Robin Hislop Reads at University of Leeds His Poetry and Translations. Video Performance.

This video recording was made at University of Leeds on October 10th. 2017, it was introduced and presented by  Antonio_Martínez_Arboleda Principal Teaching Fellow in Spanish and poet.

The initial image can be enlarged to full screen size. The texts and accompanying images can be easily toggled to place according to requirements.

Below the video also is a link that gives a report and interpretation of the performance by students who attended.

The report is live at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/news/article/5108/2nd_cts_professionalisation_talk_2017-18_international_writers_at_leeds

International Writers University of Leeds October 10th 2017

 
 
Robin Ouzman Hislop is a poet and translator who edits Poetry Life and Times at Artvilla.com. At this event, he will be interviewed by Antonio Martínez Arboleda focusing on key aspects in his works exploring poetic themes. This will be followed by readings in Spanish and English of works by Guadalupe Grande (Key of Mist) and Carmen Crespo (Tesserae) with Martínez Arboleda and Hislop, translated into English by Hislop and Spanish poet Amparo Arróspide. He will read poems from his recently published collections All the Babble of the Souk & Cartoon Molecules (Amazon, 2016/17) various translated into Spanish by Martínez-Arboleda for (Crátera, Autumn 2017). There will be an opportunity for questions regarding the translations. Languages of the event: English and Spanish.
 
 
http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/people/20059/spanish_portuguese_and_latin_american_studies/person/1009/antonio_martinez_arboleda
 
 

 
 
Aquillrelle.com/Author Robin Ouzman Hislop & Amazon.com Author Robin Ouzman Hislop

Poetry Life & Times Interview with Poet R.W.Haynes

On the Savannah River 2013
 
R.W. Haynes teaches at a university and writes about literature for academic publications. His doctorate at the University of Georgia (1991) was on sixteenth-century classicism in England. He has taught at Texas A&M International University in Laredo since 1992.
 
His teaching focuses on literature ranging from the Greeks to the English Renaissance, most of it dealing with medieval material and Shakespeare. Two more recent dramatists, Henrik Ibsen and Horton Foote, have been the focus of his attention in recent years. His book The Major Plays of Horton Foote (Mellen 2010) will be followed next year by an anthology of criticism on the same author.
 
Here at PLT we have had the privilege of featuring several of his poetic works both in classical & free style form. Intrigued by his background as well as his work in the field of poetry, we have included him in our list of special interviews at PLT, where I would like to begin by putting these questions. Hello RW welcome to our PLT interview. A few questions via Robin Ouzman Hislop Editor
 
PLT- Which was your first contact with poetry?
 
RW- Both of my parents were teachers, and both loved literature. My mother wrote poetry and encouraged her children to do the same. I had the honor of reading one of my mother’s poems at my sister’s funeral not long ago.
 
PLT- Which style in writing defines you?
 
RW- I’m not sure. It might be easier for someone else to answer that. There are some poetic projects I’d like to try which may be very different from what I’ve written so far. And does one write to be defined? Perhaps one writes to elude definition, at least at times. Remember what Hamlet says to Guildenstern, “Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.” Not that I have any earth-shaking mystery in my poetic activity that it would be death to reveal. I do tend to work in more or less formal verse, which some editors and readers find insufficiently edgy or something. Different strokes. And not many of my poems have been long poems, possibly because of feebleness of mind. And sometimes the verse may be a bit angry, even though most of my sonnets are jokes to some extent. Well, anger demands expression, and, when it energizes a composition, that process governs the anger, I think, and wrath becomes something else, as it usually ought to do. To conclude the answer, I do what my Muse tells me to do, hoping all the while that writing about Downtown Waco or The Three Little Pigs or the Texas Campus-Carry legislation or the ghosts of people who aren’t dead yet isn’t some mad aberration arising from academic trauma or lack of tobacco or something.
 
PLT- Where is the germ of your creation? What triggers the poem?
 
RW- I join lots of poets in saying that the impulse to write is a constant presence. Perhaps it derives from a sense that language has a kind of magical potential to convey more in special moments than in ordinary ones. It isn’t always enough to yell “Caramba!” or to gasp “The rest is silence.” But let’s look at Shakespeare, whose sonnets show us something about how poetry does what it does. Can’t we say that in those poems there are motives we recognize with a distinct immediacy? Love, bitter disappointment, jealousy, humor, anxiety—all of which in their intensity are subjected to a presence of mind (if I may develop the usual sense of that phrase) and put before us as a kind of imaginative victory, if that is not too strong a word. So it seems to me that often the provocation to verse is a challenge to respond artistically to a moment deserving a poetic response. When the angel gives a command to Caedmon, he understands it is time for him to sing, despite his froglike voice.
 
PLT- Who were your educative poets?
 
RW- My mother, of course—Sarah Westbrook Haynes. My father also loved poetry. My older brother was, it seemed and still seems to me, a pretty good poet. Dylan Thomas, Pound, Eliot, Yeats. I majored in Classical Greek as an undergraduate largely because of Pound’s enthusiasm for Homer, but I also always read in the English poets, Chaucer, Spenser, Sidney, Donne. I liked the Romantics except for Wordsworth, whom I learned to respect at about the same time as I found I could read Wallace Stevens at last. I liked the work of a couple of poets, Marion Montgomery and Judith Ortiz Cofer, who were at the University of Georgia when I was there. Shakespeare finally became my job, and his work still amazes, and now as I write drama his skill seems even more unparalleled.
 
PLT- Do you handle an idea or an aesthetic intention when writing?
 
RW- I’m sure I try at times. Sometimes the ideas handle me. I won’t say the road to Hell is paved with aesthetic intentions, but I do think we need to reserve some modest disdain for glib or facile effusions that have nothing behind them but a kind of opportunistic exhibitionism. I like all kinds of poetry and poets, but not all poetry is equal in value. Do you remember Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar? The crowd, infuriated by Caesar’s murder, seized him because one of the assassins was named Cinna. When he protested that he was a poet, the crowd tore him to pieces because of his bad verses. Perhaps the poet, like the blues musician, has to pay dues in one way or another before arriving at competence. On the other hand, youth, though sometimes blind or inconsiderate, can energize expression so much that impulse redeems immaturity and the claims of common sense appear pedantic. One doesn’t want to hear “I fall on the thorns of life!” every ten minutes, but Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” still opens a universe of poetic power.
 
PLT- What do you think of alternative resources for spreading poetical works?
 
RW- I’m for poetry, however access to it may be provided. Thank God for the Internet, which has done much to diminish the influence of certain kinds of editorial tyranny. I taught two classes today to begin the summer session, and in both I advised the students to write poetry, and I believe some of them took me seriously.
 
PLT- Do you think that poets, as such, have a special social commitment or that their sensitivity is more exposed to society´s predicaments?
 
RW- Life usually requires some toughness, no? I visited Poe’s grave in Baltimore a year or so ago, and, of course, it’s painful to reflect on gifted individuals whose artistic souls drive them through destructive experiences and social rejection. One thinks particularly of musicians, though the names of Hart Crane and John Berryman come to mind as well. It is good when such individuals find support and encouragement and can sustain life’s disappointments. Charles Baudelaire said that his humiliations were of the grace of God, and no doubt he derived comfort from that thought. As for social commitment, I’d like to think that a commitment to the pursuit of wisdom would suit poets very well. If we look at the political alignments of poets in the United States, I am sure that far more are Democrats than Republicans, but a review of history might indicate that such characters as the Beowulf poet, Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare aligned themselves with political power to some extent, and no doubt the same was true of Homer. It was in fact reported that it was Caesar Augustus who prevented the posthumous burning of Vergil’s Aeneid. Now that was a patron of the arts. Despite these observations, however, it is also true that heartless greed and meretricious machination do not tend to promote poetic values. Though Lord Byron facetiously claimed to have discovered a new vice in avarice, his sponsorship of Hellenic freedom showed his true feelings. In so far as poets subscribe to humane values, to compassion and respect for their fellow humans, a social sympathy can be expected from them, but, surely, there is a considerable variety in human perspective. Would one expect an insurance executive such as Wallace Stevens to be a great poet?
 
PLT- Which was the last poetry book you read?
 
RW- I tend not to read books of poetry by individuals very often. I’m not sure why. It may be that I think I get more from works considered individually or in small groups than in a dense assemblage of poems. So the last book of poetry I read was probably Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
 
PLT- According to your criterion, what living poet should be re-read nowadays?
 
RW- Judith Ortiz Cofer, who is a native of Puerto Rico, but who has lived for many years in Georgia. Her work returns the reader to the personal by celebrating personal connections, the kind of sometimes casual devotion that shapes family and the caring individual. Those in search of new variations of insanity have many options, but Cofer’s poetry effectively engages a rare quest for an emotional responsibility which arises from a kind of harmony of verse and perspective.

 
PLT- Thanks RW for your amazing responses, I hope our readership following will be as profoundly impressed as I am. Also, I must admit, I’m a great fan of Wallace Stevens, him & Samuel Beckett in fact. And thank you again for your recommendation of Judith Ortiz Cofer, I’m intrigued, does she write in her original language, presumably Spanish? Could we entreat of you a sample of one of her works perhaps, and what that means to you and the title of any recommended publication.
 
RW- Judith Ortiz Cofer writes in English. A collection of her poetry is the volume Reaching for the Mainland & Selected New Poems, Bilingual Press 1995. Her poem “Esperanza,” which can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/240624 demonstrates her sense of the emotional implications of self-centered decisions. The young woman whose name means “Hope” is sketched in a few devastated lines as a person whose hope was cursed at her birth.
 
PLT- It wouldn’t be fair to wrap this Interview up without some further reference to your works other than those hitherto published here at PLT. So would you be so kind to leave us with one or more, perhaps a favourite of yours, if such a thing is possible.
 
RW Haynes
 
The Peacock Lady’s Declaration
 
The lady with glasses put her crutch aside
And said, “I get so sick of parasites
Who think that what a real writer writes
Just kind of bubbles up neatly from inside,
As she stares off in space, then grabs a pen
And puts together a story like a box
With little hinges, snaps, and locks,
And then goes back and puts the symbols in.
Of course, parasites are necessary,
And some of them are pleasant enough to be
Good company, at times, but mortality
Shouldn’t be orderly, at least not very;
Writing here, with these crumbling bones,
Makes new life sprout between inanimate stones.”

 
 
The Tomb of Edgar Poe (2014)
 
Looking for the conference hotel,
I drove by Poe’s grave. Tap tap…
One should definitely shudder a little
At a contact so nearly missed.
Later I walked back, passing by
The Everyman Theater, colder
Than I’m used to being, tap tap,
Down home on the Rio Grande,

    And on his stone a twisted wreath
    Of pasts and half-recalled regrets,
    A ribbon, a spoon, a ball-point pen,
    Declare our junkie solidarity again.
      Why wasn’t some demented witch
      Out front pouring green lemonade?
      A lean, blue owl on her shoulder perched,
      Staring as though I, too, were cursed.

Tapped out, forget that dark flower,
Return to harbor past the Bromo-Selzer Tower.
 
R.W. Haynes

 
 
robin@artvilla.com
PoetryLifeTimes
Poetry Life & Times

editor@artvilla.com
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Poetry Life and Times – An Interview With Marie Marshall – Poet

Poetry Life and Times – An Interview With Marie Marshall – Poet

by Robin Ouzman Hislop Editor of Poetry Life and Times

Bio – Marie Marshall (3rd person)

MM is a middle-aged Anglo-Scottish author, poet, and editor, who says little about herself, preferring to let her writing speak. She has had three novels published, two of which are for the young adult / older children readerships. Both of her collections of poetry are currently in publication. Naked in the Sea (2010) in its 2nd imprint, is available in e-book form direct from publishers P’kaboo and in Kindle version on Amazon; the 1st imprint may still be available in print, if you enquire at Masque Publishing of Littlehampton. I am not a fish, nominated for the 2013 T S Eliot Prize, may be bought direct from publishers Oversteps Books. Marie has had well over two hundred poems published in magazines, anthologies, etc., but has not submitted anything since 2013. The most unusual places in which her poetry has appeared are on the wall of a café in Wales, pinned to trees in Scottish woodland, and etched into an African drum in New Orleans Museum of Art.

Robin. Hi Marie, welcome aboard PLT, we’re so glad you agreed to do this interview.

    Marie. It’s kind of you to invite me.

Robin. I first became aware of your work as a poet, when I discovered you were a Co-Editor of Richard Vallance’s Anthology of Sonnets, The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes. It’s going back a bit but how did that come about?

    Marie. Richard and I go back further than that. Somewhere in 2007 or 2008 I submitted some sonnets to Sonnetto Poesia, the magazine that Richard edited. At the time I was eating, breathing, dreaming in iambic pentameter, using the sonnet form to sharpen up the technical power of my writing. Anyhow, Richard was so enthusiastic about my sonnets that I believe he included some in an issue of the magazine without running them by the other members of the editorial team. Not long after that he asked me to become an associate editor of Sonnetto Poesia, and shortly after that an associate editor of Canadian Zen Haiku. I served in that capacity for about three or four years until Richard decided to retire.

    The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes was Richard’s ‘swan song’, and in fact the amount of hard work he put into it was unbelievable. I was amongst those drafted in as part of the editorial team, and as such didn’t do much more than anyone else on the team. Somehow I fell into the role of reining in some of the hyperbole in the introductory text to the anthology, rewriting much of it, and at the end Richard wanted to reward me by raising my status to something like co-Editor. However, I hadn’t done nearly enough work to justify that, so we settled on ‘Deputy Editor’ – I made the proviso that I would only accept that title if everyone else on the team agreed. I don’t think anyone objected.

    I’m proud of the anthology – I made sure that copes were lodged at the Scottish Poetry Library and the National Library of Scotland, both in Edinburgh. It’s good. It’s not perfect, but it’s good.

Robin. Ah, yes, I remember Sonnetto Poesia and Canadian Zen Haiku. I monitored the latter for some years on line and enjoyed working with Richard in my contribution of the Spanish chapter to that anthology. In fact, we’ve published a Sonnet of yours from that anthology here at PLT, Closing Time at Laugharne. Pronounced ‘larn’ to rhyme with yarn, that boozy Celt at the Boathouse, I loved the imagery.

    Marie. I’m glad I’m a poet and can get away with calling someone a boozy Celt.

Robin. You’re not only an editor of your own online poetry periodical (thezenspace.wordpress.com) but a translator, novelist, essayist, and poet; would you give the reader a little background to these activities.

    Marie. First off, I don’t erect any significant ‘Chinese walls’ between them. I write, I deal in words, end of. Perhaps the editorship of the zen space is the odd one out, a little anyway, because there I’m dealing with other people’s words, not my own. It all started when I sent in a haibun to an e-zine that specialised in such things. I got an email back from the editor in which he expressed a wish to publish my submission, but he wanted to tinker with the words. Now, normally that’s an acceptable prerogative of an editor, but in the case of something as in-the-moment as a haibun, I resisted. He got shirty. I asked him if he knew of the principle of mono no aware, and of the origin of haiku and such like in Zen. He said no he didn’t, and in any case all of a sudden he wasn’t going to publish my stuff after all. Well, having exposed his ignorance, I decided to start my own haiku e-quarterly. You might think I would be bound to seed it with my own work, but in fact I don’t. Leaving aside the buzz of reading through people’s work and putting a quarterly Showcase together, the main selfish reason I keep it going is so that I can still hang out a virtual shingle saying ‘Editor’.

    Translating is a very, very minor string to my bow. I have a reasonable knowledge of French. I have translated a little of Gérard de Nerval and Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. I have written some parallel poems in English and French, English and Scots, and even had a shot at translating something from Welsh. My main influence was the late Vera Rich, who seemed to appreciate my skill as a poet. We worked a little together, and she passed on to me her principles of reproducing not only sense, register, voice, and so on, but the actual metric structure of the original. I can tell you that’s not an easy skill, but Vera had it in spades! Just before she died, she had passed her first draft of her translation of Ivan Franko’s Death of Cain over to me to read through and comment on. I had made a list of queries and suggestions for her when I learned of her death. Her first draft is blogged somewhere, but I have been wanting to put together a re-edited version for some time – I had questions for her about her choices of words in some places, when compared to other versions and to the original words in Ukrainian, but of course these will never be answered now. Anyhow, her influence is very strong for me, even though I do so very little translation.

Robin. I remember very well reading the translation, it seems to me a pity you’ve buried it from publication over a comparatively small detail, when a few footnotes would have sufficed and who knows perhaps get an answer from that, but sorry to interrupt.

    Marie. No, the questions I had for her were much more than one ‘comparatively small’ detail. And in any case, Vera herself still had to check with her academic source in the Ukraine, but passed away before she could do so. I may do something public with it in May 2016, which is the centenary of Ivan Franko’s death, but anything I might do would be entirely without authorisation. We’ll see.

    Anyhow, I’m intrigued that you call me an essayist. I suppose that we’re all essayists these days, given the universality of the blog, and I do put the occasional essay on the blog section of my web site. I have touched on aspects of English grammar, taxonomy, whether ‘modern literature’ exists, art graffiti, and I have written reviews. So maybe I’m an essayist of sorts.

    I don’t know what to say about my being a novelist and a poet. These are the most obvious of my activities, so perhaps they need the least saying about them! I’m actually best known in Scotland as a writer of macabre short stories, but that’s another thing entirely.

Robin. Now comes the star pin question, take it or leave it: as you are a bit of a mystery – don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cool a writer shrouds herself in a bit of mystery – but you did start writing very late in life, and with incredible success from the start, which is unusual. What started that?

    Marie. There are a number of questions hiding in there! Two at least. I’ll deal with the last one first – what started me writing? You’re right, of course, I started writing when I was already in my late forties. One day I was reading stuff on a web site – I have absolutely no recollection why, or how I came to be on that page – that was touting itself as ‘erotic writing’. Short stories. Most of them were dire, just an excuse to ‘talk dirty’, any plot in them was simply a set-up for a graphic sex-scene, nothing there that one could dignify with the term ‘literary merit’. I said to myself “I could do better than that!” and so I got on my keyboard and did just that. My principle was that the story should carry sex, be sexy, rather than be an excuse for sex. It worked, it worked well, but before long the story took over from the erotic content, and – bingo! – I found out I was a mainstream author.

    Now, why do I have this shroud of mystery about me? The answer is, I’m afraid, rather prosaic. I have a number of psychological problems which make me severely agoraphobic, almost a recluse. I am painfully shy about speaking in public, about being the centre of attention, about being photographed, and so on. So making a virtue out of a necessity, I have turned this into a mystique, made it a selling point, made it an essentially part of Marie Marshall the author and the product.

Robin. Despite your other pursuits, it seems to me you feature mostly as a poet. So let me jump in at the deep end with you with a question framed in two parts: What are the qualities you think are needed to give birth to a poet; and how does the theme of any poem develop in your mind?

    Marie. Neither of these is particularly simple to answer. I could say this: that the essential quality needed in a poet is an almost total disregard for what everyone else says poetry is. Along with that, a total disregard for the sanctity of language. Of course that won’t do for most people, they’ll find it an unsatisfactory answer; but to me, unless you have something like these essentials in your nature, you will write poetry that is clearly dictated by the rules, by the form – and don’t forget that ‘free verse’ is a form too – rather than letting the form carry what you want to say.

    Usually what comes to me initially is a handful of words, a way of describing something – a sight, a sound, a feeling – that is distinctive. I remember them, or write them down, and then I see what grows around them. Sometimes this only results in a few lines. At other times it develops into an extended theme, with recurring tropes in a whole series of poems. Sometimes I write about something that is obsessing me; I think my ‘Veronica Franco’ poems are like that.

    I think the only reason I’m best known as a poet is because I have set myself the task of writing something vaguely poetical, if only a fragment, every day. In fact, as I said before, I don’t really draw a distinction between writing poetry and writing anything else. In fact one prominent review of my first novel, Lupa, makes a point of saying that it is no surprise to learn that I’m a poet, as my prose is ‘full of passion and rhythm’

Robin. I’d like to ask you more questions about the Veronica Franco poems, but I’ll return to that later. Nowadays, perhaps because of the media and population increase in the world, more poetry is being written than ever before and fame cannot be again what it was. Do you think the poet and poetry in general play any particular role in the modern world, can they influence the course of events, for example. I call to mind WH Auden, who did much to diminish the myth of poetry, insomuch he claimed just that, the creations of the poet could not really influence the course of affairs in the world’s history. So perhaps the trend in modern poetry is just towards stylistics rather than any realistic view of crisis in the human condition.

    Marie. Still, if we poets all jumped up and down at the same time, we could tumble the castles of the powerful.

    Let’s face it, Robin, there is more of everything out there these days. It’s the world we live in. I am currently preparing an essay on ‘cultural appropriation’ in which I say “the walls are down”. Maybe you’re right, maybe Auden is right. But on the other hand, look at poetry after Auden. Dylan Thomas devised a poetic radio drama that became as popular as any work of literature; Allen Ginsberg delivered a slap to America’s face with ‘Howl’; Bob Dylan’s songs caught the imagination of a generation; Gil Scott-Heron was in the vanguard of Black Consciousness; John Cooper-Clarke’s sarky piss-takes on petty-bourgeois life, sink estates, and trends, are now household stuff… What I’m saying is that poets can still emerge. How far that emergence can be an influence I don’t know. Maybe Bob Dylan’s major influence was not on his own 1960s generation, but on the conservative backlash and consolidation! We live in a time where power has a grip of steel, and perhaps it would take more than a poet to break that grip now; but should that happen, there will be another Rouget de Lisle to provide the stirring accompaniment, of that I’m sure.

    As for stylistics, let me ask you whether what I’m doing is merely stylistics. Another question – do you believe that poetry should deal exclusively with the human condition? Is that what poetry is for?

Robin. I’m saying that stylistics is a trend asked for in contemporary poetry and given priority over context. I mean by concerning the crisis of the human condition that nowadays more than ever the nature of consciousness, existence and reality is more enigmatic than before and should be given a context or at least an emergent voiced image, if that’s what poetry can do.

    Marie. Asked for by whom and given priority by whom, I wonder. I also wonder whether I’m the right person to ask about the general human condition etc.. What I write is deeply personal, even the inconsequential bits of froth I write are personal, so if I have a perspective on the human condition it is based right here, in the experience of being me. Right here is also where I explore consciousness, existence, and reality. Things outside me have an existence of their own that does not depend on how I see them. I quarrel with the notion of rationality, with the notion that we are rational beings, because when we exercise this ‘rationality’ we perceive things – let’s say the laws of the universe – as being just so, not because that’s the way they are, but because that’s who we are. They’re not just filtered through our physical senses, but they’re filtered through our human-ness.

Robin. Again, I appreciate your comments about spontaneous use and growth of language in the development of poetics, but do you think linguistic theory has any bearing on poetics? There’s been a trend in contemporary philosophy to make linguistics central to inquiry and some poets adhere to such theorists as muse to their work in language, famously, Chomsky, Derrida, Wittgenstein etc., Do you have any special views on the relationship of linguistics to poetics either for or against?

    Marie. Linguists study how language is used. Poets use it.

Robin. But I would say they implicate a world view that the poet who follows derives from. Perhaps also what I’m getting at is language itself, put basically, some thinkers hold language is central to the mind, whilst others hold that it fades.

    Marie. It doesn’t fade. It slips through your fingers.

Robin. To take up the question of translation in poetry, apart from your very modest comments on your own work in the area, I’d be interested to hear your views. Say, despite the fact that the translator is using and deriving directly from the text of another’s work, she nevertheless brings to it something the other didn’t put into it. To quote a well known example of Robert Lowell’s translation of the work originally attributed to Sappho and then to Catullus “The one who stands before you” in which he claimed the translation was his own poem. What is your opinion about translation in poetics in particular?

    Marie. I think I stand with Barthes on the whole issue of creative process. It extends beyond the work of the originator right to the final reader (in the case of poetry). Thus the work of the translator is undeniably creative in its own right, yes; but I feel we have to give credit to a translator for her aim, which is to convey as much of the original as she can, given that the work is being filtered through a whole different cultural medium, if you see what I mean.

Robin. Context depends entirely on the reader?

    Marie. Let me speak from experience for a minute or two. When I translated de Nerval’s ‘El Desdichado’, for example – and I can tell you it wasn’t easy! – I had several things in mind. I was very familiar with the poem, but mainly because when I was little my family had a record of Donald Swann’s quirky version set to music. I loved it, although I didn’t really begin to understand it until I had learned French. Even then so much of the poem, with its classical references and so on, is highly symbolical. I guess to really know what it’s all about, it would be necessary to go back and live in de Nerval’s head. That’s impossible, of course, so what I had to do – or so it felt to me – was to try to give, as near as I could, the same imagery rendered as directly as possible into English, and let it remain as arcane to readers as the original did to me. I also wanted to attempt to use a comparable structure or rhythm and rhyme, or assonance or slant rhyme where I couldn’t wrestle a direct rhyme into submission, to stay as close as possible there too. Actually, to be honest, I had the rhythm and stresses of Donald Swann’s musical version in my head, and I think he (and I) mugged the metre in a couple of places, but so what! I’ll give it to you here. Caveat – I don’t hold this out as a great work of art or scholarship, and I know that other translators (Richard, for example, who is a better scholar of French than I am) disagree with my treatment.

    Oh, by the way, one thing that has always struck me is the affinity of some of de Nerval’s imagery with the Marseilles Tarot. Just chucking that fact in apropos nothing.

    I am the man of shade, bereaved, inconsolate,
    The Prince of Aquitaine, with my keep overthrown;
    My only star is dead, and my zodiac’d lute
    Blazoned now anew with black Melancholy’s sun.

    In the night of the tomb, you who granted me peace,
    Give me back Pausilippe, the Italian brine,
    The flower that brought such joy to my heart, shorn of ease,
    Or the rose-arch’s column enwrapped with grapevine.

    Am I Love or Sun-god? Lousignan or Biron?
    My temples reddened still by kisses from the Queen,
    Here by the Siren’s sea-cave pool I had a dream…

    As a conqueror twice, I have crossed Acheron,
    Modulating in turn, on the Orphean lyre,
    All the sighs of the Saint, and the elf-maiden’s cry!

    So what am I doing here, bearing in mind my aim? Is this as much, or even more, my own creativity as de Nerval’s? And here’s another question for you – where is the poetry actually happening in any case? Let me draw an analogy: Marcel Duchamp seemingly withdrew from art and spent his days becoming a chess master, but all the time he was working on the masterpiece Étants donnés, which was only put on display after his death, and which you look at like a peep show – where was or is is the art happening?

Robin. Now you’re asking me, I thought I was asking you, to be frank I think the translation and the original poem are two poems and two poets and the reader has to live with it. Are there any writers, artists, poets in particular who have influenced your development as a poet and if so, how and why?

    Marie. That isn’t as easy a question as it seems. I almost wish I had never read any poetry, so that I could be sure my own poems were totally fresh and original. However, I can’t live in a vacuum, so I can’t write in a vacuum.

    I don’t think I can name any one other poet in that way. However, if I identify with any artistic movement, I would say it is twentieth-century expressionism.

Robin. Well life doesn’t originate in a vacuum, that’s for sure, though some would disagree. Lets return the Veronica Franco poems, which you describe as your obsession and which we’ve been honoured to feature at PLT with more to come, I trust. I’m intrigued about the relationship with Wooden Mary and her devoted adoration, nay, veneration for the beautiful, brilliant, audacious and defiant (in her period) 16th century Italian courtesan to the nobility, Veronica Franco. Herself a poet in her own right, insomuch as she did actually exist and isn’t just a fictional character. It seems to me that Veronica Franco is not only the epitome of femininity in Wooden Mary’s desires, but an oracle, a muse in fact. And the object is the concept of beauty as defined through the female. I’ve selected a few titles from the series with brief excerpts below, as an outline:

I’m dancing with Veronica

….Our laughter lasts right to her curtsey,
and my stiff bow, taking care
not to break the balsa
of my performed identity….

I’m angry at Veronica because she’s perfect

….it all hangs on you like art, like Versace, like the exactitude of nature….

….making out of me only an artisan perfection, not that of a genius….

Lament of Maria Maresciallo at the funeral of Veronica Franco

….Tintoretto and Titian worshipped you, you know,
and your lover the Saint, he adored you;
but I was your sister, the only initiate of Berenice,
I wandered your depth and breadth, nave and aisle,
danced in your wake, walking on water by your magic, ….

Veronica to Wooden Mary.

@WoodenMary I’m sleeping, child
let me be, I’m no better
for the gold paint you splash
on my memory, and yet I know
you iconize my thumbprint
on a glass

Unlock the shrine and let me out,
I’ve faded, and never was that angel
of your imagination;

there’s no gold here, let alone oranges,
I’m away – and so’s my saint,
for what it’s worth –
to God knows where

    Marie. I don’t know if there was an actual question in there, Robin, but I wouldn’t quarrel with your basic interpretation of what I’m doing in this particular series of poems.

Robin. Ok, but what I’m trying to extricate here is your comment on your obsession as specific to this aesthetic concept of beauty.

    Marie. Look at her portrait, the one by Tintoretto. She’s beautiful (where is the beauty happening?). But don’t forget that her beauty has been commodified. Everything that is beautiful, elegant, admirable, accomplished about her is on sale. But it does exist in its own right. To ‘Wooden Mary’, to Maria di Legno, to me, this beauty is appreciable but only partly accessible, my love alone can’t buy it. All Wooden Mary can do is write poems about her, share some occasional intimacies that have nothing to do with the world of male power and economic power she is suffered to inhabit, but are set aside from it. I am writing about the effect that this beauty has on Wooden Mary, yes, and the first and most obvious effect is that it makes Wooden Mary write! At the same time, I am using Veronica’s perspective to question the way we see such things, to cock a small snook at that male world. In one of the poems, where Veronica and Wooden Mary visit my home city of Dundee, I give Veronica her freedom to question how we view pornography, to be the spokeswoman for an alternative view, while Wooden Mary tut-tuts in the background.

Robin. Well thank you very much for hosting with PLT Marie, it’s truly appreciated, may I ask as a closure any tips you might have for aspiring and despairing poets and if you would include a poem of your own selection.

    Marie. Thank you for having me, Robin. I hope I haven’t come across as too po-faced. If I have, slap me now.

Robin. Sounds like an authentic Marie to me

    Marie. About advice to poets – I don’t think I have ever read any advice from a poet that I felt was appropriate, so I shy from giving it. I could volunteer some small stuff, such as how redundant I feel simile is, but that’s just a personal thing.

    As a farewell, here’s ‘Big moments in Jazz, version2’

    When Bird and Miles woke up to find
    a hundred flowers blooming in a motel room
    and some doghouse man, maybe Mr. PC,
    pizzicatoed so far up the fingerboard
    he played the tailpiece right to the spike

    Smith and McGriff and McDuff
    functioned their function as a ternary star
    so it pricked them in their gravity

    wet Harlem streets yellowed-out in the low sun
    as Frank O’Hara hastily scribbled in
    a thumbed gumshoe book braving the loft
    where Lady Day blued through the haze
    and Trane and Pharaoh blew weird

    a devot of the Sun Ra sect vacationing on earth
    took a thread from Joe Zawinul’s hat
    unravelled and reravelled it saying
    ‘we’re having a ball’ and the rest of us
    snapped our fingerpops saying ‘wow’ and ‘cool’
    and calling each other ‘man’ far too much
    while Ra himself stepped on the cracks
    and dared the bears

    most often only realizing it was a day
    oh such a day when it was all gone
    and later-day eyes looked so sideways at us
    like we had our coats buttoned up wrong
    or had gone out in the rain without shoes

 
 
 
 
 
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Poetry Life & Times – An Interview With Author-Poet Aberjhani

POETRY LIFE AND TIMES AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR-POET ABERJHANI

by Sara L Russell and Robin Ouzman Hislop for Poetry Lifetimes & Poetry Life & Times

Biography:

The American-born author Aberjhani is a widely-published historian, poet, essayist, fiction writer, journalist, and editor. He is a member of PEN International’s PEN American Center and the Academy of American Poets as well as the founder of Creative Thinkers International. He launched the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance Initiative in 2011 and during the same period introduced netizens to concept of guerrilla decontextualization via a series of essays and website of the same name.

He has authored a dozen books in diverse genres and edited (or sometimes co-edited) the same number. His published works include the Choice Academic Title Award-winning Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, the social media-inspired Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry, the modern classic ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love (a collection of ekphrastic verse featuring art by Luther E. Vann), and the frequently-quoted poetry collection, The River of Winged Dreams.

Among his works as an editor are the Savannah Literary Journal (1994-2001), plus the Civil War Savannah Book Series titles: “Savannah: Immortal City” (2011), and “Savannah: Brokers, Bankers, and Bay Lane-Inside the Slave Trade” (2012). In 2014, Aberjhani was among a limited number of authors invited to publish blogs on LinkedIn. You can learn more about the author at Creative Thinkers International, on Facebook, Twitter, or his personal author website at http://www.author-poet-aberjhani.info/

The Interview

Sara: Firstly Aberjhani, what first inspired you to write poetry?

Aberjhani: What first inspired me to write poetry as a teenager were the power and the magic that I experienced through the works of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, the Beats, and the Black Arts Movement. As I read and understood them, their voices dared to challenge power and rearrange worlds. I needed to discover that possibility because my own world was one ruled by poverty and racism, and it was very much in need of rearranging. Or remaking. But I have to say also that the notebooks of Albert Camus, the diaries of Anais Nin, and the essays of James Baldwin inspired me to write poetry as well because poetry was what I usually heard when I read their prose.

Sara: You have in the past stated that your network Creative Thinkers International is a reaction against what happened on 9/11; to embrace the world with positive creativity. Your poem “The History Lesson” (from “ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love”) seems to bear this out. It speaks eloquently of unshakeable faith in times of conflict. I would like to know more about the ELEMENTAL book and some of the particular world events that inspired you to write it.

Aberjhani: ELEMENTAL is collection of ekphrastic poetry and essays based on the painted metaphysical meditations of Luther E. Vann and my own creative spiritual journey. It’s unique within the body of my works for that reason but also because Luther and I are connected to the Harlem Renaissance in some unique ways. He was taught by artists of the Harlem Renaissance and I had the honor of co-authoring the first Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. At this point he is one of America’s foremost visual artists so it is a true honor to co-create a book like this with him.

ELEMENTAL was written from 1991- 2008. That stretch of 17 years was filled with many powerful life-changing and world-traumatizing events. You mentioned the poem “The History Lesson.” In it, the late Michael Jackson is referred to as “a feather-throated songboy” who “screamed madness from atop his platinum-plated cross.” This was the decade of Bosnian genocide, race riots in Los Angeles after the beating of Rodney King, the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York the first time around, and when India and Pakistan decided they needed nuclear bombs in their diplomatic pockets like everybody else. But it was also the decade that Nelson Mandela was finally freed––after what, 27 years?–– to later become South Africa’s first black president, and when the internet started taking off like crazy. Those events and subsequent game-changing headlines like 9/11, for us, put the significance of art and poetry to the test in a big way. What was its relevance then and what is it now? We hoped and hope that ELEMENTAL demonstrates creative alternatives, which is why the subtitle is The Power of Illuminated Love. Love in the form of painted beauty, sculpted language, dreamed wisdom, chromatic prayers, and tear-varnished stanzas. The pages don’t deny the existence of brutality and chaos in the world but they don’t dilute the real potential of commanding grace in our lives either.

Sara: In your poem “Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying” the second stanza has four lines which are twice as long as stanzas 1 and 3. It occurred to me that this might be to represent the shape of outstretched wings. Am I right?

Aberjhani: They certainly look that way when you place the entire poem on a single page and view it horizontally. I often felt like I was taking dictation when writing the poems in the Songs of the Angelic Gaze series and Angel of Healing originally consisted of two sets of four haiku-influenced units that arrived over the course of a week. I thought it was complete when the attendant angel of those particular syllables insisted on adding the middle four lines of aphorisms, which some refer to as proverbs. Every time I took them out to make the poem more consistent they would come back. Consequently, along with that addition came the visual effect you’re describing. I’ve always taken it as an indication, or maybe an affirmation, that as painful as life can be at times for people all over the world there is some component of existence, or nonexistence perhaps, operating to implement a balance and give us an opportunity to turn the horrors we’ve forced upon each other into something more conducive to sustaining at least minimal degrees of sanity and love.

Sara: I really enjoyed reading “A Poet’s Birthday Dance Through Fire and Rain”. Gramdma Elsie appears very vividly in my mind’s eye from the way you describe her and her “gin-and-coffee” voice. I would like to know more about her; since she has some influence in your life and your writing.

Aberjhani: I don’t mean to sound evasive at all but the best way for me to respond to that is probably with this poem about her from The River of Winged Dreams:

Photographed Light of My Grandmother’s Soul

The black and white photo shows you seated 
in a wooden chair on the porch of a cabin

built likely by slaves, later inhabited by you:

Black American Woman Elsie Mary Bell Griffin.

One side of the image is shadowed

like the memories, the love, and perseverance

that shape your face into a hymn of quiet dignity.

The planks of the cabin’s wall are straight.

Like the rows of crops you used to hoe.

The window a rectangle of inked mysteries.



From a western corner of the late summer sky

light streams brilliant wonder into the picture,

rushing through leaves to kiss your head and arms.



Thus your eternal spirit confirms your weary blue bones.



Nowhere in the photo do we see the chopped-off heads

of snakes you later fed to the hogs. Their writhing corpses
would help explain the heavy boots that shelter your feet.

The news this year is a black man in the white house.
Perhaps when alive you shook his hand in a prophetic dream…

Your tears bled yesterday sealed the victory claimed today.

The light somehow is like a gentle jealous god

come to claim you solely for its own. The strength
of your calm gives you the power to surrender everything.

Bright rapture flows and you whisper, “Blessed be my Lord.”

Radiance splits your heart and your soul explodes three new stars.

Death rattles the tin roof and you command, “Peace, be still.”

© by Aberjhani

Sara: What is the main concept, or inspiration, behind your book “The River of Winged Dreams”?

Aberjhani: The River of Winged Dreams is about the journeys we undertake and the metamorphoses we experience when shifting back and forth between sacred impulses and profane indulgences as individuals and as a species. Instead of sacred and profane some might prefer the terms higher self and lower self, or enlightened mind and shadow mind. Most of us know that we can be better than what we are and do better than what we do, and a lot of us live in ways that oblige us to at least periodically make an effort. But the work required to move up from point C to point A, or to survive the drop from A down to C and begin all over again is rarely easy. So The River of Winged Dreams is about the mercies, hells, and revelations encountered in the midst of engaged passionate struggle sometimes relieved by moments of ecstatic tranquility. These might be the kind of poems and stories Sisyphus would tell himself while rolling his boulder up and down the hill of his determined resolve.

In a more concrete sense, the book is divided between very earth-bound poems like the one just shared, “Photographed Light of My Grandmother’s Soul,” and the Songs of the Angelic Gaze series that I mentioned earlier. The original series was written during what I call the Summer of the Angels following my mother’s death in 2006. I believe it’s in the gift edition of the book that my summer of the angels is humbly compared to Rainer Maria Rilke’s time in the Duino Castle (which was someplace between Italy and Austria) where he began writing his classic Duino Elegies during the winter of 1912-1913. Some might describe experiences of that kind as wrestling with angels of poetry and for me it very often felt that way. Once all the dust and feathers settled I found myself holding this somewhat unusual book.

Sara: Your poem / video “And Then The Rain God Screamed for Love” gets a lot of views on Poetry Life & Times, and is one of my favourite poems of yours. The collaboration with Nordette Adams works very well; her voice brings out the rich sensuality of the poem. Would you like to do more such collaborations in video / audio poems?

Aberjhani: Thank you, I didn’t know it had become that popular. “And Then the Rain God Screamed for Love” is from the book Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black. It was a favorite performance piece when I did open mic readings some years back in downtown Savannah, Georgia. Nordette Adams and I both recorded spoken-word versions of it for the Goddess and the Skylark: Dancing through the Word Labyrinth CD produced by our fellow AuthorsDen alumnus Mark Rockeymoore in 2006. Hard to believe it’s been that long but it has. The video was a product of Nordette’s independent creative genius. She also took it upon herself to turn my recording of “An Angel for New Orleans,” which is another track from the CD, into a gift video for the city on the ninth anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At some point I do hope to record again and make videos, or hopefully write a full-length movie for that matter, but my primary focus right now is on completing some research and a couple of book projects. However, having said all of that, I should point out that the Goddess and the Skylark CD never did receive the kind of distribution or polished re-mastering that we intended so it is currently not available. I invite anyone with the professional know-how and resources for working with the files and helping us put a new edition out there to contact one of us. Since next year marks the 10th anniversary of the CD it would be nice to introduce it to a new audience.

Sara: Robin Ouzman has two questions to ask you…

Aberjhani: Hey Robin.

Robin: What do you think of the correct use of forms in Poetics & individual innovations from those forms that no longer correspond to their various criterion (& therefore arguably are not acceptable)?

Aberjhani: There have always been those poets who adhere to what is recognized as formal mathematical-based syllable counts, scansion, and classic themes, but at the same time innovators have made important contributions to poetry with their own reinventions and evolution of the craft. Poet John Ashbery once said he wasn’t sure that what he had written in his book Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was poetry but then he won not one or two major awards for it but three– the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Walt Whitman’s self-styled cadences and certainly the poems of E.E. Cummings map out their own literary territory and establish their own laws of poetics, yet their impact continues to endure and inspire. I believe the key for giving effective meaning to the distinction you make Robin lies within the individual poet’s relationship with language. Poets who endeavor to actually develop one–through reading, writing, listening, dreaming, crying a lot and laughing a little more—can break rules with some boldness while still conveying significance with clarity. And yet, going back to Ashbery, W.H. Auden selected his first book for the Yale Younger Series of Poets Award and then said later he didn’t have a clue what it was about. Above all else there has to be, I think, a sincere confession of individual intent to honor a purpose worthy of the deeper passion, beauty, and spiritual intensity which so many associate with poetry.

Robin: Have you ever or do you ever experience “Writer’s Block”; I mean in Poetics especially. Let me extend on that percept, do you find it easier or more difficult to write with age and do you think that Poetry improves with age in the Writer/Poet or that it somehow, I mean in Poetics, loses its initial flair?

Aberjhani: As a military journalist in my previous professional lifetime I was trained to produce stories whether I felt inspired or not. That initial training later combined with inspiration from my spiritual explorations to create a tendency to think in patterns like literary templates for stories as well as Poetics and other genres. I sometimes dream certain poems that I never write down because I believe they belong where they found me. I have also spoken poems over waves rolling in off the ocean and then watched their translucent lines float off without writing or recording them either.

Some form of creative composition is always taking place on some level of my consciousness so I cannot say that I have ever known what it means to have writer’s block. Having enough money in the bank to take the time to write as much as I would like is another matter altogether.

So far as what poets possibly gain from age is concerned, I would hope that it is a more refined informed perspective combined with a flexible use of form and a gentle radiant certainty about how and why poetry has become a permanent component, if not the definitive core, of what you come to know as your truest Self. Rumi spoke in poems right up until his physical death. What that means to me is that he won the ultimate prize bestowed by poetry, which I believe is the ability to consciously live one’s soul while still in the world. When that happens, the flair of poetics and poetry grows increasingly brighter throughout your life. The forms might alternate but the meanings grow deeper and the certainty, whether or not everyone agrees with it, maybe shines a little more brilliantly.

Sara: Are you working on any new books or multimedia projects at the moment?

Aberjhani: Being the literary workaholic that I have been most of my adult life, I’m currently working on two nonfiction books, a volume of continuous narrative poems, a play, and a magazine project. The nonfiction books are The Boy with the Guerrilla Decontextualized Face, for which there is a corresponding website (http://www.guerrilla-decontextualization.net/ ), and Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind, which is on the history and culture of my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. Two poems from the forthcoming collection were recently published in Black Gold: an Anthology of Black Poetry edited by Ja A. Jahannes. The play has been a work in progress for a couple of years and that’s probably the most I should say about it for the time being. I’m also working on a follow-up to my last book, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow with an illustrated edition called Tao of the Rainbow (http://the-journey-and-the-rainbow.weebly.com/blog-tao-of-the-rainbow ).

The magazine project is really the brainchild of light photographer Aurora Crowley. He’s working with the online Glassbook magazine to produce an art and poetry feature that combines my words with his light photography. I’ve seen some of the extraordinary things he can do with his subjects so I’m looking forward to seeing how the project develops.

Sara: Finally Aberjhani, what are your future plans for Creative Thinkers International?

Aberjhani: That is such a good question. When CTI was founded in 2007, above all else it was to affirm that members of the global community could somehow heal the extreme divisiveness caused by the intense fear, anger, distrust, and despair that followed 9/11. I hoped that those who joined could help show that exchanges of gunfire and bombs were not our only alternatives from that point on. We had not lost the totality of our humanity to a nightmare that came crashing out of the sky. The need to strengthen and sustain cross-cultural exchanges based on cooperation and expanded awareness of each other’s values and needs is still very real. The abduction of school children in Nigeria and the “Je Suis Charlie” massacre in Paris, plus the current racial tension in the United States, are just a few heartbreaking examples of that fact. We can see that almost every day from the failure of terrorists and diplomats to resolve conflicts in more humane nonviolent ways.

I believe CTI still plays a small role in fostering the will and ability to communicate past the blinding rage because we often share far more common ground in our cultural connections than we do in our political disconnections. I began partnering last year with Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion organization, which was founded in 2008, in large part because it has many of the same goals as Creative Thinkers International.

My preference is to see the community continue to grow and evolve, which we have in fact been doing over the past year despite the inevitable technological glitches that come with upgrades. If, however, we reach a point where it becomes apparent that CTI has contributed all it can to our stated mission, and we need to leave whatever remains to be done up to everybody else, then we will close shop and invest our creative energies in other mindful pursuits. But for now we’re still doing what we can to help make a positive creative difference in a world that keeps getting hammered with negative actions and consequences.

Sara: Thank you very much for the interview, Aberjhani.

Aberjhani: Thank you Sara. From one 21st century creative artist to another, it’s been a pleasure and an honor.


Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying

1.

As you bury flesh––
honor spirit, savor hope,
cherish memory.

Consider heaven

as a world-weary stranger asleep
in your heart.

Quote words that affirm
all men and women
are your brothers and sisters.

Pull the child away

from feeding at the mule’s tail.
Give the baby food.

2.


Compassion crowns the soul with its truest victory.
Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.
Souls reconstructed with faith transform agony into peace.
Wisdom applied internally corrects ignorance lived externally.

3.


Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.

Write a soft poem

to one you called bitch, shit head,
nigger, fag, white trash.

Live certain days dressed
in your lover’s smiling soul
while she, he, wears yours.

Imagine your mind
wings intent on expanding
and watch your joy fly.

© Aberjhani (from The River of Winged Dreams)

____________________________________

A Poet’s Birthday Dance through Fire and Rain

Lighting her pipe and puffing her years,
Grandma Elsie said, “When I was a girl
God showed me my whole life. Scared me.
Didn’t know what I was seein’ ‘til
all that time filled up like a fat man’s belly.
Now I know. Breaks my heart. Makes me so happy.”

Her gin-and-coffee voice wraps around me
like a cashmere scarf of spring and autumn.
I recall four innocent eggs from a pigeon’s nest
crashing at my guilty feet. Grandma was that
God revealing the fate of the two sons
and twin daughters I would never know?

Childhood was a slippery diving board
on which often my heart cracked, bouncing,
splashing, into piranha-hosted orgies.
Thrill of being noticed so intoxicating
that I didn’t mind being eaten alive.
The more my life bled, the louder it laughed.

At night words sneaked into my bed––
triple-sexed pronouns slurped my virginity.
My gypsy dreams spurted liquid ballads and
perfumed sonnets. A lexicon of hunger stained
fevered sheets with sticky genius and marijuana tears.

In daylight I tended carefully my garden of
darkness singing secret terrors to the earth.
Thus did language authorize my fear
to dismiss itself––and knowledge empower
my body to act with passionate wisdom.
Out of muddy turds flew freedomsongs of mystic blue.

Slouching towards manhood I dragged with me
a world as well as my dick but mostly––
a heart addicted to the scent of dreams,
arms libertarian in their will to embrace,
a soul eager to bear the sins of Love,
a mind unafraid to waltz naked in fire or rain.

© Aberjhani (from The River of Winged Dreams)

riverofwingeddreams

The History Lesson

This morning bombs ruined

the back yard. Prophecies and

rumors of prophecies all came true.

A despot bound for hell

took the long way to a very bad day.

A feather-throated songboy screamed
madness from atop his platinum-plated cross.

But the temple of your presence?
It never shook once.

Biblical atrocities stormed chaos

from New York to Bagdad to Freetown.

The sun and moon of your face refused

to hide behind Armageddon.

Wisdom gushed like diamonds from your brow:

“Knowledge planted in truth grows in truth.
Strength born of peace loses nothing to hate.”

How many fears came between us?
Earthquakes, diseases, wars where hell
rained smoldering pus

from skies made of winged death.

Horror tore this world asunder.

While inside the bleeding smoke

and beyond the shredded weeping flesh
we memorized tales of infinite good.

© Aberjhani (from ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love)

Elemental

 
 
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Poetry Life and Times An Interview with Prabhu Iyer

Prabhu Iyer

POETRY LIFE AND TIMES AN INTERVIEW WITH PRABHU IYER

by Sara L Russell for Poetry Lifetimes & Poetry Life & Times

Brief biographical sketch

Educated in India and England, Prabhu Iyer writes contemporary rhythm poetry. He counts the Romantics and Mystics among his influences. Among modern poets Neruda and Tagore are his favourites for their haunting and inspirational lyrical verse. He lives and works in Chennai, India, where he has a day job as an academic scientist. Some of his poems can be found athttp://hellopoetry.com/-prabhu-iyer/. In 2012, he self-published ‘Ten Years of Moons and Mists’ at Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Prabhu-Iyer/e/B008F8M0JS. Reach him at twitter @iyerprabhu, facebook.com/prabhuiyerpage

The Interview – as recorded in November 2014

Sara: What first made you start writing poetry, Prabhu?

Prabhu: Firstly, I wish to thank you and PLT for featuring me in your widely regarded journal, I’m very grateful for this indeed! Coming to this question, I have to answer in stages. It all began years ago as a child, when I read the English Romantics at school – Tennyson, Wordsworth, Keats. At home, education was highly regarded and both parents were particular that we learned the languages, particularly English, well – my mother’s prized possessions included an old bounded Oxford English Dictionary and a Wren & Martin Grammar which her father had used. My father is a great admirer of Wordsworth and ‘Daffodils’ is his favourite poem, which even today as he fondly recollects, he narrated to an audience when he was still at school! The ecstatic works of classical Indian poets, were an early influence too, chief among who was our national poet, Kalidas, whose transformation from an illiterate shepherd to the most revered poet in Sanskrit language by the grace of the Goddess was often told and retold. Popular poetic hymns by mystical philosophers were recited in our family on all occasions.

In this atmosphere, I took to poetry almost naturally, as a way of expressing myself. The idyllic surroundings I had the blessing of growing up in (Hyderabad was a small town in the 80’s and my father’s official accommodation provided an island of peace, nestled in fields, gardens and open spaces) deeply inspired me. Later in teens and early twenties, poetry was my way of capturing all the angsts of growing up – from first crushes to rebellion and all sorts of emotional fluff. In recent years poetry has also become the vehicle to manifest my inspirations, quest for beauty, and activism
on various causes: sustainable development, condition of women, and freedom of thought and religion. Although English was and remains the main medium in which I write, when I started, I would also write in some Indian languages, including Telugu and Hindi.

Sara: Who are your favourite poets of the past?

Prabhu: To start with, English Romantics influenced me the most – I really enjoyed reading poems by Kipling, Tennyson, Wordsworth. These poets seem from an era so different now, but their work is refreshing till today, even considering the sentimentalism they often displayed. Who is not fond of quoting Keats as ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever…’, and although I majored in science, I cannot recollect something more vividly than studying ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ at high school. Perhaps my fascination for these figures is tied culturally, as the Indian poetic tradition itself is quite often lyrical, sentimental – even melodramatic – and mystical.

Among the Indian mystical poets, I really admire the moving compositions of Meera, the medieval Rajput saint-princess. Through Whitman, Frost, and (Ogden) Nash, I discovered the American moderns, and later, Plath and Bukowski. Of late, I have been studying the work of the avant-garde poets, Ezra Pound, Rainer Maria Rilke, the poetical cubism of the French poet Pierre Reverdy and the mystical future-poetry of Sri Aurobindo. My all-time favourites though, are Pablo Neruda and Ranindranath Tagore – and whenever I am down I get to reading ‘20 love poems and a song of despair’ or ‘Geetanjali’, books that I think will remain timeless for their stirring, evocative lyrical style.

Sara: What contemporary or classic style do you tend to use the most, in your poetry?

Prabhu: I mainly write rhythm poetry, where any traditional elements such as rhyme or alliteration come about as natural features of the verse. More often than not I tend to follow a free rhythm structure, and this to my surprise, I’m discovering, is again a feature of much of Indian vernacular poetry. Lyrical poetry is closest to my style, although, I’d like to call this abstract impressionism, (after the impressionist movement whose leading figure was Monet), in the tradition of Tagore and Neruda. Here’s an excerpt from the poem, ‘Why shouldn’t I’, illustrating my writing in this form:

… Dawn mingles with your ruddy cheeks;
Peasant woman, I read the language of toil in the wrinkles on your brow.
Why should I love you? I ask of myself.
This is the constant soliloquy of the monsoon rain in empty valleys.
What do you brood over on sultry noons?
But then, why shouldn’t I? Winter’s witheration is everybody’s lot. …

This is the particular style that readers have appreciated me most for. I’m also keenly interested in the poetical meanings and interpretations of other art movements such as cubism, surrealism, and magical realism – exploring them as suited to different purposes. I find Surrealist techniques to be a wonderful way of introducing a sense of mystery, marvel and disjointedness into poetic settings: here is an example excerpted from my poem, ‘The edges of awareness’, where I’ve used Montage:

How do I know. Splattered across. Misty spiral halos. Dark dark dark. I drew a handful. I saw stars. Gone –
ancient light. Who is the witness? Canvas of life painted.

Cubism provides a template to throw intense light on a subject, bringing in various shades of meanings and ideas, helping to deconstruct and allow the reader to re-synthesize something deeply meaningful and symbolic, as for instance, in my take on the death of Indian cities:

The urchin banging at the windscreen on rainy nights,
The old house down the road making way for another high-rise,
The cobbler at the corner store smiling away toothless
The now-glorified mausoleum of the rebel from past –
The aquarium where water dried up and all the fish died;
I am the city that you don’t see dying, obsessed with ‘progress’.

Being the major art and literary movement of our generation, represented by such powerful voices as Rushdie and Marquez, and carrying a powerful resonance for post-colonial native cultures, Magical Realism of course has a major attraction. I find this to be one of the most difficult genres to write in, but a good grasp allows a superlative use of allegory and fantasy to create really intense experiences for the reader. An example excerpted from the ongoing series, ‘Mr K’s Life’:

…In the morning, he worships the Eye in his shrine. Upholding traditions, one must get ahead in life. Half-believing, within ‘Bounds of reason’ tepid; The Eye sits observing him: sometimes, staring from the sky above, and some times, through
the eyes of the beggars lining the temple street. Irāvāṇ laughs as Mr. K walks past the totem pole.

I also like to experiment on the lines of the avant-garde poets, especially, Ezra Pound’s ingenious use of irregular spacing (for ex: see Pound’s ‘In a station of the metro’) to convey an unsettling view (excerpted from my recent poem, ‘Escape, refuge’):

      On a shore flooded in the tide. Now        on a          flitting log:
      Rain,          trying to      fill up the ridges         white, that,        I,        along with
      crabs, snails and          tiny          starfish,      are ambling to escape from.

Sara: I saw that you have a new book on amazon; “Ten Years of Moons and Mists”. Is there a special theme running through this book?

Prabhu: Thanks for asking, this was an anthology of poems I collected and published (with illustrations by my wife Tamaswati Ghosh (who is also an avid photographer and artist) during a break in the summer of 2012. It was a culmination of a decade’s journey, and as such was very important for me, as it allowed me to collate, summarize and set aside the work from that period and then move on to newer ideas, themes and projects.

The over-fifty poems in this book chronicle the journey of my growth and self-discovery through my twenties, and are organized into three sections, ‘Love’, ‘Despair’ and ‘Light’. In a way the title foreshadows this, the moon standing for both love and light, and mist for the many challenging times when these are blocked from our vision. Each section starts with a piece which I thought would capture the essence of the mood best, after which poems are presented in the chronological order in which they were first written. This I hoped would allow readers to relate to and locate the changes
taking place through my journey over the decade. This book records some of my first love poems, disappointments at difficult moments, ruminations and visions.

Sara: There are many love poems in your book that particularly appeal to me, such as “At the Altar of Love“; also “Accept in Return” and “Unusual Gift”. How much has love influenced your poetry over the years?

Prabhu: I would say, very strongly indeed. There was, in my poetic journey, a time when I wanted to make my poems more grounded in everyday experience and widen their breadth and appeal. Ultimately I discovered – and perhaps most poets do too – that I had to mine my own experience and distil something of that into my verse – this is what Neruda and Tagore did. As the great American realist artist Edward Hopper observed, ‘Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world’ [see ‘Statement’, 1953, Reality journal]. Unless an emotion experienced is real, and makes an impact on the inner life of the poet, it cannot be captured and conveyed perfectly enough. And love is an emotion we all experience – that’s how I began to consciously write love poems; but then I also discovered, there are many shades of love, and not just a monotone of mush. I wanted to capture this and took notes as I went along.

And thus the poems in the collection came about: there are here, some of my favourite romantic poems – quoting, for example, from “At long last”:

…It rained as we sat down under the shelter of tall, loving, wise trees,
The drizzle still managing to get us from the sides:
We shrunk our clothes for warmth, but
You still held your hand out for me to see what fate had in store for you.
Unknown to me, she had slipped past into my heart and whispered from there,
And I wanted to say, ‘fate says you are mine’. …

As are some feisty pieces, quoting for example, from ‘I know you are angry’:

…There is mellow love.
There is also a searing love, fierce like red clouds
In the black winter evening sky…

Some dark, wistful ruminations, for example, from the poem ‘Does it matter?’:

You die every day, like this: you choose a life of slow
death: through long nights, you burn away
like the slowly fading lamp
mourning some sombre memory,
does it matter to know, you love me?…

Then, there’s mystical love too, for example from ‘the Lamp of hope’:

…I have adorned the insides of this my small hut,

With flowers of best fragrance: this day, like on
So many past ones, I plucked ’em finest, from
Love’s labour, in the garden of life; longing for Kanha:
When will he come drive this unreal light away? …

And of course, plenty of lyrical poetry, for example, from ‘She has no name’:

…I became one with fallen leaves and rustled in wind
on lonely summer afternoons when death visits life
I became the mynah and sang back to the cuckoo
with crickets and allied insects for chorus
on tired evenings, mad in their unquenchable quest
I became birds that dart to the setting sun…

Sara: I enjoyed reading your poem “St Paul’s Cathedral”. You write of it with great warmth. Did you spend a lot of time exploring national monuments while you were living in London?

Prabhu: Yes, in general, I admired the way Britain has tried to preserve her heritage. Every listed monument or site is well-kept, visitor-friendly and welcoming, and resources and information are shared in dedicated online pages. I visited sites in London many times over: British Museum (and also the Science and Natural History museums), Trafalgar Square, V&A, Royal Albert Hall, the Tower of London and London Bridge and the other bridges over Thames. Often there is some bit of Indian history connected to many of these places and that was also of much interest to me – for example, among the Royal Jewels displayed at the Tower of London is the Koh-i-noor, a diamond that was originally mined in Hyderabad. I would always cast a brooding glance at the column dedicated to Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar Square when passing by on a bus or walking, as this is connected to Waterloo and Napoleon Bonaparte (who is looked at somewhat favourably in some Indian historical traditions).

Whenever I had friends or family visiting – and someone or the other was always visiting London for the first time – I would insist on taking the open-top bus tour together with the brief journey by motorboat at Embankment. Madame Tussaud’s and the London Eye were particular favourites, along with Buckingham and Princess Diana’s palaces. In addition to these, I loved the Hyde Park and the Serpentine Lake, as they were just a small walk from Imperial (where I studied), and which I frequented almost daily for quiet musings.

England and London have influenced my poetry deeply, and the London Eye, Hyde Park and Gunnersbury Park (at Ealing) and Thames at the Embankment are themes that I often revisit in a symbolic sense in my verse. Here are some examples: From ‘Where the Lee bends’, inspired by memories of a walk by the Thames:

…landing now by the memory lane:
by the Thames, holding a palmful by the bank,
saying, this river is named after you:
she has a dimpled smile;…

From ‘Hidden doors’ written after viewing ‘Hortus Conclusus’ by Peter Zumthor at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London

Behind the apparent hues of violet and pink
And many shades of green:
Magical doors to distant places in happier times;
I jumped in and leapt out as a child…

From “At long last”, inspired by a memorable incident at the Gunnersbury park:

…The shades of white which the birds that accompanied us
As we walked past that pond by the temple to the Deity of Love
On that serene mid-October Sunday morning sported;
It rained as we sat down under the shelter of tall, loving, wise trees…

From ‘Takeoff’, a surrealist poem based on many visits to the London Eye:

…Giant eye of the fair: the same phantasm
emerging, enlarging, dimming, receding;
Hall of dreams in a castle of darkness:
waves of events playing out again and
in smoke and shadows amid resounding…

I visited the National Arts Gallery at Trafalgar Square often and enjoyed learning about the history of art and art movements. Tate Modern at Southbank was another venue that I liked to visit, and there I learned much about modern art movements, and also at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park. A visit to Tate Modern prompted me to create my first art-poem exploring the theme of concept-art (quoting from ‘Modern Art’):

Half-a-commode….
salvaged from
construction-site debris, in an enclosure;

Corrugated tin…
inverted containers,
shop-floor seats, hollow from the inside;…

Outside of London, Windsor was one of my favourite places to visit, and along with it being the seat of the Royal Family, the Castle was also of great interest to me as there are, on display there, some relics of Indian kings, including those of Tipu Sultan of Serigapatnam. I’d visited other places of historical interest such as Dover Castle associated with the D-Day landings and medieval Cathedrals and Castles at many English towns and cities such as Cambridge, York, Derby, etc. Visits to the Roman complex at Bath, the Stonehenge and viewing a copy of the Magna Carta at the Salisbury Cathedral were memorable experiences too.

Sara: In the section of the book called “Despair”, your poems are more wistfully reflective than self-pitying; which I like. In “Late Summer Evening”, for example, you write of the landscape around you, as well as your own emotions. Were some of these sadder poems difficult to write, in terms of emotions you felt at the time?

Prabhu: Indeed, some of them were very difficult to write. Often, poems were just lines recording the raw emotions of the time, picked and pruned into verse much later. Others arose by way of reflection on events of the past – maybe I’m given to morose self-reflection somewhat like the evening sky in London! – but it was important for me to record the moments. I used to keep a journal for many years recording happenings of the day, every day.

Sara: Do you feel that poetry can sometimes be therapeutic, in exorcising the demons of sorrow and despair? Or can it sometimes intensify negative feelings as you read it back to yourself?

Prabhu: Absolutely! To me the poems were a record of an inner journey. In some meditative practices we are encouraged to reflect on the events of the day every night and think of how to improve ourselves. To me, this poetic reflection has similar purposes and effects.

Almost always, putting down the feelings in word at the experiential moment helps to assuage and soothe the heart. And revisiting them later has a cathartic effect. In fact re- examining old maudlin verse also helps gain an objective view of emotions, for example when you record something like this: (from my poem, ‘On the shores of my inner life’)

On the shores of my inner life I kneel
Unable to stand anymore, unable to stand
Waves of remorse, boisterous seams,
Hit harder each time

…and as you look back years later, you wonder how you were this much of a wreck back then! This too is a form of healing – realizing the transitory nature of emotions. As they say, we have to be able to see that both pleasure and pain are emotions, and in the ontological sense, they are on equal footing, as experiences imposed on the experiencer. Pain affects us deeply, because we don’t want to experience this emotion – we are naturally conditioned to avoid this – but it is indeed a natural process to experience it in life as are other emotions. Coming to terms with, re-examining, expressing and reviewing such emotions is certainly therapeutic.

Sara: Have you ever made, or thought of making poetry videos, perhaps reciting in the background of a film of a landscape, or speaking to web cam at home?

Prabhu: Actually so far, I have not explored performance poetry. I’m still camera-shy and worry about proper punctuation, intonation and recitation. Having said that, I have, in recent years, seen poetry performances by you and other poets on the PLT network; and that is inspiring. The poet may be the person best placed to read out her work as she is aware of the emotional journey the words have taken. Pauses and punctuations acquire more meaning when recited directly by the creator of a work.

Sara: Finally Prabhu, what are your ambitions for the future, in terms of writing?

Prabhu: Thanks for asking this, I guess answering this question will also help me in sifting and organizing my plans and goals for myself. In the immediate sense I would like to further hone my skills in poetical and literary techniques that can convey a more enjoyable, dramatic and tangible experience to the reader. Feeling, imagination, inspiration and ekphrasis are perhaps very important parts of this process. For instance, I would like to create more works such as this ekphrastic piece I wrote just recently (from ‘Ekphrasis on a Monet’) using a poetic interpretation of the Surrealist Montage method:

                    boatman       Purple haze
      contemplative pouring
      the sky as lone
            rides the horizon.
        islanding
      into the lake,

Going forward, I want to complete some of my pending writing projects – I’ve been working on my first fictional novella and also collecting poems for further volumes of poetry. I dream of melding poetic and prose styles of description within the framework of magical realism. ‘Moons and Mists’ also, perhaps, require a revision and a second edition is due and I hope to release it on other platforms such as Lulu – a print edition would be wonderful too!

In the longer term, I wish to emerge as an authentic voice of the people in the way that Tagore and Neruda were, and be able to create poetry that people can relate to and is meaningful to their lives. In a sense this is also very challenging today, as the world has become very different – life runs at breakneck pace, and there is hardly any time to parse and digest ideas, memes and concepts. I identify myself as a poet first more than as a story teller, but I am often told, even by friends, ‘I’m not into that (poetry)’. Also, today the world is in strife, with violence and extremism on the rise, but we don’t have answers. Ideologies and creeds have failed and people are searching for meaning.

I want to take stirring, dramatic and lyrical poetry with meaning to the people, but wonder how I could do this in an era of instant consumption and vanishing attention spans! Maybe all poets of this generation face this challenge and perhaps we have to use creative routes to achieve this. Visual and performance poetry, lyrics for songs and popular music (some of the best loved songs are also great poems) could be an important channel. Perhaps, gaining a name in prose writing can help in appealing to people’s interest in the author’s other writings such as poetry. Perhaps, minimalist poetry in styles such as the Japanese Haiku and Tanka have a better chance of gaining access to the distracted mind and planting a seed for further discovery. Let me end this conversation with a Haiku I wrote recently:


In autumn’s decay,
beauty, constant companion,
and in springs of hope.

Sara: Thanks very much for the interview, Prabhu.

Prabhu: Thanks, indeed, for speaking to me and giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and work! I’m very grateful to you and PLT, and I express my appreciation for the invaluable service you are doing to the cause of poets and poetry through your journal!