Monday 30 November 2015

Three poems by Chandramohan S:
Politics and Poetry

Image source

Does poetry, as Auden wrote in In Memory of W, B Yeats, make nothing happen? It is frequently a bone of contention. Auden himself says far more in that great poem, such as that poetry is "raw towns that we believe and die in" to be dismissed on the basis of a line. In any case I don't think he was suggesting that poetry is naturally quietist, or that it has nothing to say about politics and public life. He was in reaction to the Spanish Civil War and the imminent outbreak of World War II. But as for making things happen, being an instrument of something else, he was sceptical and maybe more than sceptical, in fact morally distrustful as any believer in raw towns might be.

I had much sympathy for that view. Like Keats I distrusted and hated poems that had a palpable design upon us. Surely poetry did not instigate action: it was action. I am not so sure of that now, at least in this sense: that poetry addresses the human condition and that such a condition cannot exclude anything that is a part of it. I still have some difficulty with the idea that poetry should be partisan (surely poetry comes from a place of profound ambiguity) but if partisanship too is part of the human condition, or, rather, if we appeal to the human condition that embraces the partisan rather than renders itself a servant to it, the profundity, grace and precariousness thatn are the essential qualities of poetry can be maintained and explored.

That's a long introduction to give to three fine political poems by a young Indian poet, Chandramohan S, who sent them to me by email. They strike me as powerful, intelligent, witty and sharp. I asked if I could post them here and he said yes, so here they are.

Life has to go on
(For the Paris Terror Attack)

Who are the suicide bombers sneaking into a poem?

Maybe it was the vernacular river
Buried deep under a sign board
That had seceded from the poem
To become a landmine.

Maybe it is the tongue
Spoken by the vanquished minority
Bend like a question mark
To touch the feet of the despot
Before triggering a fireball.

Maybe the loud explosions were
The shrieks of vowels and consonants 
Perennially silenced in the national anthem.

More poems have to be written.
Life has to go on.


Surveillance poetic 
“In my rear view mirror is the motherfucking law” –Jay Z -99 problems

The camera tells us.
Keep your hands where I can see them.
Write your love letter.

You are under surveillance when chalk scrapes
On the black board,
When we walk in straight lines, march in tune
To the drum beats of uniformed discipline ,
While lip syncing to the national anthem.

A procession becomes a mime
Pretending its hands are tied,
Blank placards-invisible chains.


Elegy for the slain bloggers
(Also P.Murugan)
You see some people are afraid
of darkness

You heard what happened to him?
So we have decided to collectively
Scream against this darkness,
Our sound waves collide.

If we are in sync
The troughs bottom up
The crests add up
We are heard loud enough.

If our screams are
Not in sync
We cancel each other out
Our shadows intersect,
The void of the Umbra.

We become him.
Conform or perish.

Monday 16 November 2015

Video Interview with Benjamin Novak for Budapest Beacon

George Szirtes from Budapest Beacon on Vimeo.

An edited version of a roughly hour long interview. Very good to meet the Budapest Beacon team in person. They do such important work it is a privilege to be asked to contribute. I am not an expert of the sort they tend to interview but the interview was a pleasure.

It is always worth checking out the Beacon website as well as the consistently outstanding Hungarian Spectrum of Eva Balogh. The reason I write less about Hungary on the blog than I used to is because she does it so much better, with so much more information to hand.

These critical perspectives are vital, especially for those reading from the outside. Hungary moves ever further to the right. It is hardly recognisable as the country I visited with such passionate interest in the late 80s and early 90s.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Learning to walk the Cinquain 1:
Soft Lyric, Hard Lyric

Adelaide Crapsey

Looking for short forms other than the haiku I returned to a forgotten one, the cinquain, as patented by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914). The cinquain is a five line poem with a fixed syllable count in which the order is 2-4-6-8-2, that is to say not so much a dying fall as a sheer drop. As with the haiku the strict syllable count may be ignored but it is interesting what may be done with it.

Here are two examples of what Crapsey did with it.


How frail

Above the bulk

Of crashing water hangs,

Autumnal, evanescent, wan,

The moon.

The Warning 
Just now,
Out of the strange

Still dusk…as strange, as still…

A white moth flew. Why am I grown

So cold?

It does seem to prefigure, and is contemporary with, the Imagism of Pound, T E Hulme, AE and so on. Mostly she writes about nature and how it affects the senses, but also about time and loss.  The effect is always lyrical, of a single first-person figure situated in nature, observing it but slightly ill at ease in it. She doesn't try to place it in a world beyond the self the way William Carlos Williams did. World and self are mutual experiences.

One should always imagine saying poems aloud (why not just say them aloud?) particularly lyric poems, not flattening out but adding a little subtle extra in breath and articulation. In Niagara one should feel the slight fizz  of 'frail', its firming up in 'bulk', then follow the build from the downstroke of the heavy 'crashing' to the suspension of 'hangs' and the three adjectives all grunted, all breathless, dangling in the fourth line, the breath mounting again until, in the last line 'the moon' constitutes the 'oooo' of the sheer drop I talk of above. It is beautiful made, every part in place, and I only slightly regret the moon produced, as it were, from the pocket of the poem. The moon, the stars, the sea, the night, the waterfall…I know these things are beautiful which is precisely whatI feel we ought to resist them a little. They shouldn't come easy and I worry about them as climaxes and stage exits. That is what I mean by the soft lyric. It plays - plays very well - to the expected.

The Warning is, for me, harder lyric and more lasting. Crapsey takes a chance with 'strange' and 'still' - should we not feel the strangeness rather than be told of it? - but then she does a brave wholly productive thing, she damn well does it again, and this time with ellipsis either side. Is that just cheap creepiness? But the effect is different. It is an affirmative that puzzles at the same time.  It is just clearing space for the moth. Her ear is good again. She could have written 'flew the white moth' but having 'flew' at the end the moth's irruption into the scene is more dynamic. We have to compose ourselves after the verb with its full stop. The last question, broken over two lines, is now a genuine shudder. There is no anticipated drop in the last line, there is instead the deathly chill of the completion of the question: 'Why am I grown…'

Crapsey was only thirty-six when she died. Some of her other cinquains may be found here.

As for me I will be experimenting with cinquains to see whether they will adapt to contemporary diction and angularity of feeling . Here, once again, is the rule:

begin with two

syllables, move to four,

then six, then eight but finish with

just two.