Tag Archives: Poetry

Read 101 of 2022. Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Title: Time is a Mother
Author: Ocean Vuong
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9781787333840
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I tried very hard to like this book. I tried very hard to make sense of it even but couldn’t. Maybe this book isn’t meant for me, but I shall speak about what worked for me and what did not.

Let me go back a little in time and recall the moment I finished reading “Night Sky with Exit Wounds”, and the rush and sheer melancholic feeling that came over me like a huge wave. That I still remember. I remember the anguish and the pain of the poems that I could comprehend, and they hit me so hard.

I think to a large extent I also connected with his novel, “On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous” – and all that it had to say about relationships, about mothers and sons, about being queer and your relationship with the one person whose validation means the most to you (your mother, of course). And yet somehow, I couldn’t feel all of this and more while reading, “Time is a Mother”.

“Time is a Mother” is a collection of poems in four parts, that mainly focuses on grief – in the wake of Vuong’s mother’s death, of loneliness, of being queer, of making sense of the world through one’s different phases of life, and ultimately it is also about acceptance, grieving, and moving on.

The poems are heartbreaking (well, some of them for me were outstanding), and also lean toward prose style but I just didn’t get this collection, like maybe I should have. Maybe at the end of the day, this book wasn’t meant for this reader.

It has some beautiful lines – this collection but on their own. They sadly do not culminate into something as beautiful overall when it comes to the complete poem. For instance, a poem “Amazon History of a Former Nail Salon Worker” just didn’t make sense to me, and I tried so hard to look for the profundity but couldn’t. Some of the poems that did work for me were, “Not Even”, “Reasons for Staying”, and “Woodworking at the End of the World” – maybe because they made so much sense to me in all their fragility, tenderness, and in celebrating differences.

Time is a Mother was a read I was so eager to read this year, and yet it just did not live up to Night Sky with Exit Wounds. It was just space and space and more blank space with a lot of words and sentences I couldn’t make sense of.

Read 4 of 2022. A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky.

A History of Clouds - 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Title: A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations
Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857425799
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 137
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I do not read much poetry, but this title caught my fancy and I had to read it. Well, I also believe that it is impossible to understand the essence of a poem in one reading. You have to read each poem perhaps multiple times before you get to the its bare-bone understanding. This becomes perhaps an even more difficult task when the form is in translation as this collection is.

Enzensberger’s poetry covers a vast range of subjects – private moments, long-term relationships and their trajectories, portraits of historical and literary personalities thrown in for good measure (an elegy to W.G. Sebald that is most moving: “Who touched us, / who seemed to have come from afar / to the sinister, unhomely homeland. / Little kept him here. / Nothing but the search for traces / with a divining rod of words / which twitched in his hand.” Translated by Martin Chalmers), cosmology, and even philosophy.

And in all of this, there are clouds. In various forms and ways – they exist in these poems – more so in the twelve-part title piece that ends the collection. The poems are transparent, sometimes very difficult to comprehend as well, but very empathetic at most, and there were times I also felt that I was left without any thing to hold on to.

The translations by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky are spot-on. The emotions don’t hold back, though there were times I felt I wanted more as a result of the translation. Having said this, A History of Clouds is a great start for anyone who wants to understand poetry and start somewhere.

Read 2 of 2022. The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy

The Orders Were To Rape You by Meena Kandasamy

Title: The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Navayana
ISBN: 978-8194865445
Genre: Essay, Nonfiction
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book is in part an essay, a memoir of some sort – a dialogue with oneself, and also a collection of resistance poems by female guerrillas and militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. It is a narrative of three Tamil women – tigresses – the wife of an LTTE fighter, a female combatant from the LTTE, and of the author herself.

What set out to become a documentary by the author, ended up becoming an essay of gruesome experiences recounted by the two survivors of war. Meena met them in Malaysia and Indonesia, in 2013, four years after the war had ended.

This book is so much more than this. It is about Kandasamy’s “childhood history of adulation and fangirling over the Tigresses”, leading to questioning all that is fed to people in the guise of news, and only one narrative being told. I think this is what actually led Meena to tell stories that were not told and to give a voice to ones that didn’t get one. It is also about genocide of the Tamil Eelam people – of the involvement of India in this, the violent aftermath and the camps. It is about the rapes of women – the brutalities, the wounds that never heal, the scars that don’t appear, and the trauma that never goes away.

The second part where Meena shares poetry of the tigresses, is more of a call for rebellion in one way. It looks at poetry by women as a way to fight back, to resist, to fight over and over against the status quo.

For me the narrative of the Tamil Tiger’s wife was most powerful and resonated so deep. It is very disturbing but needs to be told. It needed to be told in the manner Kandasamy says it – cutting no edges, hiding nothing, revealing it all for the reader.

Are these women victims or survivors? I kept asking this question to myself long after reading this text. I am still wondering. Also, the relationship of these women with Kandasamy is something I would want to read more of. The reluctance they had initially to speak with her and the opened up. What led to that? What sort of an ally one has to be to be able to evoke that? The lived and complex realities of Tamils, Tamil women, and more so Tamil women combatants in Sri Lanka through this essay will certainly give rise to much needed discourse, and we need more of those. There is a lot to unpack, a lot to take in through this slim volume of suffering, fight, and the road to liberation that is always long and hard.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Orders Were to Rape You

  • Nimmi Gowrinathan
  • Lovers and Comrades: Women’s Resistance Poetry from Central America: Edited by Amanda Hopkinson
  • Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forche
  • Mariana Yonüsg Blanco
  • Sandra Ramirez
  • Commandante Yesenia
  • Tichaona Nyamubaya
  • Lorena Barros
  • Aida F Santos
  • Anna Swir
  • Captain Vaanathi
  • Nibha Shah
  • Captain Kasturi
  • Adhilatchumi
  • Lil Milagro Ramirez
  • Poem 278 by Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar
  • Purananuru
  • Poem 112

When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.

Love Without A Story: Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Love Without A Story Title: Love Without A Story: Poems
Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 978-9388689458
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am very particular about what poetry I read. After all, poetry is acquired taste. It needs that breathing time. Time to mull over and make sense of what is going on and how it has managed to leave you breathless in its wake. How a poet has that power over you, and you just cannot seem to decipher that. You just let it be and accept that as your fate or whatever you believe in. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems “Love Without A Story” is a book of poems that just is. I don’t think it is trying to make a point or say anything that you haven’t already heard in various forms – it just is though, in all its beauty, subtlety, and grace.

The poems jump at you, almost ambush you. But isn’t that what good poetry should be all about? The ambushing. The cornering. The making-you-sit-down-and-listen kind of poetry. From making you think of old friends, to getting down to the business of love – sometimes said out loud and sometimes hidden for reasons only known to the beloved, Subramaniam’s poetry cannot be placed on any understanding or technique and quite frankly, doesn’t even need to. As long as the reader feels what she is trying to say is more than enough. Isn’t it?

“It gets easier, friend,
With age,
To delete, plan breakfast,
Turn the page.

It would have been easier still
If you hadn’t deleted the sun”

The above lines are from a poem called “Deleting the Picture”. This one hit home the hardest – the one that made me weep a little and mourn the loss of a friendship. This is what poetry is supposed to do, right? Good poetry at least – to seize you, jolt you out of your existence, and make you see what was always visible.

Arundhathi’s writing isn’t difficult to read at all. If anything, it is so simple, that you connect with it instantly. Her poems are of longing, friendship, of boundaries we are willing to cross, of relationships that break and don’t return, of people who break them and survive. It is almost like every poem is a universe of its own – so vast and detailed, even if it seems contained in the pages of the book.

When parents die,
You hunt for clues
In strips of Sorbitrate,
Immaculate handwriting,
Unopened cologne
And in evening air,
Traces of baritone.

Finding Dad is another of my favourites. Once again, this made me weep. Made me think of things that I did not say to my father while he was alive, and now I search for him in objects, in his favourite songs and movies, and sometimes I think I am reminded of his voice.

Love is a strange territory to navigate. Poetry most certainly helps us. Good poetry makes it even better and tolerable. It makes us see the people we were and what we have become. Arundhathi’s poetry does just that. It has the sense of abandon that poetry demands from its creators. It has the sense of fulfilment and yet keeps you on the edge, wanting more, and not giving it. You have to make do with what you have. That’s the first rule of poetry according to me. You soak in its brilliance and dare not ask more, till it is given on its own. Every poem of Love Without A Story leaves you with something – big or small doesn’t matter. The emotion is there, the feeling of empowerment and helplessness, and above all of love and its various forms. I leave you with this one.

For lovers flatten
Into photographs,

Photographs
Into reminiscence,

Reminiscence
Into quiet,

And then what’s left?

Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world,
Love without a story.