Been a while since I posted anything on here. It’s been a busy time, with the devil-year ending and bringing with it some good news. I secured PhD admission at Leeds Beckett University, UK and is currently in the process of the tedious visa application journey. It is hectic to say the least.
While the initial excitement has died down, (read: waking up thinking “we’re moving to Leeds”) I still find myself looking up Quora posts on PhD life, and Instagram photos of snowclad Leeds. While its too early to say when the move might actually happen, thanks to the new COVID-19 strain in the UK, it is reasonable to expect a February in Yorkshire, as one of my proud and overjoyed former Professor put it.
I would love to elaborate on what I want to be working on, but this blog post might not do justice to the topic. I am still reading around the topic and hoping to gather some kind of foundational basis on the subject, than make a fool of myself in front of my guide. I am also prone to 4 am anxiety, resulting in an hour-long early morning reading and then a guilty, yet satisfied return to bed for more sleep. This has been life for the past two weeks.
In other news, my book launch with The Quarantine Train is scheduled to happen this Sunday, January 10th at 6 PM. Will be posting more details on social media soon.
I have also begun using the Alicia Souza planner, which is bringing me unreasonable joy for a 20-something year old. It has all those cutesy stickers that should not, logically, make someone happy, but want to throw up and yet, its good to have some colour and joy in life. I’d recommend TinyChange planner though – it’s the best one I’ve used.
Instead of a focused analysis, today I’m going to touch upon the material I read, namely 5 cantos of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and the poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens. While I have never attempted reading the first poem before, the second poem is more familiar, yet unfamiliar every time I read it.
Dante’s work is epic poetry, a foray into the depths of hell where the rings of hell hold many famous names; we meet Homer and Ovid, Pythagoras and Euclid. Virgil, the poet, is the shade of the guide and Dante is led to by him. The translation of HW Longfellow is not difficult to read, and I’m finding it enjoyable. I thought it would be more difficult to understand, but it is easy enough.
Wallace Stevens in his poem talks of the blackbird, with 13 sections dedicated to it and tied together by it. Each narrative is disconnected to the other, and the narrative is prism-like. A classic example of Cubism, the poem deserves to be read less an Imagist poem, and more a cubist poem. It elevates the image of the common blackbird into a bird worth writing a poem about. The poet democratizes the voices and perspectives of looking, of seeing and of being. This is a poem that therefore requires a lot more close reading than I’m doing here.
I’m also rereading “Persuasion” by Jane Austen and reading essays by R.W. Emerson on the side. His essay “The American Scholar” is a favorite, where he talks of the necessity of a scholar being a man of life, of action.
And that’s it for today. Managed to write some poetry, as well and keeping a reading record on my new iPad. Life is exciting. 🙂
Leave your comments below and let me know if you’d like to suggest any poems I should read and write about!
Before we begin the analysis, a piece of good news. One of my poems will be featured in The Alipore Post in December-January! I was so happy to receive the acceptance today morning. It did make up for the bad day that today is turning out to be.
Today, we are going to look at two poems by that modernist giant Williams Carlos Williams. From his collection Al Que Quiere!, the poem “Spring Strains” and the poem “Dance Russe”. Both these poems are somewhat erotic, the first set in a natural setting with flowers, the sky and birds and the latter in a suburban, very human setting. They also share the element of dance, which is interpreted differently in both.
“Spring Strains” is formally haphazard, 29 lines long and set in 5 stanzas of varying lengths. I am not usually a fan of nature poetry but when Williams does it, he does it with a twist. In this poem the word “strains” in the title says it all. This poem is a tug of war for the “blue-grey buds” on the “blue-grey twigs” to stay against the wind struggling to whip them across to the air against the sky. This scene is portrayed very erotically by Williams, who uses phrases such as “erect with desire”, “slenderly anchoring”, “drawing them in” and “bursts instantly” in the first two stanzas. The buds are being pulled in the wind current, upward, in a “terrific drag”. The poem itself conveys the strain using appropriate verbs like I mentioned above. In the end, the very “tap-roots” are loosened and the buds are “flung outward and up”.
Although it is a poem set in nature, which usually conveys order and neatness, this poem is all about the disintegration of order, the loss of normalcy, anarchy. Its a poem that reminds me of Byron, for some reason, and does in fact smell more Romantic than modernist. The counter to this would be the one phrase that Williams uses in the fourth stanza. He says “counter-pulling mass upward”, as if he is a physicist, as if the buds are defying gravity. Contextualized in his ideas of poetry as a field of action, and his awareness of the effect of Einstein’s theory of relativity on poetry, I do think this phrase was loaded with meaning. Apart from that singular piece of evidence, this poem leans more towards Romanticism than modernism.
The next poem “Dance Russe” is one of my favorites, by Williams. The title hints at an Avant Garde Russian form of dance, something akin to ballet. However, the images in the poem is that of a poet dancing naked in his study while his wife, child and the nanny take a nap. The poet figure asks something like if anyone sees me like this now, who will not say that I am the happy genius of my household? The poem ends there. It is an immemorable scene, that of a suburban family man, a pediatrician in Rutherford, New Jersey, dancing wildly singing about loneliness, claiming his title of the “happy genius”. The word “genius” here is meant in the sense of “creator” or originator, rather than the now conventional meaning of the word.
This is not the only suburban poem written by Williams. He has delved into the suburban loneliness, the tug of war between the wild uncivilized impulses of man, and the imposed social order of the suburbs. This dynamic is interesting and Williams, as someone who experienced it, has captured it in poetry. The poem is also significant in its oblique reference to shadow play, as if the poet himself is a puppet rather than someone enacting his wild impulses. Its a poem that raises many questions.
I am fascinated by the poetry of Williams and will probably return to examine more of it in the coming days. And that’s it for today.
Here are the links to the poems discussed here, and you can leave your comments down below. Have a good day and stay safe!
One of my goals before I turned twenty-five was to publish a book. It’s a silly goal to have, an egoistic one. Yet, one year late, I have a book under my belt. Gaea and Other Poems is now available for sale.
Published by Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata in their hallmark recycled silk saree cover, the book is precious to me for two reasons. Firstly, it is, of course my poetry debut. I feel happy and honored to be part of the poetry community, now that I have some experience in writing and publishing. Secondly, the Foreword is written by an old professor of mine, KNC, who is not only an expert in literary studies, but an inspirational, towering figure and a kind soul. I still think his words far outshine anything I wrote.
I thought a lot about whether this blog post should be promotional or not. But I settled on it being an account of how it feels to be a published poet. Honestly, it does not feel very different. Sure, there were a couple of Instagram Lives that made me feel slightly popular, but apart from that, its been quiet. But I think the day I received my author’s copy, Sept 24th 2020, a date I won’t forget anytime soon, was one of the happiest days of my life. It felt great to finally hold the book, a product of so much back-and-forth, to look through the edits that were made, to ruffle through the final versions of those ever-changing genies called poems.
I am thankful to a lot of people in life for making me a poet, most essentially to that one teacher who told me my writing is too negative. To a high school student, that comment could have been hurtful enough to make me stop writing. It almost did. I remember walking back from school and not mentioning the comment to anyone for two days. When I finally told my mother, and my best friend about it, they scoffed and backed me. What would she know about what you can do, they asked. What does she know about poetry anyway?
I am also thankful to many who have critically commented on my work, not lavishing praise but telling me exactly what worked and what didn’t. Two particular comments come to mind: I was told once that I write like I breathe. I was also told that I make something very tough appear effortless. Its nice to remember compliments about one’s writing.
Gaea and Other Poems is “an exercise in lyric discipline” as the Foreword puts it, and contains many unseen bits of poetry from my journals. It felt weird to release those into the world, and I felt somewhat protective of my privacy. After all, much of it was written from my personal life, about love, desire, mental health, loss and something akin to ennui. All these feature in varying degrees, like a buffet of images served on pages. I have not received a review of the book yet, and probably won’t, but I like to think that it has moments that tender souls can relate to.
Meanwhile, the excitement of publishing my first book also got me thinking seriously of being a writer. I realized that I need to dedicate a lot more time to my craft that I was doing. I decided to indulge in poetry for two-three hours everyday, whether that meant reading William Carlos Williams or writing poetry inspired by Dickinson, or commenting on appropriation in the poetry of Indian American Savarna writers when they write about race or caste. I have been doing this for the past four days, and I should say, that I have written more poetry recently than in the past four months.
It is also important to write notes about writing poetry, and that is what I intend to do with this blog henceforth. It will be my little poetry learning updates space, where I jot down what I did for the day, reflect on my learnings, learn about how my readings influence my writing. It’s going to be exciting!
Once a blue moon, something would happen that messes up certain plans. There will be forces on either side which hold you and get you through things that not just make sense, but also, try to harm you. Certain things are meant to be let go of.
Once a blue moon, there will be happenings that are terribly upsetting. And that’s okay. There will be consequences for every single thing that you do. Once a blue moon, there will be ways for things to unfold in better ways. There will be things that work, things that don’t.
Once a blue moon, your energy will be depleted. There will be words to take care of. There will be work, there will be joy. There will be everything that you need there to be. Things will happen on its accord, because you write. Because you’re there. Because you let things be.
Once a blue moon, you will be the joyful shining moon that you are. There will be enough for everyone to feast, because people feast on the blue moon. There will be wooden spatulas, there will be curses, there will be spells. There will be yew trees, Geraldine.
Once a blue moon, your work will see the light. Your differences will be recognized. Your treatments will ensure that they work for everyone else, as well. There will be enough to go around. There will be enough to go around…