Book Excerpt: The Alphabets of Latin America- A Carnival of Poems by Abhay K.


A preview from The Alphabets of Latin America: A Carnival of Poems by Abhay K. (Bloomsbury, 138 pages, ISBN 9789389867909, Paperback)

The Alphabets of Latin America is collection of poems by poet-diplomat Abhay K. written during his travels across Latin America between 2016-2019. Organized alphabetically from A-Z,it takes you on a roller coaster ride to one of the most culturally and geographically fascinating continents known for its legendary Maya and Inca civilizations, sizzling Samba and Tango, the world’s biggest carnivals, labyrinths of Borges, magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, great poetry of Ruben Dario, Pablo Neruda , Gabriela Mistral, Cesare Vallejo, Octavio Paz, fascinating art of Frida Kahlo and Fernando Botero, among others.

Well-known British poet Ruth Padel writes about The Alphabets of Latin America

“These snapshot poems evoking the flora, fauna, landscape and history of a turbulent continent – memories of an observant poet-diplomat organized in playful alphabetic order from anacondas to a Borges mirror, the Nazca Lines of Peru to the quetzal, samba and tango, finishing in Mexico’s Plaza del Zócalo – are a glowing riot and a carnival all in themselves,” while the noted poet Zoe Brigley Thompson says- “The Alphabets of Latin America is a cornucopia of delights, written by a poet who has devoted time and attention to studying, recording, and capturing experiences of place.

The book is dedicated to the great poet-diplomats of the past, and Abhay K. follows in their footsteps. Many of the poems are devoted to the continent’s writers, and in interrogating their stories, Abhay K. is always thoughtful and ethical; for example in his poem about Pablo Neruda, he does not shy away from more problematic aspects of his biography. What is particularly striking is that while Abhay K. does not avoid hard truths (like exploitation by colonialism), he also celebrates the joy, the vivacity, the splendour, and beauty of Latin America in this comprehensive A to Z. These are sensuous, thoughtful, playful poems, which show great devotion to a continent, its peoples, its writers, and ways of living.”                                               

Here are seven poems from The Alphabets of Latin America: A Carnival of Poems on Latin American women ranging from the first Latin American Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral to Victoria Ocampo who hosted poet Rabindranath Tagore in her villa near Buenos Aires during his trip to Latin America.  It includes poems on iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Brazilian poet Cecilia Meireles  who visited India and wrote a collection of poems during her India visit titled ‘Poemas Escritos na India’ and writer Clarice Lispector, who is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

Botero’s Women

—Abhay K.

are

bare colossal delights

exaggerated flaunting

ginormous hyperbole

inflated jumbos

Kafkaesque

lustful

mythical

nudes

out of proportion

political at times

quetzal like resplen-

-dent rotund satirical

towering urgent

voluptuous

whimsical

xeroxed

yearning

zoomorphic

but not fat.


Cecilia Meireles

—Abhay K.

“The afternoon wind comes and goes between India and Brazil tirelessly.” -Cecilia Meireles

India in my heart

and mind, I set  out

on the high seas

sailing with the wind,

Gandhi and Tagore,

long gone, but

I hope to see Nehru

and India’s glorious cities—

Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bombay

the ghats of the holy Ganges

in Patna and Benares

and for a while the streams

of the Amazon and the Ganges

unite and flow together,

Rio and Calcutta speak

to each other, Sao Paulo

and Bombay samba together,

the cows of Brazil return

home to meet their long lost cousins

and the afternoon wind comes and goes

between India and Brazil tirelessly.


Clarice Lispector

—Abhay K.

“The terrible duty is to go to the end.”- Clarice Lispector

Clarice comes in my dreams

walking on water

her body light

as an autumn leaf in mid-air

I ask her about her mother

she utters very slowly—pogroms

I ask her about her father

she says—a botched operation

I ask her about her sisters

she says—their husbands

I ask her about her husband

she looks at her sons and says nothing

I wake up

smothered by her silence.


Frida Kahlo

—Abhay K.

“I joyfully await the exit—and I hope never to return.”Frida Kahlo

A paralyzed hummingbird

wearing a necklace of thorns

her tiny fluttering wings

painting the canvas

a crashed wooden bus

scattered bones

blood and water

a green frog swims in it

its eyes large and red,

a blue house on its tongue

lovers hover around

summer flies

a lady wrapped in yellow

butterflies in Manhattan

at the peak

of the Great Depression

a malevolent Paris

an empty Louvre

with just one painting

pink and white

an elephant trumpets alone

a flying bed, a silent

Frida lies where

a beam of light leaps out.


Gabriela Mistral

—Abhay K.

After Dame la Mano

Read me your poem and we shall float

freely across the cosmos like a comet,

read me your poem and I’ll be blessed

like a butterfly drunk on nectar

We shall drink the same verse

from the fountain of the universe

like two hummingbirds in mid-air

like two hummingbirds, nothing more

You’re swift wind, and I am a fearless horse

and we shall leap together to the moon

because we are two bodies

but one soul and nothing more.


Victoria Ocampo

—Abhay K.

An ailing poet, sheltered

in her home, her heart

she— his Vijaya,

his poetry, his life

Victoria and Tagore,

two souls dancing in ecstasy

Purabi blowing incessantly

between India and Argentina.

Vijaya : Victoria

Purabi: Easterly wind


Yemanja

—Abhay K.

The Yoruba goddess

emerges out of water

the city walks to her

with joyous screams

her body covered

with offerings—

pure white roses,

corn-meal, water-melons—

the creator goddess

protector of seamen,

gives her blessings to all

with cowrie shells in her hands.


About the author

Abhay K. (b.1980) is the author of a memoir and eight poetry collections including The Seduction of Delhi,The Eight-Eyed Lord of Kathmandu, The Prophecy of Brasilia and The Alphabets of Latin America. He is the editor of CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have been published in over 60 literary journals across the world including Poetry Salzburg Review. He received the SAARC Literary Award in 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in Washington DC in 2018. His poem- song ‘Earth Anthem‘ has been translated into over 50 global languages and is performed across the world. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and Ritusamhara from Sanskrit. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Magic of Madagascar.