Two Poems by William Carlos Williams – An Analysis

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!

Spring Strains by William Carlos Williams: http://www.poetry-archive.com/w/spring_strains.html

Dance Russe by William Carlos Williams: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46483/danse-russe

Gaea and Other Poems – A Poetry Debut

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!

Gaea and Other Poems is now available at select bookstores across the country. Buy your copy here: http://www.tbsbook.com/product/gaea-and-other-poems/

The Blue Moon

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…

The Quarantine Post: A Note on The New Normal

The world is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost half of its population has been under some kind of quarantine or lockdown for about a month.

[And I have been diligently cleaning, cooking, reading, writing, watching Netflix and occasionally painting coasters. Hey, whatever keeps us sane these days, right?]

The anxieties of these times are difficult to describe. Firstly, we don’t know which friend or acquaintance is going to kick the bucket. It is probable that some people we know will get diagnosed with the coronavirus and will, most probably, recover. Most of us will get through unscathed to the other side.

But what waits on the other side?

The “new normal” they’re calling it. The coming year or two will be challenging. A worldwide economic recession is guaranteed. The world on the other side of this pandemic, might look very different… There might be changes in laws, in social conduct. Governments could easily impose restrictions that help ensure minimal chances of another epidemic. There might be a surge in the number of people who prefer WFH. There might be new and improved protocols for health emergencies and more interaction between AI and the health sector to increase chances of identifying threats to public health in the future.

These are, of course, the possible good outcomes.

The bad outcomes range from bioterrorism to an extended economic crisis that ensures this generation and the next work until 65 years of age to rebuild the global economy.

Let’s hope it doesn’t go there.

Here’s what I’ve specifically been doing to keep my sanity.

1. Petting Thomas. Thomas, our pet cat, has been a reliable care animal. As long as he gets his crunchies and water, he’s super cuddly to be around.

2. Cooking new dishes from minimal ingredients. This is fun, because it’s sort of like preparing for doomsday. Or, being in a really stingy MasterChef finale.

3. Keeping news intake to once a day. I’ve been guilty of bingeing on news throughout the day. This means that I’ve opened the News apps on my phone more than thrice a day in the past. This induced panic attacks and a heightened sense of anxiety that I strictly restricted the time I spent online worrying about things I can’t control.

4. Gardening. I grew sprouts, planted a carom plant, tended to my beautiful jade plant and managed to kill the mint plant. There’s something uniquely refreshing about aiding growth when there’s so much news of death. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve done during the lockdown.

Proud Herb Garden Mama ❤️ also, sustainability FTW

5. Reading. I was reading Educated by Tara Westover when the lockdown was declared. It’s one of the best books I’ve read recently, and perhaps, ever. Since then, I’ve read short stories on Granta, scoured through comics, finished a book on the pandemic by Zizek, finished another book Less by Andrew Sean Greer and began reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Fowles. I shouldn’t be saying this, but reading-wise, I think I’m making the most out of this pandemic.

The end to this is not near. There might be a new wave of coronavirus in the winter, they say. There might also be a locust attack on farms in the summer, they say.

We don’t know what the future holds. But whatever it is, at least we now know collective action works. We really are in this together.

The Firefly Food Fest

OFIR1

 

Minnaaminni ithiriponni minnunnathellaam ponnalla

kannaanthumpi kaanjanathumbi kaathil keattath paattalla

Two days ago, my hometown in Kerala hosted the 2nd biggest Literary Festival in Asia and in parallel to it, the OFIR Food Fest. Calicut, known for its numerous restaurants and a vibrant food culture, has seen many food fests in the past. Yet, what made this event stand apart was the coming together of regional tastes – 12 communities, to be exact – and the artistic culture that surrounded the variety of food. Sufiyana music and Sitar tunes decorated the nights, while stories blossomed on dining-tables when artists and writers from the Literary Fest peeked in for a taste. From Jain food to roadside “ice” items, OFIR covered a range of tastes unmatched by any multicuisine restaurant menu Calicut-ians are familiar with.

I say restaurant menus because the people of Calicut are impulsive restaurant-goers. Spoiled by so many good choices, a middle class family in Calicut does not find it odd to not cook once in a while, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Why should they? One of the better restaurants in not just the town, but in the state, will after all be just a few minutes away. Today when we are constantly turning towards Western tastes and globalized cuisines, such fests remind us that everything famous and advertised well, are perhaps not the only tasty food you can find. Perhaps, the tastiest dish lies unexplored in your neighbour’s kitchen. OFIR is a revival of cultures and a reminder that as much as restaurants will have standardized tastes and home food will not always be available, there are options to avail good food, no matter what culture you belong to.

As soon as you enter Aspin Courtyard, the venue for this Fest, you will be surprised by the sheer diversity of food stalls. The yellow firefly lights will guide your way and show you smiling faces serving homemade food in shining ladles. If you’re from around Calicut, you might even see some familiar faces. Faces lost years ago to tornadoes of time and degrees. In my case, I found three teachers and a ex-classmate in the Anglo Indian food stall. Miss Milly, my very first teacher in Calicut was serving rice and meatball curry. As an ex-Josephite (Calicut-speak for an ex-student of the coastal school St. Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls’ Higher Secondary School), it gave me great joy to receive a plate of food served by women who breathed the same salty air and taught/learned from the same books as me. Food connects and builds bridges, for sure. But it also serves as time travel. Devil’s Chutney served by Karyn, my schoolmate, was apple-red and tasted like memories.

To the very end of the venue, was arranged a stage. I sat on one of the chairs in the back, to listen to what was going on. In a few minutes, I gathered that the speeches were mostly about the history of Calicut as a trading center– how the affluent Muslim families used to receive Arab guests and raw materials, via trade. I learned that the Muslim wives used to cook the most sumptuous meals they could, in order to lure their husbands back home sooner from the Gulf. They learned recipes in order to ensure that their husbands wouldn’t head out to the sea too soon. Food was not just something that filled the stomach; it was prepared with hope, with love. Something that Calicut still recognizes, considering the graffiti on the pillar next to the famous Paragon Hotel. A smiling Dulquer Salman and Tilakan adorn that pillar, with the iconic sulaimani as well. Anjali Menon’s Ustad Hotel is set in Calicut for a reason and OFIR highlighted that reason.

Food ought to be prepared with love, with empathy. Interestingly, Calicut has always been an compassionate shore. Too compassionate, perhaps, considering our infamous tryst with the Portuguese. But the truth is that Calicut did not have a dominant food culture in olden times. Malabar Manual lists a number of cuisines that existed side by side. The celebration of the Mappila food culture we see today is interesting for this reason. Over the years, Calicut came to be known as the center for Maappila food; the other cuisines, be it Iyer food or Syrian Christian food, were relegated to the sidelines. The very reason for OFIR was the revival of these forgotten regional food cultures, to remind the people of Calicut that our culture is one of empathy where we received and inculcated a variety of cuisines. In this process, we have preserved stories of the origin of dishes, shared anecdotes of preparation and enjoyed the company of amazing experts who cook for nothing other than pure, unadulterated happiness. Various communities across religions, castes and regions have come together to share their finest dishes in an atmosphere filled with music and history.

The only sad part is that OFIR was a firefly fest. A faint light in the night. Gone too soon.