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Book review: Paper Asylum by Rochelle Potkar

Reviewed by Paresh Tiwari

Rochelle Potkar

Title: Paper Asylum
Author:
Rochelle Potkar
Publisher: Copper Coin (2018)
Pages: 103
Price: INR 295/-

 

Among the many sub-genres of poetry, haibun might be the hardest to categorise. Is it in essence poetry or prose? Or a tapestry woven from the two threads by a skilled practitioner? Is it distilled from personal experience or a product of the fanciful flight in a fabulist world created by the poet?

Haibun, despite being a 500-year-old form, assiduously escapes the narrow confines of a definition. Yet, the critical elements of this form – sincerity, brevity, suspension of cleverness, living the moment, and experiencing the world afresh (to name but a few) – are universal. They lay the foundation for works which stop being a collection of words, images, memories, or feelings and invite the reader to embrace the poetry and own it.

Rochelle Potkar’s full-length prose poetry collection, Paper Asylum, is humanity turned inside out, flesh, bones and soul, painted skilfully on every page. Her poetry deftly navigates a plethora of complicated subjects and themes – love and lust in their myriad shades, longing, pain, loss, gears of society, growing up in a world that makes little sense, and the multifarious joy at finding and being found in the bargain. These poems are explorers journeying through the self and its projection on the universe beyond.

Potkar’s prose poems (most of which could be categorised as haibun) strengthens my belief that one of the qualities of good poetry is its ability to surprise. Much like life itself. In that sense, I propose that poetry and life are one and the same. Paper Asylum brims with life, in all its visceral, raw, urgent, messy glory.

Sample this:

He missed her after the breakup. Although he was the one who had broken off. He didn’t know what came into him when he got too close to women. When he poured everything into her like an ocean into a jug of wet earth.

 He felt deeply wronged.

                                                                                                                                           fish catch –

                                                                                                                                 the boat swinging

                                                                                                                                           in surrender

– “About Turn”

 

Anyone who has ever had a breakup would instantly recognise the truth in those lines. The hunger of loneliness and the need are not only palpable but instantly identifiable.

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The surprising literary history of skin care

(From the Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

The story of Bulgakov’s Margarita is part of a long tradition, from Snow White’s wicked stepmother (who wanted to remain “fairest of them all”) to the Germanic legends that granted vigorous youth to men heroic enough to slay a dragon. There’s a spectacular example of youth enchantment in Ovid’s Metamorphoses when Jason defeats a dragon to get hold of a golden fleece, then implores his wife—the sorceress Medea—to rejuvenate his father, Aeson, using a potion of herbs so exotic they could have been taken from a modern cosmetics catalogue. In her dragon-harnessed chariot, Medea makes a tour of the most glamorous and outlandish sites in the Greek world in order to gather herbs. She fills twinned holes in the earth with the blood of a sacrificed sheep, adds wine and milk, then dips flaming torches in before setting them ablaze. Into a cauldron go roots from Thessaly, sands from Oceanus at the earth’s limit, and powdered rocks from the Far East.

Medea used a desiccated old olive wand to stir the brew; as she did so, it sprouted leaves, then grew heavy with olives. Spatters from the broth caused flowers and grass to spring up on the cold dark earth. At this final sign, Medea felt ready to proceed: she slit Aeson’s jugular veins and poured in her potion. “Quickly his beard and his hair lost their whiteness … New flesh filled out his sagging wrinkles, and his limbs grew young and strong. The old king marveled at the change in himself, recalling that this was the Aeson of forty years ago.”

*

The earliest known text concerned with the elixirs of youth is an early Chinese commentary on the I Ching, the “Book of Changes,” in which chemical substances and processes are tentatively correlated with the book’s famous hexagrams. The I Ching takes for granted that the universe and all beings in it are caught up in cycles of transformation and suggests that the astute application of mystical and medical knowledge can influence those changes for the better.

In Europe, alchemists were obsessed with generating gold, but in China, they preferred to work on youth elixirs. A string of Chinese alchemists claimed to have created a rejuvenating potion; Joseph Needham, the historian, scientist, and Sinologist, was so struck by the frequency with which Chinese emperors were poisoned by these drugs that he tabulated a list of victims. In around 300 A.D., a Chinese alchemist called Ge Hong collated various recipes. Three centuries later, a more detailed treatise specified the inclusion of obscure, exotic substances such as mercurial salts and compounds of sulfur. There are more than a thousand different names for these potions, most of which carried the same basic mineral ingredients.

One of Ge Hong’s near contemporaries in the West, a Byzantine called Synesius, believed that the physical transformations effected by alchemy were less important than the mental positions adopted by its practitioners. A true alchemy of youth didn’t require a laboratory or precious exotic substances; all that was needed was the right kind of incantation and a change in attitude.

Read more at this link from the Paris Review


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The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Stumbling across one of these hybrid items now feels kind of magical—as if geography and time have collapsed into your hands. But repurposing scraps in this way wasn’t at all unusual at the time, and Heffernan suspects that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to readers. “To us, the manuscripts that have been wrapped around books are signs of destruction,” Heffernan says. But to early modern readers, slicing and dicing a text was just a strategy for taking care of other, more coveted objects—like wrapping a textbook in brown paper today. Oversized choir books, which could be twice as tall as a folio, went a long way: “Not quite half a cow,” Schmidt says, “but still a substantial piece of leather.” It was simple practicality. “It’s a moment of typical practice for 16th- and 17th-century bookbinders that seems utterly, delightfully weird to us,” Heffernan says.

Read more at this link from Atlas Obscura


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Poetry: Words – After Aleem by Rehan Qayoom

Words by Rehan Qayoom

Rehan Qayoom is a poet of English and Urdu, editor, translator and archivist, educated at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work internationally.  He is the author of About Time and other books.


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Short story: The Dog Catchers by Mir Arif

The old city rises out of the mist on the Buriganga River on a cold wintry morning. Slowly, it gropes its way into the many byzantine alleys that are proverbial for their lost tales and histories. After a long, chequered life, these alleys still contain old houses with frieze cornices, fretted eaves and worn out wooden doors and casements; mosques with egg-shaped domes and towering minarets; centuries-old red forts; kattras and landing ghats — all witness to many generations of local and foreign rule.

The alleys of this part of the city are packed with people and shabby tea stalls, groceries and trinket-selling vendors. Houses with one or two feet frontage scrabble for the sun all year round. Throughout the winter their residents come out on the street to gather in the narrow, twisted alleys, to squat by small fires. Children hopscotch all day and chase after stray dogs that are periodically inoculated by dog catchers.

Today is such a dog inoculation day. A small group of dog catchers gathers at the intersection of Dhakeshwari Temple Road. A faded blue jeep waits for them. They carry odd instruments: three hand nets with wooden handles and large hoops; a long pincer that closes on hinges made of iron clamps; and an obsolete rifle equipped with darts to tranquilize dogs that bark too much or are identified as disease-stricken.

There are five dog catchers in the group, all wearing white caps with an embossed seal on the front panel that reads: Mosquito Repelling Department. Since the city is yet to diversify its Animal Control Department, which is supposed to respect differences between the canine and the mosquito world, these men will always masquerade as catchers of the entire animal kingdom, except their own species. The youngest one in the group is a little boy in grey sweater, who carries a frayed leather bag with many pockets. Each of them is full of syringes and vaccine-filled vials that will inoculate dogs against rabies. The little boy seems to be excited and hoots like an owl. The eldest, the leader of the group — a middle-aged man with a thick beard — hushes the boy, slapping the back of his head, ‘Save it for when you notice a dog, you little punk!’ The other dog catchers, of mixed ages, notice it and remain silent; they haven’t been able to rub the sleep from their eyes yet.

A small crowd, amused by the dog catchers’ instruments and the little boy’s hooting, swirls around them like bees. They swarm the group on all sides until the blue jeep driver revs up the engine and whooshes past them. But before it reaches the next bend that leads to the Lalbagh Fort, a three-and-a-half-centuries-old architecture, the driver stops the car. The little boy in grey sweater hoots cheerfully as he spots two half-asleep dogs lying curled up on the pavement.

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After decades of dwarfs and elves, writers of color redefine fantasy

(Courtesy The Christian Science Monitor)

N.K. Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, packs a powerful idea into a few lines of dialogue in “The Fifth Season,” in which an otherworldly woman’s search for her daughter resonates with the emotions of African-Americans after the Civil War desperate to reunite families ravaged by slavery.

“There’s a hole, a gap,” Ms. Jemisin writes. “In history.”

History suffers when perspectives are left out, Jemisin points out. The same may be said of literature. After decades of dwarves, elves, and other Norse-based mythology, the world of fantasy is changing, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world.

While the field was largely dominated by white men in decades past, today diverse writers are bringing new voices to the conversation, imagining futures based on more inclusive readings of the past, and creating multiethnic worlds that can help people understand their own. Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler – the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur grant – have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box office of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to this spring’s breakout debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone,” by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi, audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries.

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Remembering book publisher Peter Mayer

On Friday, May 11, charismatic and influential book publisher Peter Mayer died at 82 years old. Known for the energy and passion he brought to book publishing, Mayer achieved international recognition for his work, in particular during his time as CEO of Penguin Books and as the founder and publisher of Overlook Press.

In a statement announcing Mayer’s death, Overlook Press wrote: “Over his legendary, six-decade career in book publishing—which included nineteen years spent as the CEO of Penguin Books—Peter had a profound influence on several generations of authors and publishers, a legacy that is sure to endure.”

Among numerous professional awards and honors, Mayer was named as a Chevalier and Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. And in 2008, the London Book Fair honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mayer, born in London in 1936 and raised in America, began working in publishing in 1961 and worked his way up the ranks to become Publisher and President of Pocket Books in 1976.

In 1978, he was appointed CEO of Penguin Books in the UK, which was languishing at the time. During his tenure there, which lasted until 1996, Mayer is credited with turning Penguin into a profitable business and expanding its international presence.

However, his transition to Penguin and the UK was not without challenges. In an interview with the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mayer described how some in the UK reacted to having an American take over at Penguin: “At the beginning, I did indeed encounter barriers in London; above all the British media was against my appointment because Penguin was such a British company. […] Fortunately, there were others who saw the necessity of a change at Penguin, and when I revived the company in the eighties, it was perhaps proof that an American isn’t just a hinderance.”

During his time at Penguin, Mayer opened offices in China and India, and he oversaw the publication of Salman Rushdie’s famous novel, The Satanic Verses. The book was first published in 1988, and in 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued his famous fatwa ordering the killing of Rushdie.

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Kitaab call for submission: The Best Asian Crime Fiction DEADLINE EXTENDED

Kitaab – Call for Submissions

Kitaab is seeking high quality short stories for The Best Asian Crime Fiction anthology to be published in 2018.

Stories submitted should have a minimum length of 2,500 words and a maximum length of 12,000 words. Submissions that are shorter than 2,500 words or significantly longer than 12,000 will not be read or considered for inclusion in this anthology.

What we’re looking for:

We want to see strong, well-written stories that deal with some aspect of crime. It is essential that your characters be engaging and – most important – believable. Also, the plots should be credible. An appealing style is preferable, but as with all crime fiction, plot and character should be paramount.

We will be generous in our consideration of what constitutes crime. However, we don’t want to see stories about someone who simply embezzles funds from his / her office or club, gets caught and dismissed, or someone who is a bus fare cheater. The crimes should engage the interest and emotions of our readers.
We strongly encourage originality and look for novel approaches to the idea of crime fiction.

The best three stories (decided by the editor) will get cash prizes or Amazon vouchers (worth $50 each)! All selected contributors will each receive 2 complimentary copies of the final publication. 

The Best Asian Crime Fiction anthology will be edited by Richard Lord on behalf of Kitaab, Singapore.

Richard Lord has written or co-written over 20 books put out by legitimate publishers. In recent years, he has concentrated on writing and editing crime fiction. He was the editor of two popular crime fiction anthologies: Crime Scene Singapore and Crime Scene Asia. In addition to short stories included in these and three other anthologies, Lord wrote the acclaimed novel The Strangler’s Waltz, about a serial killer in 1913 Vienna.
One of his crime short stories was adapted as a TV mini-series by Singapore’s Mediacorp network, with Lord serving as script consultant and script doctor on the teleplay for this series.

Rules and regulations:

  • Submissions should be e-mailed to krimi.asia@gmail.com and to kitaab.sg@gmail.com. Submissions must be made to both ids to qualify.
  • Asians of all nationalities living anywhere in the world can send their stories. However, non-Asian authors who have resided in and written extensively about an Asian country will also be considered.
  • Submissions must be MSWORD (.doc/.docx) attachments typed double spaced in legible fonts, preferably Times New Roman 12. The submission should also be pasted within the body of the covering mail.
  • Please include an author’s bio note of 100 words.
  • The subject line of the email should read as: Submission/TBACF/author’s name.
  • Up to two submissions will be considered from each writer.
  • Translations are welcome, provided prior permissions are taken by translators from the authors. If your submission is a translation, you must note this in a message accompanying the submission.
  • Previously published work in print or online (including blogs, magazines or other online fora) will not be accepted. However, if a previously published short work has been extended into a longer piece, we will accept that longer story for consideration.
  • Simultaneous submissions will be considered. Please notify us immediately if the story is accepted elsewhere.

Last date for submissions: 15 May 2018


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Ibrahim Nasrallah wins 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The Jordanian-Palestinian author Ibrahim Nasrallah—twice before in the running for the award—has been named the winner of the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

In its annual prize ceremony on Tuesday evening (April 24) at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has conferred its US$50,000 prize on Jordanian-Palestinian author Ibrahim Nasrallah for his cautionary futurist novel, The Second War of the Dog.

The book was first published in Arabic in 2016 by Lebanon-based Arab Scientific Publishers. Rights are represented by Raya Literary Agency. More information, including a sample translation, is available upon request here.

Nasrallah will participate on Wednesday (April 25) in an event with his five fellow shortlistees at the opening day here at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs through May 1. That prize event with Nasrallah and his colleagues is set for 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sea of Culture Foundation stand at the fair (12B36), under the patronage of the Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan.

Nasrallah has said that his book is “a warning of what we could become in the future.”

The book starts at what he calls “the moment of a loss of certainty, that loss of trust in those whom you interact closely with–that neighbor, brother, father, or whoever it may be.

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