Saturday, September 28, 2013

For poetry lovers... and those who don't care about poetry


"The sun strikes deep into the wells of the sky: depends on how you look at it -- for someone it is the hour to be shot at dawn, for me the infinite gift of red, of violet and blush-graying white above the bridge across the Loireo."
Tomaz Salamun

  Poetry is a universal dialogue that invites voices from every corner of the world. It embodies the desire to explore emotions and new realms.
 Poetry invites the mind to set itself free from its prison, but it is also a medium that can understand and console us. If I had to choose an anthology out of all the ones I read this year, I would pick Edward Hirsch's "Poet's Choice."
  Most of the poems he selected landed before my eyes just when I needed them - as if I had been destined to read them. Edward Hirsch brought together the voices of poets from all over the world without being biased by gender, country of origin, popularity, political ideas, religion or social class. Edward Hirsch was inspired and motivated by his passion for poetry.
   I was spellbound by Hirsch's essays on the poets and their works. I admire his wit,  sensitivity and open-minded approach. I savored each and every sentence he wrote and was compelled to read them more than once. This book is a masterpiece. It unleashes the vast universe of human experience.
   Not only did I fall in love with the poems he selected, but I also experienced a strong kinship to most of these poets.
 Now let me share with you Edward Hirsch's quotes on poetry:
  "I have tried to remember throughout that poetry is made by flesh-and-blood human beings. It is a bloody art. It lives on a human scale and thrives when it is passed from hand to hand."
   "Poetry is a means of exchange, a form of reciprocity, a magic to be shared, a gift. Poetry saves something precious in the world from vanishing."
   "Poetry challenges us to find meaning in the midst of suffering. Poetry answers this challenge. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It sends us messages from the interior and also connects us to others. It is intimate and secretive; it is generously collective."
    "Poems defend the importance of individual lives and rebel at the way individuals are dwarfed by mass culture."
    "I have carried poetry with me like a flashlight-- how many small books have I crammed into my pockets?-- and used it to illuminate other lives, other worlds. I discovered myself in discovering others, and I have lived with these poems until they have become part of the air that I breathe. I hope they will become part of the reader's world too."
 Some of the poets he included in this book are Jorge Luis Borges,  Sappho, Blaga Dimitrova, Charlotte Mew, W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Czeslaw Milosz,  Radmila Lazic, Primo Levi, Taha Muhammad Ali, Yehuda Amichai, Kadya Molodowsky, Avraham Ben Yitzhak, Saadi Youssef, Cesar Vallejo, Miguel Hernandez, Pablo Neruda, Julia de Burgos, Alfonsina Storni, Octavio Paz, Amy Lowell, Naomi Nye, Wallace Stevens, Jane Mayhall, Dorothea Tanning, Kathleen Raine, Mark Strand, William Carlos Williams, Jane Mayhall, William Matthews, Robert Bly and many others.
 I believe there is something urgent about poetry, something that rescues us from our own uncertainty...
 
Ars Poetica

Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
Send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply won't have time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood -- as if it were your last.

Blaga Dimitrova (Translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dear Life



Reading Alice Munro’s collection of short stories has been a sweet delight. She knows how to build suspense and how to make it escalate. Secondly, the characters feel real. She reveals the intricacies and quirks of human thoughts and lives. Her stories extort behaviors from the depths of human idiosyncrasies.
    I’ve also noticed that she evokes strong emotions in the reader—she made me sad or angry at the characters at times. Some of them are likeable and it’s easy to empathize with them and to feel deeply touched by their circumstances and situations. Others are not so likeable. For instance, there is a poet in a passionless marriage who gets obsessed with another man, and in giving way to her impulses she forsakes her little daughter. (This is the first story of the collection; it is called “To Reach Japan”). I couldn’t put it down till the end.
   The second story, “Amundsen”, is about a teacher who goes to work to a rural area where tuberculosis is prevalent. Then she becomes engaged to a doctor whose intentions are not as benign as we believe they are.
   Another unforgettable story is “Leaving Maverly”. It is about a girl who had a very strict religious upbringing in a small town. Yet, as time goes by, we learn that the outcome of this strict upbringing is quite a surprise.
   “Haven” is another story that I enjoyed. It is about a childless couple: a doctor and his wife. They are taking care of their niece -- the narrator-- whose parents are in Africa, working as volunteers. The wife has a docile personality and she lives to serve her husband. She is never upset, and everything she does seems to revolve around her husband’s life.
   “Dolly” is also one of my favorite stories. A mathematics teacher decides to stay at home writing entertaining biographies of Canadian novelists that have been neglected.  One day she discovers that she needs some company and opens the door to a stranger: a woman with a load of cosmetics.
    The subtle hints of social criticism she instills, through provocative comments, in some of her stories caught my attention. I will give you examples:
 “It would become hard to explain, later on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not. You might say, well, feminism was not. But then you would have to explain that feminism was not even a word people used. Then you would get all tied up saying that having any serious idea, let alone ambition, or maybe even reading a real book, could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child’s getting pneumonia, and a political remark at an office party might have cost your husband his promotion. It would not have mattered which political party either. It was her woman’s shooting off her mouth that did it”.
  “It wasn't just her big bones and her big white nose, and the violin and the somewhat silly way you had to hold it—it was the music itself and her devotion to it. Devotion to anything, if you were female, could make you ridiculous.”
  There are fourteen stories in this collection, so I’m not going to comment on all of them, but “Dear Life” includes a unique gift: four of the stories are autobiographical. This is what Alice Munro says about them:
  “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.”
    Alice Munro’s characters stayed with me after I’d finished her stories -- as if I had met some of them in person -- and the scenes were so vivid that now I feel I have been in the stories myself.
     I also like the fact that some of her fictional stories are populated by characters that have an interest in books, writing, or some kind of art. It helps me to feel a deeper connection to them.
  Last but not least, Alice Munro breaks every single “rule of writing fiction”. I am referring to the "imaginary" rules that linger in literary groups and workshops. Her writing debunks all those myths. It captivates and enthralls me. Thank you, Alice Munro.

   Alice Munro is the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. She’s also a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Two Women Inside One


 My poem "Two Women Inside One" was accepted by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. You can read it here

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"

 If you wonder what it feels like to be inside the mind of a person who suffers from severe depression, reading The Bell Jar will help you approach such a person’s reality. However, stating that this book is about a lady who falls prey to this disorder undermines the complexity of this fascinating book.
  This novel, which is based on true events that Sylvia Plath fictionalized, unravels the conflicts that trouble a young woman who struggles to meet the demands of a society that classified people into “losers” and “winners," while she attempts to be loyal to her identity and to unearth her true self.
  Esther is willing to figure out how to find her place in the world. At the same time, she tries to understand the nature of relationships between men and women. In doing so, she ferrets out the inconsistencies of these relationships, and how the moral code imposed on men and women differs from what happens under the surface. Through different situations, she exposes this reality with humor and irony.
  Esther Greenwood, the main character, tells us her story  in a conversational style that is effortless and captivating--Sylvia Plath knows where to place her metaphors. The raw honesty of her thoughts bemused me.
    How can we fail to understand what a depressive person feels after we have read the following remark?
   “If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street cafĂ© in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
  Esther sees the world and her life through the stifling glass of “the bell jar”: her depression. Before descending to the bottom of her nervous breakdown, she dithers over what she should be doing with her life, what paths are the ones she should choose.
   Her doubts unsettle her. She is trapped in a snare, caught up by the false belief that she will not make the right decisions and will lose her chances to accomplish something meaningful. The metaphor of the tree illustrates her concerns.
   “From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
  “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
  Her experiences in the asylums are memorable and interesting. It is hard for the reader to forget her acquaintance, Joan, who is almost like a friend to her despite the fact that she had dated the same man: Buddy Willard, a medical student.
 The ambiguity of the relationship between Joan and Esther is a recurrent theme. Esther states that she does not like Joan. Yet she also admits that she will always treasure her. "I thought I would always treasure Joan. It was as if we had been forced together by some overwhelming circumstances, like war or plague, and shared a world of our own."
 Interestingly, Joan's final decision foreshadows Sylvia Plath's destiny, and one cannot help but wonder about the blurred boundaries between fiction and reality.
  Another riveting aspect of "The Bell Jar" is revealed to us in the relationships she had with the psychiatrists who treated her. First, the cold distant encounter with her first psychiatrist, Dr Gordon. The treatment started by Dr Gordon was unsuccessful. Then with her second psychiatrist, Dr Nolan, she had a friendly relationship cemented by trust, and the outcome was different (Dr Nolan was also more knowledgeable). Through precise body language and realistic dialogues, Sylvia makes this relationship jump out of the page.
   I think physicians and psychiatrists will benefit from reading this novel, even though the set of events took place in 1953, when Sylvia Plath was a freshman in college.
   Many of the problems portrayed in this novel are universal. This is a literary classic that I thoroughly enjoyed, not only because her writing style is impeccable but also because her reality is as relevant today as it was in 1953.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Gift


A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.

There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czelaw Milosz