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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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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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Poetry: Seconds by Sudeep Pagedar

Seconds by Sudeep Pagedar

Sudeep Pagedar

Sudeep Pagedar is a Bombay-based writer. Almost a decade after his graduation from college, he remains a student of literature: of the culture it constructs, and is a part of as well. He currently works as a development sector consultant in the Asia-Pacific region, and writes poetry, yearning for an early retirement and the Himalayas. 


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Remembering the conscience keeper

It is time to recite poems of Raghuvir Sahay as they not only relate to woes of the common man but are also in sync with the socio-political reality of today.

Why are poets like Kabir, Tulsidas, Rahim, Ghalib or Faiz considered to be great? The answer to this question lies in our urge to repeatedly visit and revisit them on account of their relevance to our lives. In different everyday situations, lines from their poetry come to our mind without any effort on our part as they fit those situations so well, shed light on them and illuminate them to make us comprehend them better. At a time when the country is witnessing fundamental changes in its political, economic, social and cultural life and anti-democratic tendencies are bent upon creating a fear psychosis, Raghuvir Sahay (December 9, 1929-December 30, 1990) is one of the few modern Hindi poets whose poetry continues to resonate in one’s mind because of its ability to bring the irony of the situation and the helplessness of the ordinary citizen into sharp relief.

Besides being a front-ranking poet, Raghuvir Sahay was also the editor of news weekly Dinman which, for nearly two decades, remained the most prestigious and respected magazine in Hindi. Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan, known to the literary world as “Agyeya”, had conceptualised and launched the magazine in 1965, bringing together talents like Raghuvir Sahay, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Shrikant Verma and Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena on its staff.

Starting young

In 1969, he handed over the baton to Raghuvir Sahay who had already worked as a journalist in Hindi dailies Navjeevan and Navbharat Times, and the news division of the All India Radio. Sahay edited Dinman from 1969 to 1982 with such great distinction that it was compared with Time and Newsweek.

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Kaveh Akbar is poetry’s biggest cheerleader

Ever eavesdropped on two poets having a conversation at a coffee shop? Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar has created an online space that lets you do that without leaving your bed.

Akbar runs DiveDapper, which focuses on interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. It’s packed with profiles of writers like Morgan ParkerOcean VuongWendy Xu, and Max Ritvo — to name just a few. Every other Monday, he posts a new interview transcript.

The site grew out of Akbar’s own life in poetry, and his struggles with addiction. “The oldest recognizable poem in my book ranges back to when I got sober,” Akbar says; his debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, came out this past September. “I suddenly had 16 hours a day to fill with something new. My entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience. When that was uplifted, I had to find something else.”

Writing became his path out of that old life. “I was so hungry to be having conversations about the poetry that was exciting me, so starved for that sort of dialogue” as he worked towards an MFA and split 60 hours a week between different jobs all while beginning his recovery. “DiveDapper became a way for me to manufacture those dialogues directly with the sources.”

When Akbar started out, he says, he was worried that if he cold-called someone like the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, she’d be rightfully confused. Now, DiveDapper has become the way Akbar approaches great poets — but what he didn’t expect was that the interviews would turn into real, substantial friendships.

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Poetry: Looking for an Answer by Pawan Hira

Looking for an Answer by Pawan Hira

Pawan Hira

Pawan Nooroo Heera (Pawan N Hira) holds an advanced degree in English Language and Literature from India. He is a Poet and in that capacity works primarily with English language and his native language, Koli Gujarati. 

He runs a digital magazine, ‘The Quiet Letter’ (quietletter.com) as a founder and Editor to support new writers across boundaries.  He writes in English and has completed a final draft of his debut novel. He wants to earn a Master’s degree in Creative Writing; at present he is working on a short story collection and long form essays related to culture, migration, and education.