kissing-booth – and several workshops. This hands-on involvement with the festival was a refreshing change from the elitist approach adopted by Dhaka Tribune’s predecessor, The Daily Star. In an effort to live up to the high journalistic standards set by its British tabloid namesake, its coverage of this significant event in a country where freedoms and the space to exercise them were ever-shrinking was reminiscent of the government’s approach to said freedoms: denial, rejection and refusal. I was amused to see the supposedly most widely circulated English-language newspaper displaying the pettiness of a Hindi soap opera villain while its successor showed why it had been left at the altar for the other.

There had been an air of elitism and nepotism about the festival in its previous, imperialist form, which was absent in the reborn version. While the director past walked with a permanent spotlight hanging above, the directors present opted for bringing Bangladesh to the world over self-promotion. The Wasafiri special issue on Bangladesh, brought into focus in the warm early-winter afternoon of the second day, epitomised this. The only independent nation to emerge from Bengal, the crown jewel of British India and the region most coveted by the kings that preceded it, has failed to live up to the heady heights of its cultural heritage. Those within the country, spurred on by false senses of patriotism or nationalism and delusional pride, cling to that heritage with the zeal of a convert. They have not provided those without with a reason to have faith. Bangladesh remains absent in global conversations because the wealth of its Bengali literature has not been translated and its sparse English literature has not been communicated to the world. The Wasafiri issue is a step towards rectifying decades of negligence on part of the self-appointed gatekeepers and doyens of Bangladeshi culture. In that regard, it was a personification of the festival.

I carried this optimism into the final day. Conscious of its impending end, the festival paraded its greatest hits. Jon Snow charting his life and its intersection with key moments of contemporary history was a delectable breakfast, Nayantara Sahgal’s liberalism and activism a luscious lunch that came with a dessert course comprised of lively discussions about London and Kolkata. Tea came in the shape of cricket, the passionate nation’s favourite sport, and science with Harold Varmus. I satiated my palate, having already enjoyed my personal highlight the day before. I had spent an hour and some change in the company of Jon Snow. What was supposed to have been an interview became one of the most inspirational, enlightening and awe-inspiring experiences of my life. The wisdom he had imparted with deft articulation was admirable, but being in his presence had reminded me of what it really meant to be human, and that was invaluable. As twilight approached on the last day, a travelling troupe of performers whose bus had broken down, delaying their arrival at the festival by a quarter of a day, gave a mesmeric folk-drama rendition in the Lawn that was painfully beautiful. They had not eaten since breakfasting at dawn, and the rural-dwellers were in the cultural heartland of the classist urban capital, but their discomfort was absent as they entered a trance and exploded onto the stage.

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Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune

I slipped away to the Main Stage, to hear the closing remarks of Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman. His name, like those of many others celebrated at the festival, was on the various hit lists released by the fundamentalists, and he had received death threats in the days leading up to it. His speech was one of defiance and endurance, one of the need for Bangladesh to converse with the world through its literature, one of what it can mean to be a Bangladeshi. I stepped out into the Dhaka dusk, the spell cast by his powerful words reverberating within me defining the festival. I saw a rush to the exit as rumours about the hangings of the war criminals and the response of the fundamentalists in their aftermath abound. Dhaka Literary Festival had ended, but it was not over. A microcosm of the nation that was birthed by indubitable hope and, despite being pushed towards becoming a failed state, remained full of promise and indomitably hopeful, it was necessary. A country that would not have been born had it not been for words now sees people killed because of them. Although the millions who were Charlie Hebdo value brown lives less, there is a home-grown platform of thoughts and ideas that demands the world take notice of Bangladesh, and demands Bangladesh fight for its soul.

BY IKHTISAD AHMED

Ikhtisad Ahmed is a human rights lawyer turned humanist and absurdist writer from Bangladesh. His writing credits include the socio-political poetry collections “Cryptic Verses” and “Requiem”, and short story collection dealing with similar themes, “Yours, Etcetera”. Twitter: @ikhtisad

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The Earthen Flute- A Review

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Click on the picture to check out the book

To neglect poetry is to neglect a fundamental aspect of the Human Condition. Poetry is a tool used to reflect this, a means of meshing together abstractions to create an experience of continuity. Kiriti Sengupta’s The Earthen Flute is a carefully constructed collection of poetry which fearlessly exposes the Human Condition – brought to life visually with illustrations by the talented Tamojit Bhattacharya.

Sengupta has published eight books of poetry to date, as well as two translations. His proficiency has catapulted him into recognition in India and various international writing circles. The Earthen Flute is Sengupta’s most recent collection of poetry and prose, which focuses sharply on the emotional aspect of the inner consciousness, using a mix of mythology and personal meditations.

On the one hand, The Earthen Flute plays out like a precarious melody sitting on the threshold of our perceived “World” and the “Other”. This articulate collection employs intriguing whimsical poetic techniques which swing the reader into a “Higher State of Awareness”. For example, in the first poem, “Keep an Eye”, Sengupta references the Hindu goddess Durga, whose left eye connotes desire, right eye action and the central eye knowledge. The central eye is fundamental to this particular poem. Sengupta describes the eye as, “… kept open / full or half” (Keep an Eye, p15), which leaves the reader contemplating a world beyond the limitations of their sensory experience. This poem is accompanied with the image of Durga by Bhattacharya, whose interpretation of the third eye is a white void; an open, inviting space which can only be filled by “Knowledge”. This can be seen as the answer to humanity’s spiritual vacuum, where one can awaken to “True Awareness”. In this poem, Sengupta encapsulates delicately a statement from Plato, who believed that “Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” The eye is a key component of The Earthen Flute. It is referenced consistently in a myriad of metaphorical surroundings, as it takes on an omniscient quality, “trust me, the eye can see” (Cryptic Idioms, p37). “My soul seeks, but the eyes fail to see” (Seventh Heaven, p40).

Occasionally, the work in The Earthen Flute feels overly calculated and does not suit the lucidity prominent in the rest of the collection. However, halfway through the collection, Sengupta’s “Dreaming Eye” plunges the reader into an exciting chimera of surreality. In the poem, “Clues to Name”, Sengupta captivates the reader with ethereal yet powerful prose. Each piece is merely titled “#” and manages to remain serene in the context of a chaotic dream. This poem is the most cryptic of the whole collection, a genuine exploration of the Self and its liberation, “Water has no call, no décor either; it floats the bone and the mortal flames free!” (Clues to Name, p33).

Though not often, there are times when airy overtones make it difficult to follow the flow of the poetry. I found the poem, “Womb” – a journey both personal and uncomfortable referencing the concept of birth – difficult to digest, “World, you may comment on material loss / Only the mother understands rupture pain” (Womb, p17). Other times, the poetry can lack the core essence of expression, with occasional cliché phrases like,“We continue to live being frightened”, (Gateway to God, p25) or “I don’t call it a feeling, / I would rather name it / My experience (Experienced Personified, p23). These appear seldom, but are still disruptive to the reading experience. Nevertheless, these are pickings against a backdrop of otherwise authentic work.

This collection pulls the reader through Sengupta’s daily life as he tunes a fine juxtaposition between the outside world and the emotional side of the inner self. The strongest work which juggles the outside world and inner experience is in his short poem, “Envy”, where Sengupta transcends his experiences into a metaphysical observation, “Jealous– / A Dentist can say if you are one // Your teeth deviate from / The occlusal table / And thus, lips suffer from bites” (Envy, p.26). This poem appears lighthearted but honest, connoting a fear of falling short of perfection – an imagery-laden treat.

Although Sengupta is not too concerned with strict rhyme schemes, the clearest use of rhyme appears in the poem, “Cryptic Idioms”, “A flute sounds along the serpentine track / Breath tunes it from mute to high . . . to crack! // For eons religion or its absence / appears back-to-back . . .” (Cryptic Idioms, p.35). Sengupta continues the modern tradition of free verse, not limiting himself to stricter forms of poetry. There is delicate wordplay which bring to life images in a spiritually dormant world, as memory is used as a vessel, “Memories unveil themselves / Through snapshots, even / The moon has its glory / Pinned in poetry” (Moon – The Other Side, p18).

The Earthen Flute is a book of poetry for the spiritualist, or for someone looking to connect with their “Essential Nature”. Its digestible style makes it an inviting collection for both the poetry neophyte and veteran to read. The mix of experience in the context of mythological fantasies form the basis of this intriguing collection. Sengupta begs us to use vision beyond our eyes, awareness beyond our senses, before the abruptness of our part of the Human Condition ends:

“Like an inevitable death / An enormous God steps in” (Gateway to God, p25).

A Review by Nathan Hassall

Of Rebellion, Genesis and Refuge…

The author writes this article “In Honour of Ashraf Fayadh”…

It is simple enough to recognize the poet as a being, as no glamorous exception to that entity of human flesh. We can, of course, eschew variant cases of Shakespeare or Ovid to whom evidences of actual portraitures are lost. One cannot completely discard the wild possibilities of alien mutations. But then, we merely depict ‘WILD’ to push forth such staggering notion. Somehow, the poet is an embodiment of this curious wildness; and it is, in most instants, not simple to recognize him as such. In other words, it is easy to gaze upon a poet, relish conviction and say, ‘This is a man!’ Yet, it is oft a herculean task to demystify the motif around the next evaluation which is: ‘What sort of man is he capable of being?’

This abstract nexus of inquiry is perhaps the essential gulf that lies between the poet and the poem, between one area of identity and another. It is impossible to probe this space without fortuitous inferences from the primal debate of beauty as a poetic component, of whether knowledge spawns imagination or vice versa. In the case of concrete self, it is the debate of whether the poet breeds the poem or vice versa! Such rumination—as is expected of any serious artist to accommodate—begets resolutions which, in turn, beget the very foundation upon which poetic artistry must be consecrated.

Usually, it is a complex phase, one where the poet either steers away from hubristic overtones as escape from that restrictive sedition for logic or surrenders to intuitive powers and risk self-willed severance from real life. And yet the poet does not, for that reason, fail to distinguish between himself and his energies, between his realm and the realities, or sacrifice his aesthetic independence on the temple of a hysterical and heterogeneous audience. After all, poetry is beauty. Beauty is self-terming. To co-opt Lisa Samuels—perhaps, one of the fiercest critics of the vintage Bysshe Shelley—I like to poise the poet on the same axis with the very nature of beauty. The duo are resistant structures, imaginative structures that present an impenetrable model of the unknown. Beauty, like the poet, is therefore endlessly talk-inspiring, predictive rather than descriptive, dynamic rather than settled, infinitely serious and useful.

In morally fragile societies, while every possible effort is made to thaw the pen, to glaze fissures on that creative cauldron of cosmic powers, poets must understand that the communal journey to conscience is not a smooth passage of rapid rectifications, but prone to  the penchant of cynics and invasion of monsters. A firm reconciliation with one’s own ‘ideo-poetic’ choices is thus imperative to transact the business of identity from external interrogations. That principle of reconciliation is every bit as important as the impulse that nerves the aesthetic faculty. The most passionate impulse has not resolved stylistic instabilities, alienation, lingual dissonance and strictures for the poet, not even essentials such as virtues. How then can anyone answer the question of what sort of man a poet is capable of being, or prescribe limited definitions for his limitless artistry if the poet himself has not asked his heart, reconcile demarcations between concepts and non-concepts?

What gives hope for reconciliation is the very unique capacity of the mind for self-dialogue, and the budding poet must indulge. I use the word ‘indulge’ deliberately, because this act of inquiry is internal and inculcates definite methodologies of questioning. These are found within the precincts of what I term the ‘trilogy of poetic identity’. You must exonerate the overreachingness of that coinage. It is amazing that contemporary poetry has contented itself with merely trivializing established valuations—a blind concession to determinism—since it cannot altogether comprehend the ‘rigidities’ of conceptual forbears. Even within the liberal festivities of contemporariness, it is vital to teach identity, to impart the need for poet and poem to reconcile themselves upon the makeup of rebellion, genesis and refuge.

So, what are these terms? What are these stances? What exactly are their imports and how precisely have they sprung into existence as sole determinants of poetic identity, or say, reconciliation?

Well, there are no superfluous denotations to these except that I, a poet, have only asked myself: why are you a poet? Is it fostered or genetic? Assumed, perhaps? Fortuitous ordainment from an anonymous divinity? A poet should be as fascinated with himself as his audience! That self-impelled curiosity leads to direr revelations: I am a poet because I must be; and because I must be, I must also become a rebellion against life’s reality, a genesis against life’s mortality and a refuge against life’s hostility!

So there it goes – the triple bulwark of inevitable circumstance. Should a poet deform his daily challenges or should his daily challenges form him? Should he be a creator of experiences or should experiences create him? Should he console or be consoled?

The poet only begins to exist—that is, transcend the basic recognition of “being”— after he has answered these questions. I have answered mine.

___

Oyin Oludipe, Nigerian writer, edits nonfiction at EXPOUND: a Magazine of Arts and Aesthetics. His poems and essays have been published in various national and international journals like Ijagun Poetry Journal and Sentinel Literary Quarterly.

 

An Interview with Gillian Clarke

Born in Cardiff in 1937, Gillian Clarke is The National Poet of Wales since 2008 and a remarkable figure in British poetry. She is a poet, playwright, editor, translator, lecturer and translator. Her work – including Poetry Book Society Recommendations, Letting in the Rumour (1989), The King of Britain’s Daughter (1993) and Five Fields (1998) as well as her T.S. Elliot Prize shortlisted Ice (2012) – are emotionally laden with feminism, politics, life events, and are heavily centered around the theme of Place. Clarke is a poet who’s cultural upbringing in Wales shines through her work. Her work is studied in the GCSE and A-Level curriculum and she was on the panel of judges for the poetry competition named Anthologise, where school students aged 11-18 sent anthologies of their own poetry. Her contribution to the arts are widely recognised. She received the Wilfred Owen Association Poetry award in 2012.

Clarke provides The Luxembourg Review answers to questions about life as the Poet Laureate of Wales, the inspiration of traveling and its effect on poetic practice and advice to young poets who are interested in practicing the craft of poetry.


How much does the natural world inspire you?

I live in Ceredigion, 900 feet up, 6 miles in from the Irish Sea, which is visible between hills. We have 18 acres of land, and live several miles from the nearest village. This is our life. Being alive is what I write about. Wales has a low density population, and most of our towns and cities are close to the coast. Even when I lived in Cardiff we were surrounded by the countryside, in sight of mountains, and the sea visible from everywhere I have lived.

Is poetry an extension of our relationship with the physical forces of nature which govern us in our day-to-day experience?

I am sure that is not true. Poetry is art, and like all art, it is about what human imagination makes of what we see, hear, think etc. A main characteristic of being human is our pleasure in rhyme and rhythm, and poetry in its simplest forms (nursery rhymes, song lyrics) is natural to all. Its sophisticated forms are refined versions of human language. It’s word-music?

How important is nationality in defining yourself as a poet as your work can be accessed across the globe by a multitude of cultures?

I am Welsh, and I don’t know a life as anything else. I never think of ‘defining myself’, and did not call myself a poet. Other people did. The attention my nation gives to poetry and poets is supportive and nurturing. My parents (not educated people) had a great love for words, books, stories and poetry, in both langages. However, being Welsh is just one way of being human. The best writers are true to their culture, and are most universal when they express themselves through their own culture. W.H.Auden says:

“A poet’s hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere.”

Seamus Heaney is a fine example, most Irish, most universal. Small countries look outward. Because my work is on the GCSE and A Level syllabus, it reaches wherever English is studied. I receive a steady stream of emails from students all over the world, and I answer them all.

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Gillian Clarke with Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Luxembourg Review Shehzar Doja at Chapter 1 bookshop, Luxembourg City.

Do you find that travels away from your homeland – to countries such as Luxembourg and Bangladesh – help your poetry go in new directions? Do you find these experiences pave the way for  new and varied inspirations?

Travel turned my focus from children, home and the domestic about thirty years ago. Every new place is fascinating, stimulating. I am an observer. I write what I know. It’s made me friends in many countries, taught me that the human being is the same everywhere, though coloured by a multitude of cultures, languages, ways of life. I must write from my own version of being human.

In 2008 you became the Third National Poet of Wales. What new challenges has this given you? Has this brought more pressure on you to write your poetry with Welsh readers in mind?

I like deadlines. That goes back to the weekly school essay! Over the past eight years I must have written well over a hundred commissioned poems and poems to support something. The commissioned, or requested poem is a tradition in Welsh culture that goes back to the 6th century. It is a ‘village’ tradition, here in Ceredigion, that poets rise to the occasion, as long as it’s an honourable subject. I write in English, but have ensured that all my public poems are translated into Welsh by a poet-friend whose first language is Welsh. So, on the Literature Wales website the poems appear in both languages. I have several poems placed on buildings, walls, pathways, as part of public places, and I usually use both Welsh and English in their writing –  except the most recently completed work by an artist in a long wall in a car park, in Newport, Gwent, five 6-line verses on the Welsh Chartists. In English.

With social media and online blogs making it simple to share poetry across the globe, do you believe the Age of Information has been beneficial to the poet? Do you think this has saturated the market in a way that devalues the art of poetry?

I don’t use social media, so I don’t see these works. It’s an open space for expression, which is good. It will have no effect on great poetry, and its enduring value. The internet as a tool, an infinite library, is wonderful. As I don’t do Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and delete all invitations to connect, I can choose my correspondents, and my poets.

Some believe that poetic talents are innate or, at least, the potential is. Many fancy themselves as poets. What is your best advice to aspiring poets?

No, it is education, listening, reading, culture and family that make a poet. Had I been the daughter of painters, maybe i would have been an artist.

In a world where we are bombarded by so much information, what advice would you give young poets look to get their work out there and noticed?

Advice: read, and listen. Be alert to language. Forget being ‘noticed’. A real writer wants to learn and improve, rather than ‘be noticed.’ Submit poems for competitions. Book a week at a poetry course at Tŷ Newydd, our beautiful Writers Centre in North Wales, and be tutored by published writers.

Poetry is an art-form that most people believe they can take on. If someone pens a piece with a bit of rhyme and structure, there is a small potential they can claim themselves to be a poet. If someone were to sit at a piano and hit the keys without any prior instruction, I do not feel they would fancy themselves as a pianist. Do you feel the intrinsic nature of poetry is such that it allows people of all abilities to call themselves poets?

It is because language belongs to all humans, and a love of rhyme etc is a child’s natural way forward. Instead of taking the piano as comparison, take singing. All can sing, though not all are the greatest. If a person wants to write, I salute them, and welcome them aboard. Advice, apart from ‘read’: write to enjoy it, and don’t expect fame, money, publication.

Poetry, including nursery rhymes, seems to be loved in childhood. Poetry is read at life events such as weddings and funerals, through which can they leave a powerful impact. The emotional nature of poetry is not the issue, but people’s desire to read or listen to poetry outside of these contexts presents a significant problem in poetry’s popularity.

This is an out-of date view. If ‘poetry’s popularity’ is a problem. how come so many Literary/Poetry Festivals in Britain flourish – more every year? Why do so many young people contact me, all year round? How are so many readings by the best-known poets sell-out events?

Does modern poetry do enough to connect new readers as well as stimulate the majority of existing readers?

I have no idea. It varies from good amateur to truly great poetry, as all art does. A poet has to write true to herself, himself, and if it is appreciated, that is an extra bonus.  My emails from everywhere, those sell-out events, the two hour queues at Hay Festival signing books, the requests for a poet, special poems for events, buildings, public squares, tell how popular poetry is in Britain. It is a phenomenon, and the envy of many other countries.

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Interview conducted by Nathan Hassall.

Attempted Speech and other Fatherhood Poems- A Review

Click on the photo to download a free copy of the chapbook
Click on the photo to download a free copy of the chapbook

Attempted Speech and other Fatherhood Poems is a chapbook of fifteen poems written by Nigerian linguist cum teacher, Kola Tubosun. It was published by Saraba Magazine in September 2015 as the fourth title in its individual poetry chapbook series.

At first glance, a compilation around the theme of fatherhood promises marvels; although Kola’s claim to thematic divergence is essentially one of approach. In weaving a string of poems that “are not as much a dedication to this (fathering) process however as they are personal reflections on that”, one encounters a cryptic yet compelling passage of nostalgia, excitement and anxieties. With an embrace of fine language, Kola’s collection promises all of these.

While the bard’s caveat of impending tangents (in the course of reading) announces itself by the turn of each page, most of his poems embody the experience of the budding father—emotional and cognitive—around private orbits of hope and transitions. The motion is aesthetic and subtle; one is tempted to contemplate chronology, though directly no claim is made by the poet for such implement.

What gives, for instance, the foremost poems – “Macedonia”, “Greener Grass” and “Couvade” – their fervent, near-surreal melancholy is the fact that they may be poems of early bereavement. Moods of deprivation are imbued by hopeful desperation. To quote the bard: In “Macedonia,” his invocations are for a soul to rebound to life: “Speak you must… / As with a lost wing, flap on white winds.” In “Greener Grass,” a trance of loss later accosts his afternoon as “Hair strands / On my hands break / From my lover’s head.” In “Couvade,” “As a churning stomach, rumbles the dour sky / Of the morning, the news reaches me, cold” and then, “Bile pushed saltiness to the home of tears.

One prominent quality of Kola’s poetry, as it is with Lola Shoneyin’s, Jumoke Verissimo’s and others, is that it is structured within a fluid framework which very effectively navigates the core of the sentiments of human consciousness. What ensues is a powerful interfusion of muse, thought and story.

“Five Days of Warmth” is a testimony to the above-said form, considering its titled stanzas and references to actual figures:“Jojolo”, a quiet child who is thought to be male in the womb of his mother; a hospital “diviner”; and then, a child who is again thought to be female, whose presence would be the “presence of light”, and of a feast, “ofada / On the palates of a famished guest.” It is commendable how Kola chronicles a five-day experience of looming fatherhood (in the preceding moments of childbirth, perhaps): he names the stages across the progression of “knowledge”, “warmth” (of womb), “dread”, “love” and “acceptance.”

Yet, waiting is also a part of fatherhood – a transient phase of fantasy that almost crushes the bard in the battle between hope and worry. This is what a wait feels like:

Is like a knife, slowly cutting

A dead limb of recurring expectations…

(A Wait, p9)”

As the pages flip, an earnest message is brought to bear upon the reader; and it is the fact that there are lots of apprehensions for “A Father of a new son / In a new age with new knowledge (A Cutting, p11).” In a poem, Kola introduces rather interesting reflections on the subject of human choice, and that as it concerns the new-born. On issues of pleasures, beauty, tradition and difference, a big question mark is placed on the notion of a young human’s power to make free choices unconstrained by society, by the external “Wide constituents of entitled opinions.

However, Kola believes that the child soon and always finds his own path; even though such path is a summation of a thousand existent ones; even though “each new step is a beginning into the cold wild, / With the certainty of the unsure steps of a walking child (Life, Like a Bus Terminal, p16).” For the bard, the discussion on the dynamics of his theme is inexhaustible: “I believe it quite unlikely that anyone is able to fully express fatherhood in words (Preface, p4).” Even more, the rumination of it as a mantle of guardianship is an extremely dicey trajectory for conclusions. In another poem, one finds a confession of honest wonder:

What does one write on a

Brown slate of bouncing flesh

What poem of such complex

Rhyme will explain the colours

Of his new-found views?

(Blank Slate, p20)”

But all of this does not deprive a father of the joys of his child’s “Attempted Speech.” “The syllables arrange / Themselves into tones, like staccato beats / On a metal drum” and the exciting scene “charms the tears off his mother’s eyes.”

A deductive examination of the bard’s musings reveals that he is more likely to be a liberal father than a conservative one. The omens are overlapping and recurrent. It could also be that his sinuous lines of conscientious restraint are equally cries for broad-mindedness in parenting – a redefinition, too, of what it means to be a father. Kola’s “Fatherhood” is not afraid of temperance, neither is it troubled by discretion. Clearly, it is tolerant of change, not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition. Or, at least, it most likely will be. A reviewer—like me—is far from being a prophet.

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Oyin Oludipe, Nigerian writer, edits nonfiction at EXPOUND: a Magazine of Arts and Aesthetics. His poems and essays have been published in various national and international journals like Ijagun Poetry Journal and Sentinel Literary Quarterly.

Pigeons and Peace Doves- A Review

Click on the link to check out the book
Click on the link to check out the book

Pigeons and Peace Doves 

The sadness must have been contagious / I could see it with my eyes / it was covering her skin / like climbing-grey ivy, creeping from her hand’s tips” (The Full Weight of my Head, p.5)

Pigeons and Peace Doves is an award-winning chapbook written by Bristol-based writer and artist Matthew J. Hall. It was published by Blood Pudding Press in June 2015.

Pigeons and Peace Doves conveys emotion through a minimalistic style, which is refreshing in the  somewhat confusing world of postmodern poetry. With each poem less than a page long (one being only four words long), this collection is a light read upon first glance. However, its relative shortness may not prepare the reader for the vicissitude of dark awakenings for Hall. Hall is brutally honest, not shy of addressing the heavier topics from the recesses of thought through poetry.

Although many of Hall’s poems follow this minimalistic form, the imagery is usually quite engaging. A handful of Hall’s poems pull you into the darkness of his room, where he is at his most introspective.  This is best reflected in this passage, “I found a dead moth / and placed it in a matchbox / I put the box in my bedside drawer //… the box had become a coffin” (Many Shades of Brown, p.10) However, there are instances where Hall uses clichés, which unfortunately disrupts his poetic projections. These are relatively infrequent but can taint some otherwise decent poetry.

 In Pigeons and Peace Doves, Hall uses the imagery of the pigeon and the peace dove to bring about a sense of continuity in his work, giving his collection a sense of togetherness. They are used to some success, “I woke up warm / and the rhino was still asleep / his tusks aren’t as sharp these days / the petals and the peace dove have him subdued” (She Sedates the Rhino, p.1) One problem with Hall’s chapbook is that the continuity can become repetitive, with the majority of poems either taking place in his room or on the street. Place is important in poetry, a mix up of images and narratives can throw the reader in unpredictable directions. One of the standout works which breaks this repetition is the poem ‘Dear Confidence‘, where Hall addresses a personified Confidence, with an interesting hook and mysterious ending, “take stock, Confidence / pull from the ground up / reacquaint yourself with Quiet / spend some time with Reflection / let Introspection kiss your forehead and for all our sakes, learn how to cry.” (Dear Confidence, p.7)

Hall’s chapbook is filled with potent lamentations and the woes of loss. Single lines provide an insight into Hall’s mind and there are occasions where shorter passages reflect his most insightful work. Other times, though, the poetry can come across as needlessly in-your-face and not necessarily polished. On the other hand, this works sometimes, as Hall is a poet who is not afraid of telling a story for how it is,“and I wept and confessed / I didn’t want to live // but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her / that I had swallowed every damn tablet in the house.” (The Full Weight of My Head, p.5) “Death is always uncomfortably close / like tight skin wrapped around aching muscle and bone” (The City is Sad and Angry, p.4)

Pigeons and Peace Doves is an exploration of the self and its relation to others. It encompasses the claustrophobic feelings of depression, heartbreak and yearning for love. It is an interesting read but the collection is unlikely to linger long in the memory. Though Hall has put forth a few solid individual poems, future work would benefit from further rumination of concepts so that the writer can have greater authority over his poetic voice. Hall’s work is quite readable but I feel he would benefit from imposing himself more in future works.

Review by Nathan Hassall

Of Gardens and Graves by Suvir Kaul- A review

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Editor’s Note:This is our first review of an essay collection alongside poetry.
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To read “Of Gardens and of Graves” is to witness the coming to life of Yeats’ famous line: “A terrible beauty is born”. It is to be reminded, if ever a reminder was needed, of the lingering pain that seeps slowly and eternally through the flooded scars of Kashmir, the scowl of the last half a century that darkens the fate of every subject, born under the auspices of its melancholic sky. It is hard to classify the book into a genre as it repudiates traditional hierarchies by refusing to be neatly categorized into one – it is simultaneously a memoir, a critical commentary, an anthology, collaboration, and a history all rolled into one, held together by a single source- Kashmir.  An arbitrary classification of the book structure could be that the book comprises of three basic divisions: Essays, translations and photographs. On a reading, though, the narratives under each rubric just blend with each other, without any manifest hierarchy.

However, the essays appear to be tied loosely in a structural evolution, and so it appears fit to discuss them first.  The first essay ‘Visiting Kashmir, Re-learning Kashmir’, explores the identity politics of the valley through a biographical tilt. As the comma in the title suggests, the essay is explores the neat schism between the two eras of Kashmir: pre and post 90’s, an idyllic prelapsarian world of nostalgic summer vacations, harmony and beauty, and a postlapsarian world of bullets, blood and trauma. Unlike most such narratives of Kashmir, the essay doesn’t delve into a comparison of the two states to lament the loss of the idyll and place them on isolated axes of disconnect. The fallacy of nostalgia that Fanon warned against is absent here, the signs of privilege and dissonance are strewn across the narrative. The cloying romanticism of most narratives that deal with Kashmir before 90’s is not found here, and so the reader is allowed to proceed without getting inundated in a surfeit of manufactured memories and claims of an artificial Kashmir without any undercurrents of difference. The prelapsarian world is the world where the grandparents are revered academics, summer holidays are a means of connecting with heritage – a means to temporarily suspend the duality of based in India and identifying oneself as a Kashmiri. The signs are already there – the study of the history of the evolution of the state as a constituent of Indian republic yields uncomfortable contradictions. While, article 370 stands as a reminder of the special circumstances in which Kashmir was ‘acceded’ to India, and a promise of plebiscite placated the international community, the history on the ground followed a different trajectory. Manipulated elections became the norm, and any attempt to reinforce the autonomous character of Kashmir is met with derision, as Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah learnt to his chagrin in 1952.  The 1990’s arrive with the KP exodus, and so Kashmir disappears off the radar, as the pushes and pulls of a life in US take primacy.

Fast forward to 2003, the comparative subsiding of armed militancy allows the family to shift back to their ancestral home in Srinagar. The essay traces the descent of the pastoral idyll into an anarchic state where unaccountability rules the roost. The hierarchies of power have clearly been established, as the elite have’s zoom past the perplexed commoners in elaborate cavalcades that have the right of way – a lesson that is even forcibly reinforced as a university professor learnt the hard way after being dragged out by hair for failing to give way to an official vehicle. The former infamous torture centers – the twin Papas (Papa 1 and Papa 2 – translated ironically as Father – a way of accepting suzerainty as in the popular slang: Who your father?)  have been transformed into official buildings but they serve as a monument of Kashmiri trauma – the conceived space scarcely having undergone any change to merit any change in the lived space, to borrow Lefebvre’s analogy.

Another, metamorphosis that plays out is the appropriation of KP identity as jingoistic national identity – an aspect that plays out repeatedly on social networking sites. All the KP sites have been militarized with large hoardings erected by armed forces appear en route shrines like Amarnath welcoming the pilgrims, thereby indicating the exclusion of the Kashmiri Muslim from the networks of empathy. Identity has been irretrievably tied with religion and religion is synonymous with nationality. All identity markers: accent, dress and appearance are measured on these axes and determine whether the subject will be the recipient of an angry bullet or a friendly smile. So, it comes as no surprise when the author’s mother who wears a sari, is on familiar talking terms with the soldiers, allowed to walk about when the same privilege would be denied to an ordinary Kashmiri Muslim. The narrative is secessionist Kashmiri Muslim fit to be crushed and disenfranchised versus Indian Hindu nation. This binary was never more apparent during the recent floods, when the common perception was that the ‘Hindu’ non-local labour force was the only beneficiary of the official rescue efforts, along with the elite of the land. The diaries of 2010 catalogue the travails of both sides of the conflict – the hapless angry victimized Kashmiri pitted against an underpaid, overworked and sometimes underfed force, and the ensuing result is tragic.

This premise is explored further in the second essay “My heaven is Burnin’…” that delves into the origins of the Kashmir conflict. The essay traces the emergence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir set against a general shift in the world towards a post-colonial global order as the sun faded on the imperial regimes of yore after the world wars. The essay makes a compelling argument about the substitution of post-colonial utopias by neo-colonial dystopias which replicate the modus operandi of their colonial masters.  The imperialist intervention, the essay points out, forged a loose alliance of disparate communities yoked together by the agency of and consequently opposed to the imperial force, in this particular case – the British, to fight for nationhood based upon the premise that local aspirations would receive more recognition in new post colonial structures of governance as compared to the colonial centripetal systems.  In the case of Kashmir, a vassal state, the anti-colonial movement rose against the Dogra regime, who obtained the absolute power over Kashmir, as a British vassal, through the infamous Treaty of Amritsar. The “historically abysmal levels of formal learning among Muslims” thwarted their emancipation. The Kashmiri Pandits, however, prioritized literacy and acquired an advanced level of literacy such that they were impossible to ignore in the administrative setup – being adequately literate and possessing local knowledge. The Hindu connection and literacy didn’t catapult them to higher levels of administration, though as the Dogras were determined to preserve their exclusive Rajput-Hindu identity as their claim to superiority. Discrimination against the local populace was existent at both covert and overt level, covert in case of Pandits and overt in case of Muslims who were additionally subject to an aggressive system of taxation and forced labour (beggar). The Muslim majority state thus suffered the double ignominy of being ruled by a regime, intent of preserving and promoting its Hindu credentials in scant regard of majority, and being further isolated from its ‘empowered’ Hindu minority who comprised no more than 5% of the population. The anti-colonial movement, the essay argues was therefore a confluence of several shifting strands – a demand for Muslim empowerment, class empowerment (the local peasant and artisan being the most impoverished and affected populace) and an identification with the larger anti-British struggle enacted outside the state by the Indian National congress.

The essay traces the various political and ideological contours that evolved in Kashmir after its interaction with the catastrophic accident of partition. The unusual events and startling claims of the treaty of accession, startling in the sense that they would drive hyper-nationalists to severe hysterics today, like a refusal to be assent to any future constitution of India, are sufficient to suspect any claim of willful integration of the state with the Indian republic.  Over the next three decades, “politics in Kashmir continued to be a powder keg of repression”, which finally culminated in the explosive 90’s. By this time, the political issues had been simply relegated to a law and order issue and thus could be conveniently brushed aside by mobilizing a vast array of armed forces backed by the discourse of aggressive nationalism. The shift is painstakingly covered with a rich texture of detail and lucid language that leaves the reader with a profound sense of unceasing regret and loss signified best by the dotted line – a marker of continuity that completes the title.

The third essay “the Witness of Poetry” seeks to examine Kashmiri poetry as a chronicle of grief, decline and pain that serves to mould the discourses of future to some degree by serving as a means to transform consciousness – a refusal to write back into hegemonic discourses of guardianship, mentoring or regency that have variously been used as pretexts by neo-imperial regimes of Post-Colonial India. Taking its cue from the contemporary trauma theory, the essay seeks to examine what political positions can be mapped from the Kashmiri poetry, written as a response to 90’s. Elsewhere, I have pointed out that “traumatic memories are interpretative accounts and so liable to endless interpretation – “trauma is a crux, speaking to the undecidability of representation and the limits of knowledge” (Lockhrust, 2006). The narratives that emerge either in prose or poetry are therefore a belated response – an attempt to make sense out of the omissions and representations of a particular historical narrative; the disparities in the narratives only highlight the desire for creating a suitable defense mechanism that is in consonance with the prevailing socio-political mores. The literature of the 90’s reflects a sense to give form to orature – the narrative that precedes the written form, and so clear the ground for a new world order that assimilates the past[1].”

The essay then seeks to examine two poems that cover two narratives – the Kashmiri Muslim voice of trauma due to displacement from an idyllic past, and a Kashmiri Pandit voice lamenting the exile from homeland. Both voices are united in trying to seek solutions to the jigsaw – “the compendium of the sights and sounds, relationships, and every day practices” that lies shattered in the wake of armed insurgency. The Kashmiri Muslim voice represented by a ghazal by Mohiuddin Masarat is examined as cataloguing the dissonance, the rupture from normatively and hence evolving a “poetics of victimage”. The argument is scholarly and indeed well thought out except for a small issue that clouds the whole argument. The word ‘mot’ is translated as the lunatic (seer) in the ghazal, and the argument revolves a juxtaposition of the poet-lunatic in evolving a poetics of resistance. The term is often used in Kashmiri poetry as a reference to a beloved, a vernacular substitution. Will the argument of juxtaposition still hold if the meaning of mot is altered?

The argument will suffer to a minor degree, but the larger premise of a narrator engaged in ‘solipsistic disavowal’ will still hold. The Kashmiri-Pandit voice represented by a ghazal by Brij Nath Betaab is typical of Diaspora discourse, and the approach adopted by it can be traced to the famous poem by Akhter Shirani – O des say aanay walay bata (O traveler from my land, speak). The poem presents a series of images that constituted the idyllic pre-exile past, each stanza interspersed with the realization of the impossibility of fulfilling the erasure enacted by exile – does the practice still continue in the present. For the Diaspora, the homeland frozen in time and space, the incongruity of the alien Indian culture repeatedly evokes a memory to lacerate the wound of impossible history as it unfolds.The fourth essay “Indian Empire (and the case of Kashmir” completes the remarkable quartet of essays.  It makes a well wrought answer to the question that every inhabitant from Kashmir faces in a lifetime: Why have progressive Indian intellectuals and politicians found the Kashmir problem puzzling? An analysis of the practices of Post-Colonial nations especially India reveals that the colonial imprint is too indelible to have allowed a complete break from colonial pasts as independence is imagined to have enacted. In the case of India, and other Post Colonial nations it has only served to induce a nationalist amnesia that refutes any interrogation of practices that allow suspension of fundamental principles of democratic functioning. The aggressive nationalism left as a residue of the post colonial mobilization has only served to negate any compromise on the definition of the external boundaries of the state as outlined by the departing British. This paradox of legitimizing the writ of the colonial master deemed illegitimate otherwise for administering the state informs the practice of converting the state into a massive security apparatus to contain the restive populations that refuse to abide by these boundaries. The negation of the aspirations of the local populace, a key characteristic of the transition from colonial to post-colonial highlights the absurdity of imagining a break from past – only a transfer of power took place, in reality.

UntitledThe Indian state is placed in the context of global politics, to assess the conditions that negate any adaption of the post colonial ethos. The essay sets its argument upon a scathing analysis of a comment by C Raja Mohan – an eminent strategic affairs editor of Indian Express and a former holder of Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International relations at the John W Kluge Center, Library of Congress.  C Mohan argues for the evolution of an India center to facilitate the return of a Raj, enlisting the colonial period as a catalyst of bringing stability and peace to the warring and chaotic 19th and 20th centuries, overlooking conveniently the wrenching of the social fabric it caused apart from all hues of exploitation. Espousing an alliance with the primary global superpower –United States, he imagines India acting as a vassal in establishing an India center in the subcontinent giving India unparalleled access to the resources and routes of the subcontinent. India, therefore, is only following the global lead where the state is expected to modulate its policies to facilitate corporate trading and promote industrial interest. Rather than enacting transfer of democratic functions to the local constituents, the modern state acts only to extend capitalist principles set up by colonial trans-national companies like East India Company. The state’s capacity for violence directly determines its ability to exploit its resources both local and abroad to the hilt and any resistance, e.g. by Maoists only serves to invite state retribution. The political imagination is restricted to only two options: either accept economic development, surrender any attempt to wrest autonomy, or face military action.

The essay makes an extremely valid argument, about Kashmir, by placing it as a site of challenge to the Indian state’s “twinned powers of the state and multinational capital.”  An analysis of the electoral trends shows the degree to which the Indian state imitates its colonial master to protect the interests of its mainland that include access to cheap hydropower, water and potential mining reserves. In a direct replication of the colonial strategy to maintain a vice like grip on its colonies, the Indian state has not permitted the state of Jammu and Kashmir to build or operate dams like Kishenganga and Baghlihar- both are built and operated by NHPC – an unit administered by the center, which charges the state for its operations, besides transferring the major chunk of power generated to mainland India. Another important and valid reason, pointed out by the essay is the mapping of Kashmir as symbolic of India’s purported secular syncretism that occupies a cherished place in the national imagination – tampering with the state’s current combination of Muslim (Kashmir) – Hindu (Jammu) and Buddhist (Ladakh) populace is irreconcilable with the nationalist-ideological imagination, and so begets no solution in the near future.

A word on the translations – though my Kashmiri especially perception of Kashmiri poetry is limited, yet I couldn’t help feeling that many translations appear to be poor cousins of the originals. There appear to be some glaring omissions and mistranslations. In Bashir Dada’s famous ghazal Bless him now, matio is translated as lost one and explained in a footnote as superseding rationality. That the word refers to beloved e.g. in matio dil ne rozan danjay (Beloved, the heart is all aflutter), as I explained earlier, has simply escaped his attention. The lost one last line in Ghulam Hassan Taskeen’s nazm: chon akh akh  tsuih tse kiut bari giraan: is translated as Each one of your young, is for you, a great burden. Tsuih translates literally into breath or moment of lived existence, and so the line ought to read as as Each one of your young, is for you, a great burden. Zahirialmasa (zeher-e-almas) is inexplicably translated as Poison of diamond. Zahir-e-almas is a commonly used trope in Kashmiri poetry literally translatable into caustic poison whose effects are unbearable and painful to extreme. Some lines like so greedy I am for money I have my vision pawned, sound alien to the cadences of English poetry, to my ears. However, it is a subjective judgment and the readers will judge for themselves whether or not the translations appeal to them. Credit must be given where due, and that lies in anthologizing the works of Kashmiri poets for a larger readership. Though the selection is by no means exhaustive, as the preface confesses, yet it is a laudable attempt at examining the evolution of Kashmiri Resistance Poetry. The omission of Rehman Rahi and Naseem Shifai is certainly intriguing. Both are recognized widely as powerful voices engaged in recovering the voice of censored Kashmir. The omission of Naseem Shifai is even more surprising since her poetry is heavily influenced by feminist concerns and seeks to dramatize the severe trauma of the double subaltern – the woman, one of the worst off sections of the conflict ridden state. The book would have been the better for their inclusion. A final word on the powerful photographs of Javed Dar: they complement the narrative well, the black and white texture suits the narrative even better as the absence of color blends well with a lack of detail and life in Kashmir – a monotonous tale of death and destruction unfolds here on day to day basis, and the photographs present just that.

Overall, the book is a compelling but extremely painful read; it snuffs out any hope that we, the subjects of the beleaguered land hold that things might soon turn for the better. It appears that Marquez’s might have the final laugh: Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. I fear the book validates this view point, and not entirely without justification. The book is a refreshing change from the myopic narratives of Kashmir, which one comes across at every juncture. Scholarly, balanced and extremely readable, the book is a welcome addition to the corpus of reading on Kashmir that includes Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects by Mridu Rai and Langauges of Belonging by Chitralekha Zutchi. Kashmiri scholarship is in safe hands, one wishes the same could be said about the administration.

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Lockhrust, Roger. “Mixing Memory and desire: Psychonalysis, psychology and Trauma theory.” Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Patricia Waugh. Oxford University Press, 2006. 501.

Huzaifa Pandit is a research scholar working on resistance poetry at University of Kashmir. His poems and essays have been published in various national and international journals like Indian Literature and Papercuts.

Circuits by Jennifer K Dick- A Review

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Jennifer K. Dick, American poet who currently teaches American Literature, Creative Writing and Civilisation at the Université de Haute Alscace, France, unleashes a surreal, tantalising look into the poetics of psychology. Her current academic research focus is the merging of the field of poetry and of visual poetics. She has written three books and four chapbooks to date. Circuits, her most recent publication, was published in 2013 by corruptpress.

Circuits is a poetry collection based on George Johnson’s 1992 book on the science of memory, In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build the Worlds Inside Our Head. Throughout, Circuits echoes the scientific side of this work, sometimes falling short when translating it into poetry. Poems within Circuits are rarely less than one A4 side in length with few line breaks and thus, it is definitively a challenge even to the sophisticated reader of both poetry and psychology.

Despite this, when the technical language and concepts begin to strengthen in the brain as the collection goes on, what the reader is left with is a difficult, confusing, at times frustrating and other times, liberating exploration into the poetics of psychological memory. This exploration is best narrated through this segment of Dick’s work,

“the idea that memory is a bright light in the brain, one neural network responds to its intense competing hypothesis – different features for what is already open to scepticism. It was much of what Anderson was leading to: Certain brains pick the horizon as just another star, but deep inside are the various ways to guess it is Venus.” (‘Resonance and Reality, p.8). Enigmatic and esoteric, Dick has created a poetry collection unlike any other I have encountered.

Circuits is a poetic exploration of psychology and neuroscience and it is not a collection catered for the layman. Prior knowledge of these scientific fields are almost essential, unless the reader wishes to spend dedicated time looking up words such as ‘erythrocytes,’ ‘dendrites,’ ‘calmodulin’ and ‘neurotransmitter’. For the unprepared reader, this could be an enduring process. However, in spite of this, many of the poems come together by the end, as after reading them, revelations about memory, human behaviour, love, lust and confusion is bound in a purgatorial state between science and the arts. Dick’s poetic ability is not really in question, with stunning visuals such as, “She woke, tongue of her tulips, Marlboro or Lucky – the packet shaved. Cool tile in the blue-eyed auburn night crossing the doublings.” (A Hostile Reception, p.22) and “It was possible you were building an architecture we could be models for, human skulls stacked book-like on the shelves peering over your shoulder.” (Intuition & Ambiguity, p.30) Nevertheless, these pieces are rare gems to be plucked out from larger poems, leaving stanzas more exciting and together than the whole, due to the intellectual nature of the work.

Circuits captures in poetic sentiment the inescapable reality of a materialist’s focus: that we are merely our brains – soulless and without a mind – running on sophisticated algorithms (or Circuits, as the title aptly articulates). On the other hand, Dick’s has finesse within her writing that fleets about topics like a dragonfly’s non-linear movement over a lake. She exposes memories and emotional states at their most dreamlike in a precarious state of collective uncertainty, for example, “He was quick as the sound of room. Dirt. I mean space. I mean I need some.” (An Exotic Phenomenon, p.35). These shorter passages are what separate this book from being a condensed academic summation and into the realms of poetry where the imagery is vivid and interesting, tossing the reader between the taxing natures of mysterious wordplay and academic psychology.

There are moments when society is beautifully reflected in Dick’s poems, for quote, “try soup with multivitamins under surveillance” (The Porcupine Effect, p.4) crosses the barrier between lab experiments and modern life, a concoction of consumerism, prescription drugs and surveillance. One of the tasks of poetry is to make the work relevant to the day, as poems become as much of a historical artifact as they do a cultural magnifying glass on contemporary society. There are abundant times where Dick achieves this fundamental aspect of poetry.

The standout poem from Circuits, personally, was ‘Celestial Navigation,’ which evoked a poetic, psychological perspective between science, belief and faith as it merged the various topics seamlessly together. The human instinct to rely on their memories as a playback machine rather than a fragmented recollection, merging memory and imagination as highlighted, “Memories. Even in truth,” you began, / “is rooted on gut in faith.” (Celestial Navigation, p.47)

Overall, Circuits is a collection for anyone who is intrigued by science and art formulated together into poetry. Dick’s intellectual platform is fascinating and her work echoes human behaviour dressed up in metaphors using neurons, thought patterns and lab experiments. It is a collection which demands attention and reading around the subject area, but if the reader is dedicated to accessing an enigmatic collection of work and puts in the right amount of focus, not only is there solid writing laced with more than just a twist of psychology, there is a lot to be learnt from Dick’s poetic interpretation of science. It is not the sort of collection you are likely to curl up with on your sofa and read in one sitting but the power of this work exists through the readers’ willingness to learn.

Circuits is an interesting collection which captures intrigue, contemplation and inspiration, but that – occasionally – falls short of its potential due to its ambitious and demanding nature.

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Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Bullets & Orchids by Rewa Zeinati

bullets and orchids
bullets and orchids

(click on the image to check out the book)

 Bullets & Orchids is a cryptic, yet highly relevant collection of contemporary poetry written by Rewa Zeinati, a Lebanese-American poet currently based in Dubai. It was published by corrupt press in 2013.

At first glance, Bullets & Orchids presents itself in a manner which is as surreal as it is intriguing, evident by Zeinati’s skilful manipulation of juxtaposing imagery in the title. This sets the tone for each of the 58 poems within, all titled with merely a number and rarely following a numerical chronology. Even this represents something stranger, something more hypnotic. Zeinati manages to create successfully a unique, gloomy atmosphere, piecing together fragments of glistening imagery from the depths of empathy and her own experience. Bullets & Orchids deploys themes which illuminate the darker perplexities of our times – prevalent themes such as war, famine, love, loss, corruption, greed, religion, death and trauma – are weaved from dissonance into an elegant poetic tapestry, alive with an essence of uncertainty.

Zeinati is not afraid to pull you into her psyche from the beginning, the collection jumping at and around the reader like a restless dream; an incessant thought which can neither be pinpointed nor grasped:

“She travels,
her body still//

Upon the bed…

Sometimes it hurts.”

Disparity is echoed throughout the work and as the pages are turned, Zeinati puts a spotlight on the perils of sleepless nights:

“The ceiling: so tired of leadership. It must come down in the morning.

No one to look down upon until dusk.”

Though many of the poetic ruminations in Bullets & Orchids show a level of philosophical pragmatism, Zeinati is not concerned with making her work palatable; defying the casual reader an easy route to the heart of what the collection is ultimately about:  the Self and its relation to the human condition. Bullets & Orchids is filled with imagery sure to resonate in the psyche of the attentive reader, with segments likely to grip, such as, “And if memory fails / Then memory, / wins.”, “Nothing left but the glint of steel and bloodstained sand”, and, “Like weeds pulled from the earth. That’s how you get rid of the past”. However, there are times when this type of enigmatic writing becomes almost nonsensical, with parts of the poem becoming more memorable than the whole. Meaning is lost sometimes in the stuttering nature of the work, which can lose the message the poem seeks to convey.

Throughout Bullets & Orchids, repetitions and references to poems in various parts of the collection are found. This ties together the different themes. For example, one poem ends in, “I saw bullets though. Many were shaped like tongues”, and later on in the collection, the words, “did you ask me? The artery asked the bullet”, jumps out at the reader with an emotional realism, unique to Zeinati’s poetic voice.

Every now and then, complete poems (or, perhaps more aptly, fragments), come in the form of a single word, seeking relevance from the poems around it. This may come across as contrived, as the words; “nothing” and “today” form whole pieces, which can be frustrating. The disjointed nature of the shape of some poems disrupt the flow, distracting the reader from the full enjoyment of the work, as incomplete sentences read more like hiccups than a flowing voice.

Bullets & Orchids illuminates the absurdity of the world we live in, highlighted by the bluntness of the poem referencing the death of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, “A 42 year dictatorship ends. Another one continues,” (42.) and this is the clearest indication of Zeinati’s frustrations with the world; that one regime terminating does not solve the complex, political and historical problem of oppression.

Bullets & Orchids presents itself as a collection for the enquiring mind, for it takes significant thought and effort to find roots of meaning within the poetry. This should not put off the avid reader, for one of the challenges of poetry is to break from tradition, regardless of whether or not it reads easily.

My favourite poem from the collection; the one which bore the most resonance with me, welds parts of Zeinati’s poetic expression to my own consciousness:

“London burns and Libya burns and Egypt is thrown behind bars. And the same old man wakes up in the morning like nothing ever happens and wears a suit and tie. The same suit and tie. The same morning. His beaten wife asleep in the next room.

Mistake?” (52.)

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Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Previous Vertigos-Nina Karacosta

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Previous Vertigos | Nina Karacosta
  A review by Aditya Menon

There are three types of vertigo: objective (your environment seems to move), subjective (you sense yourself moving) and pseudo (something seems to be turning in your head).  Or so Wikipedia tells me.  Does this classification carry over into poetics? You could say that some poems foreground the linguistic object, others the lyric subject, and still others create their own little worlds of expression. But wait, Wikipedia on vertigo takes a skeptical turn: “While this classification appears in textbooks, it has little to do with the pathophysiology or treatment of vertigo.”

So the three vertigos turn out to be “previous”, no longer relevant to medical practice. Still, this very irrelevance makes the vertigos particularly relevant to contemporary poetics. [Pardon the belabored analogy; I do not mean to trivialize the real experience of vertigo. ] A rhetoric of opposition—speaking vs. writing, subject vs. object, conservative quietism vs. avant-garde experimentation—makes for good categories. The “confessional school”, it would seem, asserts the transparency of a message. The “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school”, by contrast, asserts the opacity of the medium. That said, the classification of poetry into antagonistic schools has recently been an object of critique in its own right. Such critique might play with avant-garde polemic; take Keston Sutherland’s Theses on Antisubjectivist Dogma. Or it might shift the focus of the debate. In Lyric Shame: The “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry, Gillian White suggests that a “lyric I” is an object of “shame”.  Thus it has an uneasy pervasiveness, with “opponents” sometimes perpetuating and “defenders” complicating it. This “lyric I” is not a well-defined object, but a way of reading.

How does “Suds”, the second-last poem in Previous Vertigos, and the only one that does not mention a physical object, ask to be read?

 

The experiment is

not

in

the

experimental

it is in

the experience

the exposure

the expression of unsatisfaction

the expulsion.

Are you extending?

No,

you are

a

follower

of the

experimental

standing in

the

middle

of

your

crowd-

for you there is no extreme, no extravagant

no ecstatic.

The poem strikes me as a reflexive piece, engaging the “lyric shame” that White identifies. Is it an ars poetica in defense of the lyric subject? In a context that fetishizes “the experimental”, the speaker turns the tables on those who would shame her. First, a statement : experiment is not in the experimental. Then, a question, which dramatizes the exchange: “Are you extending?” sounds like an “Are you listening?” as much as an “Are you experimenting?” Finally, a condemnation. The speaker shames the addressee.

But what are the “suds”? Expelled, ecstatic results of the experiment? [The Wikipedia disambiguation page informs me that SUDS is an acronym for “subjective units of distress scale”, but this would be a stretch.] And who is the you? An absent interlocutor, the poet herself (a possibility that Afric McGlinchey’s review raises), or a hypocrite reader? If this is a manifesto, it is a reticent one, in spite of its auditory insistence. After all, the repeated sound “ex” is a prefix that can signify the previous, the passé. Not that we should take this sense uncritically; the repetition is so emphatic that makes a close reading feel absurd. The constraint of the “ex” words draws the poem beyond whatever statement Karacosta initially intended, if any.

Previous Vertigos appeared in 2011, before Sutherland’s manifesto or White’s book. Still, I think it bears reading in light of these critical trends. This is not to reduce it to a symptom or magnify it into an intervention. It is one among many possible configurations of the elusive lyric “I”, and happens to be one that I like.

At first glance, the collection seems firmly on the side of the confessional lyric subject, whose existence we just problematized. Skimming the book, you encounter a figure worn down by drugs and war and consumerism even as it is expanded by global travel and cross-cultural exposure, and yet alert to the body it inhabits, the landscapes through which it moves. The persona that moves through Karacosta’s pages does not coalesce into such a caricature, but it does gesture to all these possibilities. Some of the landscapes are explicitly marked: Greek coast, English countryside, New Mexico desert. Relationships, whether with people or substances, feel plausible and even “compelling”. An abundance of multisensory imagery, framed in verbally exuberant phrases, brings various pasts to life in visceral, often vertiginous form. The word “I” appears over sixty times.

For all this, the chapbook is not the diary of Nina Karacosta, Greek-American poet and actor, regurgitated for your vicarious consumption.  More often than not, the people, things and places appear in a disorienting space or time—in the immaterial past of memory, the insistently material present of text, the conditional of genre. Here and there, you find imperatives. One poem, “War Games”, consists entirely of such imperatives. It ends with these: “Count your bones. / Breathe air.” Both injunctions involve bodily awareness; one seems oriented toward death, the other toward life.  The emphasis on bare life makes the poem feel “universal” even as it evokes an individual body.  The chapbook doesn’t give a  gloss here, but an online version presents it as a “response to events in Gaza in 2009, meant to highlight the absurdity of war”. The phrase “highlight absurdity” can hardly exhaust the poem’s effects. The second-person imperative invites empathy, and the specific imperatives—while they have no immediate effect on the actual victims—offer this second-person subject an ethics and/or aesthetics of bare life.

“Can’t Talk About It” takes place on the page and in the body. Here, the body is that of a first-person speaker. The right-aligned part of the poem describes a surgery. Then comes a left-aligned meta-narration that explains and stops this account: “Doodling at the edge of the white paper / I want to write about burning three fingers / and ending up in the emergency room / but instead keep doodling” . The last few lines, right-aligned again, seem to have moved back from the medium of writing to the spoken message, but the terms have moved from real to surreal.  It ends “I am / a corridor of rain,” (is “rain” a sublimation of “pain”?) without any closing punctuation. In this line, the lack of punctuation places the “I” in suspense, while the words themselves designate an impossible interior.

“Psychotropic Hurrah” is tentative in its ecstasy: “i can maybe write a pow wow poem”. I am drawn to its phrase “attic cylindrical frenzy”, which evokes an impossible interior like “corridor of rain”. Gloss “attic” as adjective, meaning “Greek”, and a different shape emerges.  It recalls, at least for me, the Grecian urn that Keats invoked as “attic shape”.  Whereas he read movement in a static object, Karacosta shapes a stasis out of her disorientations.

Perhaps the lyric subject of Previous Vertigos is new, after all—if only in its precise groundlessness. Consider the last lines of the first poem, “Solitaire”:

I am not

me because if I were I would know what

I’m not. All this adds up to nothing.

To suspend.