3/22/19

Book Review | The Bridge of Migration by Yogesh Maitreya |





Poetry comes in different ways to different people. To Pablo Neruda, it came from a place he could not figure out. As he wrote in his marvellous description of the process in his poem Poesia, when the miracle occurred to him: “And it was at that age, poetry arrived / In search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where / It came from, from winter or a river. / I don’t know how or when… ”.

Yogesh Maitreya knows where poetry came from, in his case. No confusion or romanticisation colours his experience of catching the ‘fever’, as Neruda calls it later in the above-mentioned poem.

“Poetry did not come to me
Through an idle occupation
Or a pursuit of pleasure.
Believe me!
It came to me
Through a spade and a hammer
With which my grandfather dug his hunger,
Broke stones for money
Under the scorching sun
And, through my hard working father
Who knew nothing about poetry…”

In these eleven short lines, Maitreya establishes the parameters of his poetics clearly and firmly. He lets the reader know where he is coming from – a history of institutionalised injustice that has been perpetrated on his people. In which multitudes were condemned to degrading labour and a life of meagre means and subsistence. A system which thrived upon creating a rigid hierarchy within fellow human beings, some superior and everyone under them thumb. Or caste, in short.

In a conversation with this reviewer sometime back, Maitreya said explicitly that in his view, Indian Writing in English amounted to very little in terms of worth as it was mainly written to express concerns that excluded the majority of Indians, or Bahujans. It is something this reviewer is very much in agreement with. This is the reason which makes Maitreya’s book a seminal contribution to Indian Poetry in English, a wasteland of ignorance and conceit. Maitreya cares two hoots about pleasing this incestuous eco-system, and this gives his work a clear edge over his contemporaries. His lived experience of suffering, social, political and economic, and of a marginalised existence, speaks loudly and clearly through his verse and gives it a certain uniqueness – an irony because his experience is the common experience of Indian masses but their voices have either been repressed on ignored in the ivory tower of IWE.

The Bridge of Migration is a slim collection of 76 poems, published by Pather’s Paw, a small press publishing house Maitreya and associates have set up. It has a foreword written by Kuffir Nalgundwar, the inimitable editor of online journal Roundtable India. Maitreya’s debut work is informed by strong socio-political concerns that he expresses without artifice or a belaboured and didactic ‘dedication’ to craft that ruins most of IWE poetry of today.

Even love, in Maitreya’s verse, is inseparable from politics – a theme that recurs in his book. In the poem Five Haikus on Love, the last Haiku reads: “The fire inside you, Babasaheb / That kept you awake / While we were dead sleep.”

The first few poems of the collection tell us about the beginning of Mitreya’s poetic journey, in which we find the homage to Babasaheb, setting the template. This is followed soon by a striking poem called 1970’s. This was a period of great ferment in the country and society-at-large, although it has not been so rigorously documented so far, in the view of this reviewer. Maitreya surveys it critically and comes up with a gem of a poem that turns upside down our understanding of this turbulent decade.

“It all started during this period. / The angry young man rose / Into 70mm’s world. / But like any other thing in this country / His rise was too poisonous. / When today my father recalls /  His adolescent days / Into this poisonous venture / That airs on TV, / He doesn’t realise / That it only tells how to be angry at the start, / and all is well at the end.” In this poem, Maitreya interrogates our ‘understanding’ of culture and society by pointing out through the example of his father that the anger of that period was absorbed into nothingness, through mass media which made a spectacle out of it, fit for the big screen through the persona of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. However, nothing changed for India’s poor and disadvantaged. In front of their eyes, even their anger was appropriated by the elites and turned into entertainment.

In the very next poem, Abstract, Maitreya tells us how words rescued him from becoming a prisoner of his identity, something Rohith Vemula also noted in his final parting note before committing suicide. “When I was not used to reading books / And did not know / The art / Of protecting myself through words, / I used to feel insecure / Since I had black skin / And the caste / That used to speak / Without any words.”

The poems that follow take up the issue of caste much more strongly. In a poem on Khairlanji, a place in Maharashtra which saw a much-publicised incident of caste-related atrocity some years ago, Maitreya writes how those youth from his basti who protested were arrested by the police, while the perpetrators went scot-free and how the younger generation slowly became disillusioned with protest and politics.  “Now these youth – the boys – of our Basti / Have grown up. / They don’t talk of protest anymore. / They just stand by roadside / Smoke, talk about sex / Liquor parties, cinema and, / Pretend to be normal.”

There has been some discussion on whether writing in English for a poet from the margins of society is authentic enough. Maitreya dives into this debate without any hesitation and gives a  clear response - the call, to write in this language or that, is for the poet to make. “When one is hungry, / One has the right to choose / The Path for his bread. I chose English.”

Mid-way through the collection, Maitreya’s voice and verse become more sharpened. In his poem Hypocrite Intellectuals, he tells the upper-caste intelligentsia which is very fond of Dalit Studies and being woke in general what he thinks of them and their work: “I see them / Reading their poems / In a posh, air-conditioned book stores / About the labourers / Of common men, / About pains / of Prostitutes, / About poetry / That is not theirs. / None of them are labourers, / None of them are poets either and, / I wish / None of them should become prostitutes.”

He also explains why he takes this position in his poem Learning to Speak, addressing the galring inequality that informs Indian society, allowing only a select few to access privileged education and then celebrating them as the harbingers of new epistemology, ways of thinking, arts and culture. A rigged game, to be precise. A bluff that Maitreya calls out with great skill.

All the poems in this collection are gems, and they need not be polished further. These are not gems that need to adorn the slender necks of pale beauties. These are gems that the poet intends to throw in the fields, and the factories, in universities and other public spaces, hoping for a revolution. These are seeds will lead to a grand harvest one day, one which will be equally distributed. They are sparks in the hay of indifference that characterises India’s atrophied society. These are bombs to make the deaf hear.  





Short fiction | Spinning on a Spike | Thomas M. McDade

Farbspiele, 1952, Ernst Wilhelm Nay


  
At the Columbia Cemetery, not far from the cellar room where I lived, I joined Jay Harkert and his friends after Happy Hour at a Boulder bar called The Sink.  I knew him from my Rhode Island days. I’d caddied for him and his rich father at Wannamoisett Country Club.  Olivia Dracut hung all over Jay.  She was wild, had been arrested for indecent exposure after displaying her breasts on Pearl Street at high noon.  So fit for motherhood those pert misdemeanors, a passing back-hauled infant reached out, mouth cocked at the ready.  Her sorority booted her but the university gave her a fourth chance because of her genius grades and pressure from feminist groups. They rallied around Olivia. No man would have suffered cuffs and jail for that act. She spoke to me just once, asked about my College Boards. When I replied I never took any she rolled her eyes. Jay said he’d seen me with a book, 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary so I might get to them. Thanks pal, and that was that.  H. C. Croft, a beret-wearing math major / jazz drummer who always kept a pair of sticks in his back pocket and Hazel Grift his girlfriend, a bass player in his quartet, usually joined us.  Jay told me Croft once softly drummed Olivia’s bare ass.   According to Jay, Croft was trying to break up with Hazel, but hint after hint flew over her head. The egotistical and ungrateful bastard feared she would harm herself if he were blunt.  Her reddish-brown hair was long and she often pushed it away from covering half her face. Jay said her green eyes were exotic. To me, they were sympathetic and understanding. I thought she’d be a wonder as a doctor of any stripe. Jay believed Olivia’s beauty was high Hollywood; Hazel’s just semi-classic due to her slight overbite and nose that lacked nobility.  Could have fooled me, plain talk was rare. She’d frequently rub an index finger against her thumb like a bow or just pluck the air.  She sat in a yoga pose. Her legs entwined, and favored black clothes. She put her hand on my knee when the others made me disappear over the tests and book. With that crew my audience, I tried acid while sitting against a headstone that belonged to a man named Tom Horn, hanged for murder. He weaved his own noose awaiting execution. I was a Tom also. My trip a spastic trek and they had to hold me down.  I saw no psychedelics. No elm bark breathed. No tree trunks switched to broad neon waterfalls. No short-circuited rainbows either.  No grinning satyrs, nymphs or chuckling mastodons showed up as Jay promised. I was twitching at the end of Tom Horn’s noose. I found myself in Hazel’s strong arms. The jitterbug horror was worth the comfort of her. Such was my love life’s desolation.
          
I shared a bathroom and shower where I lived. Two others lived in the house. One was Link, an engineering student from Idaho.  A slide rule was always hanging off his belt. The other was an artist named Monty who wore a paint-stained smock at all times. The refrigerator currently in Link’s room was on wheels. We took turns by the month hosting it. My hot plate, dining gear and bedding were from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Jobs were tough to find in Boulder. I had a job bagging groceries at Joyce’s Supermarket. Cecil, the manager, was a prick. “No double bagging unless a customer asks. It’s a good way to waste two-and-a-half-cents per. “Bagging smartly with Christian resolve is the key.”  On my days off, I’d check with the state for newly posted jobs and sporadically work on my vocabulary and read short stories. Browsing library shelves, I discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald. His story “Winter Dreams,” hooked me. Soon I struck it rich. Shepherd’s Gardens was hiring, buck seventy-five an hour, thirty-five cents over Cecil’s place.  I tested the walk from my room, thirty-nine minutes.  The lanky, cigar-smoking son of the owner Jared hired me on the spot likely due to my driver’s license that included dump trucks. I called in “well” at Joyce’s, requested my check be mailed. I picked up a pair of combat boots at an Army / Navy store and a couple of pairs of work gloves.  Jay seemed happy with my job switch.  He’d tried to hide his embarrassment over my bagging gig but it reeked.  I could feel myself slipping out of his context. My performance at the Columbia Cemetery hadn’t helped I guessed.
          
I worked with three other laborers. Seth was basketball player tall, long hippie blond hair. He faked a British accent and believed LSD would bring on peace and love worldwide. A religious experience he’d say, like LDS. From my view, he was pushing a false religion. He often talked of its power to enhance sex. He’d had two university cheerleaders at once in a shower that reminded him of a phone booth. He felt like a reckless Clark Kent.  He was probably full of shit but a good soul nonetheless. We’d often race digging up and bagging trees for delivery and planting. I was happy that I beat him half the time. I was nearly 6 feet but weighed just 145 lbs. No matter how quick, we never outdid Jared who liked to demonstrate to show us our place.  His mother referred to us as “the girls.” Larry, a ski bum whose VW van broke down worked with us for a week or so but he had a horticulture degree and ended up inside selling. Seth and I agreed that he probably had some tales that would make us stand up and take serious notice.  Harold, a lazy lout friend of the family who was slow motion slowed, wore a major league umpire’s cap.  That was his goal in life. I doubted calling barroom-league softball strikes would get him there. His shiny right hand thumbnail was the result of a manicure and a tribute to his gesture for calling a batter or baserunner out. He smoked the same brand of cigars as the boss. He’d been a rodeo clown. He claimed his first wife was a beauty queen. He married plain second time around.  He was an ordained clergy ministering to a congregation of fifty-nine.  I thought he was a lying ass but he was not good of soul like Seth who called him Rev and asked for blessings. All he received were dirty looks.  Seth confided to me that he meant Rev for revolting.  He imagined Harold showing up with a blazing shotgun someday. I loved driving the dump truck even with useless Harold squeezed in the cab.  We’d often go up into the foothills to plant trees and that struck me as weird since there were already so many there.  Hey, we landscaped the Olympic Ski Coach’s house.  Seth and I went up alone times Harold called in sick or did errands for the old witch. We created several Japanese gardens, not much to it, rocks, gravel and junipers, basic recycling fountains. The first project, Seth talked about making gin from juniper berries. He pulled two airport bottles of Gordon’s to toast the thought.  That wasn’t the only high involved when working with Seth. I parked the truck off road about halfway down. We walked to a spot under a misshaped fir tree with a low hanging branch.  I’d hiked there, great view of the University and its red tiled roofs.  Seth put on his gloves, stood on a bench-like rock and did 25 pull-ups. I managed 15. He lit a joint and we shared. It was a thousand times better than acid. I couldn’t wait to jot down my first pot experience in the pocket notebook I’d bought to record interesting things, actually kind of a mini-diary. I was yet to find the stomach to spell out the LSD misfortune. I stared off into the quilt of spruce, pine and aspens. Seth called me Silencio.
          
End of May saw a new hire, a Mexican who looked my 21 years. A rugged man, his wide brimmed hat carried a bright blue feather in the band and he walked on sandals.  Seth said his shirt was a guayabera.  He drove an old Chevy, ’50 or ’51 copper colored. Watering the half-acre of potted roses was his job.  He never took breaks with us when we were in off the road.

I’d wandered among his charges, reading tags, recording names in a small pad: Lucky Lady, Tropicana, Apricot Nectar, Golden Slippers and many more. Nice place to visit but his work would bore the hell out of me. Freddy never paid any attention to me no matter how close I walked.

Once while trudging home I’d met Hazel.  She was happy to see me or acted so. Her hair was up I admired her slender neck daintily graced with wispy ringlets. I wished she’d hug me but I guess that was fragile territory for both of us.  Her arm and shoulder touches were welcome. She took me to a dormitory dining hall where she knew the student worker checking IDs. The food was great and she rustled up a bag of fruit and cookies for me to take. She discussed movies with her friends, Alfie and Georgie Girl. They sure dragged that Alfie gent across the coals. Hazel had rearranged music from the hit soundtrack for Croft.  I didn’t want to be conspicuous so I held off logging in the two movie titles and other tidbits in my notebook. Of course, I didn’t have much to say but that changed when she asked about my job. She was very interested in the Japanese gardens. I mentioned the spot where I smoked pot with Seth.  She knew it, had written a jazzy piece she called “Flatiron Flight.” I had to stifle romantic thoughts. She was miles out of my league. I hoped creepy Croft would let her down softly or well . . . not at all. I saw her perform with Croft’s quartet, “Croft Craft.” Hazel was one with her bass, eyes closed, quarter smile, she seemed to be thousand miles away and more, visiting constellations. Croft invited a black woman in the audience to sing. I didn’t get the song title of the song but I held onto a couple of lines: “A tiny spark will remain, yeah / And sparks turn into flames.”  I saw Hazel a twice from a distance on College Hill, in a big hurry.  Jay drove by while I was waiting for a light to change. His wave was weak. He was disappearing and so was I.
          
Seth told me about a place called the Huddle that sold a meal card for thirty-dollars; walk through the cafeteria line once per punch, as much as you can fit on a plate plus a salad and dessert. I bought one.  The place had an upstairs for concerts. A sign outside advertised an appearance by Odetta, a folksinger.  The cashier was reading a paperback novel that looked sci-fi, The Year of the Angry Rabbit. The song playing when he punched my card for the first time was “For What it’s Worth.”  I chose pot roast, boiled potatoes and green beans mixed with almonds.  Catalina dressing was available, my favorite.  A large moist slice of carrot cake was delicious.  On the wall near where I sat aCasablanca movie poster hung. 
          
Things changed at Shepherd’s Gardens when Freddy quit. The old witch was doing the watering until they hired someone else. I often chuckled to myself at the sight of her lugging the bucket.  They terminated Seth. I figured Harold instigated it somehow.  The new laborer was an old friend of Harold’s. Jimmy was a bird of the same crappy feather.  He could drive a dump truck so no more of that joy. I kept my mind occupied worrying about Hazel. On a Thursday evening roaming Pearl Street window-shopping, I was shocked to see Seth going into Walt & Hank’s Tavern with Olivia. He towered over her. Croft was with the woman who condemned the Alfie character to no end in the dorm dining room.  Would Jay and Hazel end up together?
          
The next day I went out on a job with the useless duo to plant crabapple trees in The Arapaho National Bank parking lot gravel islands. I swore I wouldn’t rat them out if they bought a couple of cans of beer to have with their lunches.  There was no offer to pick one up for me.  Returning, they plopped down on curbing. They talked about a bronc rider they’d grown up with and a bank robber who robbed this very bank and peepshows on Larimer Street in Denver. I thought they’d never get back to work. The second day stag movie talk dominated their conversation.  The third they solved Vietnam. Seth and I would have knocked the lot off in a day. No riot act when we returned. They praised each other to the hilt when the witch was in earshot. She didn’t like how Jimmy parked the dump truck but asked me, not him, to move it. My backing over a fertilizer spreader might have been halfway on purpose.  Jared came running out of the shop.  His three-year-old kid would have seen the damned thing.  The witch said “Mary Joe” should take over the roses.  Harold made a big umpire show of calling me out.  An hour left on the shift, the witch told me to go home. I’d need the rest for my new “position.”  They got a laugh out of that. I’d had it, never felt so lonely in my life.  
          
The last joint I bought from Seth in my jacket, I headed up to my observation post to tell the sunset my troubles.  Some tire tracks from the Shepherd’s dump truck, me at the wheel, remained. As I made the turn toward the rock, Hazel stepped off it.  I slipped running to her.  I grabbed her legs. She slumped over my shoulder as I made my way onto the rock. I maneuvered my hand to her neck to remove the noose. I sat her down, hugged her. She was coughing and sobbing. I was trembling. The city of Boulder might have heard my pile driving heart. My Tom Horn experience crossed my mind. She clung to me as if I were a second choice vehicle to flee to the other side.  What do you say to someone who just attempted suicide and you were the one who interfered?  I asked her if she could spin her bass in its spike the way I’d seen jazz musicians do on TV. “Like a top,” she said, hoarsely.  Holding hands, we shared my weed with the drooping sun.

3/9/19

In Translation | Poetry | Jose Manuel SÁNCHEZ


                                                                     

Sabin Balasa, Atlantis, Wikiart 

                                                    





                                                ESCOMBRU

Quiciabes dalgún día
                                                lleas les mios pallabres.
                                                Entóncenes,
                                                nun sedrán pallabres.
                                                Entóncenes
                                                atoparás namái l’escombru
                                                d’esti poema
                                                que surdió pente la borrina
dende’l pasáu,
                                                comu les pantasmes.
                                                Aporta la nueche sele.
                                                Degola’l día ensin dexar güelgues,
                                                comu esti versu…
                                     










                                                RUBBLE
                                                

                                                Maybe one day
                                                you will read my words.
                                                Then,
                                                they will not be words.
                                                Then,
                                                you will find only the rubble
                                                of this poem
                                                which has emerged
                                                from the fog,
                                                from the past,
                                                like the ghosts.
                                                Night comes gradually.
                                                The day goes away
                                                without leaving traces,
                                                like this verse…
                                                 



                                                 




                                               XENTE / SOLOMBRES
                                               

                                               Delles persones
                                               aseméyense
                                               a les solombres.
                                               Nun pescancien
                                               lo que ye la lluz
                                               -la poesía-
                                               de la que tan feches.
                                               Quiciabes, nel fondu,
                                               nun seyan persones.
                                               Quiciabes, nel fondu,
                                               la lluz namái seya
                                               la braera Atlántida
                                               qu’enxamás
                                               apaez nos mapes.
                                              
                                              
                                              







                                               PEOPLE  / SHADOWS
                                               

                                               Some people
                                               are similar
                                               to the shadows.
                                               They do not understand
                                               what is the light
                                               -poetry-
                                               of which they are made.
                                               Perhaps, ultimately,
                                               they are not persons.
                                               Perhaps, ultimately,
                                               light is only
                                               the real Atlantis
                                               which never appears
                                               in the maps.


         

3/7/19

Two Poems | Mazarine Treyz

Winslow Homer, Indian Village, Wikimdia Commons

Light sensations

To put among the stars
A constellation
Reaching out
A chartreuse wave runs
Eagerly touching
The mountains on Jupiter
It houses itself
In a dormant stage
These little balls blown hither and thither
Bursting their coats
Naked again
A flower spreading its petals
Lipping outward rippled edges
Dramaturgy in small things
A skirt throwing itself
Into a dance
Around and around
Spinning and looking
Who will I thrust myself into next
To play with the patterns of existence and
Arrange them in new and original ways
So you induce the dark to emit
So many gleaming nuances
In a purple sky, in green lightning flashes
You show the aching pulse of each passing moment
I notice your simplicity
And your activity
In the service of images that fill you
They lead you mysteriously onward
And somehow I am discovering you-
With the point of my pen





Certainly Not

I am certainly not thinking of
The luxuries of your table
The sausages, cheeses, olives
Lamb, chicken skewers, salad or anything so delicious
Nor am I thinking of the beehive inside my dress-
Living in perpetual fluctuation, excitation and tension
At a high temperature, with an animating self-heat
Closely packed, vibrating incessantly
Putting into luminous form
What the multitude inarticulately feels-
Jostling inside: conflicting impulses to get
An intimacy and spiritual nearness- or run away
A heroic passion or fantastical daring-causes us to
Approach but then reject
the couch
For sensual gratification elsewhere
Certainly not remembering
Your excited eyes and smile-from time to time
Anarchy from above
So far we have hardly mentioned your body- This was intentional for
You are a world unto yourself
That we must explore slowly!
Then your tongue between my thighs
My arms outstretched, back arched, crying out
Is it a fact, or is it a problem?
Does it slide between being one and being another?
Rashly I fall on you, and the inexhaustible
Foaming joy of your body, overripe and sensual
Breaks apart under my fingers