Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From Poetry Daily

To a Jornalero Cleaning Out My Neighbor’s Garage

for John Olivares Espinoza

You are nothing like my father.
And like my father
you are nothing.
Zambo. Castizo.
Without draft animals
the Mexica used the wheel
only as a toy.
Please keep off the lawn.
Green mirrors are asleep
beneath the grass.
In graduate school a landlord asked,
Here to pick strawberries?
“Y me vine de Hermosillo/
en busca de oro y riqueza.”
Are your hands
always so dirty?
Slip a finger in my mouth.
I’ll devour the grime
under the nail.
Pomegranate, grenade.
Sometimes in order to say a word
it’s necessary
to spit it out. A spic sells seashells
on the seashore. Assonance
is often considered a blemish
by corrido singers.
You walk out with a French horn in your arms
and you’re a butcher
in El Dorado holding
the golden entrails of cattle.

(Note)

Eduardo C. Corral

Witness
Volume XXIII / 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chapbook

Spring Break! Last week, I had finished the second draft of my first chapter, had turned it in to my dissertation group for discussion and feedback. One of my co-advisors liked it, the group liked the arguments overall. Although, the general feedback is, I will have to do a lot more with the editing and language and footnoting. So, basically, I still need to go back and do a lot of the finalizing stuff. But at least, the argument worked, and I think, I do have a better sense of the direction of my project.

In other news, just finished revising a poem for which I had received some good feedback. My own sense is that, it's almost there. Maybe I will need another edit after a while. A tweaking here, and a tweaking there. But mostly it is done.I also have developed in the course of the last week or so, a better sense of my first collection of poems. Initially, I was more interested in coming up with a full-length book. Undoubtedly, the full-length book would have allowed me with more of a space to deal with both thematic and formal complexities. But, the way a lot of my poems are evolving, I don't think a full-length book will have much space for a lot of the shorter poems I have written in the last three years.So, a chapbook project, I think, will be much more suitable for bringing together the kind of work I have been doing for the last three years. If I have to look into this project with an impartial eye, I will have to say, these poems are not that impressive by themselves.It's not that I think they are totally bad or unreadable, but I wouldn't say, they are earth-shattering or anything. But they have played a very important role in my life, and my growth as a poet/writer, because they have pointed out the areas to me--the areas where I need to work, the kinds of research I need to do in order to keep on writing more meaningful and relevant poems, the formal areas where I need to develop my linguistic skills. In that sense, this chapbook project will play an important role in bringing to fruition a specific phase in my life.

So, for now, I need to write the concluding poem of the collection, bring them all together in a single file, and begin to revise. I am giving myself a year to do all that work. So, hopefully, by the summer of 2011, I will have the manuscript of a chapbook ready. Ready enough to be sent out to publishers! Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Proma Tagore's Poems

Had been reading Proma Tagore's work from Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets. I wanted to read her work primarily because she is another South Asian academic-poet figure, and on top of that, writes about Bengali-ness in interesting ways. For example, one of her poems is called khichuri after noon. Now how can I just bypass a title like that? Similarly, she has a bi-lingual poem called "between tongues" which is literally a list of phrases in Bengali and their translations in English. It is an interesting idea, but there were a couple of places where I stumbled hard. For example, kalpanar daka, she has translated as through a calling of dreams. Now, kalpana is so not dream, it's imagination. So, I keep wondering is it a bengali-american's lack of enough knowledge of the language, or is it more like a stretching of the meaning of the word kalpana. Similarly, chotobelar gantha has been translated as "childhood weaves". I find that too literal, for "gantha" is indeed weaving, but it's also a word which connotes stories or narratives. And here, I would have liked a little bit of more exploration to play with that double-meaning in the English translation. But maybe then, she leaves them in the way they are for only the Bengali readers to get certain things? In any case, I don't think I will venture out to write a bi-lingual poem in that way anytime soon. I will stick to English and Bangla. Separately.

But overall, I do think, her poems do have some strong lines. For example,
"in remembering,
our rage will hold,
our words will refuse to be kept,
and i will not be consoled
tonight."

Or,
"resilience singing out
in all textures of brown:
earth, mud, clay, bark."

I like these lines because there is an effort to engage with colonial/imperial/neo-colonial state of being in here, it moves beyond the de-politicized way of dealing with gender in both American and Bengali mainstream women's poetry. I like the little reference to color, the different shades of brown all explored through concrete objects. It irrevocably brings up race, without being very explicit about it. That is, it does not pronounce the word "race" anywhere. I love the title of her poem "when places leave." There's a sense of mystery in there. And again, a sense of an awareness of the colonial/neo-colonial state. I mean,places vanish. Literally. In so many ways. And then, obviously in the minds of the people. And my home-state is, right now, in the middle of all that. Places are vanishing fast. So are people along with them.

But where I am also thinking a little bit, and feeling somewhat skeptic, is the way I am seeing post-colonial academic jargon very squarely placed in her poems. I want some of that there, though not in the form of those jargons themselves, but rather in forms of ideas, concrete stories, images, and words. In short, I want that theoretical knowledge from post-colonialism and gender studies to be translated into poetic forms and formal techniques of writing. The other thing is, these poems are little too "diasporic" for me. I am not "hybrid" in that sense. I speak and read and write in my native-tongue quite quite fluently. Thank you.

So, there is that obvious problem of not being able to relate to that immigrant anxiety in here.Instead, I would have liked a little bit more delving into concrete history through the images and the stories. Like, the little note she has about the use of the word "khichuri" in her family, especially in women's lingo, could well have been a poem in itself, and in my opinion, a much more interesting one than the one she has now.That footnote has a sense of history, social space, language in the way the poem does not have. Especially, I could have done without a coinage like "hybridized tongue."

My own writing has taken a back-seat now. I mean, I am writing. The second draft of the first chapter of my dissertation. So, I am not seeing much chance of spending much time with my poems and stories until Spring Break.