The locale in which these paintings hang reminds me of the shed I inhabit on a smaller scale.

The old grain tower retains “a wood, steel and rubber contraption ascending through a chute in the ceiling” with a sign reading: “NOTICE. ONLY MALE PILLSBURY EMPLOYEES MAY USE THIS MANLIFT.” It was so no one could see up female workers’ skirts.

These paintings measure “only” 6 by 8 feet, smaller than usual for Mr. Bradford. For me, the uncanny resemblance to heightened aerial photographs is an attraction; that, and the critic’s mention of melting grids that evoke a city’s “sporadically erratic” street plan. It invites a contrast with plans that are methodically erratic.

(Jonathan Griffin, “Mark Bradford Reveals New Paintings Quarantined in a Grain Tower,” NYTimes, 9-8-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Notes on Poetry from India (2)

In part two of his 2007 essay about Indian poetry*, R. Parasarathy narrows his focus to contemporary poetry written in Tamil. He credits C. Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) with breaking free of received forms, notably in his Prose Poems, and inventing “the idiom and metric of twentieth-century Tamil poetry.”

He defamiliarized the current language of poetry, which was elitist and static, by exploiting the spoken language for lyric expression… For the first time, poetry was no longer the exclusive preserve of the elite. It flourished on the tongues of the illiterate and uneducated.

“Movie lyric” is a popular genre. Kannadasan (1927 – 1981) and R. Vairamuthu (b. 1953) are exemplars. Poets who compose lyrics for movies achieve elevated status, whereas those who don’t languish in obscurity.

In the case of the latter, their universe of discourse has come to be centered in the complexities of their own sexual, emotional, and psychological experiences.

Ka. Naa. Subramanyam (1912 – 1988) called for a new poetry in Tamil. It should have intellectual content “apart from the emotional”; use “recognizable conversational phrases” and hard images shorn of adjectives; and avoid “mysticism.”

N. Pichamurti (1900 – 1977) drew inspiration from the free verse of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as well as Bharati’s Prose Poems.

The poetics of new poetry in Tamil has been shaped by three different traditions: classical Tamil, Sanskrit, and English.

Nakulan (b. 1922) represents the new Tamil poetry. He is said to “walk a tightrope between verse and prose,” and to deploy an unusual edginess of tone in spoken language that’s “uninflated by metaphor.”

Tamil Dalit poetry emerged only in the early nineteen-nineties. It calls attention “to both the plight of Dalits in a society riven by caste and the task of integrating them into the national mainstream.” N.T. Rajkumar (b. 1968) represents the genre.

One of the women poets “redrawing the map of sexual politics in Tamil Nadu,” Kutty Revathi (b. 1974), published a poem called Breasts in 2002 which “explores the ‘politics of breasts’ and dismisses their representation as ‘objects.’” Some men demanded that women writing explicit poems “be burned alive.”

Salma (b. 1968) is outspoken about the lives of Muslim women in purdah.

* “Indian Poetry Today,” Poetry (September 2007)

(c) 2020 JMN

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The Case for Old Bulls

“New research challenges the assumption that bulls become redundant in elephant society after breeding.”

New evidence suggests that male elephants do have social lives, and that older males may act as leaders for younger ones.

For example, from 1992 to 1997, young orphaned male elephants that had been introduced to Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa began coming into premature musth, a temporary state of heightened aggression and sexual activity. When females rejected the adolescents’ advances, the young males took their aggression out on white rhinos, killing more than 40. Seeking a solution, researchers introduced six older male elephants to the park. The younger males’ musth subsided, and the rhino killing stopped.

“Older males perhaps control aggressive behavior in younger ones,” Ms. Allen said.

In the absence of older bulls, younger ones would probably still be able to navigate a habitat by using well-worn paths to water… But older animals could be crucial to more critical knowledge, such as where to find water during a prolonged drought, or how to evade poachers.

(Rachel Nuwer, “Old Male Elephants: Don’t Count Them Out,” NYTimes, 9-4-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Notes on Poetry from India (1)

In the September 2007 edition of Poetry, R. Parthasarathy edited an “Indian Poetry Portfolio” accompanied by his essay titled “Indian Poetry Today.” I note salient points from that essay here.

India’s National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) recognizes twenty-four languages, including English. The poems showcased by Parthasarathy represent thirteen of them.

After Ghalib (1797 – 1869), there has not been an Indian poet comparable to the great European Moderns — Yeats, Mandelstam, Cavafy, and Pessoa.

The Partition of India in 1947 was a traumatic event for the nation. Conflict between Hindus and Muslims has persisted, including outbreaks of violence.

Poetry addresses these concerns; its healing power tends to the wounds festering in the national psyche and offers insights.

Dalit poetry is one of two significant recent developments. “Dalit is the name preferred by the former Untouchable caste.” The second significant development is that of feminist poetry.

Parthasarathy writes that contemporary Indian poetry awaits good translation. Available translations, he says, tend to be “in an English that is awkward.” (I’m reminded here of the tenet that the prerequisite for performing good translation is to write well in one’s own language.)

The first Indian poet published in Poetry was Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941). Tagore himself translated his six poems, and Ezra Pound introduced them.

In 1959, the magazine published a special Indian number featuring thirty-seven poets in twelve languages, including English. Tambimuttu, “the legendary editor of Poetry London – New York,” was guest editor. With the exception of Tagore and Iqbal (1877 – 1938), those poets are unknown today.

Parthasarathy ends part one of his essay encouraging American poets to work with Bengali or Urdu scholars to produce poetry translations that are “a pleasure to read.” Until then, he writes, contemporary Indian poetry will remain a closed book.

(c) 2020 JMN

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Friday Morning

I’m struggling.

My remote interlocutor in life of the mind is keeping me afloat insofar as having a rational dialog with someone.

But that dialog is private. Of the muchness on my mind, I’m conflicted as to which of it matters much to say. However, as with the show, the blog must go on.

Language: My interlocutor and I are delving into the interesting topic of mass nouns versus count nouns and how they behave. The question sparking this exchange was whether or not the word “jam” ought to be plural. “Eggs and Jams” was written on a sign. The natives who know “less” versus “few” are the same as know “lie” versus “lay.”

Painting: On my easel is the second of two versions of a large man with a demented look pointing at his temple. MG, my studio manager, isn’t likely to expose these on the Shed’s FB page because the temple pointer is violently controversial. So one paints pointlessly the pointing man. (In pentameter, as it happens.)

Music: I’m working through the musical intervals — perfects, minors, majors — on the little Martin guitar. I’m trying to grok how intervals might help me know which notes my fingers are pressing. Also trying to read notation more fluently.

Poetry: I thought reading poetry again to figure out what purpose it serves would screen out scream culture. The “Scholls Ferry Rd.” disturbance put poof to the illusion. I had read Dickman’s poem before learning of Don Share’s abject resignation. The Daily Princetonian logs the opprobrium of offended readers at length.

Translation: My interlocutor asks if Spanish has nouns such as “jam” that straddle the mass-count continuum. I say yes. Nouns such as mermelada (jam), aceite (oil), and caridad (charity) lean toward quantity rather than number, but there can be many jams (flavors of) and “muchas mermeladas.”

(c) 2020 JMN

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Pinched Dawnings

“I feel that poetry has the power to pinch one’s heart to such an extent that the reader thinks twice and thrice before he or she interprets it.” (Sonam Tsering, Silent Songs of Sonsnow)


Dawnings oxygenate idées reçues.
A shadow in the mind turns solid & appreciable,
angled & degreed & weighty.

— Blew me away, she said, I mean
hell bent for leather spur-raked
cayuse of affront

A plangent, evanescent naked swirl,
dwindled to weather swindle,
prosopopoeia in a pee cup —

— Turn down the bed when it suits you.
Louie is not himself tonight. I’ll be gone upstairs.

Pressure at sea level plateauing to millibaric norms. Ongoing going on platform crude tap offshore… going going going going going …

(c) 2020 JMN

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The Gargoyles’ Grin

In 1915, Wallace Stevens offered Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry (the magazine), several poems that included Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock. “She returned them… finding them ‘recondite, erudite, provocatively obscure… all with ‘a kind of modern-gargoyle grin to them,’” writes Stevens biographer Paul Mariani.

In Stevens’s poem, white night-gowns haunt a house, but none are any number of color combinations specified:

None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.

Nor are they “strange,”

With socks of lace / And beaded ceintures.

For added measure,

People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.

And in closing, a drunk old sleeping sailor can be found who

Catches tigers
In red weather.

It’s a sundae of rippled parfums confected by a Harvardian aesthete.

A critic wrote of a Stevens play that “the purpose of this kind of entertainment… appears to be to say something that has no meaning at all with all the bearing of significance.” One shrugs assent. Stevens said, after all, that good poetry must resist interpretation.

The gargoyles’ grin persists in 2020. Ms. Monroe’s magazine furnishes much poetry catching tigers in red weather.

(c) 2020 JMN

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Jacob Blake, the Black resident of Kenosha, Wis., who was shot by a white police officer, is shackled to his hospital bed [my bolding]… [He] remains paralyzed from the waist down… The police were arresting Mr. Blake on Sunday afternoon when an officer shot him seven times… They have not said what charges he was facing… Mr. Blake’s injuries are severe, including damage to his bowels, shattered vertebrae and bullet fragments in his spinal cord. (“Live Updates…,” NYTimes, 8-28-20)

“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.” — Trump, on his plans for a second term
(“Doonesbury Say What?” washingtonpost.com, 8-28-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Poetry and Drawing

The essay is “On Drawing” by poet Michael Burkard (Poetry*, July/August 2020).

Mary Hackett was “a self-taught artist who spent much of the year in Provincetown [Massachusetts].” Michael Burkard writes of striking up a friendship with her while on an extended stay there.

One afternoon Mary said to me, “Michael, you love art so much, but you don’t even draw!” I immediately replied, “Mary, I can’t draw.” Mary immediately said, “Oh for God’s sake, don’t let that stop you!”… I have been drawing ever since. One of Mary’s fine paintings is entitled The Big Me Standing in My Way. Fine advice for anyone. And this is the best advice to young poets I can think of.

… Often I return to drawings a good while after they’ve begun. As in my writing, I am at times intrigued by a mistake. I prefer to think of it as a mis-take. I sometimes mix drawing with something, usually a poem or a failed poem I have written. And often I am drawing small sequences. I think that just having drawings in the vicinity of poems creates possible relationships which otherwise would not occur.

*The eponymous magazine founded in 1912 by Harriet Monroe.

(c) 2020 JMN

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Prosodic Moments in Poeisis

In English, the difficulty of perceiving even brief isosyllabic lines as rhythmically equivalent is aggravated by the inordinate power of stressed syllables

The mashup of mystification about versifying that’s available online furnishes what I call Prosodic Moments — when phraseology leaps to quasi-epic status along the lines of milk’s vault to the empyrean of cheese.

… In English… [“syllabic technique”] is a compositional device: primarily of importance to the author, perhaps noticed by the alert reader, and imperceptible to the hearer.
(“Syllabic verse,” Wikipedia)

Cadence in Free verse came to mean whatever the writer liked, some claiming verse and poetry had it, but prose did not, but for some it was synonymous with Free verse, where each poet has to find the cadence within himself.
(“Cadence (poetry),” Wikipedia)

The term strophe is used in modern and post-modern criticism, to indicate “long non-isomorphic units”… This appropriation of the ancient term is useful, as contemporary poetry… avoids relying upon the invention of new terminology such as ‘word clumps’.
(“Strophe,” Wikipedia)

And so we shoot the gap between the Scylla of isosyllabism and the Charybdis of isomorphism in the quest to feel how modern verse breaks free of prose by other than a powdered nose.

(c) 2020 JMN

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