Thursday 30 April 2015

Z is for Zeal...and Zilch...and Zafar

ZafarBahadur Shah (1775-1862)

Bahadur Shah II, (Zafar was his pen name) was the last emperor of Mughal India, who was deposed by the British in 1857, after being reluctantly dragged into supporting an armed uprising against them (the Indians call it a War of Independence, the British call it a Mutiny, insert here the bit about history being written by victors, and also the bit about a rose by other names etc).  (You can, if you prefer, scroll down to the actual poem from here)

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Y is for Yearning.....and Yeats

Yeats, William Butler (1865-1939)

I don't think I can get up the nerve required to summarise Yeats in two lines.  

I was introduced to Yeats as a child by a slightly older, teenager friend; the first poem I read was For Anne Gregory, and I still remember it verbatim. Yeats - so uber fab that Yeatsian is an adjective.  So utterly captivating as to be beyond description. Such a Maestro of Maestros that when he died Auden wrote - 'Earth, receive an honoured guest/William Yeats is laid to rest.'

Tuesday 28 April 2015

X is for Xenophobia...and Xaba

Xaba, Makhosazana (1957 - )

Makhosazana Xaba is an award winning South African, feminist poet, fiction writer and biographer.  She is one of the influential, upcoming literary voices in her country.  Her works have been translated into several languages.  This post uses her poem 'Come' as prompt.

Braids and blessings

The girls in my school - I was fourteen then
and my hair wasn’t something I appreciated often –
they would come up to me and gently touch and pat
the top of my head and slide fingers down my plait,
exclaim “how beautiful!” It baffled understanding
what was special in straight hair, no curls or waves or wings,
I wore it braided for lessons, as schoolgirls do;
but my classmates wore many, and I wore max two.

Sometimes after school or at the long recess
I would watch some of them sit close and dress
each other’s hair, the long-toothed combs couldn’t get
easily through that thickness, and oh, the intricate
ways they did it up, half a dozen partings or hundred,
sculpted, tight braid, and shapely, contoured head;
a Japanese Zen garden of hair, magical, feminine.
Why they wanted to touch mine I couldn’t imagine.

I would run my fingers along those myriad partings
over a hundred cornrows and feel them spring
against my hand, tightened darkness against my palm;
how could boring straight compare with this level of charm?
Each side got mildly fed-up, each side somewhat sore,
“all mine are, are bad-hair days, what do you touch these for?”
I wished my hair was curly, they prized only straight.
The blessings given freely we early learn to hate. 

It's a rather sad coincidence that the word Xenophobia has landed up here alongside a South African activist poet in the same sentence. Because of course I tackled the difficult letters first, so the poem was read and the response written way before the attacks hit the headlines. The original was titled Xenophilia, which felt out of place as I looked at it just now and so the phobia word came in.

Xenophobia -  it's not a nice thing that's happened in South Africa this April. I remember Nigeria in the 70's when she actively supported the anti-apartheid movement and ANC.  Black South Africans had the staunchest support from both their Nigerian and Indian brethren long before the West finally rallied to their cause.  Of course the current generation of Nigerians and South Africans have reworked their relationships in the post-apartheid era, and young people perhaps do not feel obliged to carry the burden of ancestral loyalties/gratitude for entire eternity, and maybe they shouldn't either, I don't know. They don't have to start killing anybody though. I am not getting into the rights and wrongs of the situation or a political debate here. But it bothers me awfully when Nigeria/Nigerians go through a bad patch. Heartfelt wishes for all rifts/injuries to heal soon.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015

Monday 27 April 2015

W is for Weekend....and Worry...and Well...and Williams

 Williams, William Carlos (1883 -1963)

Closely associated with Modernism and Imagism, William Carlos Williams was an American poet, and a medical doctor.  A contemporary of Eliot he felt himself overshadowed by the great man in his lifetime.  His work became slowly popular in the 50's and 60's for its accessible yet sensitive language. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer for poetry a few months after his death.  Today my prompt is the poem The Red Wheelbarrow  

Behind the mist

The morning passes
behind a mist,
something like
a drop of rain
chases a trickle
on a fogged-up pane;
the hour snaps
clean in two
spilling a million pin-head
seconds on the floor
endless days, lightning years,
time stands breathless
over here;
where are you?

W is for Worry...over the Weekend there was the news of the Nepal earthquake, and many places in India being affected, including cities and places where my loved ones live...natural disasters like this bring home in no uncertain manner the fragility of life and our own helplessness in the face of it. I spent most of my Sunday catching up with people to check if everything was Well, and thankfully it was. Heart-Wrenching to see the huge number of people affected, a terrible time for far too many.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015

Saturday 25 April 2015

V is for Vibrant...Vocal...and Valentine

V is for Valentine, Jean (1934 - )

American poet, teacher and translator, Jean Valentine has won numerous awards and has been shortlisted for the Pulitzer poetry prize. She was named the State poet for New York for 2008-2010. Read more about her by clicking on her name above.  Today my prompt is her poem Door in the Mountain

Forgetful shutters

I once knew some old shutters, and they knew me too;
but years shuffle things around, and men must renew
frames that need no support, and refresh the décor.
Next I knew, I’d come to knock on a stranger’s door.

I am slow to forget lanes, but I must confess
I thought I had; I checked and rechecked the address,
reworked the topography from past memory,
found no mistake, but it remained firmly barred to me.

There’s nothing as final as the soft, soundless swing
of doors on oiled hinges, the click that’s in closing.
Others might open elsewhere, but the one that shut
can never be coaxed open again no matter what.

By chance someone might loop back across the oceans
to a door that'd swung shut once.  It no longer opens.

Doors, windows..  Doors opening, closing.  Do you believe that saying about one door shutting and another opening somewhere?  Doors as metaphors. Is that overused? Why are they called 'shutters', why not 'openers'? Is that because we are shutting things/people out more often rather than leaving them open?

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015

Friday 24 April 2015

U is for Unequivocal...and Untermeyer

Untermeyer, Louis (1885-1977)

Louis Untermeyer was an American poet, editor, anthologist and critic. He was known for his wit and love of puns. However, he was also controversial for his apparent flirtation with Marxism in the fifties, and was blacklisted by the television industry when one of the programmes he appeared in was picketed.  His edited anthologies are widely read by students.  My prompt for today is his poem Prayer.

Parent, Intervene NOW!

The thing is I never felt the need
to clasp my hands and bend my knee
in the manner that priests decreed:
if You are there, You’ll let me be;

and if You’re not, then what’s the use
to make a show of beads and bells?
it doesn’t matter – win or lose;
the playing counts, and nothing else.

Life is unfair, and faith or verse
can be a blade to slice it fine.
Who’s to say what’s better or worse -
an ancient hymn or faithless line?

I really have no argument
with those who ply conch and incense;
You'll know if You're omniscient,
empty rituals make no sense.

If You’re there, You know my heart
and all of its well kept secrets:
its yearnings for beauty; where its scarred,
where it’s home and where it frets;

and how it wants to play the game,
and when it wants to play truant.
Why should I have to chant Your name
and spell out loud what I might want?

If I’m Your child, then what parent
would want me to cringe and submit?
Pray, light a flame and complement
with fearfulness, and that is it?

I’d rather You did not exist
than believe You’re petty and mean,
and crush us with such steely fists
of hollow ritual and routine.

Where is Your justice and Your grace?
Your children burn each other alive,
torture in unspeakable ways,
Why do You let such evil thrive?

You turn Your face, shut Your three eyes
because the evil doers profess
a different path, and paradise;
But they’re Your offspring nonetheless.

A human parent’s limited view,
small love and fairness still compel
her to act without further ado
anytime her children quarrel.

Yet You of monumental Love
let Your children annihilate
each other without one shred of
regret at this quadrille of hate.

Excuse me if I can’t believe
in a Parent who’s this unmoved;
never stops the wars, nor weeps nor grieves.
I’d rather doubt. And I disapprove.

Back where I come from, since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there has been much discussion regarding freedom of expression.  An Indian author has been forced to retract his words because he depicted certain religious rites which were perceived as negative, although the rites are a historical fact. A few years ago, a well known artist was forced into exile because he depicted certain deities in the nude. Do you think editors/writers/artists should temper freedom with responsibility and discretion? Or should they be free to write/paint as they please and ignore the possible consequences?  

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015

Thursday 23 April 2015

T is for Towering...and Tagore

Tagore, Rabindranath (1861 -1941)

Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath - born to an aristocratic Bengali family, he was a poet, novelist, song writer, playwright, essayist, artist, educator and visionary.  He was the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Tagore introduced new verse forms and prose techniques in Bengali, modifying the rigid 'classical' written language to one that was closer to the spoken form and more intimate. He reshaped Bengali and Indian culture in far reaching ways.  In short, he is to Bengali what Shakespeare is to English.  He was also awarded a knighthood, but surrendered it in protest against the British brutality in Jalianwala Bagh in Punjab.  

I grew up with his nursery rhymes, songs and poems, fiction and musicals - 'dance-drama' as all Bengalis of my generation do.  Today my prompt is his poem Where the Mind is without Fear written in the context of colonial oppression and the Indian resistance to it, which is still read and revered wherever freedoms are valued.

It'll be okay - either way


I will let your words take me wherever they want
in time, in space, in spaces of the mind
to their immeasurable, ancient battlefronts
where weapons and words are both ill-defined
and uncertainty stares at me with its blind

eyes and blinding terror.  I shall not be afraid
to crawl, and fall, openly petrified,
vulnerable underbelly defenceless, blades
grazing the tender skin then ripping it wide
but I’ll press on without thoughts of turning aside;

it’s a long road to where the mind can be fearless
but I shall not cavil with you, I’ll accept
wherever they lead, peaks and valleys of darkness
I’ll follow them through every crevice and cleft,
jagged stone, without once looking right or left.

If in the end, there’s nothing gained, no epiphany
then that’s fine too, no complaints, no words from me.


One footstep on solid rock, the next on scree,
an endless path sans charms, sans destination,
every footfall an empty torment, no greenery
to lighten loads – barrenness, futility.
Even in that there’s a seed somewhere, a life lesson.

The paths spin their scenes and their own purpose
and every seed, whether it sprouts or is hidden,
will come to mean something, small but momentous
without the jolts and bolts, without drama and fuss.
All words and seeds ripen in time and split open.

And yours will too, I’ll carry them cupped like grain
in my hand and hold them close and walk on
step after step. Torment is just a terrain -
degrees of slope, sharpness of rock, flats of plain.
All paths peter out with time and are redrawn.

And if in the end, they don’t flatten, and nothing’s gained
then that’s fine too, I’ll keep the grain, and no complaint.

T is also for Tennyson, whose Ulysses is one of my favourite poems across all poets and and all times. Enjoy!

T is for Trouble, which I had last night trying to find bloggers that are still keeping on with the A-Z.  Among the ones I clicked, several had stopped. Not a wildly successful reading session. A bit disheartening that but never mind, I shall Trudge on. Tomorrow is another day :)

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015

Wednesday 22 April 2015

S is for Sensational...Seismic...Shift...and Soyinka

Soyinka, Wole (1934 - )

What can I say about Wole Soyinka? Poet, playwright, activist, he is often called the most compelling literary voice of Africa, the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature, the conscience of Nigeria.  

He was my first African poet, read when I was barely in my teens, and whatever shift happened, was indeed seismic.  His poetry is life changing, truly.  Today I am responding to his Lost Poems.


I’ve lost some poems.  And some things much greater:
the silent shapes of leaves; returns to roofs; rains
on them; only a vague hollow remains
that’s hard to recall; traces vanish later.

Green darknesses, the creaking of old swings;
pressed flowers, in memory of events
themselves dim now; evanescence
in many forms; in various dimmings.

Hearts have beaten somewhere below my own
and dimmed; perhaps easier not to dwell
on those that cannot be defined too well;
stick to concrete losses, summed up and shown

on paper scraps, tickets and snaps; because proof
is paramount. Here they are: poem, swing, and roof.

Anyone did for you what Soyinka did for me? :) Gave you goosebumps, and Stood your ideas of poetry/writing on their heads?

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015