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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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Contemporary Nepali literature: Fiction — the short story

Nepali short story has achieved its present state of development in shorter time than other genres. This area of literature has already been enriched by a number of classic world-class short stories. The contribution of the figures such as Guru Prasad Mainali, Pushkar Samser Rana, Posan Pande, Indra Bahadur Rai, Biseswor Prasad Koirala, Bhimnidhi Tiwari, Bhawani Bhikshu, Paarizaat can hardly be exaggerated. The short story writers like Ramesh Bikal, Parashu Pradhan, Sanat Regmi, Dhruba Sapkota, Shailendra Sakar, Nayan Raj Pandey, Benju Sharma, Sita Pandey and their peers are those well esteemed writers who join the past with the present. These writers have written stories of artistic intent with themes related to Nepal and Nepali’s cultural life and have made short stories even popular among Nepali people.

In the ’60s Nepali stories saw a change in their characterization and tone. It was the most influential movement Teshro Aayam (The Third Dimension) that has its impact on short stories too. Indra Bahadur Rai, one of the trios to launch the movement is a very innovative short story writer. Although the Third Dimension triggered an intellectual debate in literary circles and provided a stimulus to Nepali literature, it could not produce a generation to follow it. So its impact gradually wore off. Indra Bahadur Rai has come up with Leela Lekhan (Leela Writing). It’s a literary theory to approach literary works and a philosophy in itself. His Kathputaliko Man (The Heart of a Puppet) is the first collection of short stories based on Leela Lekhan. Some writers are putting it into their works successfully.

Realism has been the sustained base of Nepali short stories from the past to the present. Other trends include progressive ideology, psychological realism and experimentalism. Leela lekhan and other post modernist experiments operative in the latest decade seem to shake realism. Writers are breaking away from the established norms and values and are seeking to explore new heights and new horizons. This group of writers has been providing Nepali readers with thoroughly new texts. Village life, life in Kathmandu and Darjeeling, the lives of women in a male-dominated society, caste, class, and ethnic relations, the Gurkha soldier, poverty, corruption and most recently the impact of technological development on life have been the recurring themes of Nepali short stories.

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Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage?

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided, the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani.

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Could Eco-Literature be the Next Major Literary Wave?

Eco-literature includes the whole gamut of literary works, including fiction, poetry and criticism, which lay stress on ecological issues. Cli-fi (climate fiction), which deals with climate change and global warming, is logically a sub-set of eco-literature. Most of the current writing under this genre looks at human activities that have been killing nature slowly.

Cli-fi often ventures into the realms of sci-fi and/or speculative fiction when the narrative gets rooted in future or in an imaginary geographical locale. The litmus test is how far such fiction evokes in the reader a sense of urgency towards an action to save the environment, or, if they are capable of leaving a deep impression to humans conscious of their role in saving the earth.

The crux lies in ensuring that such literary works do not sound like propaganda and should necessarily carry with them deep literary values. Authors need to ensure that they do not artificially structure their plots or introduce characters in their narrative to justify their labelling as eco-literature, which they have largely failed to do. This is why the eco-literature wave did not reach greater heights, though the modern eco-lit wave started in the 1970s. Authors could induce a tendency in the readers’ minds to dismiss them off as a kind of “moral literature” dictating the dos and don’ts towards the environment, albeit in a subtle way through a structured ‘moral’ story.

The genre of cli-fi seems to have given regular novelists just another platform and locale to shift their storytelling from the normal world’s heinous crimes to ecological crimes perpetrated by either villainous individuals or corporations. Such crimes include causing massive glacial ice melting and flooding cities, resulting in huge disasters with heroic characters rising up to the occasion to save humanity. But such plots, more often than not, make uninteresting reading.

The real ecological issues lie elsewhere. There has been a rapid loss of ecological species with the progress of time. Natural habitats keep shrinking due to human activity. Wildlife poaching has resulted in species becoming endangered, pushed to the brink of extinction. Illegal largescale mechanised fishing has resulted in the erosion of ocean biodiversity. Large scale deforestation across the world has led to displacement of tribal populations and consequently, loss of their culture and languages.

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What we can learn from multiple translations of the same poem

Translating a poem into another language—its content, its form, its tone, its nuance—is, as almost everyone who has done it knows, a difficult business. But it also has enormous rewards: for the translator, for the reader, for poetry itself.

Some years ago, I was asked to teach a workshop about this impossible process. Among other materials, including essays about translation, I gave the participants two side-by-side English translations of a poem by Pablo Neruda, along with the original Spanish. Those translations proved to be the most valuable resource I offered. Seeing what different translators have done with the same poem immediately eliminates easy assumptions that beginning translators often make: that there is a single way, a most correct way, or a best way to translate a poem.

The packet of materials began to grow. Soon I had made several compilations of translations, illustrating different kinds of choices translators invariably make, whether they do so consciously or not. Sometime after that, I began asking the students themselves to compile multiple translations of a single poem for class presentation. Their compilations, added to mine, became our most essential “textbook,” and gave us an excellent basis for asking important questions about literary translation.

We might begin by asking where, on a continuum ranging from the most “literal” to the most “free,” a particular translation lies. Where, on another continuum between most loyal to form and most free of it, does a translation of a formal poem lie? What is gained by attempting to replicate meter and/or rhyme, and what is lost? What about levels of diction? More generally, what is the stylistic “register” of a translation, ranging from formal to colloquial, or is there a mixture of styles? If the latter, does this reflect the original poem, or is it an unfortunate (or deliberate) result of the translation? If the poem isn’t contemporary, what is gained and what is lost by moving the poem toward modern and even contemporary English? Beyond style, does a translation substitute contemporary references for original ones? At what point does a translation become (in a term introduced by John Dryden in the seventeenth century and used by Robert Lowell in the twentieth) an “imitation”—or, beyond even that, a poem in its own right that might make reference to the original by inscribing “after Pablo Neruda” (or whomever) beneath the title?

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Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition – A 21st Century Rendition

By Sonali Raj

Sur's Ocean cover

 

Title: Sur’s Ocean – Poems From the Early Tradition
Author: Surdas; Trans. John Stratton Hawley; Ed., Kenneth E. Bryant
Publisher: Harvard University Press
To Buy

 

It is surprising that the books published by the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) haven’t been widely reviewed despite the international attention the project received. Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition, a translation of the early poems of Sur Sagar, is a contentious volume with right wing propagandists saying it is sacrilege that a quintessential Bhakti poet should be translated by Americans. These purists, however, do not sit down to do the work themselves.

Translated by John Stratton Hawley, a professor at Columbia University, and edited by Kenneth E. Bryant, an Indologist from the University of British Columbia, the book is divided into eight sections, beginning on a dark rainy night in the month of Bhadon, when Krishna was born.

With 757 pages of poetry, Sur’s Ocean is perhaps the most forbidding-looking volume published by the MCLI but it is actually very easy to read. However, the volume doesn’t have 757 different poems; each poem translated in English is printed alongside its Devanagari counterpart.

Surdas wrote in Braj even though the court language was Persian. His poems were performed outside of the court in fairs and temples; the language frequently reads like everyday speech, and this quality is well-reflected in the English translations: “Mother Yashoda, rest assured— / we’ll both be home in five or seven days, / brother Haladhar and I. / Meantime, now and then, check on my flute, / check on my staff and the horn I blow. / Don’t let Radhika pilfer away / any of my favorite playthings.”

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A.K. Ramanujan: A Lonely Hero

The narrative around the pioneering Indian English poet and translator must rescue him from his image of a remote icon into a living inspiration.

Translation, by definition, always entails some loss of the original substance. All translations are sooner or later revealed as imperfect and eventually, even in the case of the most exemplary performances, come to be regarded as provisional.

—Susan Sontag, The World As India

AK. Ramanujan (or AKR), who taught at the University of Chicago for 30 years, has remained an iconic figure for the Indian literary community for a long time. After making his mark first as an Indian English poet in the mid 1960s, he won enduring fame in India and abroad for his pioneering translations of classical Tamil poetry, and later, of Bhakti poetry in Tamil and Kannada. During the latter half of his career, AKR worked on compiling and translating folk tales from across India in as many as 20 languages. As a scholar and intellectual, he also contributed essays throwing light on several important aspects of Indian culture related to our language systems and oral/written literary traditions. Though he did not spend much time on translating contemporary works, his translation of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Kannada novel Samskara, first published in 1976, was a landmark achievement, catapulting the novel and its author to national and international fame. Along with a prodigious output in several genres, AKR also wrote poetry and fiction in Kannada throughout his life. After his untimely demise in 1993, AKR’s papers (poems, folk tales, essays) were collected and edited for publication in several volumes.

For his achievements, AKR was held in high esteem by his peers and contemporaries. To Indians, he had that extra sheen of a non-resident genius, working in fields not easily accessible to Indians of that period. He continues to be venerated here as a translator, scholar and thinker by succeeding generations of Anglophone Indians. It would seem, however, that in the current discourse on Ramanujan and his writings, he is always looked at in isolation, a venerable figure not related to his contemporaries or his successors in a substantive way.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Keki N Daruwala

 

keki

By Aminah Sheikh

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write to express myself, and there is a hell of a lot in me to express.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Am trying to say many things in my book. Firstly what a short story can do and achieve. The title story “Daniell comes to Judgement” is about how fate conspires to deal with a corporate honcho who is trying to exploit a brave girl. The second story about Garima is about a divorce, the wife returning to her mother’s house and after all the dejection, the garden getting watered and suddenly the fragrance from the buried bulbs revives her. And the passages at the end of the story simply have to turn lyrical — language always has to keep pace with the twists and turns of a story. And don’t forget the story “Bars”, based on my experience in the National Commission for Minorities – pastors being arrested for converting a corpse! Hey Prabhu, the Hindutva police under a Hindutva regime in MP can do anything.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Writing aesthetic. Koi aesthetic vesthetic nahin Madam. Jo dil mein aya likh diya.

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Call for submissions for an upcoming anthology in English of new and emerging poets

This is a call for submissions for an upcoming anthology in English of new and emerging poets (translations are welcome) to be published by Kitaab (Singapore).

The anthology, to be edited by Manik Sharma and Semeen Ali, contemplates India, 70 years since Independence, and in doing so seeks to construct a poetic map of the country. The map here refers to an idea distinctly different from the one we are used to, and feel divided by. The editors would like to clarify that this is not a symbolic, patriotic work. It merely places India in the hands of its third generation, more so as a quantity to enquire, than merely adapt to. We want to create a map, a map distinctly Indian (through smells, flavours, textures, colours etc. and not necessarily their geographies. Or, for example, identity may flow from – memories, objects, journeys, emotions, etc). No language, or culture, supersedes the other, even if majorities do. To the core of the idea here, the value of the author and his or her subject is equal.

We want to look at works that discover/re-imagine these tropes, poems that may tell us something we do not know, or something we do but consider too passé for poetry. Things that are quintessentially Indian, told through the personal or the social, through its people or the poems some of them, as part of this anthology may now write. Continue reading


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Traffic Constable and Returning home: Two poems by Sriramgokul Chinnasamy

Traffic Constable and Returning home

SriramgokulSriramgokul Chinnasamy lives in India and has M.A. in Creative Writing from Teesside University, UK. His poems have appeared in Envoi, Taj Mahal Review, Live from Worktown, Through the Cracks, and Muse India. In 2016, he was shortlisted in the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Prize. Tweet @sriramsrg