Thursday, August 31, 2006

Night Sounds       [shi]

Sitting in front of Amsterdam Falafel
at two o'clock in the morning with my cheroot
the traffic yet flows   there's always the noise of people
we attend to the branch   but nobody knows the root

a million scenes   appear on the screen of thought
if the tale is bitter or sweet   who can complain?
there's someone who strums a guitar   across the street
I don't know the tune   and can't make out the refrain


Chinese poems, late summer, no. 3

"The basic problem"       [shi]

The basic problem of being   would need to be solved
within the arena   of the particular being

if it's worked out there   the questions are all resolved
if not   you'd always be chumped by what you were seeing

it's beginning to rain   it's been a rather dry summer
I sit outdoors   in my corner   and light a cigar

the purpose of living   is not a pedestrian rumor!
but why does it always elude   and seem afar?


[This I will regard as the second poem in a sequence that follows (in feeling as much as in form) from whatever I may have absorbed, in gone years, dabbling at reading and translating from classical Chinese shi. The most typical form of such a poem is in 8 lines, either with 5 characters per line (mirrored in the English form by five stressed syllables, as here) or with 7 characters per line (mirrored in the English form by seven stressed syllables, as in the 1st poem in this sequence).


Chinese poems, late summer, no. 2

no. 1:
  Rooftop Scene

the mind as metaphor     [siting - sighting - citing]

Stumbled on an investigations into the use of metaphor in English literature of the 18th century. There is the Database of metaphors (though I've not quite worked out how to navigate it). Then, there's this blog-like presentation of ruminations based on same.

Both are the work of one Brad Pasanek, an academic.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The God Spot           [weird science news]

The human brain does not contain a single "God spot" responsible for mystical and religious experiences, a new study finds.
    Instead, the sense of union with God or something greater than the self often described by those who have undergone such experiences involves the recruitment and activation of a variety [of] brain regions normally implicated in different functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.
    The finding, detailed in the current issue of Neuroscience Letters, contradicts previous suggestions by other researchers that the there might be a specific region in the brain designed for communication with God.
from: No 'God Spot' in the Human Brain
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
29 August 2006

There's not a specific wigit for the Lord?
there's not (you say) a God Spot in the noodle?
perhaps if Adam's apple could be cored
you'd find therein a kind of Yankee doodle
while in the kidney one were apt to see
the signature of Mr. Poetry?
and in the heart one likely could deduce
a mark suggesing Love were on the loose

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A terser reply       [gnomic ars poetica]

The stickiest bone in the poetry row
Is whether it's the what or the how.

The funniest bone in the poetry elbow
is whether it's the roe or the row


The first couplet is by KVK Murthy. The second is my response.
See also Three Answers

Three Answers       [gnomic ars poetica]

(i) Bright Brigands

To say the stylist lacks ideas is like proposing
the painter lacks a proper sense of third dimension
not every art is sculpture! are we then supposing
that beauty shows no meaning? truth's not sheer invention?

an access to the battery of mind and guile
abides in the madcap hattery of form and style
for saying has its own illustrious loving morals
as praying has its own industrious doting quarrels

a cogent saying lacking anything to say?
I've never seen without a breeze a tree a'sway
if meaning isn't clustered in the shady eaves
the words themselves grow flustered and become like thieves
they steal into the house of form and raid the fridge
with bellies full they loll about on writing's ridge

(ii) Hushed Arbors

Can poetry not practice homeopathy?
a pinch of thought affects us microscopically
you needn't add two pounds of sugar to your tea
there's savor even in plain bitter poetry
what need to choose between nutrition and good taste?
nature's delight in flowery vision is not a waste
whatever word brings music also echoes meaning
these molecules are living friend! these plots are greening
the deeper grows the subtle sense of formal ardors
the keener grows the redolence of hidden arbors

(iii) What and Where

The proof abides in the pudding   claims the wise curmudgeon
the theory does its gooding   in the actual poem
to hold that form itself shows substance   is a sturgeon
that only thrives in water   never lives on loam


Responsive to this pleasantry by KVK Murthy (aka James Joyce):
The stickiest bone in the poetry row
Is whether it's the what or the how.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rooftop Scene       [shi]

Atop the building   wind moves
                  thru the lolling leaves

an idling sun   is barely seen
                  thru bluegray clouds

somewhere   the bell of a church is ringing
                          life's serene

I guess   the traffic roars like an ocean
                          muffled lauds

O honking horn of worship
                  horn of lazy hurry

the red of blossoms   festival
                    in kitschy planters

two black umbrellas stand
                amid the chairs & tables

I sit alone   this August evening
                        one gull enters


washington dc; this loosely follows the form and feel of shi (a classical Chinese poem, most typically in 8 lines)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Maze of Dark Surprises     A Sestina Cycle

I'm lately experimenting with the antique poetry-form called Sestina. I find I favor a rhyming sestina. My first attempt at the form employs an iambic pentameter line, but the next several employ a shorter, trimeteric line. The 3rd is a doha-cadenced sestina. Only with the 4th in sequence had I gotten clear about a standard end-word pattern for the "envoy" (coda of 3 lines); for more about this point (and the form overall), see afternotes with my sestina no. 4.

1 |   "A maze of dark surprises"

2 |   "Amid the dark of night"

3 |   "Still are the shaded famished"

4 |   "The earthworm crawls"

5 |   "In this nocturnal street"

6 |   "Your universe"

7 |   "Difficult maps for living"

8 |   "Being's words"

9 |   "Seeking for poetry"

10 |   "Gavirangappa"

11 |   "A'buzz amid the summer"

12 |   "Vasu's computer"

13 |   "The final dance"

14 |   "If rhyme may recall the singer"

Working rather intensively with this form, I've written 14 sestinas in four days. I'm not yet sure if the cycle is complete, or if I may add more poems to it. If I do, any such additions will be included as further links here.


As is remarked (and considered in some detail) in the afternote for sestina no. 8, the first seven sestinas in the cycle all display a rhyme-pattern (in their first stanza) of ABABAB; -- whereas the pattern in the first stanza of sestina no. 8 is, instead, AABBAA. With sestina no. 9, a third end-rhyme is added, ushering in a new range of variation in the consequent rhyme-scheme pattern. Sestina no. 10 is the only one in the cycle that does not have much rhyming in it. Sestina no. 13 is the most formally ornate (what with its layerings of internal rhyming -- a rather baroque musical device with antecedents in, I believe, Persian as well as Medieval European and English practices of prosody). A differing pattern (again using 3 end-rhymes) is seen in sestina no. 14.

Perhaps if this series (and/or a subsequent series) persists through still more permutations of the possible, a range of other such patterns will be explored and exhibited each in turn. It seems unlikely that this particular terrain (at the interface of the sestina and possible rhyming patterns) has been heretofore mapped. Why? Quite simple: rhyming sestinas are more the exception than the norm. (I don't know why other poets have not seen the appeal of playing with rhyming in this form; -- unless there are some who've done so, and I've merely not yet seen their work.) If my speculation is not amiss, presumably the present cycle could claim the modest novelty of its formal rhyme-design investigation.

One trusts the points of literary interest in the poem-cycle may not prove restricted nor circumscribed to such bare, structural matters (these surface details of form). Still and all, I am passingly reminded of the inventive tendency involving a sense of mathematical systematics in Karnatic music -- which tradition suggests one model for comparison vis-a-vis formal invention. Of course the developers of abstract arabesque fretwork (or other such visual or architectural design patterns) obviously rely on a kindred instinct for design form and variation. Prosody is, one may say, an antique template for architecture. That is, the shared, underlying attention to structure and pattern can be arrayed either in space (with architecture or painting) or in time (with music or poetry). In any or all of these forms, the feeling of the kaleidoscopic maze can be enjoyed.

Ornate symmetries of archetecture may inspire ornate symmetries of poetry, and vice-versa. One may wonder in what ways Arnaut Daniel, in inventing the sestina (in the 13th cenetury), was reflecting (or reflecting on) the medieval design formalism emerging with the greaet Gothic cathedrals of Europe in his era. But I digress.

14 | "If rhyme may recall the singer"       [sestina]

Across the expanse of time
the written word can linger
the thought that attracts the singer
into the noose of rhyme
can carry to you anew
a sentiment false or true

The quality of the true
is shattered   greeting time
the world is reformed anew
each instant   what will linger
from past?   there seems a rhyme
there's certainly a singer

Suppose that there is a singer
whose every word rings true
the lyric presents a rhyme
to ripple the pool of time
where transient circles linger
and fleetly expire anew

Each stanza blooms anew
with melody   from the singer
the notes of music linger
there might be something true
despite the fade of time
that darkens   every rhyme

The ornament of the rhyme
entwines the old and new
across the field of time
each line floods   from the singer
but maybe there's nothing true
when nothing is left to linger

Some memories always linger
perhaps   a nursery rhyme
how part the false from true?
we ponder it all   anew
and who was the primal singer?
and what is the point of time?

What's true is fraught with time
if rhyme may recall the singer
what lingers speaks anew


Perhaps this will be the final sestina in the cycle. Time will tell.
This one employs a new rhyme pattern; it appears in the 1st stanza as ABBACC.

13 | "The final dance"       [sestina]

Let the lamp affix its beam
and cast its rueful light perchance
if be may true the lie of seem
we'll see anew a high romance
the Emperor of fine Icecream
may join us for the final dance

With tandava   the swirling dance
in all directions furls its beam
the Emperor of sweet Icecream
is churning in his sea perchance
the world is lost in fell romance
of be   which breaks the spell of seem

If be is there   and here is seem
the twain conjoin in courtly dance
the consequence is pearled romance
which sends through every world its beam
the glint of it arrives perchance
when Emperors imbibe Icecream

The Emperor of deep Icecream
delights in all the sweep of seem
he laughs around the bend of chance
fierce grace informing tender dance
to see   one needs a steely beam?
but through the haze   one feels romance

The wellsprings whence may flow romance
the Emperor of haute Icecream
the language of the lucid beam
the aim behind the game of seem
the deep purport within the dance
these are a single thing perchance

We skid across the field of chance
and lose the thread of real romance
our feet forget the flow of dance
the Emperor has no Icecream?
none pierce the tenebrous veil of seem
yet through the thicket hail a beam

Amid the dance we glimpse the beam
the hid romance is garbed in seem
Imperial chance scoops out Icecream


The first line of this sestina is borrowed verbatim (and the third line is borrowed in an altered form) from Wallace Stevens' philosophical poem The Emperor of Ice-cream (1922). Tandava is the name of the great dance (generally conceived as the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction) performed in mythic space by Lord Siva. The critic Helen Vendler has given detailed background notes regarding Stevens' poem here (though I did not read nor consider these when writing the sestina).


August 28: I've now taken the poem through a round of revisions that (among other things) interweave into its prosody a secondary play of internal rhyming -- mainly involving the penultimate stressed syllable in several lines. I'll note in passing my original draft for line 3 in stanza 1: "If be may trounce the feint of seem." But for reasons of both sound and sense, that version was abandoned in favor of what's seen above. Mentioning this, one may also, here, recall Wallace Stevens' original line from which this line of the poem derives, viz., "Let be be the finale of seem." That poet had his own interesting ideas about the sense or meaning of reality and appearance (the "be" and "seem" of his poem). My poem does not essay to follow from (or seriously comment on) his views per se; instead, it honors (and drraws on some terms of) his evocative language, while simultaneously seeking to ply its own chosen weave of metaphysics and its own lyric play of thought. Whether or not it may be deemed as my "answer to" Stevens' poem, seems perhaps a question. Certainly, anyway, it involves a manner of response to that underlying poem, albeit being (obviously) chiefly involved in showing and enjoying the ways a sestina may permit a sort of systematic contemplation and exploration of words, ideas, images, meanings, and sounds.

the hid romance is garbed in seem: although a rather tangential point, it may be remarked in passing that the origin of the English word "garb" is traced to the Sanskrit garbha (meaning "womb") -- a word of some importance in the Mahayana Buddhist metaphysical lexicon (among other things), though I do not mean to suggest any special rapport with that latter lexicon here. This etymology is anyway curious to note.

12 | "Vasu's computer"       [sestina]

Is wind in the sails
a thing that is lacking?
each morning unveils
some crewman unslacking
but Vasu's computer
is broken I'm told!

The equator I'm told
brings doldrums to sails
the broken computer
its clacking is lacking
hence Vasu's now slacking
reclusive in veils

What finally avails
the soul? are we told?
at times one is slacking --
bring wind for the sails!
too bad Vasu's lacking
a working computer

From any computer
one freshly unveils
whatever was lacking
-- this tale is told
'neath unbillowed sails
when wind it is slacking

This season if slacking
perhaps some computer
may fill up the sails
and billow the veils
if Aeolus (as told)
can supply what is lacking

I can't say what's lacking
or if we've been slacking
though lately I'm told
that Vasu's computer
is hid in dark veils
too bad they're not sails

From the lacking computer
was the slacking in veils
foretold? lift the sails!


Riffing on remarks made by James Joyce.

Cosmic Sea       [nonce form]

Was idly musing as I watched
A Midsummer Night's Dream last night
was muttering as I hopscotched
about the way things turn out right
so long as it's a comedy
it's different though in tragedy

Was vaguely thinking as I drove
my bicycle along the lane
how those who suffer fight and love
go traipsing through my merry brain
they sing and dance in comedy
they weep and grieve in tragedy

what genre am I living through?
what form informs my plodding life?
I strive to see the story through
despite delay regret and strife
if this is deemed a comedy
what need have I for tragedy?

The tragicomic hybrids me
like masks of Janus tellingly
the pith and core and mystery
eludes   a silent irony
the cosmic sea of comedy
grinds down the sand of tragedy


The first two lines of the poem are borrowed from a remark by Alankrita Pandey.

13 | "The final dance"       [sestina]

Let the lamp affix its beam
and cast its motley light perchance
if be may tronce the feint of seem
we'll see in end a fine romance
the Emperor of fond Icecream
may join us for the final dance

With Tandava   the swirling dance
in all directions casts its beam
the Emperor of fond Icecream
is churning in his sea perchance
the world is lost in sheer romance
of be   and loses touch with seem

If be is here   and there is seem
the twain may join in courtly dance
the consequence is high romance
which sends to every world its beam
the glint of it arrives perchance
when Emperors enjoy Icecream

The Emperor of pure Icecream
delights in every form of seem
he laughs across the bridge of chance
and lends his grace to every dance
to see   one needs a steady beam
but in the haze   one feels romance

The origin of lost romance
the Emperor of real Icecream
the language of the shining beam
the purpose of the realm of seem
the deep purport within the dance
these are a single thing perchance

We skid across the plane of chance
and lose the thread of true romance
our feet forget the ancient dance
the Emperor has no Icecream?
none pierce the thickest veil of seem
yet from the thicket comes a beam

Amid the dance we see the beam
the high romance is wrapped in seem
Imperioal chance scoops out Icecream


The first line of this sestina is borrowed verbatim (and the third line is borrowed in an altered form) from Wallace Stevens' enigmatic philosophical poem The Emperor of Ice Cream (1922). Tandava is the name of the great dance (generally conceived as a dance of both creation and destruction) performed in mythic space by Lord Siva. The critic Helen Vendler has given detailed background notes regarding Stevens' poem here (though I did not read nor consider these when writing the sestina).

11 | "A'buzz amid the summer"       [sestina]

Awakening late at night
a pain is in my shoulder
cicadas of late summer
are making such a buzz!
my aim in living was?
don't know!   I'm getting older!

Time passes   one gets older
the day revolves with night
one can't recall what was
the burden on one's shoulder
cicadas blithely buzz
in late and torpid summer

There comes an end to summer
each year the world is older
cicadas love to buzz
amid the dark of night
life offers us its shoulder
we're wading through what was

What is comes from   what was
as winter sires   summer
the ankle   and the shoulder
the younger   and the older
the day replacing   night
the spinning world   a'buzz

All tones are in   the buzz
all will be in   what was
all days are hid   in night
as autumn hides in   summer
it's true   I'm getting older
one needs   a solid shoulder

Amid the things we shoulder
confusions   come a'buzz
as one is growing older
one's is gets lost in   was
a depth lies in the summer
especially   at night

The older life of night
a'buzz amid the summer
is shouldering what was


[Regarding the little kaleidoscope that the form applies to any new end-rhyme pattern one offers to its algorithm, the presenet poem shows still another result. If one were to deem "summer / shoulder / older" as a single (slant)rhyme, this is then this sestina's schema for stanza 1: XAABBA. But perhaps a slant-rhyme is better tracked as an "a" than an "A"; then one can write it as: XaABBA. (I'll hereby create that analytical convention.) Note the various results -- e.g. stanza 5, which emerges from the sestina-kaleidoscope as BBXaAA -- buzz / was / night / summer / older / shoulder. In the envoy here, end-rhymes are internalized.] Beyond prosody, must say: these cicadas merit the newsprint of poetry. Quite phenomenal at two in the morning, here in Washington, adjacent Rock Creek Park.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Perchance       [boomerang]

At the end of the workshop   will you emerge a poet?
at the end of the autumn   will you find winter's snow?
perhaps you were always a poet   but did you know it?
perhaps we are never quite knowing   what we may know

the rower ensconsed in a boat   is likely to row
the road is created by feet   if feet may but go it
at the closing of summer   perchance the volcano will blow
at the end of the workshop   will you emerge a poet?


The redoubtable writer-and-humorist Vasudev Murthy posted what might (presumably) have been intended as a facetious, tongue-in-cheek advertisement for a poetry workshop in Bangalore in September. A short course description is followed by the line "At the end of the workshop you will emerge a poet." Such a bald statement seemed to invite some bit of riffing.

10 | Gavirangappa       [sestina]

A driver named Raju
he works for the May-dum
he's Gavirangappa
(his dad Ranganatha)
this father of Hema
in fair Bangaluru

In yon Bangaluru
they now call him Raju
so proud of his Hema
he drives for the May-dum
Thankere Ranganatha
this Gavirangappa

When Gavirangappa
in vast Bangaluru
son of Ranganatha
received the name Raju
he'd drive for the May-dum
-- this sire of Hema

The father of Hema
our Gavirangappa
once drove the fine May-dum
to poor Bangaluru
in the household of Raju
she met Ranganatha

Erstwhile Ranganatha
(the grandsire of Hema)
would drive just like Raju-
in great Bangaluru
for another high May-dum

This Choudhury May-dum
who met Ranganatha
in poor Bangaluru
supported sweet Hema
our Gavirangappa's
now gladly called Raju

A May-dum named Hema!
R. Gavirangappa
Bangaluru ka Raju


Here (at last) I have a not-so-rhyme-besotted sestina. However, it is exceedingly story-dependent. The poem plays with the names and relationships among principal characters in Lavanya Sankaran's tale -- the title story in her collection, The Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories (2005). The story begins with these words:
Rangappa was content to live in a realm of different names. Officially, as per his one-page bio-data, prepared for a small sum by one of the roadside typists who serviced the lawyers outside Bangalore's Mayo Hall, his name was T.R. Gavirangappa.
    Thankere Ranganatha Gavirangappa. Anyone reading his name would instantly know that he hailed from the village of Thankere, near the hills of Chikmagalur, and that he was the son of Ranganatha. His family called him Rangappa for short.
    But at work he was known as Raju.
    This nominal transformation was announced to him, quite casually, at the end of his job interview.
    "Your driving test was satisfactory," his prospective employer said. "The job is yours, provided you are courteous, prompt, and steady in your habits." And then: "Oh, and on the job, you will be called Raju."
The employer is a Mrs. Choudhury, called -- by all the serving staff in her rather grand house -- "May-dum" (i.e., Madam). Rangappa's now-three-year-old daughter he named Hema (after a film star). Mrs. Choudhuri is represented by the narrator as exhibiting the ideosyncratic traits of being thoughtful, slightly unconventional, unprejudiced, and particularly humane in her dealings with Raju and the rest of her staff. After a time, she starts to take an interest in Raju's family life, supporting his desire for Hema to grow up with a decent education. Raju's father, Ranganatha, had himself been a driver (prior to retiring). Bangalore is, these days, generally known among its denizens by its now-official name Bangaluru (though not named as such in Lavanya's tale). So: the sestina's final line translates as "Raju of Bangalore."

Raju fondly dreams of his daughter rising out of poverty (via education and subsequent work) to a degree that, one day, she herself might become a May-dum (as suggested in the sestina's Envoy). The story effectively conveys various nuances of the underclass experience in this contemporary Indian setting. The feeling of mutual courtesy between the employer and employee, which figures among the story's central concerns, is brought forward ringingly.

The narrative's arc leads to its concluding incident: a rare visit by the May-dum to both the poor school where Hema studies, as well as to Raju's own humble abode, where she meets with his whole family. This happy occasion finds mention in the poem's 4th stanza.

9 | "Seeking for poetry"       [sestina]

Slowly the day drifts
seeking for poetry
somebody shoplifts
somebody dreams
everything seems
premised on comedy

Lost in the comedy
everything slow-drifts
nobody seems
drunken on poetry
what if in dreams
somebody shoplifts?

Tawdry are shoplifts
tragic their comedy
steep are the dreams
deep are the drifts
snow is like poetry
often it seems

Lately it seems
nobody shoplifts
can there be poetry
lacking all comedy?
pilgrimage slow-drifts
following dreams

Fleeting the dreams
strange how it seems
significance so drifts
maybe it shoplifts?
filching the comedy
cut-pursing poetry

Pickpocket poetry
thievingly dreams
slumberous comedy
yawningly seems
lost in its shoplifts
lorn as the cloud drifts

Poetry seems
a dreaming that shoplifts
comedy cloud-drifts


The reader may note that with this sestina, a third end-rhyme syllable is (for the first time in this cycle) introduced to the form. The sestina's first stanza displays the end-rhyme pattern ABACCB. Short lines (with a mere two stressed syllables per line) streamline the composition into a run of quick clusterings.

The phrase "seeking for poetry" conjures, for me, this classical Chinese poem (in my own translation) by an early 20th century Japanese poet, Imazeki Tempo:

  Sylvan shadows   on the water's gleam   anon the day is calm
  of a single substance   are the dogs & fowl   divided across a pond
  on my bamboo cot   no summer's heat   and the tea-hued screen is still
  and yet   in seeking poetry   I forget the day wears on

8 | "Being's words"         [sestina]

What is the world you bring into view?
where is the dawn and how is the dew?
stones and flowers   worms and birds
time and matter   being's words
everything's old   but everything's new
everything's false   or everything's true

At the beginning   everything's true
slowly all things   you bring into view
nothing is known   so everything's new
how to explain   the dawn and the dew?
thought is enigma   absent are words
yet one may hearken   the discourse of birds

The poet is student of boughs with their birds
these are the sources of meanings most true
based on their model   he places his words
bringing the sense of the bough into view
flowers may glisten   because of the dew
poets must listen   and study the new

Even the old   is nothing but new!
all is an egg   with promise of birds
pearls know the lingo   of flowers and dew
gold is the standard   of meanings most true
boughs are the base of the birds in the view
thanks to the birds   the poet finds words

Water that flows is the model for words
spewed by the clouds   it's naturally new
lately arriving   it floods into view
taking their bath   is a bevy of birds!
every construction of fiction is true
all that the blossoms were lacking was dew

Brief is the hour   when flowers drip dew
short is the while   for fashioning words
swiftly the artisan   seeks for the true
fleetly the morning   shines novel and new
stoutly the bough   holds the visit of birds
deftly the camera's   recording the view

Who will describe   what is true in the view?
can somebody translate   the words of the birds?
all dappled with dew   when the morning is new


As the reader might have noted, the first 7 sestinas in this cycle all follow a rhyme-scheme, in the 1st stanza, of ABABAB. Then of course, due to the way the form's design shuffles the order of word-end-lines in subsequent stanzas, various corresponding shufflings are seen in the rhyme pattern exhibited by those (correspondingly various) subsequent stanzas. But naturally, all the patterns on display (such as BAABBA in stanza 2, ABBABA in stanza 3, AABBAB in stanza 4, etc.) are directly based on that given starting pattern of stanza 1 (ABABAB).

In this sestina #8 -- partly to explore other possibilities of variation -- I have resorted to a new rhyme-scheme in the 1st stanza, viz.: AABBAA. Then, of course, the standard shuffling in the sestina's subsequent stanzas perforce results in various different patterns vis-a-vis the end-rhymes cast up, one by one, in the sestina's series of stanzas (viz., AAAABB in stanza 2, BABAAA in stanza 3, ABAAAB in stanza 4, etc.) So in short, altering the end-rhyme pattern in stanza 1 of a sestina will certainly (and, to my mind, interestingly) alter the whole sequence of patterns cast up by the machine (or if you wish, algorithm) of the poem's form as the composition glides forward through its established formal gauntlet.

7 | "Difficult maps for living"       [doha sestina]

Brief is the span of living
broad is the brush of dying
great is the joy of giving
deep is the raag of sighing
wide is the hope of having
narrow's the lane of crying

Clouds may incline to crying
bugs are absorbed in living
humans are mad for having
everyone's soaked in dying
breezes are softly sighing
nature is always giving

What would the heart be giving?
why would the eye be crying?
when is the time for sighing?
what is the aim of living?
where is the point of dying?
what is the thing worth having?

Anyone could be having
troubles preventing giving
often we're busy dying
now and then briefly crying
rough is the road of living
autumn is often sighing

Kettles of tea are sighing
tables and chairs are having
parties that play at living
borrowing spending giving
chuckling shouting crying
coupling sprouting dying

There will be time for dying
let us be done with sighing
gone are the days of crying
why am I always having
crises? the sky is giving
difficult maps for living

Crying is part of living
sighing may lead to giving
what are the dying having?


This poem is the 2nd sestina in this cycle that employs a doha cadence (the first having been sestina #3).

raag (or raaga): a mode and lattice (and norm for composition or improvisation) having specific qualities, traits and associations, in Indian classical music. (The notion of a "raag of sighing" of course exemplifies poetic license.)

6 | "Your universe"       [sestina]

The heat of the sun burns down
conditions of life are various
I've lived for a time in this town
a life only slightly precarious
I smile forgetting to frown
your universe isn't nefarious

The comic book needs the nefarious
to balance the up with the down
two masks symbol Janus   the frown
the smile   the dramas are various
the plotline is often precarious
like many a tale in this town

The country is yin to the town's
bright yang   neither one is nefarious
one wearies of life long precarious
the tumble goes easily down
with dangers absurd and so various
what wonder if folk wear a frown?

Be happy!   have done with the frown!
there's many delights in the town
the music is lively and various
the papers decry the nefarious
recline on your pillow of down
forget for a time the precarious

To walk along cliffs is precarious
no wonder the walker may frown
it's best if he doesn't look down
his feat is afar from the town
his triumph might quell the nefarious
details of karma are various

Invariably   life is various!
indubitably   it's precarious
but love laves away the nefarious
your smile has vanquished my frown
you fill every nook of the town
we thrill to your up and your down!

At first   there's a various frown
one sees   a precarious town
love pulls   the nefarious down

Friday, August 25, 2006

"Poetry is lying"       [boomerang]

Poetry is lying pure & simple
the one who lies persuasively is best
through poetry my darling has a dimple
forever on her cheek while in her breast
one finds the fondest lilies   have you guessed?
her lips are always ruby! ne'er a pimple
could mar her countenance   my case I rest
that poetry is lying pure & simple


[This admittedly perverse pleasantry was dashed off by way of reply to a short poem entitled "The poet's refusal to be false"]

5 | "In this nocturnal street"       [sestina]

The night is dark and lonely
I walk the quiet street
existence is not only
a place to part and meet
the truth of things rests plainly
the heart's key   is its beat

The officer walks his beat
perhaps his job is lonely
he's dutiful   and plainly
he loves to pace the street
no lover does he meet
who is his one and only?

The sound of words is only
a color   with a beat
but in each word we meet
our union is less lonely
we share this common street
that stares at us so plainly

The voice would wander plainly
and find its solace only
in this nocturnal street
attentive   to the beat
its joy is soft and lonely
its pain   my hope to meet

How rarely do we meet
our fate is tangled plainly
no wonder we grow lonely
perhaps it isn't only
some problem to be beat
our desolation street

The nature of the street
allows that we might meet
no heart but has a beat
as living shows us plainly
yet seems it   I am only
an echo   faint and lonely

The street I walk is plainly
a place to meet you only
when beats your heart thus lonely

4 | "The earthworm crawls"       [sestina]

Again night falls
the summer lates
the world has walls
the mind has gates
the earthworm crawls
we find our fates

So many fates
so many falls
again one crawls
as evening lates
don't bar the gates
the ears have walls

Because of walls
because of fates
because of gates
because of falls
our season lates
the soul yet crawls

Whoever crawls
across the walls
his journey lates
encountering fates
weird waterfalls
deluge the gates

Unbar the gates!
the seeker crawls
whatever falls
encounters walls
they rue their fates
as evening lates

The sojourn lates
I espy no gates
we bear our fates
heart ebbs and crawls
wind wears down walls
love's water falls

What lates soon crawls
past gates and walls
through fates and falls


This is the first of my sestinas wherein the Envoy (final tercet) properly follows the (allegedly orthodox) pattern recommended in this (excerpt from a certain) Handbook to Literature. In point of fact however, it seems that many poets (who give every impression of being serious about the sestina) follow various alternative patterns for the Envoy. It was, anyway, good enough for Rudyard Kipling; but not quite followed by John Ashbery (though fairly close), and less by Anthony Hecht. [Further investigation shows the pattern to have been observed by Arnaut Daniel -- which rather settles the matter for me. See note & link below.]

One finds a prolix repository of sestinas here. The website of the Academy of American Poets has a decent discussion and (limited) survey of the form. The sestina is said to have been invented by that most beloved of Provençal singer-songwriters, Arnaut Daniel.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

3 | "Still are the shaded famished"       [doha sestina]

Many a moon has faded
many a year has vanished
many a tree has shaded
many a belly famished
many a river's waded
many a wastrel's banished

Those who in past were banished
out of our annals faded
no one has lately waded
over toward where they'd vanished
some of us still are famished
hungry for truths unshaded

Memory's dim and shaded
certainty's long since banished
empathy with the famished
never has wholly faded
poetry sometimes vanished?
secretly streams are waded

Those who had dared and waded
willing to see unshaded
quietly they have vanished
seeking for those long banished
tale of this has faded?
belly remains truth-famished

Nosing for news   I'm famished!
where are the ones who waded?
memory grows quite faded
everything seems so shaded
was there a person banished?
every report has vanished!

Even if thoughts have vanished
feelings remain full famished
myth of the hero banished
and of the ones who waded
seeking for life unshaded --
have all these finally faded?

Think of the faded banished!
where have the waded vanished?
still are the shaded famished!


The cadence of the doha verse form (from Hindi prosody) is here integrated into the overall lyric-hypnotic-woven form of the sestina.

2 | "Amid the dark of night"       [sestina]

Amid the dark of night
when all the world is sleeping
not yet a sign of light
no laughter and no weeping
another morning might
be granted for our keeping

The silence we are keeping
within the heart of night
seems meekness   but it might
unloose the knot of sleeping
the dreamer's laughing-weeping
will vanish with the light

Amid the leaves there's light
though dark of green they're keeping
the blueness brings no weeping
but nullifies the night
though many still are sleeping
awaken someone might

The power of dark might
acts differently than light
light gently pulls from sleeping
the soul whom slumber's keeping
but jealous grows the night
the world's woe is its weeping

To understand the weeping
that wracks the halls of might
through many a sleepless night
use surgically the light
intelligence is keeping
while many still are sleeping

There is an hour for sleeping
and some events need weeping
there's gladness in our keeping
our modesty hides might
within the dark lives light
amid the day dwells night

our nights are passed half-sleeping
some might awake by weeping
the light is in our keeping

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

1 | "A maze of dark surprises"       [sestina]

The world has become   a maze of dark surprises
from day to day we move   as through a jungle
the character of the land   who recognizes?
so many things   within our breathing mingle
how curious grow   the puppet's bright disguises
can you break a 20 friend?   I need a single

To grasp the multiple   comprehend the single
but when the two are glimpsed   it wreaks surprises
each season dons   a bevy of disguises
the urban's but   an instance of the jungle
the object of the party   is to mingle
the guest of honor   no one recognizes

Though vague may seem the scene   one recognizes
the moon within the sky   endlessly single
it's true   among the stars she likes to mingle
her course grows far too mythic   for surprises
the field wherein she strolls   is not a jungle
she favors masks from Venice   for disguises

The sun and moon   are famous for disguises
within the beggar   God one recognizes
the wildness in the heart   exceeds the jungle
perchance that's why for penance   we stay single
life's anyway prodigious   with surprises
the fundament of the city   is to mingle

A world is formed   because the atoms mingle
the drama's based on   multiple disguises
both happiness and sorrow   hold surprises
is ignorance   what no one recognizes?
I've managed to live   for fifty summers single
I've failed to build   a palace amid the jungle

Without the animals   where would be the jungle?
the upland petals   down in the lowland mingle
a single thought   is never finally single!
the face itself   is perfect for disguises
without a past   there's naught one recognizes
without a future   who would feel surprises?

All life one recognizes   in the jungle
a billion soft surprises   daily mingle
duality's blithe disguises   hide the single


I'd been vaguely curious to attempt the sestina for a long time, but never got around to it. At last, the occasion of a literary exercise intervened and gave me the push.

My colleague, the critic       [sonnet]

Not willing to suffer fools gladly
he's keen to protect the tradition
at times our exchanges go badly
thank god that he's not my physician!
my heart he would willingly jettison
for a new (far-superior) model
my liver'd go the way of all venison
and when he'd encountered the muddle
I'm pleased to describe as my brain
I'm sure he would weep at the sight
one look would convey all the pain
of agronomists faced with a blight
    but our literary chat doesn't scar
    just as long as he's safely afar


with hat-tips to the redoubtable Jon Aristides

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Cologne"       [riff]

In my last life I must've been an artist
old habits they say die hard
today I'm an artful harakirist
in a vile of cologne hides my swoard

oddly riffing on a poem of Wang Wei's, where he muses about how he (writing such painterly poems) must've been a painter in a former life; this follows from my earlier-blogged "The liquid weapon subterfuge"]

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bill Moyers for President             [political insight]

Molly Ivins, in Austin, Texas, launches the notion and argues the merits:
Run Bill Moyers for President, Seriously
If he runs, he's got my vote.
John Nichols (blogging at The Nation Magazine's website) supports the idea. Ten months ago, Scott Beckman published 10 Reasons Bill Moyers Should Be President. Beckman was likewise writing about the idea last December. However, a visit to the website tersely suggests someone (presumably this must mean, Moyers himself) has discouraged such talk and such an effort. Evidently this hasn't stopped Ivins (who, I vaguely recall, may have been on this idea in past years as well).

Of related interest:
9/11 and The Sport of God
(An address by Bill Moyers / Union Theological Seminary / September 7, 2005)


Meanwhile -- speaking of presidential races -- also in the news is Ségolène Royal, in France:
'Segomania' takes off as Royal stakes her claim for the presidency (The Independent)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Morning verses
after an evening listening to Bhau
  [gnomic noodles]


I am peppermint   I am priest
  I am prasād of candy
I am a palace guard at least
  old and sweet like brandy

I have observed the changing days
  I have beleld the story
I have delighted in love's ways
  thrilled at its secret glory

I am a painter of paradox
  I am a weaver of legends
I am a spurner of politics
  I have endured the dungeons

I am a sprout from Buddha's tree
  a feather on Raama's arrow
I am the mirror of poetry
  echoing   in the marrow

I am a voice lacking a face
  I am a ghost of summer
I am the ash of an empty space
  with lightning bugs a'glimmer


I am Bhau   the potato-man
  my tales are long and deep
the memory of Brahm I am
  I am the verge of sleep

I am the dream   I am the sleep
  I am the shock of waking
I am the maiden prone to weep
  I'm the potato baking

I'm the banana Baba gave
  I am its recollection
I am the King's remorseless slave
  besotted with his perfection

I am a hint of future days
  I am the month of August
I am a wisp of prayer and praise
  I am the vessel's ballast

I am the one who eyed the sun
  and lived to recount the tale
I am the top that madly spun
  I am the dropping veil


A particularly rich season of Bhau Kalchuri's annual tour and talkfest. The poem's first line seemed to linger from a now-forgotten dream. Bhau's epigrammatic "I am a potato" is interesting to ponder whether as symbolist paradigm or by nonsense lyric.

prasād (a blessing-gift in form of a sweet) is pronounced like "prashad" (with stress on 2nd syllable)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Lost in words"       [loose shi sequence]


Reclusion could be closing or an opening
is silence melding question with reply?

cicadas chant   late summer's sonic ripening
what troubles me   what way to say   have I?

I've got to haul myself back into action
I need to work and live before I die

it's commonplace to claim no satisfaction
but I enjoy stray smiles drifting by


Alas   I'm such a brew of contradiction
life buffets those who live it   hapless clouds

cicadas have a knack for choosing diction
they make the very sound their form allows

so apt it proves   it suits the lating season
I've yet to grasp   how time's a string of nows

perhaps there is no place that's not a prison
does breaking free necessitate keen vows?


In poetry I find peculiar solace
I rest within its shade   and sip its water

sometimes it lends a hut   sometimes a palace
sometimes it lets you wed its eldest daughter

it's known for delicate flowers   rife in rivers
it swirls the wayward leaf   down in the gutter

it stows a school of minnows   tight in its quiver
it churns the trove of milk   right into butter


Who hope to find a meaning   lost in words
are panning like the fools   who sift the sand

who listen for a hint   from warbling birds
are pitiful   perhaps in ways unplanned

we wander through the grove   of nouns & verbs
and wonder from what bough   our hearts depend?

we gather random stones or fragrant herbs
as if we had a million moons to spend


vaguely informed by old dabblings in classical Chinese poetry, though not in so formally rigorous (or rigorously formal) a way

"Locality"       [boomerang]

Simply to have a personality
is like sporting a badge of courage
one's the mayor of a principality
who's acquired the habit of porridge
knows traffic & something of commerce
can even beat the drum for his locality
with at times a soupcon of purpose
as befits the human personality

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"hide-and-seek"       [sonnet]

A feeling moves within me
as wind moves in the trees
what happiness is in me!
a leaf is in the breeze

I'm swayed by luring sadness
does meekness make me grand?
how lucid grows my madness!
I've failed to understand

Perhaps the love that sears me
and soothes me is a glimpse
of how my own soul nears me
yet fools me? Ever since

it started its hide-and-seek
I've felt so strong and weak


[This began as an odd exercise -- an attempt to transform to verse a prose-poem that the author (Jon Aristides) dashed off in a satirizing effort to illustrate the literary fallacies and overall banality of poems of a certain ilk. At any rate, my exercise ended up demanding of me a more serious effort of imagination (and an abandoning of both satire and irony, though not of paradox) -- so (in short) the small poem has travelled in a different direction.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Schrödinger's catnip"       [a doha sonnet]

Schrödinger's cat was sitting
probably in her boxment
possibly dead or living?
sign of our paradoxment?

"Open the box!" some clamoured
"Ferret out truth!" some offered
Schrödinger's catnip yammered
"What has our feline suffered?"

Particles are like pingpong
balls that will bounce discretely
waves can behave more singsong
warbling drifting fleetly

Schrödinger smiles all Cheshire
yodeling to let off pressure


herewith a formal hybrid: the doha sonnet -- conforming the specific cadence of the epigrammatic Hindi doha line (with its 7-syllable exactitude, where stress falls on the 1st, 4th and 6th syllables, framed in ABAB rhymed quatrains in traditional dohas) with the meta-structure of a Shakespearean sonnet

Schrödinger's cat (Wikipedia)

Monday, August 14, 2006

re: Steve Reich at 70       [new music news / response]

responsive to Norman Lebrecht's good article "A subtext for deepening confusions: Steve Reich at 70" (in La Scena Musicale)


Enjoyable as the profile of Steve Reich is (and as vital as Reich is) -- and good to learn details of his latest project -- I thought Norman Lebrecht a bit nonsensical in some of his lionizing of the composer, e.g.
Some critics have acclaimed these collaborations as a template for the operatic future, ignoring the inimitability of Reich’s method in combining recorded materials, philosophical teachings, original sound and political engagement.
not to mention the rhetorical end-flourish --
And which other composer, I wonder, is working on a musical subtext for our deepening confusions?

um -- well one is Phil Glass. (One cannot but wish the two guys might have a chat sometime, after all.) Others might include John Adams, Meredith Monk, and some others of kindred ilk. Reich's self-comparisons to Bach and Picasso need not (I'd say) be begrudged. But anyway, he was undoubtedly the beneficiary of a pervasive and influential scene (or la scena, if you prefer -- including antecedent/contemporary minimalist harbingers like Terry Riley and LaMonte Young) -- a scene that made the positive reception of Reich's early innovations possible (just as it presumably helped make some of his creative leaps possible). Why paint the artist as an isolated island? The cartoon mythology of the singular towering genius is dumbly played out by an otherwise perceptive writer (though he also rather missteps in charactderizing Reich's music as "simple" -- as if rhythmic complexity doesn't register on the scale?) But I've not been reading The Lebrecht weekly column -- so don't know what dragons he shadowboxes with. (On the face of it, the point I mention hints at a touch of intellectual laziness; but maybe it's susceptible of other analyses or explanations.)

Still and all, the Daniel Variations (the work combining material from Daniel Pearl and the Book of Daniel -- world-premiering at London's Barbican Centre in October, with the wonderful cellist Maya Beiser) sounds promising indeed. The seriousness of Reich, and his unique relationship to / distinctive approach to the subject -- and the culturally crucial and iconic character of the subject of meditation -- point toward what might prove among Reich's more provocative and significant works.

How it plays out, what he manages to wrest or construct from those challenging materials, is something one awaits hearing. One hopes it gets heard widely and talked about much.


See Reich @ 70 for concert details related to October celebrations of the composer's 70th birthday.


Philosophical Puzzler Hovering in the Background (on reading Lebrecht's piece):
How exactly is it that one may expect combatants in profound global or Middle Eastern morasses to sit down and converse -- if even Steve Reich and Philip Glass are so patently disinclined to make peace with one another?
Of course, Lebrecht's parenthetical report that the rival composers (eternally linked in the realm of newsprint) have not spoken with one another for the past 40 years, might be inaccurate or exaggerated. And naturally, it's none of my business. ;-) Even so, such a question may arise for the thoughtful reader betimes. (On the positive side: perhaps they demonstrate an archetype of the two state solution? Diplomatic relations may be at nadir, but peaceful coexistence is at zenith.)

As Reich remarked (when I interviewed him on the phone 24 years ago -- though not speaking in the above context): basta

"India"       [doha sequence]

India is not solely
pinioned within the present
India is the holy
place of an ancient remnant

Earth that has felt the impress
of Ramachandra's walking
air that has known the silence
and the Lord Buddha's talking

Slow is the play of Maya
swift are the lives of humans
what occurred at Bodhgaya?
where is the light that illumines?

Politics and commotion
industry's irrigation
melding of modern notions
ventilates Bharat's nation

Gandhiji seems a memory?
Nehru a tale forgotten?
listen to Lata's melody
Tansen the raag's begotten


written responsive to a Caferati exercise. August 15 commemorates the independence of the Republic of India (1947; -- hence the annual writing exercise).

about Bodhgaya (Wikipedia)
Lata Mangeshkar (Marathi/Hindi:लता मंगेशकर) (born September 28, 1929) is a singer from India with a career that has spanned more than six decades. She is one of the only two singers (and the only playback singer) to have been awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian honour (the other being legendary classical vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi). Although she sang mainly for Hindi and Marathi films, Lata Mangeshkar's popularity and influence transcends barriers of region and language. She has sung 35 major Indian languages. Lata is also popularly referred to as the 'Nightingale of India' and continues to sing to date in Indian cinema.

from Atta Kim's The Museum Project       [art photography]

Museum Project #001, from the Field series

Museum Project #149, from the Nirvana series

Museum Project #050, from the Prostitute series

Museum Project #008, from the Field series

"By isolating and displaying individuals, The Museum Project addresses issues of surveillance, alienation, vulnerability, and Eastern philosophy." (from a Press Release)

Also: an interview with the artist (The Morning News)


I, too, was born in 1956.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"The glee and the glow"       [gnomic riff]

A rough row you hoe
a tough tow although
the gruff and the sloe-
eyed laugh in the floe

why go with the flow?
why flirt with the foe?
the gnostic may know
the dance of the doe

miraculous dough
depends from the bough!
the glee and the glow
are pleasure enow


-- enow being an archaic variant for (but non-identical in pronunciation to) "enough." My locus classicus for "enow" is Edward Fitzgerald's version of Omar Khayyam's line:
And wilderness were paradise enow
Of course, Fitzgerald (like Coleridge) constructed (in the 19th century) what was to some degree a consciously archaic style. (I suspect very few writers used "enow" so recently as the 19th century, in short.)


The above poem was occasioned by a quatrain riff posted by Mark Granier --
Like the Swedish girl
I used to know,
whose plough was 'pluff'
and tough was 'toe'.
responsive to Ron Silliman's remark,
Though, to my eye, will always rhyme with cough. Plus there is a long (and better) heritage using such abbreviations -- Olson, Duncan, Blackburn, etc.
The antecedents of which latter observation (concerning, inter alia, a reader's cavil against (or, exception taken to) Ron's preferred spelling "tho") can be perused in the relevant comments stream.


The above is how I (mis)recallected the Fitzgerald/Khayyam line. According to one source, this is how Khayyam's rubai reads in Fitzgerald's first edition (1959):

  Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
  A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse -- and Thou
  Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
  And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

This is Fitzgerald's recasting of the verse in his second (more widely-circulated) edition (1868):

  A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
  A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
  Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
  Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

[So: my recollected line combines elements of both Fitzgerald versions. Thus doth memory amalgamate.]


The googled scholar/compiler also offers Wendy Cope's more recent version or riff on the same:
Here with a Bag of Crisps beneath the Bough,
A Can of Beer, a Radio –- and Thou
Beside me half asleep in Brockwell Park
And Brockwell Park is Paradise enow.

Friday, August 11, 2006


to whom one was speaking
was part of the question
but time was limited
who was it speaking?
what was the question?
what was limited?

out of philosophical
inarticulateness flows
what was the question?
that time was limited
was part of the question
to whom was one speaking?

"The liquid weapon subterfuge"         [topical sonnet]

Mace might seem a no-brainer
but nitroglycerine's handy
in an Oil of Olay container
for a shot of explosive brandy
the Evian water ain't water
the shampoo won't do for your coif
if the plotline's wayward daughter
had been covertly cogent enough...
but the liquid weapon subterfuge
lands with premature renown
now be wary applying the rouge
to the face of the naive clown
hello! let's go? one surmises
a future of fluid surprises


vide e.g.:
New York Times
August 11, 2006
Liquid as Weapon? For Many, a Scary Thought

The dread was in the details.

The scheme, the authorities reported, was to transform ordinary things — like energy drink bottles and medicine jars and MP3 players — into the weaponry of mass death. No one had to learn to fly a giant airplane, and just about everyone owns something that could hold a liquid or deliver a small but cataclysmic electrical charge.

With so many foiled plots fading into a blur of alarms, this one penetrated, people said in interviews across the country.

The familiar had become sinister, just as when a man boarded an airplane with explosives hidden in his shoe five years ago.

“I thought, oh, my God, people can carry cans of what appears to be soda and blow up a plane,” said Marcy Scott Lynn, 34, a recent business school graduate in San Francisco. “Who doesn’t walk onto an airplane with a bottle of water? . . .

After posting this poem to a group poetry blog (at cafe' cafe'), I added, as an afterthought, the following rumination:
I find (if one may so comment about one's own coinages) the phrase "the plotline's wayward daughter" interesting. As I try to analyze it or figure it out, one explanation would be: the ideas associated with the successful performance event of 9/11/2001, if considered a "first generation" of creative terrorist conceptual art, in that case, the ideas associated with the carry-on liquid weaponry suicide mission story [subject of the present poem] can be deemed "second generational." Here, the plotline has drifted, evolved or proliferated to new channels (hence, is a "wayward daughter" of the 9/11 plotline: where the word "plotline" has the dual sense of a Hollywoodesque storyline, and the through-line of a nefarious plot). It has become (in its waywardness of derivative astonishments) still more devious and insinuating. It has managed to translate or explode the "terror of mundane objects and commonplace situations" to a more kalaidescopic (and far-reaching) level of development.

From the first astonishment (that a hijacked airplane can be made into a weapon), we have new splinter-astonishments (that a bottle of Evian water can prove to be nitroglycerine [or a componant thereof]). And we have this further waywardness: that while crashing airplanes into buildings may work as a homerun strategy, merely blowing up a dozen planes midair may serve like a series of amazing bunts achieved in tandem. Inherent in my discussion here, is a postulation of certain contemporary terrorists as wayward performance artists and conceptual artists -- converting the discourse of mass destruction into a kind of symbolist argot, whose medium is the news media and the globalized buzz, as much as it is the hazarded lives of participants and bystanders, planes and buildings. (More songs about food and buildings. Or Evian and the Atlantic.)

The conceptual movement here under study (as might be true of the second genrational level for many art historical movements -- think of post-minimalism, post-impressionism, neo-classicism, post-avant, post-anything) has taken the original motif or gist and given it a new twist (and thereby, presumably a new lease on life. For every esthetic movement must fight against forces of attrition to stay vital and viable.) Artistic success would not suffice itself with mere replication. Some thematic development is expected. Though the basics of adjustment to the changing needs of changing challenges, is a through-line, and the daughter shows in her visage familiar genetic traits of the forebear.

A further note about these lines (the 2nd of which I've now slightly revised -- which revision occasions the further rumination) --
if the plotline's wayward daughter
had been covertly cogent enough...
Originally the line read (rather more banally) "had been cleverly covert enough." To be covert is an obvious need. But to be cogent (convincing, or effective as discourse) is also a need. In this case, though, the practical challenges of a plot are treated as the manifestations of rhetorical challenges; and their solution in practice is the equivalent of a solution in thought. This is true of art in general, and the art of terrorism in particular.


It need hardlby be added that I do not in fact, on a literal level, wish to conflate these two arts (or two sorts of art). Yet they might well and usefully be conflated rhetorically (albeit transiently) in the manner of a thought-exercise. For although the sphere of art's operation (even conceptual art) ultimately differs in obvious ways from the sphere of operation of the violent political operative (and of the thinkers behind his actions), there are perhaps curious aspects of their metaphorical likeness (or, let's say, of their analogic similarity) that might at times oddly illuminate facets of the respective language (or strategic symbolism) explored by each.

"Where has Priyanka wandered?"       [boomerang song]

Where has Priyanka wandered?
she's somewhere in Massachusetts
one assumes   (if one has pondered
the question of whither she's wandered)
or possibly   one intuits
Rhode Island's vague plausibility
Massachusettsean volatility?
but Priyanka wouldn't be squandered
by Massachusettsean sociability
(here thought assumes some agility
life is decorous in its fragility) --
but where has Priyanka wandered?

"The radio in Los Angeles"         [penta-sonnet]

To me Los Angeles   is about listening to the radio
listening to the radio   is fundamental to Los Angeles
I came to consciousness   listening to the radio in
Los Angeles   the world for me opened in Los Angeles
listening to the radio   the radio in Los Angeles

tonight I listen to the radio   Johann Sebastian Bach
thanks to William Berger   broadcasting from New York
New York is not Los Angeles   while I'm anyway not in
New York   internet radio now renders Los Angeles
or New York accessible   anywhere (thus Washington)

and why do I think of Los Angeles when listening
to Johann Sebastian Bach on the internet radio?
why is the radio all about Los Angeles?   why is
Johann Sebastian Bach   about Los Angeles?
coming to consciousness in Johann Sebastian Bach

or in Los Angeles   I'm listening to the radio
listening to the radio   as if in Los Angeles

written to: English Suite No. 5 in E Minor (Glenn Gould)

this can be deemed the first "penta-sonnet" (hereby a new form)
readers of this blog may be aware I often write rhymed sonnets; but this need not preclude sometimes writing unrhymed ones

I was unaware that the amiable William Berger (classical music radio host on WNYC) is the author of such books as Puccini Without Excuses (2005), Verdi With a Vengeance (2000), and Wagner Without Fear (1998).

What might be the next title? Scriabin With Scruples. Or Satie With Sangfroid? Or Brahms With Benefit? But I've missed the mark. (Berger's books focus on opera.)


Technically, I never lived in Los Angeles (the city), but did live in the County (and, listened to radio stations coming from what seemed Los Angeles proper). I was in Altadena when this formative radio-listening (around age 10-12) happened -- Altadena being a small suburb (one of many dozens) clustered around Los Angeles.

General Theorom         [epigrammatic boomerang]

The testing of the possible by the actual
transpires every moment of the day
the proving of the fictional by the factual
occurs within imagination's sway
one seeks to find a sense of what's okay
who ponder this a lot are intellectual
what if improvisation had its say?
the testing of the possible by the actual

"Not yet dead"           [rubai]

Not yet dead   I'm on my way to work
time has sped   & not as some mere quirk
favoring frequent departures   evermore flowing
dreams have fled   but still am I berserk

(jotted while awaiting morning bus)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tansen / Surdas / Haridas       [painting]

The fine website shows this delightful depiction of vocalist forebears on its vocal music page.

Tansen, the music student (who was the favorite court singer for Emperor Akbar) is seen in foreground. I presume the poet-saint-singer Surdas is the chap with turban, while the great forest-dwelling composer-singer Haridas is the ascetic fellow with the tamboura. From the lineage of such singers comes the Hindustani music known to the world today. And what they developed, itself flowed down from unseen antiquity.


Regarding the poetry of Surdas, one bio-note says:
Surdas was very prolific composer in his life. He is known for his "Sur Sagar" (Ocean of Melody). This magnum opus is said to originally contain 100,000 poems or songs; however, today only 8000 have survived.

It is interesting to note that Surdas' poetry was in the language of Brij Bhasha. This dialect of Hindustani was considered to be a very crude language. At the time, the literary languages were primarily Persian and Sanskrit. Sur Das' work is one of a number of works that is credited with raising Brij Bhasha from the status of a vulgate into that of a literary language.

The philosophy of Surdas' work is a reflection of the times. He was very much immersed in the Bhakti movement that was sweeping India. This movement represented a grass roots spiritual empowerment of the masses. Surdas in particular was a proponent of the Shuddhadvaita school of Vaishnavism (also known as Pushti Marg). This is no doubt due to the training he received under his spiritual Guru Sri Vallabhacharya. This philosophy is based upon the spiritual metaphor of the Radha-Krishna Lila (The celestial dance between Radha and Lord Krishna). This is derived from earlier saints such as the great Kabir Das.
Well observed -- except that last sentence doesn't ring quite right. Surdas might indeed have owed much to Kabir -- but not, I think, involving the Radha-Krishna Lila (an imagery that was by and large spurned by Kabir, who favoring worship of the attributeless God).

This website offers English renderings of 30 short songs by Surdas (but fails to note who the translator is, nor does it give the poems in the original language).

But the Wikipedia entry about Surdas gives two songs in the original, with transliteration and translation. Nice to note that dharo / karo / paro / kharo / bharo / paro / hagaro / Taro. Makes one want to find out what each word means . . .

Ah, and this RAAGA site has audio clips of some Surdas songs in renditions by Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, and Ashwini Bhide. Except the "jukebox" isn't working for me. But the same 7 songs (all from a film about Surdas, evidently) can be heard here. Very filmi -- a young Bhimsen Joshi, seems. (I suppose it may be from the 1978 film.) Bhimsen Joshi's second song ("Khelat Shyam") is particularly nice (rendered with bansuri and saranghi). What is the raag?
mmm, the fourth song ("Maharaj Bhavani") is quite nice too -- a style of bhajan that I associate a bit with Bharata Natyam (and to my ears, it hints at Karnatic style, though others might not agree). Evidently something about Shankara (Siva).
The second song done by Jasraj ("Shyam Bina") is the most classical of these (presented with sitar interludes) -- the sort of thing one might hear toward the close of a classical concert. But they keep the best for last, with Ashwini Bhide's leisurely-paced (vilambit), fine rendition of "Sundar Vadan" (in some sort of mishra raag) -- pity (at 5 min.) the song's so brief. ["Sundar" I know to mean beauty. "Vadan" I find to mean (variously) speech, mouth, face, worship, prayer. So is this a song about beautiful words, a beautiful face, or a beautiful prayer?]

On second thought, I suppose it may be Haridas and Tansen who are the guys (turbaned) who go to visit the blind forest-singer with shaved head (Surdas) -- though (from this somewhat fuzzed image) the bald fellow seems to have eyes open, and the turbaned oldster doesn't. Will the real Surdas please stand up?

"Facing the basic puzzle" (meditation & decision)  [dohas]

Facing the basic puzzle
searching for real solutions
letting the nonsense fizzle
leaving aside distortions
somewhere a crow is cawing
automobiles are rumbling
what if the heart is thawing?
maybe it's time for rambling

"Frying of fish" (a week before payday & broke)   [dohas]

Happy when food is present
grumpy when feeling famished
whether in king or peasant
bellies don't like to vanish

Frying of fish brings gladness
such a distinct aroma
lacking of funds brings sadness
such are the ways of karma

August is where the sun is
sitting atop the building
life is like sculpting pumice
happy when it proves yielding

Simple are human pleasures
yet they're no easy targets!
everyone dreams of treasures
everything ends in maggots

Patience is worth the trouble
poise is a lucky buddy
nothing in lieu of double?
wonderful roads are muddy

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Time" (in 5 variations)       [dohas]

Time is a spendthrift miser
generous yet unwilling
here an abundant geyser
there in a draught that's killing

Time is a surreal river
running from unseen places
bathe and enjoy the shiver
writing it soon erases

Time is a loaded question
Russian roulette it favors
in its despotic bastion
everyone slaves and labors

Time is a gangland contract
no one's allowed to leave it
everything grows so compact
soon no one's left to grieve it

Time is a nonsense story
told with a nanny's gusto
fabulous till she's weary
work of an unsung maestro

Trishanku in limbo       [doha]

Hovering in his limbo
bordering earth and heaven
pity Trishanku's gamble
irony's sorry haven


The tale of King Trishanku (found amid the Ramayana) presents a rich image offering many lines of interpreation. His desire to translate his earthly body to the heaven-world seems to carry a different meaning and resonance from, say, that of the Christian myth of the bodily ascent of the Savior (although ostensibly presenting a kindred idea). On the other hand, the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation seems in many respects usefully comparable to concepts associated with the Hindu custom of prasād.

Comparative religion is ultimately inexact as science but heuristic as art. ;-)

"The space before the period"       [boomerang]

[Simon Pettet] was actually born in the U.K., tho the only evidence for it you might find in his work is a tendency to set a number of works into palpably European settings – which is not so different, say, from a Harry Matthews – and a willingness on occasion to rhyme, tho only in spots. Viz:

It all passes
Ah, but the lasses
These bodies
shall decompose

All’s grey
inside and outside
The bird in the bush is

the mad piper,

as are
The cows in the field .
Part of what makes me trust this poem as much as I do is the space between the final word & the period, a gap that captures the unhurried aspect of pastoral, a literary device one associates with Paul Blackburn & which is not much in use today.

        -- Ron Silliman

The space before the period
the basis of trust there hovers
the words (though few or myriad)
are epiphenomenal covers
tho food might pile on platters
where void of salt one's werièd
no score without bullseye batters
the caesura before the period !

Sarasvatī w/ eponymous vina       [painting]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"Outstanding!"   (8 ironic epigrams)     [dohas]

Day follows day in sequence
night follows night in order
scarcely I grasp a pittance
isn't life covert murder?

Failing to marshall efforts
lacking good sense and wisdom
showing nor worldly profits
niether the depth of is-dom

"Even to reach that tree branch
seems quite a feat!" the dove quips
"Right!" the cicada laments
"What's with those cosmic joy trips?"

Summer at length brings autumn
winter in turn shall follow
who can tell top from bottom?
no one knows full from hollow!

Though I've ideas for action
chaos impedes their landing
everything stays sheer fiction
irony laughs "outstanding!"

Even the great make errors
even the keen have blindspots
all may resort to prayers
playwrights enjoy entwined plots

Even with imperfections
honest and patient striving
leads to serene reflections
even if short of thriving

Comedy blooms in trouble
howlers are born with hazard
"sorry to pop your bubble!"
murmurs the desert buzzard


the 3rd verse alludes to Zhuang-zi's story of the mighty mythical bird called Peng (who rises to a hight of 90 leagues before fully spreading his wings; then he heads toward the distant southern ocean) --
A cicada and a young dove laughed, saying, "Now, when I fly with all my might, 'tis as much as I can do to get from tree to tree. And sometimes I do not reach, but fall to the ground midway. What then can be the use of going up ninety thousand li to start for the south?"
-- from "A Happy Excursion"

Monday, August 07, 2006

some paintings (Ramayana)       [paintings]

The work with Tulsidas dohas (verses) got me interested in googling for various depictions of the figures in the Ramayana. I'll park a few interesting paintings here (with links to their sources).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

16 Wise Quatrains from Tulsidas       [dohas]


The name of Lord Raam's a Unit
our power to say is Zero
put One before Zero   Ten it!
else Zero will stay mere Zero!


Lord Raam is the Lord of monkeys
he sits 'neath the tree   they branch-sit
he treats them as darling flunkies
who's heard of a Lord so compassionate?


When green   all the kine come grazing
with fruit   many folk come dining
when dry   people use for kindling
Raam comes to you for   refining

[the intended sense seems to be: any plant or tree is used by beings and persons as suits their passing needs; whatever they can get from it, they'll get. Similarly, all beings come to us to satisfy their selfish desires. Only Raam comes to us purely for the sake of our own benefit, not to help himself. In this respect, he differs. But then, the devotee may understand that all aspects of his experience -- the promise of the leaf, the fulfillment of the fruit, the desolation and burning of the weary branch -- all of these embody experimental phases of an underlying process of refinement that Raam performs for the soul's ultimate perfection.]


When sun is afar   shade deepens
when sun is on high   it's absent
Illusion expands when distant
from Raam   When he's near it's tacit

shade: i.e., the shadow of the person.
[One notes that ideas and figures of speech found in several of Tulsidas's dohas -- including this one, as well as the first verse at top (the mathematical conceit) -- are elaborated and expanded on by Meher Baba in discourses such as those found in The Everything and the Nothing (1963.)
We know Meher Bwba spent seven years under the guidance of Sadguru Upasni Maharaj, early on. Encountering these specific, familiar poetic / philosophical / metaphysical tropes in Tulsidas's dohas, I couldn't help but passingly wonder whether perchance Upasni might not have had the habit of reciting verses from Tulsidas and Kabir -- although perhaps ultimately the common stock of available metaphors and similies in Indian spiritual lore is pervasive enough as to obviate any certainty of pointing to s specific a source. Still, I wonder.]


Lord Raam wore bark-clothes in exile
ate forest-fruits   grass his bolster
gave Lanka to King Vibheeshan
each action reveals his nature

grass his bolster: that is, he slept on the ground. The scene when Raam, Lakshman and Sita all don clothes made from bark or leaves (at the beginning of their exile), is perhaps among the most heart-rending in the Ramayana.
about Vibhishan (Wikipedia)

[Jatayu with Raam and Sita at the Panchevati Hermitage, in peaceful times. The illustration is an example of Kangra painting.]


Times gone many died   folks die now
and myriad shall croak mañana!
what death was like kind Jatayu's?
he perished protecting Sita

times gone: in the past
mañana (Spanish): tomorrow
about Jatayu (Wikipedia). Among ideas Tulsidas refined in his reconception of the Ramayana, was his idealisation of several figures in the drama (including Lakshman, Jatayu, Hanuman, Vibhishan) as archetypes of attitudes and behaviors devotees may admire and emulate. In several dohas, he boils these principles down to sharp pictures -- such as this, pointing to Jatayu's suicidal and chivalrous self-sacrifice in the cause of seeking to protect Sita, the consort of his friend and Lord Raam (against the abduction perpetrated by Raam's nemesis, Ravan).


The Goddess of Expectation
is quite an ironic marvel!
who serve her gain lamentation
who spurn her grow free of trouble


The savvy   the brave   the noble
the poet   and others gentle --
who hasn't been proved ignoble
by greed?   Mr. detrimental


There's kama and krodh and kanchan
three enemies dark and busy!
the pious and thoughtful person
because of these grows so dizzy!

kama, krodha, kanchana (Skt.): lust, greed and anger


A horrible snake that zigzags
black skin and its tongue quick-flutters
will show itself meek and docile
if hearing soft speech that flatters


The thing we admire   seems sacred
if useless it seems   a bum deal
a tooth in the mouth   is pearlèd
it falls on the ground?   it's bonemeal!


Abiding with gentlepersons
the callous remains a villain
a snake in the sandal forest
is nonetheless filled with poison

[The above is the preferred version I arrived at after editing. My initial version -- which perchance follows more closely the sequence of thought in the original? -- is seen here for comparison:
A badguy is mean though dwelling
in company with sweet persons
a snake in the sandal forest
is nonetheless filled with poisons ]

[Raam chasing the magic deer]


A noble whose death is noble
a villain who dies still vile --
Jatayu the first case symbols
Marich shows the second style

about Maricha (Wikipedia). When Raam's arrow felled the deer (deceptive transformation-form assumbed by Ravan's magician-counselor Marich), this spelled the death noted by Tulsidas. But by then, he had done his damage: having lured Raam away, so that Ravan could perpetrate his machinations on the hapless Sita. Thus Jatayu (striving to protect Sita) and Marich (a party to her peril) typify in the circumstances of their deaths the symbolism or intention embodied in their deeds while living.


If wary to spend one penny
when facing the hour of need
a billion of later money
will fail to redress that deed

[Again, the above is a revised and favored version. My grapples with the verse also included this attempt:
If failing to give one penny
when scarcity's need is present
a billion of later money
will scarcely redeem that moment
However, the version with "need" and "deed" is deficient in terms of prosody (the 2nd and 4th lines lack a final syllable, thus failing the strict form established in the rest of the verses in this sequence). I may yet need to work on this one some more.]


In love's test   stone's first   sand's second
and water comes last     (inscribe them --
stone's line stays   sand's lingers   water's
is gone)     in hate's test   reverse them

[In this epigram, the poet notes how a line etched in stone will last forever, one drawn in sand will linger but disappear after a time, while one written on water will proverbially vanish at once. This range, he suggests, is applicable to degrees of durability or evanescence in love -- with the permanance of stone representing the ideal condition of love's enduring dedication and continuity. In the case of hatred, he suggests one should adopt an opposite standard: where the ideal, with regard to a condition of aversion or animousity, is to forget it at once (as with writing on water), rather than holding onto the experience. It seems the appeal of the pleasantry lies partly in the poem's extreme concision (its broad principles deftly limned in so telegraphic a fashion), and partly in its little surprise (almost a conceit) of moral symmetry (where the opposite emotions call for inverted scales of value). Even though I failed to pull this verse into a proper doha rhyme-scheme [ABAB], I'm still happy at having at least delineated the poem's sequence of ideas while adhering (though a bit choppily) to the requisite, clipped cadence.]


A guy stubs his toe on stone   ouch!
can't punish the stone!   shreds pillows
at home     In this Age such flourish
they threaten   outside   their fellows

this Age: more particularly, Tulsidas references the Kali Yuga (a thing he was wont to do, indeed a veritable theme in his work.) [The poet notes that in this Age, such irrational and negative behavior is not confined to the home and its pillows; rather, it is converted into many a hazard to society and the world at large. The man stubbing his toe and destroying pillows offers an instructive figure for the absurd phenomenon -- and for a behavioral pattern whose consequences can be noted in our daily newspapers.]


source of Tulsidas verses -- including very literal prose translations done by Dhananjay Kadwane (to whom, thanks). Those served as my basis for re-rendering into these more formal English verses. [Regrettably I cannot read the olden Hindustani nor the modern Hindi. Hopefully I have attached the correct Devanāgarī graphics to the respective verses above.]