Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In the world of books

Shoemaker's vagrom from Counterpoint?
Hamill gets booted from Copper Canyon?
curtains for Cody's on Telegraph? --
Gautama quick! can you find a banyan?


The verse muses on alterations in what may have seemed, in imagination, eternal verities: that Counterpoint Press (established in DC by Jack Shoemaker, as the reincarnation of his earlier, Bay Area-based North Point Press) was synonymous with that gentleman bookmaker; that Copper Canyon Press (established by poet Sam Hamill in Port Townsend, Washington) wouldn't [though I don't know details of this story, news of which reached me today -- occasioning this ditty] boot him out; that Cody's Books (a cultural fixture of Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, California) would always & evermore abide on its familiar corner. But: things change.

Monday, May 29, 2006

reciting philosophical limericks at the Algonquin Hotel

Heading to the Algonquin       [vers libre]

On the train north
the windowed clouds
are white & blue & gray
the trees are green in Delaware
and Pennsylvania
pencil Pennsylvania

I write with a pen
whose black ink
flows without restraint
marring or marking
the fly page
as I think it's called

of a book in hand
while the train is rattling
at the end of May
at the beginning
of my second half
of a century

if the world should grant me
an entire century
the rattling train
anyway won't scant me
Pennsylvania Station
as a destination


[written Saturday, May 27, en route to an afternoon meeting with writer-friends at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City; it's a three and-a-half hour train journey from Washington, DC]

Saturday, May 27, 2006

literary virtues & vices       [epigram]

For the upstart everything has levity
bit & bit it all becomes passé?
a poem having the virtue of brevity
can hazard vices undoubtedly outré


[in an earlier version, the first line reads "...everything's original"]

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Limerick Peers in the Mirror

I don't think there's a way one can utter
any limerick that'll casually mutter
or musingly wander
confusedly ponder --
it's a bread that resists all such butter

Its statements are insistantly chiseled
its beard (whether angular or grizzled)
has such definite sharp points
& its bones such acute joints!
its champagne is so methodically fizzled

Is it true that the limerick's brusque tune
is akin to the art of a cartoon?
it goes sharp but not flat
it wears boots but no hat
it lacks stars but shows one hackneyed moon

Here it seems   this critique of the form itself
(like a line drawn in air) must perform itself --
short on subtlety it bites
a rude dog that delights
in crude violence   & fails to reform itself

So I've turned here the limerick upon itself?
howsoever much it might now re-spawn itself
every syllable it speaks
demonstrates how its squeaks
turn absurd the bleak night or dim dawn itself

Can the limerick transcend its essential tendency
to make its statements with such emphasis-dependency?
could it murmur "well yeah perhaps"
while casually it tap-a-taps
on its clown-nose   so round with comic pendency?

But enough!   who'd insist the musky rose
languish thornless?   that ain't how the tale goes!
limerick-land's a simplistic town
where each face must front a frown
or crack a cackle bearing teeth in quaint rows

All the flourish of its thin grace is architectural
conceived in stone (no cushy petals)   thoughts conjectural
what with such sheer black-&-whiteness
must eschew all their hemi-lightness --
that disappears amid extremes   bluntly sexual

So is the limerick   in its quintessence   a provocation? --
a pinch of violence   limned in lieu   of a disputation?
& yet a tap-dance it can syncopate
rather handsomely!   let it titillate
while it opiates with its fix of opinionation

Ah the limerick   at its best   is a steel drum
whose imperfections of rough-tuning can well become
the pleasant features of its own nature
hey it has never claimed a lofty stature!
it's facetious   & so pugnacious   & then some!

Now a limerick could spin out giddy or litigious --
a witty-ditty expressing pity? or yet libidenous?
its essential blunt play of utterance
twirls inventively adorned with flutterance
alike a butterfly that likes to flutter by in a minibus

It's demonstrative in every sylllable that it may vocalize
however distant be   the things it thinks about
                        they swiftly localize
might it be two-D   instead of three?
yes-no!   its bas-relief   at best can be
a darkling paradox   Assyrian caricature   albeit yokelized

This comparison with bas relief made me thoughtful about the qualities of relief sculpture in its various forms. I initially wrote the phrase (in the final line of the above poem) as "Egyptian caricature," then changed it to "Chaldean" and finally (after help from the Wikipedia) "Assyrian." Yet now that I look at the nuanced definition of bas-relief outlined in the Catholic Encyclopedia, with its interesting distinction between various relief-sculpture methods in art history, I do suppose the first thought (Egyptian) has some argument in its favor. However, then it wouldn't in fact be bas-relief (as technically defined). I was anyway thinking more of Mesopotamian relief sculptures (for which Assyrian is intended to stand as synonym). [Readers might, incidentally, also note my earlier, brief blog-musing mentioning bas reliefs at night.] Here's one paragraph from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

A sculpture executed upon and attached to a flat surface. The usual impression produced by an artistic relief is that about one-half of the actual proportions of the object are being seen in their third dimension of depth. Strictly speaking, however, relief sculpture is subdivided into various kinds. In alto-rilievo (Italian for "high relief") the figures are sculptured partly or wholly in the round, that is, they project entirely, or almost entirely, from the surface of the block in which they are cut. The metopes from the Parthenon (Elgin Marbles) now in the British Museum are among the best examples of alto-rilievo. Mezzo-rilievo (Italian for semi-relief; French, demi-relief) presents figures that are rounded to half their natural proportions, but without detached parts. Basso-rilievo (Italian for low-relief; French, bas-relief) is a form of surface-ornamentation in which the projection is very slight. The finest known specimen of low relief is the frieze around the cella of the Parthenon; large portions of it are to be seen in the British Museum. The lowest kind of relief is that described by the Tuscan term rilievo-stíacciato (depressed or flattened relief). This scarcely rises from the surface upon which it is carved, and is mostly an art of fine lines and delicate indications. Donatello's Florentine Madonnas and saints are among the best examples. Finally cavo-rilievo (Italian for hollow relief; French, relief-en-creux) is a method of concave sculpture in which the highest part or outline is on a level with the surface, while the roundness is considerably below it. Cavo-rilievo was practiced chiefly by the Egyptians whose hollow reliefs are known by the Greek term Koilanaglyphs.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This is not the title of this essay

A Playful Look at Attempts to Solve the Problems of Paradox and Self-Reference

Thank you, Douglas Hofstadter.

Following some relevant epigraphs, the first paragraph reads:
This essay is full of mistakes. Idea after idea and sentence after sentence is simply wrong. This sentence, for example, is false. Worse yet, this not even complete sentence! A long time ago (so the legend goes) a Cretan prophet by the name of Epimenides declared that "All Cretans are liars." This paradoxical statement has come to be known as the Epimenides paradox or the Liar paradox This Adam (or atom) of paradoxes has been reformulated into countless variants, yielding such gems as "I am lying," and "this sentence is false." It has been split, ("The following sentence is true. The preceding sentence is false.") boxed, translated and quoted in the Bible. In short, one would assume that the Liar Paradox had been beaten to death. In 1931, a German mathematician named Kurt Gödel breathed new life into the Liar paradox in a paper poetically entitled "On Formally Undecidable Propositions in Principia Mathematica and Related Systems I": Gödel's work demonstrated that paradox forms an implicit part of every axiomatic system of logical reasoning. In this essay, I will be examining the problems which self reference and paradox pose to systems of reasoning especially formalized mathematical and logical reasoning. These two areas, in their quest for objective truth become very interesting in the light of Gödel's revelations. In the end, it may turn out that their quests for a formalized objective truth may have been in vain. In addition, I will sometimes be referring to myself (with good reason).

For the whole thing, click on the title of this blog post.

[An email]:
Hey Vasudev,

some time ago, you asked me if I was interested in mathematics. I replied "not particularly" or words to that effect.

However, at the moment I'm reading an essay which does interest me. It's related to mathematics rather abstractly. Evidently it's a well-known late 20th century essay (among philosophers etc.), first appearing in some journal, then in a book, Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985). The essay also exists online. I've linked to it on my blog here:
This is not the title of this essay
-- but at the moment I'm only some ways into reading it.

The author is a certain Douglas Hofstadter, otherwise best known for his book Godel, Escher, Bach (1979) -- one of those quite well-esteemed works (among some creative intellectuals) that I've not yet read. Logic is, at least, a sort of passing interest -- especially when it's colorfully explored, as here. I suppose one reason the essay's topic is interesting, is that it directly relates to some basic facets of language: specifically, self-reference in a statement, and how paradox is possible in such uses of language. As such, it recollects, for example, Rene Magritte's painting "This is not a cigar". Perhaps I'll try to track down the latter and (if finding it) add it to the blog item.

Googling for the Magritte painting, instead I find another essay, in the form of a PDF document, here:
I had never heard of Magritte's painting called Hegal's Holiday, but it is an intriguing title by an interesting painter. It's 5:30 a.m., perhaps I'll read some ways into the Magritte thing, and locate the cigar painting later.

Meanwhile, vernal birds are already heard outside the window -- though it's basically dark yet.


Well it's an interesting essay about Magritte's work (largely). Unfortunately the author is not noted (one should wish to give a proper attribution). All I know is that the essay (or paper) is found in an archive from the University of Queensland. It quotes somewhat extensively from Suzi Gablik's well-known book about Magritte -- another of the books I respect but have not yet read.

I once had a phone conversation with Suzi Gablik though. I was (briefly) an editor of a thing called SOMA Magazine, in San Francisco. I guess this was in 1988. I think I had read an article Suzi had written in some art magazine -- perhaps The New Art Examiner. I phoned her to discuss it. This also reminds that in 1988, I visited the editors of The New Art Examiner, in Washington, DC. But later the publication moved -- I guess back to Chicago(?).

When I met with Peter Wollen (the filmmaker/professor) in LA, around the same time, I mentioned something about The New Art Examiner to him. He sort of laughed and remarked that so-and-so (the publisher of that magazine) used to be the guy who would crash in his living room. Now he was, it seemed, at least an established publisher. Both Peter and this publisher (I don't recall the chap's name) are British expats in America. I wrote a couple of short items for The New Art Examiner, but didn't keep in touch. Perhaps it still exists.


Quite silly of me. Of course the sentence in Magritte's painting is "This is not a pipe." Cigars don't come into the picture.

René Magritte - The Treason of Images (aka This Is Not A Pipe)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Epigram Pedagogy

I fear that I'm growing pedantic
I ponder the mettlesome antic
of rudely instructing the youths
in how to sound faux-epiphantic

. . . or, um, something.

Well, you see, now that I've turned 50 and all, it seems I'm letting out all the stops and showing myself to be the crusty, pedantic opinionist -- the full butterfly of a wiseguy who had rested in wait in my cocoon-of-becoming. So.

So here's (illustratively) my latest little exploit in pedagogical narrative. Or that is, my attempt to teach a bright young chap a thing or two about writing epigram verses. The forum was the Ryze network "Shakespeare & Company" (in which I've participated in recent months); the lad is named Ravi, recently appearing on the virtual scene. He posted a sequence of 5 epigrams. I pulled out a couple of them and tinkered out this attempt at instruction. How useful such a gesture is, I wot not. Anyway, as said, -- well I'm experimenting with the presumed prerogatives of this new, senior moment.



your play, here, with the possibilities of an epigrammatic style of utterance, suggests a good penchant for experiment.

Though you have them strung together with some suggestion of thematic connection, to some degree each epigram-verse has its own independence.

This one I find myself pondering over a bit --

existence, sans a reason
expression, sans a rhyme
why am i watching
this pointless pantomime

The verse aptly expresses the feeling of dissatisfaction that a mundane level of human boredom (in oneself or others) can easily inspire. It's curious that a philosphical bent of mind, when turned toward this particular quality of boredom, seemingly gave birth to a once-popular (and still recalled) style of 20th century philosophy, whose literary impact was perhaps as memorable as its philosphical value.

The rhyme in your verse itself seems to want to cure what it complains of (i.e., the lack of rhyme in expression). I find myself, though, wanting a bit more rhyme even in
this rhyme -- which leads me to think about words that could rhyme with "reason".... Too, the idea of the pantomime seems to beg for some sort of more elaborate treatment, if possible. Well, I don't arrive at that last idea, but do find an additional rhyme, thus:

existence, sans a reason
expression, sans a rhyme
I tire of this unceasing
and pointless pantomime

A thing about such ornamental features as metered rhyme, is that it seems to show a bit more audacity & astonishment if it's pulled off slightly more elaborately, as here. I hope you'll pardon my presumptuous assumed prerogative of trying to deliver a lecture by grabbing one of your verses and punching it into a different shape for suposedly pedagogical purposes. ;-)

This epigram is interesting in a different way --

fear fear,
tremble that i may
not do whats right
for fear of doing wrong

-- it captures (and shows an interest in) paradox, in this case, the paradox that through fear, the very thing that is feared (doing wrong) is paradoxically brought about (or at least, a lack of doing right -- which is half-way toward actively doing what's wrong -- is achieved). Classically, I guess those are "sins of ommission" versus "sins of commission." The verse recalls another epigrammatic statement: "He who hesitates, loses"; but here, the theme of fear (as cause of hesitation) is highlighted. The rhythms of this verse, though, seem a bit unsmooth. The third line in particular seems a bit too hesitant (unintentionally adding to the paradox I'd say) -- or just not quite in pace. If it were my verse, I'd consider editing it in some way, e.g. like this --

fear fear,
tremble though i may
i fail to do what's right
for fear of doing wrong

-- but then my mind turns to the question of rhyme, and another thought emerges --

fear! fright!
tremble though i may
i fail to do what's right
for fear of doing wrong

Then, I wonder if "foulplay" could work its way into the 4th line. But I don't quite see that it can. Instead, a new idea appears -- of shifting around the lines thus:

fear! fright!
tremble though i might
for fear of doing wrong
i fail to do what's right

This seems to express the paradox of your verse with as much felicity as the original -- and has perhaps the advantage of marshalling rhyme in a way that seems to lend gentle emphasis to the feeling of paradox that seems to be the strongest and brightest feature of the underlying thought. One wants the feeling of paradox to have rich expressive sway; it seems to do so a bit more fully when the ornament of the metrical & rhymed form is put in service of the paradox as a sequential structure of expressed thought.

I hope you'll find this small dose of pedantry interesting (despite the hazarded & withal regretted rudeness).


Friday, May 19, 2006

words from Merwin

If you want to come after me for any reason
I have left money in the bread-box,
Heart in the ice-box,
And in the mail-box, around the key,
A handkerchief for good-byes.

("Route with No Number")

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Unknown poetry"           [birthday boomerang]

Fifteen years of making unknown poetry

that's how I've been frittering out my middle age

all for Meher Baba who could grow a tree

easily as scrivening words upon a page

for Beloved Baba who can bloom a flower

perfect in its symbol-life and artistry

so it is we spend our late & lingering hour --

fifteen years of making unknown poetry


Poem written responsive to the occasion of my own upcoming 50tth birthday (May 20).

I've been writing poetry "seriously" (though intermittantly) since age 10. The 15 years noted in the poem reflect a more concerted poetry-focus that emerged after my 1991 move from New York City to Washington, DC. Living in New York (especially the final year, in Greenwich Village), I'd cultivated a habit of daily oilpainting. When I migrated to DC, I had (for some years) no suitable space where I could continue this practice. Instead, I returned to the practice of poetry.

For a year or so I wrote every day (typically several poems) -- always in a particular open, 21-line form of my invention. At the close of this exercise, I abandoned the form (having written perhaps 800 or more such poems); I wrote now in various other forms and modes; and the writing became more sporadic.

I assembled two manuscripts -- the first called Orison, the second A Bowl of China. I attempted to have them published, via the questionable avenue of submitting them (several years running) to the Yale Series of Younger Poets (and, to a lesser degree, to the likewise annual National Poetry Series). One can submit a MS to The Yale Series only through one's 40th year; after that, one is no longer deemed a "younger poet." Strangely, my MSS were ignored. And with that, my diffident bid for publication was fairly nipped in the bud. (I've had a few poems in arcane periodicals, and two in obscure anthologies; but I have had somewhat conflicted views of the "poetry-career-building" concept and a basic reluctance to pursue such a thing personally -- although I'm oddly eager to recommend it to others.)

For a time (since around 1996), I returned to oilpainting as a central focus; and for several years (since around '99), I shifted my creative attention to video-making.

But for the past year now, willy-nilly poetry has asserted itself as an activity demanding attention. Indeed, since a yaer ago (though I don't deem it a "regular practice" now), the days that pass without some poetry-writing have been infrequent.

Since establishing this blog last fall, this absurd proclivity & dubious activity (this time-wasting prolixity & pathetic verbosity) have taken the shape of a palpable (albeit variegated & unsatisfyingly amorphous) compilation (if we may presume to call it that) -- why the very one that you, Gentle Reader, see immediately before you. This.

Such is the short history of an obscure amusement.

"Kismet's game"           [rubai]

All struggle & fret in youth & age
a few may strive to glimpse what page
fell destiny in secret writes --
whose furtive word brings bliss or rage

The darkling ink of kismet's game
confounds the wise   (what use is fame
or fortune lasting   but one blink?)
erasing soon both face & name

Treading a walk our feet require
we traipse from cradle toward the pyre
why are these feet so keen to trace
a line that wends from wood to fire?

I think my only comfort's laughter
was he drunk? the madcap drafter
of these ludicrous lines I mouth?
I'll get that playwright in the hereafter!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"The sense of summer" -- and an exposition of the Boomerang Poem form

In the same Comment box on Ron Silliman's blog where I'd posted my boomerang poem blogged here yesterday (as "Absent from the menus"), the Melbourne-based poet Michael Farrell asked me what "a boomerang poem" is? It's a question some readers of this blog might also wonder about. I dashed out the following reply.


The simplest feature to note is that the first and final lines are identical (hence, the poem "boomerangs"; the word is my own conceit, not found in the Chinese). A second feature to note is that (generally speaking), the poem is a particular instance of the 8-line shi form. In Chinese, this most typically means it has 5 characters per line, though 7 characters per line (and, more rarely, following a more ancient model, 4 per line) might be found. [added note: actually, 6 characters per line is also, though very rarely, found in some classical shi too.] I think in actual practice, the boomerang form is probably found only with 5 per line. As I've adapted this to English (following in part some astute observations of Arthur Waley's about translating shi), this equates to lines with five stressed syllables per line. Next, the most basic rhyme scheme is as seen here: ABAB BABA or ABAB CACA (the above example [meaning, the poem "Absent from the menus"] can be regarded as the one or the other, depending on whether one deems the slant rhyme a rhyme per se). But I have also practiced boomerang poems with some variants on these basic patterns, such as ABABCCBA or ABBABABA or ABABABBA or ABBACCBA; these may have slightly differing effects, but not radically different really. In practice, any such scheme one cares to follow, is fine. The ABAB CACA is oftentimes simplest, and seems perfectly pleasant to me.

Those are basics of the form. Optionally, one may also adopt some other features of classical Chinese poetics. (Some can be easily articulated, others one perhaps gets to know more intuitively, through exposure to this tradition and absorbing some of its formalities and values.) The most crucial one really -- which alas I have been taking a very casual attitude to, but DO sometimes practice -- involves what is known as grammatical parallelism. This is a very basic and very interesting topic in Chinese poetics; but to appreciate it most fully, it's helpful to look at a Chinese poem line for line and character by character. It's premised on the couplet as the basic unit of poetry. That is, the line is of course the basic unit -- but the line always exists as part of a pair of lines. The couplet (two lines) is, according to me, in some respects an even more crucial concept in Chinese poetics than the single line. The world of Chinese poetry is constructed by pairs of lines -- and this does NOT mean rhymed couplets. It instead involves utterances and observations that are given as pairs. The pairing -- the habit of pairing -- is closely related to a sense of balance, which has many philosphical, psychological, conceptual, poetic consequences (it could be argued). Ultimately it's no doubt related (in terms of cosmology as well as esthetics) to yin-yang theory. At any rate, enough with this (for now). It's something I'm not aware is expounded on anywhere (come to think of it). One who studies Chinese poetry kind of learns to absorb it, and takes it for granted. It belatedly occurs to me that something can be said about it -- and for it. So now I've done so.

But I've not even gotten to grammatical parallelism. The better way to explain this would be via example. So maybe I'll take a moment to extemporize a boomerang poem that follows more properly (as the one above does not, quite) this principle. In terms of classical Chinese 8-line poems [this being the most basic and essential classical form -- beginning some time before the Tang dynasty, and continued on really into the present day], in the more strict traditions of shi, a requirement of the form is that the 3rd & 4th, and also the 5th and 6th lines -- i.e., those two couplets (conceived always as couplets per se, but they are not rhymed couplets, as said) -- they should exhibit complete grammatical parallelism.

Classical Chinese is a language easily given to this kind of thing. It doesn't have gendered verbs or any articles (definite or indefinite); it is a very bare-bones language in which word order is the crucial thing for syntax and for defining word function. In these circumstances, grammatical parallelism emerged as a custom with esthetic possibilities, and poets get besotted with it. Its roots go way back before the Tang dynasty, into the most archaic of literature. For example the opening lines of the Dao De Jing -- dao ke dao fei chang dao / ming ke ming fei chang ming -- shows a simplistic form of it. But I digress.

Enough with theory; the possibilities of applied grammatical parallism in English, are something one may explore in practice and experiment. Permit me anyway to compose a poem that endeavors to show this (in some simple way) with the two requisite couplets (the 3rd and 4th of an 8-couplet boomerang poem). In Chinese poetics, as I understand it, in the more classical style, the parallelism is requisite for the 2nd and 3rd couplets, and it is also optinoal for the 1st and 4th couplets (of an 8-line / 4 couplet poem). On my blog, if one were to search the archive [the blog goes back to last September] for "boomerang," one might come up with some couple dozen examples of my occasional use of the form. (At some future point I'll make an index to blogged boomerang poems.) But here is this morning's try.

In May, the sense of summer slowly comes
this month, I'll turn the page marked "50 years"
I've seen how life plays manic games with sums
I've felt how time makes sober sport of fears
sometimes the sky has clouds, sometimes it clears
sometimes the song has strings, sometimes it's drums
now morn grows late -- I've heard no chanticleers
in May, the sense of summer slowly comes

The 3rd and 4th lines show an exacting example of parallelism; the 5th and 6th lines show a slightly fudged (but perhaps adequate) example of it. The "it" is not really grammatically parallel with the "it's"; the "drums" even less so with the "clears"; but anyway, these objections should suffice to suggest what is being fudged & how. (I feel the lines hint at the principle without getting too orthodox about it; the needs of the poem overall I deem as essential; -- and as noted, I'm deeming this particular poetics feature -- parallelism -- simply as an option in the boomerang form, not 100% requisite, but nice to do when one thinks of it and when it works).

Will this suffice as simple tutorial? Thanks for asking! I think there may be one or two examples of boomerang poems somewehre in the anthology Sunflower Splendor (I don't remember where or by what poet). When I was shelving books in the East Asiatic Library at UC Berkeley (circa 1978 or something), I stumbled on one book of poems -- the life-work of I don't know who -- comprised entirely of boomerang poems. My impression is that it's deemed a slightly baroque form in Chinese, that occasionally poets got into (I'm now guesing: maybe more in the Song than in the Tang), but was not really practiced very rampantly. But a few poets here and there liked it. And I've liked it enough to introduce it into English. ;-)


"Absent from the menus"       [boomerang]

The evening with its vacuum cleaner hums
the season's game thermometer continues
I've given up on figuring the sums
too daunted by the talons & the sinews
vichitra vina's rare in local venues
but balderdash is popular with drums
are choicest items absent from the menus?
the evening with its vacuum cleaner hums


For Joe Green -- from an exchange (in Comments on Ron Silliman's blog). Regarding the business of "schools" of poetry and warring factions, etc., Joe wrote: "Who cares? Write one good line." The above attempts a suitable reply.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stanley Kunitz Dies at 100


When his boat snapped loose

from its mooring, under

the screaking of the gulls,

he tried at first to wave

to his dear ones on shore . . .

"Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul," he wrote. "The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race."

"The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that self-dialogue."

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Journey"           [rubai]

Vague doom is creeping through my limbs
                      it masterminds my days
although in dream I seem to glimpse
                      a moon beyond the haze
if I could journey free & clear
                      & stand on solid ground
the morn would ring   the eve would sing
                      with ceaseless sounds of praise


On a discussion forum, I presume to attempt something of an explication of this little verse, here.

"Time is only a stalactite"     [villanelle]

It will take a lifetime to get it right
it will need a kalpa to round the bend
although time is only a stalactite

dangling from the cave of night
gleaming   more foe than friend?
it will take a lifetime to get it right

the stakes grow grand   the purse is slight
I purse my lips   as you condescend
allowing time is only a stalactite

Within my sky   will you fly your kite?
into your ear   will my poem wend?
it will take a lifetime to get it right

The pleistocene is long gone from sight
the kerosine may be near its end
although time is only a stalactite

I'll take the low road   you hug the height
we'll meet at seashore   our ways unkenned
it will take a lifetime to get it right
although time is only a stalactite


kalpa (Sanskrit): a vast cycle of time; an eon in cosmic history

my first line is borrowed from the last line of Dilruba Ahmed's poem "Mother" (a case of flattery-thievery, one might allow)

My imagined escape     [villanelle]

I'll bring with me few books & no computer
I'll sit beside the hill & sing darbari
being of poetry a mere wayward suitor

I've lived in modern cities (tasting fruit or
enjoying urban blossoms)   though not chary
I'll bring with me few books & no computer

No horn have I!   how could I be my tooter?
no battles   hence no salvo & no parry
being of poetry a mere wayward suitor

Ah memory can be such a fine diluter!
is all grist   for the would-be vidyakari?
I'll bring with me few books & no computer

Reclusion could prove poetry's fond rebooter
yet convivial nights where skies are mooned & starry
can be suitable yet for poetry's wayward suitor

If all things are good   my question: which is gooder?
the lone mountain study or the bright town safari?
I'll bring with me few books & no computer
being of poetry a mere wayward suitor


darbari -- a particularly serious, sober, stately late-night raaga
vidya [knowledge] kari [one who does]: so the meaning (in context) should (I'd propose) be -- an apprentice-practitioner of the path of knowledge

like potatoes

sporadically I think of time
now & then I write in rhyme
the question might arise if I'm
permitted by poetic crime

or license (as it's often dubbed)
    to treat time as a stuff
that like potatoes might be scrubbed
    & fried & served & scarfed?

ah time consumes me while I eat it
lingeringly     I cannot beat it

Saturday, May 13, 2006

ars poetica

the way to become composed
is out of a strong incapacity
that counters the grain of sagacity
one (being not hard-nosed)
must feel how the brunt of the breach
in oneself (not others) can leach
and find (withal) what remnance
of fuzz expounds the peach

Schadenfreude       [rubai]

Schadenfreude -- the friend of shame & shade

enjoys is sad delight in life's parade

the more the comic foibles gleam & glide

the brighter burns its sorry serenade


Occasioned by an opionion piece, "The Word You Dare Not Spell" (the latter involving ruminations on aspects of responses to the Kaavya Viswanathan affair)

"don't despair"       [gatha]

Might you allow the great luxury
                of my thinking of you   my lord?
can you express generosity
                by revealing yourself   a little?
if you had been a beverage
                I'd be drinking of you   my lord
if you possessed a circumference
                I'd be with you   right in the middle
if   as they say   you are endless
                can your center be found anywhere?
if   O my lord   you are friendless
                I'll befriend you   don't despair!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Storytimes       [fable]

The hourglass   isn't disappearing
yet every time it attains its end
they turn it right over!   thus they send
another blithe storytime into the clearing
or off to the thicket   ought I say rather?
so brings the glass   no tragical bother
still   at every close   we gather
singing   or grumbling about our druthers!

What's the deal?     [petit sonnet]

If only my mind
could figure out time
I'd publish my findings
right in a rhyme!

it's a scandal how I'm
so flummoxed at what's
the deal about time --
a conceptual klutz!

wide eternity
could your mits clasp?
why diurnity
slips from my grasp!

time mocks at my beard
when in dream it's so weird

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shopping     [number poem w/ 20 beats]

more number-dabbling

(one two) when I (three four) went
to (five six) the corner (seven)
market (eight nine) every cent
(ten) bought me one thing (eleven)

what was that (twelve) that I bought?
(thirteen fourteen fifteen) ought

(sixteen) I reveal to you
what I (seventeen) purchased   hmmm?
okay (eighteen) honeydew
(nineteen) melon (twenty)  mmmm!


I present some (perhaps complicated, or at least extensive) instructions for the use of this little poem as a "recitation exercise" here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Fifteen raindrops"       [modified boomerang]

Fifteen raindrops plopped in a puddle
    thirteen leaves were swirled in wind
eleven people were lookin' for trouble
    nine policemen came 'round the bend

    seven doctors saw saven patients
five poets found themselves in a muddle
    three birds perched & sang flirtations
one more raindrop plopped in the puddle

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Replying to Dr. Mardy       [rubai]

Creativity is a species of healthy insanity
conversation quite necessitates a healthy urbanity
when you're down in the doldrums or in a brown study
how salubrious proves the pinch of a healthy profanity


Max Babi had sent me this terse bon-mot:
"Creativity is a kind of healthy insanity."
The above quatrain serves as my reply.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

White Ninja       [cartoon]

Sometimes a cartoon is worth sharing.


"Dogs & Sonnets"       [a pedagogical sonnet]

The initial stanza speaks of some one facet
of a topic that one desires to ponder deeply
if thinking of dogs -- one mentions here a basset
a chihuahua or a poodle! -- not too cheaply

are canines of this nature purchased -- no!
(the second stanza treats another aspect)
of course to the dog-pound one could certainly go
but mutts   alas   would seem the likely prospect

there are other facts of dogs one needs to think on
(in the final quatrain things might grow dramatic)
if it's raining cats & dogs   can one then drink on
a sad poodle puddle?   dogs are not erratic

they're loyal   and (like the couplet at the end)
it's the wag (or wit) that encapsulates this friend


A correspondent asked me to teach her how to write a sonnet. I'm not sure how one teaches such things. I made some suggestions, and also composed this attempat at a pedagogical poem.

Somewhat relatedly, there's Garrison Keillor's admonishment to "Write a sonnet for Mom."

Friday, May 05, 2006

"Waiting"         [gnomic verse]

Waiting?   it's an element
slighted by the Periodic Table
between hydrogen & ununhexium
it's not been assigned a box

yet what molecule or universe
could conceivably be able
to exist without waiting?
don't believe me? ask the rocks!

"Ready"         [gnomic verse]

So reason is scrambled?   I'm ready with rhyme

a strand of space granted?   a thimble of time?

a foot on earth?   hey!   that's real estate prime

though my dollor's-worth of daylight   dusk thins to a dime


This verse follows the four rhyme-words of Sruthi Krishnan's "Thoughts at work..."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Hard to say"         [gnomic verses]

When into the stars you gaze
or under the rock you peer
you see amid the haze
his trace   albeit not clear

if out of the depths you rise
and over the bridge you pass
what meets your dancing eyes
is hard to say   alas

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Concerning the "pedestrian"       [gnomic verse]

one who disdains the pedestrian
and only will travel in carriages
may be an ornate equestrian
but what his high horse disparages
is a thing wherein many who tread the earth
may find their authentic remorse or mirth

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day   beginning with a phrase from Tagore   [rubai]

Time is endless in your hands
          but limited in mine
as the skyline's azure spans
          its starry-eyed design
the hours flee beyond my reach
          the seasons slip away
I long for sheer oblivion
          but lack a taste for wine

Time is endless in your hands
          & who can count your days?
patent is your pulchritude
          while hidden are your ways
even the wise are foolish
      how much more a fool am I?
morning passes   May arrives
          the greeny leaflet sways