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Sometimes the best way to read is to mark up the book

Nineteen years old, I sat at a long table in a small room, a poem in front of me. “Harry Ploughman” by Gerard Manley Hopkins felt impenetrable. A jumble of syntax. Frequent semicolons and dashes choked my reading. While I listened to my professor speak about Hopkins and Robert Bridges, I noticed her own copy of the poem was littered with pencil streaks and pen jabs. My copy was pale. Unmarked, and truly, unread.

In order to understand writing, I have to annotate it. I started with Hopkins. I bought a used edition of his selected poetry and prose, and started writing in the margins of the beige pages. This wasn’t defacing; this was an act of communion.

There’s a difference between line-editing and annotating. When we edit—when we are edited—the goal is to transform a draft into something better, something finished. When I annotate a poem, I am receiving words that have been formed and felt and hoped. “Harry Ploughman” exists without my acknowledgment or enjoyment. I’m there to learn from Hopkins. “Hard as hurdle arms,” the poem’s first phrase, is enough for me to linger on—and we’re a few stanzas away from the combined word “Amansstrength.”

In order to appreciate Hopkins, I had to walk my pencil among his phrases. The spirit of his lines opened; that is not to say that all of his mysteries were revealed, but I could follow the turns of his rhythms. “He leans to it, Harry bends, look.” When I marked that final word of the phrase, the terse stop of look, I was documenting the poet’s accomplishment. Annotation can be an action of reverence.

Ever since, it’s been impossible for me to read a book, or analyze a poem, or follow the routes of an essay without underlining, circling, drawing arrows, making notes in the margins. Most writers and readers I know love to mark up their pages.

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Poetry: Letters and Things by Shivani Gupta

Letters and Things by Shivani Gupta

Shivani Gupta

 

Shivani Gupta works as a Design Researcher at Studio 5B, Mumbai. She is a trained performance artist, with a background in dance, theatre and spoken-word poetry. She is passionate about working with people and dedicated to understanding and predicting what motivates human behaviour.


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A Marathi power loom worker’s poems, written to the sound of machines, have been winning awards

Why does poverty enter my house, and not that pucca house there?” asked 60-year-old Mohammad Naikavadi. “Well, my next poem is on poverty, my close friend.”

A retired loom worker from Rendal, a village in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, Naikavadi is a rural poet with six published books. He has written close to 3,000 poems about life in the countryside on themes such as poverty, plight of workers, humanity, people’s lives, art, environment, pollution and nationalism, among others.

His book Vedna (Anguish), a collection of 65 poems, was published in 2014 by Sanmitra Prakashan, Kolhapur, and won a Karvir Sahitya Parishad Award in 2016Naikavadi has also presented a few of his poems at Akhil Bharatiya Muslim Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, an annual conference on Marathi literature, in 2011 and, again, in 2016.

“I am a poor man,” he said. “I’ve bought this register recently in which I can write my poems properly. Earlier, I used to collect the advertisement pamphlets which came in newspapers and wrote on the blank side.”

Shyam Kurale, a litterateur from Kolhapur, reviewed three of Naikavadi’s books – AamraaiJach and Gavran – in 2007. In the Marathi daily Pudhari, Kurale wrote:

“The colours, appearance and smell of the trees grown in city gardens differ from the colours, appearance and smell of the trees growing naturally in jungles. The poems from Gavran, written by Naikavadi, bring the same natural feel. You will find a variety of poems like LavaniAbhang, poems on nature, love, social issues in [this] poetry collection. The subjects, context and expressions of the poems [in Jach] are the best compositions of the poet… Aamraai is the poet’s collection of nursery rhymes, with very good subjects regarding the emotions of children. The poet has written the songs for children considering the changing world, which makes them unique.”

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PEN Myanmar: Pushing free expression reform and revitalizing literature

…….

What is a project that you have been working on in recent months?

PEN Myanmar always strives to find a balance between revitalizing Myanmar literature, and defending and promoting freedom of expression. All of our projects fall into these two categories. In 2016, for example, we released seven statements urging the new government – specifically the News Media Council, the parliaments and the military – to respect the media freedom and to ensure free expression as a fundamental human right. Responding openly to the assassination of U Ko Ni, the senior advisor of NLD, in January of this year was another big call for justice made by PEN Myanmar.

On top of that, we have been working on a media development legal reform to the News Media Law 2014 and sent our comments and recommendation to the Citizen Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee under the Upper House (the House of Nationality). The Committee is reviewing our comments and will pass it to the Bill Committee. PEN Myanmar will be involved throughout the amending process as one of the stakeholder. Also, our Publishers Circle has been working on the repeal of the Printing and Publishing Enterprises Law.

Moreover, PEN Myanmar legal review committee is working on amending country’s other repressive laws and tools that undermine free expression, which includes advocating for the abolishment, editing or amending with public consensus of the following:  the Telecommunications Law, the Electronic Transaction Act, the Privacy Law and encouraging the formation of the Right to Information law.

A free expression environment that fosters informed dialogue, protects open debate, and promotes government transparency and accountability is a crucial foundation for democratic reform. In mid-November 2016, PEN Myanmar got together with experts from partner organizations to reflect on the state of free expression in Myanmar midway through the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s first year. As a result, we produced The Freedom of Expression “scorecard” aimed to assess the progress – or lack thereof – by the new government in the key areas of free speech, media freedom, information access, and freedom of assembly. The scorecard report was released on 3 December at PEN Myanmar Annual General Conference. The one year report will be released in early May, 2017. This will be the yearly activity and PEN Myanmar will extend its networks and invite more media organizations to make the assessment report more inclusive.

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Poetry: Matrices by Rony Nair

Matrices by Rony Nair

Rony Nair

Rony Nair’s been a worshipper at the altar of prose and poetry; they have been the shadows of his life, the bedsit at the end of a long day; the repository that does the sound of silence inimitably well. Rony works as an oil and gas Risk Management consultant and has travelled extensively, fronted dangers often. But that’s his day job, the one that pays for bread and bills.

Rony was a published columnist with the Indian Express. He has been published by Sonic Boom, Quail Bell Magazine, YGDRASIL journal, Mindless Muse, Yellow Chair Review, Two Words For, New Asian Writing (NAW), Semaphore, The Foliate Oak Magazine, Open Road Magazine, Tipton Review, Antarctica Journal, North East Review, Muse India, and YES magazine, among others. He cites V.S Naipaul, A.J Cronin, Patrick Hamilton, Alan Sillitoe, John Braine and Nevil Shute and F.S. Fitzgerald as influences on his life; Philip Larkin, Dom Moraes and Ted Hughes as his personal poetry idols. Larkin’s’ collected poems would be the one book he would like to die with.


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Chinese Rhymes

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the Chinese language—with all its dialects, creoles, sister languages, and God knows what all—has changed a great deal in the last, oh, three thousand years. We have quite a bit of Chinese poetry from way back in there, and if I understand things correctly, the Chinese still like it. A generalization, but I’ll venture it. And indeed, there were centuries wherein one could not even pretend to be educated unless one could recognize at a glance any reference to any of the 305 poems in the oldest Chinese poetry anthology, the Shijing. This, despite the fact that what came out of your mouth when you recited the poems was quite drastically different from what the stuff sounded like when it was composed, a thousand, two thousand years before you got a hold of it. And here we come to the heart of the matter.

You would think that what I’m going to call “rhyme spoilage” would be a constant threat to classical Chinese poetry—and you’d be right. Those examples I gave of rhyme spoilage in English? The oldest specimen up there is about four hundred years old. What would happen if we looked at samples of English rhyming that were five times as old as that? (Which, of course, is impossible, since both the English language and rhyming poetry did not exist in Europe two thousand years ago.) You might think all Zhou dynasty rhymes would have been obliterated by now. But you’re in for a surprise. We’ll just look at one example.

Here is an English translation (by Burton Watson) of one of the most famous poems from the Shijing:

Peach tree young and fresh,
bright bright its blossoms:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do well in her home.

Peach tree young and fresh,
plump are its fruits:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do well in her rooms.

Peach tree young and fresh,
its leaves lush and full:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do right by her people

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Poetry: Rain Elegy 1 by Pitambar Naik

Rainy Elegy by Pitambar Naik

Pitambar NaikPitambar Naik was born and brought up in Odisha in India, educated in Sambalpur University for a BA and in Osmania University for an MA in Journalism. He is an advertising copywriter.  He writes poems and short fiction in English, he has been featured in journals such as Brown Critique, Spark Magazine, CLRI, Indian Review, Indian Ruminations, IMRJ, Poem Hunter UK, Forward Poetry UK, Muse India, HEArt Online in USA etc. He is based in Hyderabad and can be reached at pitambarbharati@rediffmail.com, bharatipitambar@gmail.com


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Book Excerpt: Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual & Erotic Longing

Love and the Turning Seasons

Jayadeva

The twelfth-century Gīta-govinda of Jayadeva has a reputation as the last great poem in the Sanskrit language. It holds two other distinctions. First, it appears to be the first full account in poetry of Radha as Krishna’s favorite among the gopis or cowgirls of Vrindavana. Secondly, it seems to be the first historical instance of poetry written with specified ragas or musical modes assigned to its lyrics. The poem-cycle occurs in twelve cantos with twenty-four songs distributed among them, about 280 stanzas in total. It presents the love affair of Krishna and Radha as an acutely human love affair, from initial “secret desires” and urgent lovemaking to separation — nights of betrayal, mistrust, longing, feverish anguish, strange Imaginings — and finally to a consummation as spiritual as it is carnal. Jayadeva’s birthplace is uncertain — some think Orissa, some Mithila, some Bengal. Accounts make it clear he had carefully trained himself as a poet in the Sanskrit tradition, learnéd and in command of classical metrics, when he took a vow to wander as a homeless mendicant, to sleep no more than one night under any tree. On this endless pilgrimage he passed through the coastal city of Puri in Orissa State, one of India’s cardinal pilgrim destinations and home to the huge Jagannath Temple. There in Puri, the chief priest and administrator of the Jagannath Temple had a vision. In it Krishna told him that Jayadeva should marry his daughter Padmāvatī, a dancer dedicated to the temple, settle down, and compose a devotional poem of unprecedented beauty to Krishna. The result was the Gīta-govinda. At one point while composing his poem, overwhelmed that he had to write words that belonged to Krishna, Jayadeva, unable to continue, put down his stylus and went to the river to bathe. When he returned he asked for his meal. Padmāvatī exclaimed that she had already fed him. Confused, Jayadeva looked at his manuscript; the words he had felt unable to compose sat inked onto the palm-leaf page. Krishna had visited in Jayadeva’s absence and taken a hand in his own poem—then, mischievously disguised as the poet, stayed on to eat Jayadeva’s lunch. Meeting Padmāvatī wakened in Jayadeva the bedrock emotion, the rasa, of love. What had been distant accounts of spiritual grace, a familiar theme for poetry, or even a set of metaphysical abstractions, came alive in his own body: the merging of spiritual and erotic ecstasy. Under Padmāvatī’s hands Jayadeva learnt that the old tales, the yogic teachings, and the cycles of loss and longing were no far-off vision. They are tasted through one’s senses. You could say that all the metaphysics and yoga practices of India—heady, magnificent, intricate, contradictory—return in the end to a single imperative: love. I think it the genius of Radha-Krishna poetry to take the hair-splitting metaphysics of India, lift them from our easily bewildered minds, and relocate them in the glands of the human body. Krishna devotees say that in our current dark era, the Kali Yuga, not everyone can practice meditation; few can wrap their minds around subtle doctrine or follow the eight stages of yoga. Everyone can taste the desolations and ecstasies of love, though; this is where one finds Krishna. Some centuries after Jayadeva’s death, the Jagannatha Temple instituted the Gīta-govinda as its sole liturgy, with Padmāvatī’s dances performed in the sanctuary. All day and into the evening loudspeakers mounted on poles around the temple send the poem in loud song across courtyard and roof top, out to the cashew groves and semi-arid scrublands threaded by jackal and cobras.

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Poetry: Mysteries by Aparna Vincent

Mysteries by Aparna Vincent

Aparna Vincent

Aparna Vincent enjoys working with diverse layers of imagery in her fiction.She has lived in three Indian cities so far and fell in love with all the three. Currently, she is working on her Ph.D at the University of Hyderabad. Her work tries to understand rhetoric and symbolism in protest politics. She likes rains, long walks and oceans and makes good friends with animals. Trees make her feel safe and knitting keeps her sane. Her work has previously appeared in The Hindu and Counter Currents. She blogs at aparnavincent.wordpress.com


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Book Excerpt: Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet

Burning the Sun's Braids

A Dog And A Cat
By Chen Metak

On the road
A dog and a cat are playing
A game of love and affection like man,
As they play and caress
As they run and gambol
The dog gently sinks his fangs
On the cat’s neck, and
The cat makes
Soft affectionate meows.

I don’t believe there is anything
Going on between the two animals,
Like there is no special relationship
Between an elephant and an ant
Between a man and a gorilla.

Nevertheless,
I did not create any obstacles
Between the two beings,
I know this is all performance, and yet
I do wish to believe
There is something between
The two.

To tell you the truth
In this affection-deprived age,
Even a simple performance
Has immense value.

 

Monologues In Hell
By Theurang

One

If the radiant hands scratch the face of darkness today,
Will the world of dawn be lifted from amidst the shadows tomorrow?

Two

If some ready-to-gallop horses
Have gone missing along with their saddles and bridles
Which horse-owner can point out who is the thief?

Three

If a scheming wolf leaps onto a flock of sheep
The unarmed shepherd can, of course, shout out from the mountains.

Four

Don’t tell lies when the ears are seeking for truth,
Do not create disharmony right before our eager eyes,
The people are watching you, the natural world is sighing at you.

Five

I may not have ownership over my five physical senses,
You may have stolen the five organs and six vessels,
But I have permanent ownership over my pure inner vision.

Six

Long live freedom, long live mankind
Long live truth, long live democracy
Long live the blood that runs in my veins!
Long live! Long live!

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