It's full-on and hard running at Delhi. I woke at 6 and opened the door to the balcony, then sat out there to read, with parrots, myna birds and crows a few feet from me having a very loud series of rival conferences. At breakfast played safe with poached egg, then into the first session.
This is the American poet Forrest Gander on the subject of form, form being the topic for the conference. It was his book I was reading on the balcony, with considerable pleasure. Like Alice Oswald he is something of an eco-poet, which means writing out of nature rather than describing landscape. Trained as a geologist, his work is rich with scientific reference and the book I have been reading, Science & Steepleflower, employs a variety of ways of using page space, the line measure darting in and out. The most fascinating aspect from my point of view - at the moment anyway - is his use of various forms of language to original purpose employed with real delicacy. For example, what I take to be a set of subtly erotic short poems based in in place he ends the poem with the following lines:
makes a knot on the inside knob
and ties my arms up
against the door. Williamsburg green.
With a touch as faint as a watermark.
Tracing cephalon, pygidium, glabella.
That's one of the straighter looking poems in the . The last three words are exoticum with purpose and precision. I'd say that was piquant and lovely.
Forrest was proposing a form beyond the Modernism v New Formalism debate - I am with him on that. It wasn't a long speech and the conversation immediately began to ripple outwards from technical questions that are also, in their way, ethical questions, to issues between poems as spaces and poems as time. So we spread and stirred a few waters.
After lunch it was the extraordinary Cybermohalla Collective who had just published a book titled Trickster City. They are very young, in their early twenties, not from privileged backgrounds, nor do they speak English, but their work is complex and their comments on it deeply intelligent. Their subject here was the notion of splitting up the first person interlocutor into fractions of other voices so as to give voice, not so much to those who have no voice, but to the city itself. It's a very ambitious programme and involves intensive collaboration. It would take far more space and time than I have here to explore their ideas, some of which are familiar from all kinds of contemporary discourses. I am not entirely sure that the processes they describe so coherently do what they say they do, but I could be wrong, and would be pleased to be.
At night it was Vivek Narayanan and Vahni Capildeo reading under the Bottle-brush tree, the usual black cat yowling attendance, the sickle moon on its back behind them. Both are outstanding in their different ways: Vivek's poems are full of invention, plea, joke, prayer, public matters and private matters. Over the years I have known his work he has developed a serious sense of proportion and considerable dramatic scope. He is a passionate writer and a passionate man, full of energy.
Vahni has a biting insistent intelligence that is its own form of passion. She is more and more interested in prose, less patient with the self-satisfied aspects of poetry, as I understand it, (poetry-poetry as she refers to it). She is a debunker with a vast thirst for exploration. Supremely well read and articulate she is, paradoxically, a poetic intelligence above all.
Though as to poetic and poetry, or poetry and verse, thereby has hung a tale already and will again.
Night now. Cool. The window open to the balcony. The eternal noise of traffic and the sound of car horns, much like the birds a conference this morning.