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Summer, with its heat and dust, inspires poetry too



Thoughts in June, when the house burns from floor to roof

North India is an oven, as it always is in June. Mohan Rakesh wrote the play, Ashadh ka ek din, ‘A Day in the Rainy Season’, the first modern Hindi play — about a fictional poet Kalidas.

We need someone to write about a day in June, the house burning from floor to roof.

The myth that air pollution goes down in summer is partly myth. It may have been true some years ago. Not any longer.

‘Windows, eye-to-eye with dawn, open


to faint fugitive whiff of char.

What’s burning there?

Not street fires, not funeral pyres.

It’s just the Delhi air.’

Not that this kind of thing is new. The rubble of our surroundings has been touched upon by poets, but much too rarely.

Fifty years ago Gael Turnbull wrote ‘I look up — into a sky/ which becomes a ground from which all pigment has been/ absorbed, leaving only a fine dust, an indeterminate/ bleach —/ a purity of sort — then the air fragmented/ by diesel engines, bulldozers and earthmovers, on an/ adjacent hill…masticating the dirt’ (‘Twenty Words, Twenty Days’).

The dead garden

Am speculating as always, but didn’t the ‘return to nature poetry’ in England come up as a reaction to two developments — the industrial revolution and the pathetic state of factories on the ground on the one hand, and the dry, desiccated rationalism of the 17th century philosophers, Descartes, to name just one, on the other?

The revolt followed, with the Germans Novalis, Hölderlin, Goethe leading the attack, followed closely by the French — the name of Gérard de Nerval comes to mind. Of course, poets reacted in their own way. The first stanza of ‘Fragments’ by William Butler Yeats talks of the neglected Garden of Eden in a time of rationalism.

‘Locke sank into a swoon;

The Garden died.

God took the spinning jenny

Out of his side.’

Robert Bly has an entire book called News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness. The book talks of the dark side of the unconscious which the Enlightenment ignored. Bly emphasises “respect for the integrity of the natural world, respect for the night-intelligence, and careful observation of detail.” Here’s a quote from Wendell Berry’s ‘The Peace of Wild Things’:

I come into the presence of still water.

And feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am


This kind of poetry, whatever euphemism you may cloak it in, went through its stages from glorying in the ‘meadows and the lower downs’ (Wordsworth) to strident denunciations of ‘satanic mills’ (Blake), to mournful poems on the ruination of the planet. And the last stage, the oneness of the poet with the universe, of which we are a micro part, humankind as granules in the sidereal vast, seeps in occasionally.

Joy Harjo, a native American, member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, winner of many awards, is a mild sensation in poetry circles in the U.S. She says in her poem ‘Remember’, ‘Remember the sky you were born under…Remember the earth whose skin you are/ Remember the plants, trees , animal life who all have their/ tribes, their families, histories too./ Talk to them,/ listen to them. They are alive poems…’

Bly makes his point by quoting the ‘rationalists’ poets. Jonathan Swift was a misogynist. His poem ‘Gentle Echo on Women’ would entitle him to an MCP trophy.

Lord what is she that can turn and



If she be wind, what stills her when she



But if she bang again, should I bang


Bang her.’

Swift used the word ‘bang’ in its primary sense.

Foxed and detoxed

Sarabjeet Garcha has come out with a solid poetry volume, A Clock in the Far Past, his third. He is multi-lingual and has ably translated from Marathi and Punjabi. His poetry can be adventurous and experimental, sometimes ‘marooned between dream and deep dream.’ An old-time reader may be a bit befuddled by the start of a poem like ‘Hoof’: ‘You reach the right word/ through the French window/ of Ctrl + F/ but this search assumes/ foreknowledge’.

Hmm, the reader doesn’t know where the poem is going. The ending is redemptive and truly poetic: ‘For what comes after,/ you must rig the rafters/ and tear away the roof,/ welcoming the sky/ crushing you/ under the blue,/ blue hoof.’ Revel in the words and enjoy.

Sometimes poets try too hard: ‘The mind mowed by maya loosens/ and the dirtbrown foundations/ of a buried city gleam/ detoxing the devotee.’ I confess that I am both foxed and detoxed.

Arjun Rajendran’s ‘The Cosmonaut in Herge’s Rocket’ is much too post-postmodern for me. In ‘Painless’, the cabin crew walks down the aisle serving ‘anti-depressants.’ The country he is flying to is low on the happiness index.

A poem ‘Interviewing a Beetroot’ starts with the line ‘First boil it with your eyes’. In a poem on the Hardy-Ramanujan number, the poet asks Feynmanabout Kumbakonam.Feynmanshoots back, ‘Bongo drums?’

He has a few sober poems, but his strength lies in surprising the reader every now and then and mixing up disparate elements adroitly.

The writer is a poet and novelist.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 10:02:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/a-faint-fugitive-whiff-of-char/article24112025.ece

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