OPINION

Book Review: It's the Night for Love

November 14, 2008
Geoffrey Jackson



Your day breaks, your mind aches
There will be times when all the things
She said will fill your head
You won’t forget her
John Lennon, Paul McCartney – For No One

We‘re high in the wire
With the world in our sight
And I’ll never tire
Of the love that you give me every night
.
Katie Melua – Nine Million Bicycles

From the first page of the Anthology

Love: the orchid of the East, so delicate to ingress the hummingbird’s sensitive tongue. Or the delicate Western rose so red as lips. The Mediterranean vine twining round all and rooted in stony soil. Sappho wrote of women in Ancient Times. Catullus lampooned his fellows and worse commandeered slave boys for lusty use before his mistress’ fond sparrow he immortalized. Gilgamesh and Enkaidu locked and strained, wrestling into bed as is some men’s uncustomary wont. Diana slew Acteon for gazing on her beauty and the hunter was hunted by the huntswoman’s hounds in lunary warning of the vaginal trap.

Where the Great Rocks of Charybdis and Scylla clanged and lured hapless mariners so now New York and London do so across The Pond. It’s not so far any more really. The coterie of Ezra Pound and T S Eliot, W B Yeats and writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf have crossed to the other side and New York, New York (so good they named you twice) has become the bookshop of our English Speaking World though the celluloid circus of Vanity Fair is located in Hollywood. Giovanni’s Room (Italy: the omphalus of the world) now overlooks the Nullabar Hills and Oooooom is not only the age-old wisdom of the Hindus but what modern poets make of life.

Gwalior, Central India, is home to Editor Amitabh Mitra, which he celebrates in his love poem of that name. You-Tube prototype or CD, The Slow Train to Gwalior chugs around the Fort to the romantic palaces of Gwalior, where pigeons takeaway pieces of the sky and stars are pulled through holes in the heavens of night. The celluloid-seller and film-maker now, Amitabh also stops off at the Dreamy Spires of various universities to give you young folks guest lectures in Creative Poetry. Modest Amitabh, who merely introduces himself as ‘a poet’, earns his living from extracting bullets from South African township boys, who are prone to blow one another away. Recently, when I called he had dead time on his hands since his patient had just expired on the operating table. Otherwise, the infectious grin and fever-pitch energy of the Chief Medical Officer, I found catching in Oslo, ‘Tonight’, when we launched it. ‘When was Then’ was the poem I read from the book and indeed ‘when’ was the unforgettable moment at a Writers’ Conference attended by the uncrowned bards of Europe and scalds of Scandinavia, that Amitabh held all spellbound as he explained the Contemporary Scene of Poetry in his now beloved new country South Africa.

‘Gwalior’, his poem of ‘Tonight’ is full of images and symbols, totally unexpected turns of phrase, so “only a breath stood / waiting”. How can one say “the pigeons flew off today / with a piece of sky” or “at night we caught the stars / through holes”. Mon Ami, you say it? Ghosh, what do you mean? It is a Wagnerian world or perhaps the Märchen world of Ludwig of Bavaria “palaces were swept off / to a distant sky / and a painted afternoon burnt the fort.”

Interestingly, there is a brief reference to Islam, “the rains washed down / the mosque tomb”. Why is it “rains”? Usually, in Christian mythology, this means death: Noah’s Flood destroyed the Earth and Christ walks on water to symbolize victory over death. The “tomb” is death and presumably this is why it is washed down by “rain”, a symbol of death. Otherwise, religion is not touched upon. “I had gone to see you again” and there follows a long string of places, palaces, history etc. that has disappeared. Is this India? There are no more Moghul Emperors. The Principality of Hyderabad was forced into the Indian Union in 1948 at gunpoint. Where are the gardens and the flowers? Why are they supplanted by Silicon Chip Valley in Bangalore? Pune – the Detroit car-building capital of India. The mangrove swamps at the mouth of the Ganges and Calcutta, the capital of death. “lonesome / forever”, old India and her history have disappeared but Gwalior continues, the memory of the past, the romance that once was, the irrelevance and the beauty of love, in ‘Tonight’ the transient moment of the brief orgasm of the climax of love, which suddenly symbolizes a country, a history, the condition of humanity. Gwalior is ‘The Wasteland’, the story of all humanity in a few verses.

But it is not enough for the sun to rise in the splendors of Ancient India but also das Abendland, the land of the evening, the land of the setting sun or the West must be linked in. “I called the New World into being to being to redress the balance of the Old.” (Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary in the early nineteenth century) and ‘Tonight’, the most sublime poets of the East are en-pistonated with the wordsmiths of the West.

Victoria Valentine is one such and editor also of ‘Tonight’ as well as publisher of Skyline Publications and editor of Skyline Review and our own Hudson View. Her poem to “John” is delicately ironic. Even the name might mean “a john”. He is sadly lacking in masculinity wearing “a perfume bottle / or teddy bear on a finger” and has flowers inside “a rancid foil of time”. Finally “my joyful love / failed to brace John’s struggling soul / unravel mystery, vanquish misery.” The relationship of the point to her “John” is very subtle and the poem needs to be read several times for, in fact, John loves beauty and shows much insight and intelligence. But yet, he lacks - what is it he lacks? Let the reader decide for him (her) self. ‘Caves’ is written as if every verse is Haiku. Again, it’s a man but he is ravishing in an island sea-scape finishing in a cave (vagina?), where he “scoops up prey”. Victoria is indeed more than accomplished and that’s why she is publisher, editor and inspiring poet.

There are, in all, 11 Pushcart nominations and 6 uncrowned bards share them. I would like to share with you the poetry of some of these Brobdignagians, whom Amitabh has brought together in this slim perfect volume. Tom (WordWulf) Sternerhouse, nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2006, in Caw, Caw, Caw writes a convincingly insensitive ditty, which pierces horribly “sitting on the wire, caw-caw-caw / I believe you’re making sport of me”. “A Window and Chalice and Key” is a huge contrast with language so sensitive it ripples down your spine in goose pimples. “If we had a chalice / we could sip from it each night / fingertips meeting to touch / sharing the blood of our love / and daring to love too much.” Michael J. Fry “The Slaughtered Lamb is my Place” (Pushcart nominated) is just a regular guy talking to…? These are the perfect patterns of everyday speech but why then are they so painfully, excruciatingly beautiful. “We took a break from the science stuff to read all those / Ibsen plays…” The Slaughtered Lamb turns out to be a bar and the magic of The Slaughtered Lamb has to do with her. But, yes, indeed, it was Long Ago and those days will never come back though he still lives there and sometimes drives past the bar he no longer frequents but which is so special to him because of the memories of that summer and of where he was with her. But the cadences of conversation so hauntingly familiar from our youth catch our hearts in our mouths for we all have our memories of The Slaughtered Lamb – Agnus Dei? – youth slain and lain on the alter of manhood. Peter Magliocco, resident in Las Vegas, Pushcarted off in 2007 and writes “When Britney left for Mexico / She laughed at me when I said / the serpent…” The serpent might be Mexico but then in Christian mythology, it has many meanings. Otherwise, the quality of the verse is highly symbolic and nothing can really be taken at face value, which I think is the mark of poetsmanship, where the good poet rises far above the ordinary mundane.

The last co-editor is Glory Sasilaka Franklin, who works as Assistant Editor with Frost and Sullivan in Chennai, India, as well as having authored the novel ‘Goodbye Papa’. ‘Let me in…’ is a cry to be let in to the love of a man that mingles with an attempt to approach the divine (Glory is an Indian Christian). “Till I merge into the magnitude of your silence…” could be taken either way. “A thousand births and a thousand deaths / Being baptized again and again” might be seen as merging Hindu belief in reincarnation with conventional Christian beliefs of being baptized over and over, as it were, renewing one’s faith at the rising of bird song every new day. ‘You’ is also hauntingly tender, not introverted but inwardly examining finding ‘You’ and inspiration and strength to live. “That she exists only between fingers….in the hair’s breadth…and nowhere else…” As it happens, I know Glory to be the moderator of an Indian and international group of writers of which I am a member and I therefore know that Glory’s husband died in a hit-and-run on ‘Death Alley’, Madras recently. To me, it is as if she is seeking union with her past with him, her future with a new love and the God she carries so close to her heart. Or is this too impertinent and personal an observation?

Rumjhum Biswas has crafted two perfect poems. So gentle, tender, moments unhurried, on colored butterfly wings in Indian blue days of summer. ‘September Love’ is really a little time-beaten but started perhaps early. “We ate the first fruit / long before its time was due”. But that is not the situation at the present time “For this body / would love to yield forever / lay its graying head down / on your bosom and count the stars again.” ‘This is how you make me feel’ has the same sort of lilt of inexpressibly delicate imprint of an orchid that characterizes so indelibly beautifully Rumjhum Biswas’s poems. All we Westerners know what time is for, have we not a watch but “Time is what / we make of it when we gently awaken / from what has been into what will be…” It is perfect timing how the poem is rounded off with the words “you make me feel / so beautiful” It’s as if you heard it for the first time because the cliché has been so long delayed that it hits like a murmurous wave at our feet and even if it is for the millionth time, it is the first time we have ever heard the lines.

Shuleen Kumar Singh also bestrides poetry like a Colossus. ‘Impalpable Sorrows’ begins “I tried to grope / You in the dark world;” and so there are innumerable disappointments in which the lover somewhere fails by a lip’s breadth to touch his beloved. Finally, “I was left for / illimitable worriement / And impalpable sorrows”. ‘A Tribute’ simply runs through all that the beloved means to the lover and finally concludes “For You’re / My love.” Such simple words, so inescapable, whereby perfect timing makes a cliché into the first time that those words were ever uttered. Have you said them yourself? Choke back the tears for these words join the first and last time you said them so that you feel them as if they were the key to the stars at the gates of the universe. Archana is only a young Indian woman but her poem ‘Mosaic’ shows her poetic maturity, as she imagines her lover in many colors and qualities. “I miss you so / Said the orange man / Romantic and dreamy, / “I do too,” I say, / He will be back soon, I know.” Rajender Krishan’s ‘Relationship’ sums up relationship in the words “with eyes you talk what I don’t word with lips”. He wants a make-believe drawn in transient said to “carry me / To those / Outstretched arms.” Bishnupada Ray in ‘Transition’ writes “the wolves are ready to startle the moon” and again on this moon “she will harvest the flowers / red as a blue mountain” Shreekumar Varma calls his poems simply Poem 1 and Poem 2 and strikes a philosophical vein in each case. He writes “beneath our molten skies / that watch and judge and witness precious / moments of togetherness…” But the mood is different with Ramendra Kumar ‘Every moment, every where’ haunting as the lover stalks with memories, actually crowding and panting like Furies closing in on the lover. The beloved is game – whence or why we know not – but the memories will not be dispelled for they are ‘every moment, every where’. Max Babi ‘Ishu: A Kind of Love’ simply celebrates a Rabelaisian riot of humor, which though related with wit and verve is a raveled skein and perhaps this is because we are aboard a “merry bandwagon of artists”. ‘Neeta’ by Deena Padayachee is “Perpetual as the pyramids” and described in so many other ways because “she gives everything life”.

Not the largest group, by any means, but still a significant group are the poets from the Middle East. Amid the bombs of terrorists and the intolerance and ranting of intolerant pulpits, it is so easy to forget that there is another side to Islam. That there is a tradition of poetry, of beauty, of sensitivity and show that there are those, who fight for liberty of expression, freedom of thought, humanity and dignity, pride, decency and love. Not all is hate and fundamentalism, there are people and there are those, who brave regimes in order to express themselves. “The private life is dead.” (Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago) no, it is not, it lives in the hearts of the brave, who are prepared to stand up and be counted.

Farideh Hassanzadeh, an Iranian poet, translator and freelance journalist writes Seven Love Songs and a Song of Despair, dedicated to her husband, Rashid. Perhaps it is of him, she is thinking when she writes, “And the moment I lost you / The heart of the sun will stop beating” it is definitely of her husband, she is thinking when she writes of “Beautiful warmth of sweat drops / On the widow’s brow.” Nabeel Assurori writes three short verses. An echo is “an echo / Of what the girls had engraved in her eyes”. ‘A Heart’ is “scattered to the wind”. Tenderness records the detail of “His lute that sleeps carelessly”. Soheil Najm in ‘The Song of the Basrian Lover’ evokes the details of the occupation “Bare feet at the sea / Covering the sand with her heart”. It is a beautiful line, “When the heart is overburdened with my dream.” From Bagdad, Reem Ruis Kuba writes . “And I stretched out on the fluff of the earth as a dust”. This section would not be complete without a mention of the death of the Palestinian Poet, Mahmoud Darwish “Today we say goodbye to a star, who we loved to the point of adoration” Mahmoud Abbas. His funeral was attended by “a vast sea of humanity”.

Tonight’s the Night. And so a long night of love has reached its end. Its journey’s end, too. Around the globe from East to West, and South. Love unites cultures. Unites people. Lovers. “With an army of lovers, I could conquer the world,” Alexander the Great. All these loves unite and from their union is born a very special book of poems. Also the reader may love. He may love the poems. He may love the concept. He may even love a little more after reading. All humanity is represented here. Love is generous. Love is giving. Sharing. Share with these poets, the love that they have for you.<i>

Tonight: An Anthology of World Love Poetry
Editors: Amitabh Mitra (South Africa); Victoria Valentine (NY, US); Glory Sasikala Franklin (India)
ISBN 13 - 9780620413725
Published by: The Poets Printery, East London, South Africa (August 2008)
www.amitabhmitra.com

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