Saturday, April 29, 2006

Something about something     [rubai riffing]

When Rilke wrote his thing poems
    he used the word advisedly
there's something in the way she moves
    now muzaks high society
is something wrong with this picture?
    could be a thing to ponder --
when drunk on objectless awareness
    something brings sobriety

Where something wicked this way comes
    is something less than sure?
there's something about Mary
    or there's something in the fleur
when don't just sit there / do something!
    meets teeter-totter time
the Something Generation band
    enjoys its Something Tour


In Ron Silliman's critique yesterday of the popular novel [and soon-to-be a-major-motion-picture] The Da Vinci Code, he notes the ubiquity of the word "something" in the author's prose. This point is mused on by Indetermenacy in a Comment to Ron's post. The above verses riff on these things.

Two questions     [oddity]

Why alphabetize emotions
And why make blatant, the subtle?

    -- Shaxeb, "Sacrilege of Sorts"

angst bile cupidity devotion
ecstasy fantasy gratitude hope
impishness jealousy karuna love
modesty naiveté opulence pity

quietude rage solicitude temerity
unselfishness vanity wonder xenomania
yearning zealotry -- wherefore arrange
the rays of emotion so alphabetically?

though putatively poetically
the exercise proves strange


the gossamer wing of a lithesome butterfly
reflected in fragments off a rippling rivulet
in an unnamed valley lost beyond forests
unseen by human eye since long centuries

was suddenly nabbed by an artist's imagination
in his cruel & unusual painterly ministration

Friday, April 28, 2006

"A lucky thing"         [reflexive invective]

If you'd been anyone else but me
a pitiful bore you'd entirely be
it's a lucky thing that I am you
your company I'd else eschew
for someone's more consistently suave
whose abilities weren't thin as crepes
a bit less filled with pseudo-bhav
a tad more far from frogs or apes
it's hard to imagine how you endure
the being of me: it's tough I'm sure
to our irony could you ever agree
if you were anyone else but me?


occasioned by the challenge of an exercise (to compose some sort of "insult poem" directed at oneself)

bhav (Hindi) : feeling; or more exactly, spiritual emotion (especially as associated with art and literature. The word generally suggests an overall esthetics of artistic communication: for bhav exists both in the artwork and in the viewer.) ["pseudo-bhav" presumably amounts to pretentiousness or perhaps preciousness -- but one among varied flaws & foibles common to the immature ego. The poem of course quizzically ponders the overall problem of having (or being) an ego.]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Demitasse (or "Ensconsed in the heart-cafe")     [blank verse]


The heart well knows
though the surface mind
asks questions galore

consciousness pervades
every cell of the form
who minds the store?

not merely grey matter
nor nervious telegraphy
-- these are mere rind

look deeper into things
under crusts of seeming
the heart is the core

seven hubs in the body
exist -- say the yogis
& rishis -- from crown

of the head to base
of the spine -- & each
is a dream-rife city

with energy-commerce
and meaning-production
-- in each is a cafe

where a poet is sitting
drinking chai & writing
a love-note & sending it

swirling down the lane
to another little poet
in another such cafe

in another dark city
among the seven cities
hidden within the body

and the heart receives
these love-chits -- or rather
the poet ensconsed in

the heart-cafe: he reads
and feels as he sips
his dark cappuccino


he reads what the poet
in the brow has quipped
he reads what the poet

lodged deep in the gut
has laced with invective
and the genital gent's

manifesto and he ponders
the erudite diction from
the throat-chakra poet

he reads and enjoys
his dark cappuccino
& sometimes replies

an epistolary tale
a poetry-exchange
transpires in secret

as each of the poets
from within each cafe
proclaims his core view

the heart-poet reads
what his colleagues write
& when he responds

his answer rings true
hence the commonplaces
even modern thought

unaware of the lore
of the seven cafes
recalls in cliches

cliches about how
the heart holds the key
to the mystery of life

the key lies in fact
in a honeyed cappuccino
a'swirl in a cup

what he within the heart
is jotting in the dark --
that I want to read!


responsive to Mayura Sandeep's poem Did you say ‘the heart’?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Conference-call of the Birds     [rubai-limerick-whimsy]

a bulbul & a turbledove
    were dining in the park
a sparrow fluttered by & said
    she'd flown in for a lark
a hummingbird was humming
a woodpecker was drumming
a whooperwill was whooping but
    a blackbird's mood was dark

the bulbul & the turbledove
    were growing thick as thieves
some mockingbird-ventriloquist
    was lurking in the eves
an owl of course was hooting
a bluejay was rebooting
the turtle asked the bulbul why
    the rose-cliche so grieves?

Monday, April 24, 2006

"With precision"         [ghazal]

Though my info isn't lacking
my ambition's lately slacking

could I conquer yet the world
if aspiration kept me cracking?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

while the future's veiled from sight
can blind guessing lend me backing?
where imagination draws me
must dim reason keep me tracking?
when the Huns of wild yearning
my heart's citadel are sacking
I turn inward toward Khoda
who can send the wastrels packing

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

now my beard has gone to gray
while the night were lost in blacking
in the maze of my confusion
all my guts & brains I'm wracking!
all the poetry that sustains me
proffers no substantial backing
on my map of enterprise
there's no victory I'm tacking

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

is the tapestry of science
merely rumor mixed with flacking?
all the wisdom of the scholars
proves but so much bric-a-bracing
in a banquet of small scraps
one finds not enough for snacking
from the train I glimpse no station
all I hear is click & clacking!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

if the poets practice surgery
who'll protect us from their hacking?
though the melody sounds inviting
could the singer stop sad-sacking?
is the power of speech & thought
one more airplane they're hijacking?
do soft vernal flowers conceal
autumn's mafiosic whacking?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

in a house I layer with lacquer
inspiration's spark is lacking

if Ardeo scrawls strange doodles
with precision are they smacking?


In the 6th couplet, Khoda (Farsi): "the Lord"

In the penultimate couplet, a house I layer with lacquer: this may recall the "house of lac" in the classic episode from the Mahabharata epic (involving a house that had been constructed for the purpose of murdering the Pandava brothers, albeit they managed to escape the evil stratagem); but the image is turned to a contrary use and sense, here. The key idea is simply that such a flammable abode, is one easily ignited -- if the requisite spark is present. The layering of lacquer, and absence of a spark, suggests an ironic situation. Yet there's also the unstated possibility a spark might appear in future. The creative (or, in the instance, destructive) potential, remains with such a structure. That the poet implicitly may seek his own immolation, could be one reading of a subtext of the couplet. (So much for self-explication.) ;-)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jim Andrews' "Jig Sound"     [audio]


an interactive audio experiment, involving sound loops (a work-in-progress)

connect the dots :-)

and note that a vertical connecting line has a different effect from a horizonal connecting line (rather than sequential, we get simultaneous)

Jim Andrews discusses this on the Poetics list here.

When the mountain came to Mohammed    [intellectual cartoon]

Stumbled on this example of the incomparable dry humorist Gary Larson's work, amid a perusal of the Wikipedia essay regarding Depictions of Muhammed.

And (to give more of my websurfology to the tale here), I arrived at the latter via Wikipedia's more particular entry about the famous and/or infamous Jyllands-Posten Muhammad drawings. Reached the latter via link from an essay dating back to February, from amid archives of an online "weekday" magazine, The Morning News -- said essay being Choire Sicha's (no doubt opinionated, and stylistically colorful) op-ed piece, "Would You Like Havarti With Those Freedom Fries?"

Thus, from Dutch cheese and French fries to Larson's mobile mountain.

Besides the above-mentioned, other depictions of Mohammed noted and discussed in the Wikipedia entry include a figure in a frieze at the US Supreme Court building -- clearly a respectful depiction. (Naturally I'm curious to know what the Arabic inscription might say.)

More familiar to me than this sculptural novelty, anyway, is the image seen in a Persian minature painting (dating from the 16th century) depicting the Miraj (ascention to heaven), with the Prophet (his face under veil, as was a convention) riding the Buraq, his winged steed.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Circadian Transport      [descending poem]

Switching from bus to
taxicab while talking
on cellphone halfway
down sixteenth street

is not unfamiliar to me
this occurs when running
late & calling Xiaodong

in Beijing where like here
spring is in bloom


The "descending poem" form is explained and illustrated by Jill Chan on her blog. On the Buffalo Poetics listserv, she invited others to give it a try. Hence the above.

"As if"       [ecphrasic verse]

Standing forever
        beside the yellow abode
there arrived a time
        when yellow blossoms bloomed
the green of you
        with happiness then glowed
as if
    by pride of pulchritude consumed


written in reference to Shilpa Bhatnagar's photograph "Yellow Spring"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"newyork the noun"         [open verse]

Pondering a book party I won't be attending

newyork the noun
became a verb
albeit transient
I was newyorked
rather too briefly
& longago it grows
or seems to grow
of an aprilday

berkeleyed was I
but that's

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Famine   (Sookha)       [transcreation]

Parched land   dry jungle   the rivers & ponds have all disappeared
this year apparently won't be too different   from the last one

Look how my eyes gush in ceaseless prayer!   till my cheeks are soaked
great sky!   shouldn't you cry too?   don't allow a dry year once again

The season is playing a crooked game of chess   on the board of the earth
the heat is dancing out Tandava   while the sun keeps time

The children of Adam resemble fish   and fate's the cruel fisher
life like a scared deer bolts   death trails it like a keen hunter

Gokul is arid   the Yamuna's dead dry   & sere is the Kadam
the mother-like cow roams a'thirst   as likewise rambles Gopal

A trecherous net of worries is cast onto every forehead
at hunger's quiz the children are stymied & can't reply

At the dead-cow banquet   vultures & jackels feast with gusto
and Death himself pays a call   tricked out in the guise of famine


Essentially a collaboration, as my metrical rendering is closly based on a literal English translation done by Manish Bhatt of his own, original Hindi poem.

"The black hole conglomerate"     [modern sciencism]

The blackhole conglomerate
was growing by leaps & bounds
a friendly or hostile takeover?
nobody seemed to know
devouring a billion stars
for breakfast   still astounds
in afternoon they had a makeover
but the therapist said "go slow"


with thanks to Priyanka Joseph for pointing out this news flash: Huge Black Holes on Collision Course

"The wide style"         [pantoum]

I worshiped in the wide style
when pacing the narrow street
it's true I flashed a wide smile
-- my narrow escape was sweet

when pacing the narrow street
as eventide grew dark
my narrow escape was sweet
my prospects thus less stark

as eventide grew dark
I espied the lunar bridechild
my prospects thus less stark
I worshiped in the wide style


riffing on a phrase filched from Rachel Dacus

"The measure"         [lyric]

The measure of a day remains familiar
    the measure of a life remains obscure
            I set out in the morning
            with promises a'bourning
    by eventide I barely could endure!

The measure of a line remains familiar
    the measure of a life remains opaque
            I had no map but travelled
            the land itself unravelled
    the gentle heart were oft' inclined to break!

The measure in a song became familiar
    the measure in a life I ne'er could grasp
            the ocean drowned all castles
            the games became mere hassles
    the shore looked barren yet the sea was vast!

Monday, April 17, 2006

"The way that's spoken"         [transcreation]

He said "the way that's spoken is never the way"
then why are there 5000 words in Lao Tzu's tome?
albeit these words are not the way per se
in the midst of reading them you glimpse the gloam


The original is a Chinese poem from the Song dynasty. I haven't read it since many years; -- but this morning it came to mind, and I gave it this new English rendering. Will have to look it up at some point; the original is probably either by Yang wan-li or Bo Chu-yi. It's a well-known verse, reflecting (with both wit and brilliance) on the subject of mystical language.
I call this a "transcreation" mainly because I suspect my invention for the 4th line may veer from an exact verbatim translation -- but it may get at the feeling. But not having read the poem in so long (even in English, let alone in the original), who can say?

The 5000 word classic mentioned is Lao Tzu's Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching], the fundamental little mystical poetry-book of Chinese antiquity. It opens with the words
Dao ke dao fei chang tao
ming ke ming fei chang ming

(the way you can say ain't the ever-present way / the name you can name ain't the ever-present name)

[image is from a painting depicting Lao Tzu -- from centuries later of course, indeed it might be a 20th century painting; the web-source regrettably doesn't describe it]

"A leaf"         [dotty ditty]

When a leaf had been said to have fallen
& no one were said to have heard it
philosophy (pensive & sullen)
expired   & logic interred it

when a leaf had been said to have dropped
& somebody secretly saw it
philosophy's exit quick-stopped
but no one were there who could draw it!

when a leaf to the ground slowly drifted
& everyone saw it at once
the sands of the ages re-sifted
"I'm dumb!" (cried the mute) "but no dunce!"

when down came a leaf in the breeze
philosophers pulled at their beards
quoth one "if the moon is green cheese
the green of the leaf seems less weird"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Kafkaless delights"         [imaginal shrimpy]

Through a case of mistaken identity   I was thrown in the clink

only many Kafkas later   did they set me free

now I wash my dishes gingerly   at the kitchen sink

thanking God for the Kafkaless delights   of poetry


The "Kafka" as a unit of measure is explained here:
"France raises Kafkaesque image to cut red tape" (Reuters)
From this, I extrapolate the notion of a "Kafkaless" experience (with no intended slight to the esteemed gentleman from Prague).

A kind of 4-line poem was termed Jue-ju in classical Chinese poetics, which means something like a "cut-short verse" (since it must unfold its full thought in half of the more-standard 8 lines). A way of carrying this idea across is to call such a poem a shrimpy. The genre "imaginal shrimpy" (hereby inatroduced) can involve a fictional situation or scenario, sketched in 4 lines.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Value in absentia         [rubai]

A joke without a punchline
                is not worth telling
life insurance to an immortal
                is not worth selling
    the thorns may be endured
    for the beauty of the flower
yet a rose without aroma
                is not worth smelling


responsive to "A poem for my freshman class"

"Help"         [gnomic verse]

It is rumored that when the famous linguist William Jacobsen was struck by a car, he shouted, "Help!" in 47 languages.
                    per: Denise Duhamel

        How many lingos are needed
        to cry for
        The Beatles' song & eponymous film
        appeared when I was
        Is it an accident
        it rhymes with
        "Come in" she said   "feel free to help
        yourself"   "the water's

"Somebody's life"         [rubai]

I was passing through somebody's life   it seemed not my own
I was suffering somebody's strife   it seemed not my own
the body was mine   all the bills were addressed to me
I cut corners with somebody's knife   it seemed not my own

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The kiss           [biblical scholarship]

click HERE to access (in PDF format) a 7-page glimpse of The Gospel of Judas (in English translation from the Coptic original) -- a work being published in book form by The National Geographic Society

Jesus speaks of a great and boundless realm, wherein resides a great invisible

which no eye of an angel has ever seen,
no thought of the heart has ever comprehended,
and it was never called by any name.

[bridging pp. 3-4]

. . . recalling (in its way) the Heart Sutra [which latter, according to scholarly estimates, dates from the same era as the copying of this Gospel]

Adam Gopnik has a good critique of the book in the current issue of The New Yorker. I enjoyed perusing his thoughts, sitting on a bench in evening sunlight.

[exceprted per fair use doctrine. The present item comprises a terse review -- with focus on poetical content.]

"Being lost"   [2]           [villanelle]

Being born is like being lost
but death is hardly a finding
being something has a cost

in the stew we're always tossed!
did we need reminding?
being born is like being lost

some are served & some are bossed
does bossing bring the binding?
being something has a cost

teeth are brushed or even flossed
arbiters file a finding
being born is like being lost

murtis are garlanded   buddhas get jossed
do mummies meet unwinding?
being something has a cost

games are played or briefly paused
flour's attained by grinding
being born is like being lost
being something has a cost

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Being lost"             [shi]

Impromptu on a g-chat tag
Not all who wander are lost. I haven't wandered, yet I'm lost!

I wonder as I wander allows an olden hymn
perhaps to be lost is strictly to be human
to be at a loss is conventionally counted as
tantamount to being at a clear disadvantage

yet isn't being lost our profound necessity?
a thing incomparable for its heuristic value
not all who wander are lost so you propose
maybe   but this discursive morn finds me dubious

with hat-tips to Archana Dorge.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"The loan"         [lyric]

The earth who lent me my body?
she reclaims the loan in fact
eight pounds at the start I swear!
how much interest must she exact?

the earth who lent me my body
& seemed to forget the transaction?
soon enough (in the midst of the fair!)
she sends her goondas in my direction

she won't let me keep one last penny
prying my fingers away from all loot
& my hand (if it somehow holds any)
she eyes hungrily   what a brute!

perhaps she'll be happy to hold again
my weary & meaningless bones
I'll offer them up with exceeding pain
paying off her exorbitant loans


goonda (Hindi): goon, hooligan, ruffian

"Night-sounds with their echoes"         [villanelle]

Night-sounds with their echoes appear
day's glare is dissolved into dark
my meanings are growing unclear

I drift   quite unable to steer
the arrows fly shy of the mark
night-sounds with their echoes appear

he turned toward the grove of the deer
the Buddha encamped in the park
where meanings were growing unclear

the wistful is distant or near
the mist may seem gentle or stark
night-sounds with their echoes appear

O solace in sorrow! O cheer
the flame & the flint & the spark
when meanings are growing unclear

is musical singing too dear?
do revelers hasten to hark?
night-sounds with their echoes appear
while meanings are growing unclear


verse 3: reference to the deer park (at Migadaya, also called Isipatana, in Sarnath, on the outskirts of Benares) may recall the occasion of the Buddha's first unfolding of his teachings:
Then the thought occurred to me, "Where are the group of five monks staying now?" And with the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human, I saw that they were staying near Varanasi in the Deer Park at Isipatana.
from chapter, "He wonders: To whom should I teach this Dhamma first?", in the Pali Canon.

(This, by way of explaining that passing reference only; -- not to suggest an overall context for the poem. Rather, the poem may be understood to move through a range of contexts, or to point to an array of ideas, or to evoke a variety of images. The above note relates to one among them.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Strike the lute"           [villanelle]

Strike the lute & sing of love
                          & nothing more
stand beneath the window
            when the breeze of spring
wafts again most gently
                            carol & adore

ask again why why roses bloom   what are they for?
ponder one more time   why birds are born with wings
strike the lute & sing of love   & nothing more

let your voice be like the pitcher   pour & pour!
let your love be like the raincloud April brings
sing again most gently   carol & adore

long was winter's night!   too long the knell of war
far too long the time when darkness reigned as king
strike the lute & sing of love   & nothing more

grain will come at summer's end to fill the floor!
kiss those petal-lips   whose sweetness bears no sting
sing again most gently   carol & adore

deep are caverns   deep are thoughts   how deep the lore
of minstrels who   to win her favor   laud & sing
strike the lute & sing of love   & nothing more
sing again most gently   carol & adore

Initially posted to a literary discussion forum here (where I then expound some notions about qualities of the villanelle form per se). I'm also dabbling at trying to work out a melody for this poem.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meetingplaces           [rubai]

some meet in palaces   some in huts
some meet on rooftops   any klutz
you may meet in a streetcorner coffeeshop
might tell you   the soul   is in the guts

for Mumbai Caferati
(with hat-tips toward their system of rotating venues for monthly literary gatherings -- thus shifting among a range of differing locales amid their wide city)

"Frazzle"           [rubai / gatha]

If I should accomplish my aims     what then my beloved?

if weary I grow of your games     what then my beloved?

the story moves on     while the plotlines continue to frazzle

if the figures jump out of the frames     what then my beloved?

Monday, April 03, 2006

My new self-image     [self-portrait]

The photo was clicked by Angela, my brother Larry's wife, in San Francisco, March 2004, in afternoon in a Mexican restaurant on Mission Street. Yesterday I messed with it (in simple ways, using the Microsoft Photo Editor program), with this colorful result. A click on the image shows the original (with Larry reinstated).

Four Decades of Dance in DC     [exhibit & performance]

Among locally-based artists whom I know, one whose work I've made some effort to keep up with is the conceptually imaginative choreographer Maida Withers. I also love chatting with Maida -- something it seems I do every year or two, inevitably with some sense of a resumed conversation. I first met her some dozen years ago, when I had received a phone call from Gloria McLean -- a dancer-choreographer friend whom I knew from New York days. Gloria said she was in DC teaching for the week, and that there would be a solo dance performance I might like to catch. I did indeed, and enjoyed Beijing-based Wen Hui's debut contemporary work, "100 Verbs" (1994). As it turned out, Maida had been involved in arranging the event and Wen Hui's visit. Before long, I also began to see Maida's own work. I even collaborated one year -- I believe it was the first installment of her annual improvisors' feestival. I played piano and sang -- singing in fact a Mahayana Buddhist sloka in Sanskrit (to a melody of my devising, worked into improvised noodlings on the keyboard). The whole thing concluded with my rolling (unannounced to the others, and probably unplanned) a bottle-fillled-with-beans in such a wise that the beans spilled out across the stage -- all this having unfolded while improvised dancing proceeded... ;-) The words of the sloka return in recollection: gate gate para gate para samgate bodhi svaha! (and the melody, which I remain happy with).

Now we note that a new performance work of Maida's, Thresholds Crossed, will be seen at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium (April 21), and the University's Dimock Gallery is mounting, in tandem, a retrospective exhibit celebrating Maida's extensive work as correographer. In Washington, DC, among the various art forms, contemporary dance can be said to enjoy a fairly flourishing state of development. Maida Withers is among reasons for this. Her ambition is balanced by generousity, her wild ideas by deep thinking, her enthusiasm by sensible practicality, and her feeling for the local by broad global interests and connections. Maida is a figure to reckon with; Washinton has long been enriched by her penchant for the new and strange, for making things happen, as well as by her generations-spanning carerer as a dance teacher -- in a word, by her dedication.

Hearty congrats are due!

"Love-at-first-click?"     [Pantoum]

Love-at-first-click? sweet!
we're in the 21st century

zeitgeist & joiedevivre meet
& the rest is cyberhistory

we're in the 21st century

Y Messenger's the corner mart
& the rest is cyberhistory

says the message of the heart

Y Messenger's the corner mart
wherein soulmates may chance to meet

says the message of the heart
love-at-first-click? sweet!

[I've not personally been using Yahoo Messenger; rather, this poem riffs on Alankrita's An im love story]