Saturday, March 15, 2014
Rabindranath Tagore: A Sage In The Dust
By Sajed Kamal
Bangla Academy Press
By Myles Gordon
When local writer Sajed Kamal decided to translate fifty poems of India’s most revered, admired writer into English, he wasn’t overwhelmed by the difficult task. Maybe that’s because the Bengali-born, now Boston resident, Kamal grew up in the shadow of literary genius.
Kamal’s book, Rabindranath Tagore: A Sage In The Dust, is a heartfelt translation of India’s most acclaimed, beloved writer. Born in 1861, Tagore published thousands of poems, plays, novels, songs, and stories, founded and ran a progressive children’s school, and was an accomplished painter before his death at the age of eighty. One of his poems became Bangladesh’s national anthem, another, India’s, and in 1913, he became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for literature.
Kamal decided to attempt the translations a few years ago simply because he loved Tagore’s work and felt a new translation, into a more colloquial English than previous tries, was overdo. A hefty assignment? Certainly. But Kamal hails from high literary pedigree and accomplishment. His mother, Sufia Kamal was also a legendary poet in Bangladesh., of whom none other than the great Tagore said in 1938: Your poetic talent amazes me. You have a high place in Bengali literature, as constant and established as the North Star. Accept my blessings.
Sajed Kanal, who has lived in the Boston area for decades, has written several books of poems himself and is a teacher and noted activist for renewable energy. Having grown up surrounded by the poetry of his mother, he began his translations of Tagore in his kitchen, after work, as a pleasant hobby. As the project took shape, he realized he was onto something with depth and substance that in 2012 was published as a book.
To keep the work fresh, Kamal wrote in an email, about half the poems in the book have never been translated. The rest came out in older translations that he wanted to update unfettered by stifling rhyme and rhythmic schemes of the early twentieth century. The book is a bilingual edition – the poems written in the original Bengali language opposite the pages of their English translations. A Sage In The Dust captures Tagore’s great spirituality and romanticism, and humanist optimism in such poems as “To Civilization”
Give back that wilderness, take this city,
take all the iron, bricks, lumber and stones,
O new Civilization…
I do not want the variety of royal feasts
in the security of your stony cage.
I want freedom. I want to spread my wings,
I want to regain my power within my heart,
I want to break out of my captivity
to let the heartbeat of the universe touch my soul!
The poem evokes Whitman’s scope and grandeur and the awakening of the grand individual in the expanding, modernized world. Tagore was also a political poet who took daring, unpopular stances on staid, Indian tradition. His poem, “Chores,” attacks the caste system, which he detested:
My servant is nowhere to be seen in the morning.
My door’s open, my bath water isn’t ready,
the worthless idiot didn’t come home hast night…
he looks at my face—then says to me
in a voice choked with emotion:
“Last night around midnight my little girl died.”
So saying, in a hurry, with his gamochha on his shoulder,
he goes off alone to do his daily chores.
In his early career, such public stances often brought Tagore rebuke from local government. As his fame and prestige grew, he became a voice of and for the people commenting and advising on matters ranging from politics to spirituality, as in the poem “Renunciation”:
Said a man in the depth of night, renouncing the world,
“I’ll leave home to search for God.
Who is it that keeps me allured here?”
I do, “ said God. But he didn’t hear it…
The child cries out in his dream, clinging to his mother.
God said, “Turn back.” But he didn’t hear the call.
“Alas,” said God with a sigh,
“where is my devotee going leaving me here?”
Obviously these are poems written in another time and another culture, but thanks to Kamal’s tender and thoughtful translation, they are accessible, without being archaic. Some of the poems, like “Circling,” are timeless. It could have been written a hundred years ago. It could have been written yesterday.
Incense longs to unite itself with fragrance,
fragrance longs to pervade in incense.
Melody longs to be caught in rhythm,
rhythm longs to run back to melody.
Essence longs for a body in form,
form longs for freedom in essence.
Infinity longs for the intimate company of finite,
finite logs to lose itself in infinity.
In creation and destruction—I don’t know whose logic this is:
this endless back and forth between essence and form,
bond searching constantly for its freedom,
freedom begging for a home in bondage.
The book launch for A Sage In The Dust took place in January, at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, in Cambridge. The small room was packed with many of the audience members from India and Bangladesh. The poems were read, first in Bengali, than in Kamal’s English translation. Many in the audience murmured the poems out loud from memory, in Bengali, as Kamal, and others, read. The respect for Tagore as a major literary figure was palpable. Sajed Kamal has spent years making Tagore’s work accessible for an English speaking audience – a labor of love and a wonderful book.
About The Author
Myles Gordon’s book-length book of poetry, Inside the Splintered Wood, was recently published by Tebot Bach (Huntington Beach, CA), as winner of the press’s “Patricia Bibby First Book Competition.” His chapbook, Recite Every Day, was published by Evening Street Press (Dublin, Ohio) in 2009, as winner of the press’s “Helen Kay Chapbook Competition.” He is a past winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize, and honorable mention for an AWP Intro Award – Poetry. He has published poetry in numerous journals including Slipstream and Rattle. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a Master of Education from the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. He teaches school in Revere, Massachusetts and has previously worked as a television producer for WCVB TV, where he won four New England Emmy Awards for his writing and producing efforts.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
in Night Walking with Nathaniel, poems of Salem
article by Michael Todd Steffen
Night Walking with Nathaniel by Denis Daly is a generous book of 95 pages of poetry based on the poet’s historical town of Salem, home of one of America’s most beloved authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, hailed in the collection’s title poem as Daly’s steward spirit.
Dark lore of the “ghost-glamoured” city imbues and haunts Daly’s muse, unflinching to name horrors past and present, “poxed patients” of a convalescing hospital, “contagion” of lead mills. The poet’s leaning is for the macabre and dire, giving us fantastic portrayals of local figures in their memorable agonies, such as this one from “The Death of Giles Corey”:
Hideous to observe the tongue
grotesque and turgid, protruded
out as if he, intent upon
expelling some poisonous intruder… (p. 73)
or for the desolation and turbulence of the northern ocean, as in this opening stanza of “Great Misery Island”:
Coiling white caps brace the grayness
The salt sea shrieks and shrieks again
Against the unchanging, anxious
Sky-vault, a lone and sorry man… (p. 43)
“The Can Do in Salem Sound,” about a pilot boat lost in the New England blizzard of ’78, is a gem of a ballad worth quoting at more length:
Green water engulfs the boat’s bow,
The given grace of God gathers force
Into the carve of gale; the bellow
From blizzard’s blunt maw, a concourse
Of rolling ice-walls, the slash of belt,
Knees buckle under it, ripped raw, blind.
Radar gone, guises dropped, fates misdealt
Over grim gunnel. Five men entwined,
One life, one ground swell birthed, rolls out
To another far off strand, ungrudged.
Why, Lord, do men give all, without doubt,
Ride to the gun’s crack, their lives judged… (p. 37)
Spondees reminiscent of G. M. Hopkins’s inscape rhythms, a prophet’s tone of admonishments and fate echoing Robert Lowell’s early North Atlantic verses, as well as a modern Celtic lyricism of truncated pentameter and off-rhymes foist up and resonate through Daly’s persistent music. It is the supra-literate accent and intuition, however, of a distinct geographical sensibility that will strike the reader familiar with nearly any North Atlantic town or village, here in America, over in Ireland, England, France as the wry and plangeant soul that lives on in its bracing sea weathered people to this day.
Marked by an intense preoccupation with place, Daly hovers about and belabors the ancestral phenomenon of and his attachment to this sea, with a clansman’s love and bitter argument. The amplitude of Night Walking with Nathaniel owes much to this enchantment and curse upon Daly. It lingers and takes up again on the verge of giddiness like porch chimes in a gale.
Amid the moans of ghosts and the sea’s winds, Daly manages to bring the reader several ordinary sights of typical small town America on dry land where he grew up, including landmarks, monuments, historical houses, a row of poplars, seen in daylight around vacationers and locals, kids out of school sunbathing and swimming. The place’s characters are not to escape the endearments of communal derision, not Eddie the wonderful, ill-fated football hero any more than the nuns – “this harem of Christ” – who teach at Saint Mary’s school. If the poet can share a grimace with each of his intimates in these poems, that’s only how familiar he is with his people. They speak like knocks on the shoulder and fake jabs to the gut.
Gifted and practiced in poetry, solid and grainy in sensibility, Daly makes a likely and likeable companion for both his iconic spirit and the lean-to reader of this volume full of character, myth and lights, day and night, unsparing and spectral.
Night Walking with Nathaniel, poems of Salem
by Dennis Daly
is available from Dos Madres Press, Inc.
P. O. Box 294, Loveland, Ohio 45140
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Poet Robert K. Johnson's Visit to Endicott College as part of the IbbetsonStreet/Endicott College Visiting Author Series
|Poet Robert K. Johnson|
****Robert K. Johnson is a retired English professor from Suffolk University in Boston. Johnson has been widely published in the small press. He is the author of a number collections of poetry, his latest being: From Mist to Shadow and Choir of the Day. Johnson has also written two critical studies, one of Francis Ford Coppola, and the other of Neil Simon. His poetry has appeared widely in newspapers, and literary journal across the country. He is a winner of the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award along with other notables such as: Robert Pinsky, David R. Godine, Louisa Solano, and Jack Powers. Johnson was the first poetry editor of Ibbetson Street affiliated with Endicott College.
Poet Robert K. Johnson's Visit to Endicott College as part of the IbbetsonStreet/Endicott College Visiting Author Series
By Emily Pineau
Before Robert K. Johnson read his poetry during his reading at Endicott College, he explained that “allusive elements of the human mind” cannot be described without poetry, and that poetry plays a very important role when it comes to communicating emotions. When one tries to break down feelings into formulas, and attempts to find logic in the unexplainable, something gets lost along the way. I feel like this point highlights what poetry can do for people, and how we can use it as a tool for bringing ideas, raw feeling, and people together. Even though love can be thought of as an abstract idea, or something that is not easily explained, poetry allows us to just feel it and to feel closer to others who also feel and understand it.
In Johnson’s poem, “Lover’s Words”, which is about falling in love for the first time, he begins by saying, “Each gliding gull that tilts sunlight.” This image of the gull and the sun seems to indicate that the bird is not only free, but is also in control of its journey and happiness. By gliding, and tilting sunlight, this shows that the gull knows what it wants, and it immediately gives this poem a feeling of peace and certainty. By starting the poem this way, it really captures what a first love feels like. There is this illusion that someone’s first love is “the one” and that nothing could go wrong. It is that feeling when you love so deeply there is no possible way you could ever let that person fade from your life. They become a permanent fixture, or part of your universe like the sun. Though, the truth is that most of the time someone’s first serious relationship, or first love, is not an ever-lasting one. Then, suddenly, what once was so certain becomes a whole string of questions. Johnson writes, “You ask me and all my answers prove I don’t know.” After hearing this first poem I felt like I was actually watching two people fall in love, and then fall apart. Then, as if to pick up the pieces, Johnson reads his next poem, “The Second Time,” which is about someone falling in love again. Johnson starts by saying, “Like bird wings rising into sunlight,” which instantly reminds of the gull in his poem “Lover’s Words”. By using a similar first line to the his poem about a first love, this demonstrates that when someone falls in love again that initial feeling comes flooding back, and it all feels very familiar. Johnson addresses this reminder by saying, “The first time’s final pain.” Even though the beginning of the new relationship is happy, there is a lingering stab wound that is in danger of reappearing somewhere else in the heart. Though, as this poem goes on, it celebrates the idea of uncertainty rather than dwelling on it. Johnson cleverly ends this poem by writing, “Irreversible flight into a place you know you don’t know.” The word “flight” carries the image of the bird back from the beginning, which makes the whole poem come full circle.
Johnson’s surprising endings are one of my favorite aspects of his poetry, and something that I really admire about his writing technique. In his poem, “After a Breakup,” he invites us into the past to watch him and his girlfriend breakup in front of a library on 42nd street. As they “walked into opposite darknesses”, he then proceeds to get into a cab, in which he meets his future wife. I love how this poem shows how fate can bring people to their next destination, and how when one thing ends, it allows people to be open to something new. Each of Johnson’s poems about love, family, people, and nature read like a story, and this is a quality that I try to incorporate in my own poetry. By writing these little poetical stories, it allows someone to take something important with them, like a portable understanding of the world, how we live, and how we love.
****Emily Pineau is a junior at Endicott College and author of NO NEED TO SPEAK ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series)