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Can prose read like poetry?

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Can a sportswriter move you from one passion to another? Can. Three ladies, Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and Shivani Naik, turned me from a cricket to a badminton fan.

Can prose read like poetry? Sometimes. Just read architect Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy’s Gardens of Love. Central Park (NY), via Sacre in Rome and Lodhi Gardens, with hubby-to-be sitting with her protagonist, all described pithily, and accompanied by great sketches… Her next novel is ‘under construction.’ Her bio is as formidable as an advertisement for cement.

Wolves at the door

Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay, has just come my way. This massive book swirls around the horrendous rape and death of Nirbhaya Jyoti Singh Pandey. It comes at the time of the Kathua rape and the murder of the eight-year-old Bakherwal girl, and two Jammu and Kashmir ministers speaking up for the brutal accused. Unbelievable!

Going through these 200 poems from around the world, one realises that male violence — rape, female infanticide, acid attacks, genital mutilation — has a global spread. Let’s take the poetry. Leslie B. Neustadt is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York. Her poem ‘Teshuvah (Account and Repent)’ talks about her father:

When I was a little girl, my mother

sickened,

He took me as his concubine,

Like a slender white birch, I bent

amidst his storms…

Later she challenges him and tells him ‘Account and repent/ Slice open your heart.’ In another poem she calls her father ‘Wolf at my bedroom door’ and worse, which I won’t quote. Here are some lines from a poem, ‘To Be a Woman’, by the West Australian poet Jan Napier, who was in a one-year relationship with a violent man. ‘To be a woman/ burn a numb candle/…quiver like cat-lapped milk/ at his rowdy blow/ spice beefsteak with humility.’ The last line reads ‘scrub that doorstep heart.’ The commentaries on each poem by the poet are devastating. She left her partner after a year.

In a commentary, Irish poet Áine Moynihan attacks the Catholic church, “for excluding us from ordained ministry and seeking to control our sexuality. A male celibate clergy has bred suspicion and fear of women.”

In a poem in Gaelic, ‘Cardinal Sins’, she says in translation ‘Cast off the red cloak./ Burn the biretta./ Put on a sackcloth. Walk into the square… To a topless protester/ Prostrate yourself before her/ And beg forgiveness...’ Pretty strong, this! Why must he say sorry to a topless one?

Shauna Osborn is a Comanche/ German mestiza artist. Her poem ‘Unbound’ tells a lovely story about a wife who takes off her skin and disappears through a window at night, returns and puts on the skin before hubby wakes up. ‘With darkness comes freedom,/ tight constrictive skin gone/ draped over chair.’

One night hubby wakes up, sees skin, puts salt in skin. She can’t put it on anymore.

Back to myths

Jane Bhandari has three poems which hit you hard, especially ‘The Widows’: ‘We widows sit together, dry-eyed./ The other women/ overflow like rivers.’ In a beautiful poem, Priya Sarukkai Chabria tells the man:

Yet in your passion do not scar me.

Do not split my lip, nor stifle speech.

Do not force my cervix out of shape

Nor ram my individuality.

Which brings me to Tabish Khair’s ‘Immigration’, which starts off pretty well, with a woman being asked, ‘Where’s the proof of your being/ the stamp that seals who you say, you say, you say you are?’ Gritty start though I would have skipped two of those three ‘you says’.

Then unaccountably the poem moves to Shakuntala and Dushasan. For a moment you wonder whether he is confusing Dushyant with Dushasan. No, he is not, but the poem flops.

Is this the new Indian avant-garde? Whether gang rape or Nirav Modi’s escape, go back to ancient myth. Incidentally, no one talked of the rape of Lucrece by Sextus Tarquinius in this huge anthology. Smita Sahay and Charles Fishman have done a fine job. They deserve a bow.

Sanskarnama by Nabina Das is a strong volume of political poems. It comes after two earlier poetry books. In a poem, ‘Hymn of the Anti-national’, she writes, ‘My lovers are all anti-nationals/ they have eyes of gem-set copper/ tongues of the salted Aravali range,/ every time they serenade me loud/ they send Jai chasing after Ram/ this makes Shri a little jealous/ there’s so much in this din/ because will ache din come only to the favoured/, will an anti-national day/ give us a permanent spring?

There is also a line in the poem, ‘no one seems to know what Rohingyas mean.’ It draws attention to the cold shoulder we gave to the Rohingya, visiting Myanmar to discuss security, not the Rohingyas’ plight.

The next poem is titled, ‘My Neighbour is a Gau Rakshak’. The reader knows what to expect. The last lines will suffice: The Rakshak asserts,

Hindu khatre mein hai

The sky is saffron the cow mothers

turn plastic bags to manna

Our conversations span all greatness

of Bharat Mata Shri

Then nirvana becomes a Bengali

mithai he offers me with tea.’

The writer is a poet and novelist.


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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 11:35:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/can-prose-read-like-poetry/article23867221.ece

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