Beautiful Allium, bright and bold
Swaying in the wind torn hold
Of a garden, sunlit from above
Radiating the painters love
As glorious as the stars at night
Twinkling colours for hearts contrite.
I would like to see no evil around
but alas! cannot close these eager eyes.
And how could I ever be honour bound
for the truth that glitters is disguised lies.
I have closed my ears to the evil sound
but the blares of the devil are so loud.
I try to be deaf but their echoes hound,
and they are but the laments of the crowd.
I wish no evil from my tongue should roll
for there is much to be said and cautioned.
But my words lay silently in the soul,
and the ills roam unscathed, unquestioned.
So blame me not in this life of disguise-
help me decipher the wise from the vice.
Long road nights,
away from cargo terminalled towns,
days passing by like strangers
across midwestern plains,
beating time chasing sundowns
roaring on into chimeras
of purple-flecked dawns;
sights and sounds streaming north
skies bleached passing fast fading
truckstops neon-pink motel signs,
listening to the broadcast game
fade in and out with
a stray memory of
another game a long time ago
those watching it running down their
lives soaking in the tavern sweat;
Long road nights,
running that clock down,
passing anonymous cities
their silhouetted skylines,
on toward the rumbling
crashing down breaking
into the final day;
scouting for that dirt road
miles off the Interstate,
rolling up to the farmhouse,
rendezvous with the Man in shades,
and a bulky manila envelope
exchanged for the cargo manifest;
drums of fuel oil
and pallets of Ammonia.
Ammonium Nitrate is an adaptable oxidizer that works well when explosions are needed during mining or quarrying operations. When combined with fuel oil, it makes an effective explosive that has a wide range of applications.
Salma had an unembellished beauty and softness,
Which radiated a striking personal confidence.
Her brown eyes spoke a language
As beautiful as Sappho’s poems on papyrus scroll.
She always had a sensuous and lingering smile
On her lips which many men died to kiss.
yet, she had never known a phenomenal kiss
For, though married, what mattered to her husband
Was a quick intercourse with neither love nor passion.
It was just an act of relief for him
And to her, there was no elegance in his romancw.
Nor did his love taste like vintage wine.
His body was with her
But her heart was elsewhere.
She thought of Antonio who would never know
How much she loved him,
Not because he is handsome, but because
He’ more herself than she was.
Whatever their souls are made of,
His and hers are the same
And her husband’s as different
As a moonbeam from lightning
Or frost from fire.
Antonio was an Afro-American business man
Who had a chain of hotels across the globe.
He was tall, statuesque with jet-black hair
And had a bourgeois approach to life.
Sexy girls had always splayed their thighs
Mesmerizing him with magnetism
Of physical forms of elegance
Where love was a mechanical game,
Heart vacant and feelings transient.
And when he met Salma, he realized
That they were made for each other.
Yet, he remained quiet and loved her silently
Leaving the rest in sweet destiny’s hands.
Who killed His Son that everyone goes free.
Do you know His anger and its fury
For those who reject and don’t believe.
Paradise in heaven is prepared
Burning fires of hell intensely roar
Peace and beauty. Pain and torment.
And all He asks of us is to believe.
Girls in smocks carrying sweet simnel cakes
And picking pretty posies to please their mothers
Girls with gifts of sweatmeats and bakes
Each more keen to set out than the others
Walking past hedgerows white with May
Dew from lush grasses and buttercup pollen
Brushing their skirts as they wend theIr way
Homeward , fording the streams ice- melt swollen
And mothes waiting at the garden gates
Of cottages hung with sweet honeysuckle
With savoury treats laid out on plates
Visitors waiting their shoes to unbuckle
Mothering Sunday’s the second one in May
To thank and pamper and bless and pray .
( ASA )
To come back to this knotty problematic. The words artist, poet, literature, writing, poetry, poems, human being/s are all interconnected but down the ages, fortunately, or unfortunately, some people have got the name of the great poet, or good poet, and some poems have got the name of great poetry or good poetry. While all this may be pooh-poohed by many who want poetry to be just something that makes them feel, this “I feel it, I feel you business” is only one of the measures of good poetry. There is the question of what made you feel, and how, and why. In academia, poetry is judged by many yardsticks. Some talk of political correctness or relevance as a measure if they go by the content-centric school. Some go by things like how a poet uses figures of speech, imagery, and ‘sound’ or music devices, and themes if they believe in and go by the tenets of new criticism and close textual analysis. Poets themselves are as diverse as leaves on a tree in their opinions, as are readers as to what constitutes good poetry or great poetry. Is it its resonance with a certain culture or national pride or savviness in making things popular and canonized. or the other many things it is supposed to be, including where all one got published and in which all libraries one’s book appears in that makes writing good? Is popularity a measure?
I return to my main point, poetry is not really all this but a linkage between the author, the text, what the references are, as in what the poem refers to, and the richer the references or allusiveness the better for the poem, or the readers who bring to it their own references, texts, and worlds and emotions and interpretations, thus enriching what is at the beginning, at best, just a bare outline and at worst not even that, and if this happens the poems becomes itself and comes into its own. At this point, I can widen the frame of reference and say this definition includes not just poetry but any form of written art or any kind of art. The modern world moves towards groups and if we look at museums the curator matters, if we look at anthologies the editors matter, if we look at communities interactive participation matters and individualism plays only a part in all this. This democratization or post-modern levelling where all matters and everything does, and no one matters and nothing does, is also not what I am talking of when I mean good or great poetry as it is only part of the process around it, framing it, according to me. The final proof of it is in the writing if the poet has been sincere enough to give it his or her best, and the reader too gives it his or her best and this becomes a groundswell that leads to hundreds and thousands and billions of people reading it in many places/spaces and over time, that is over hundreds of years, and writing of/about it, in the effort to keep it alive, and if it survives the ravages of time, space, readers, forgetfulness, discrimination, and chaos, then perhaps it is destined to be called great or good poetry.
Let me take a poem for consideration, to illustrate some of my points. I will not say who it is by, initially.
With Annie gone,
Whose eyes to compare
With the morning sun?
Not that I did compare,
But I do compare
Now that she’s gone.
This is a very simple poem. I am sure people who read it will like it though it is small. The first line talks of parting from a loved one and this might have been through a falling out or even death, it is not clear. The second line alludes to a typical poetic device or figure of speech, the simile, and bringing in ‘sun’ at the end of the third, a slant rhyme. There is implicit visual imagery too, there. Those familiar with Shakespeare may remember the line “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun” at this juncture.
This is the reader, me, bringing in the Shakespearean sonnet-text, to make more sense of the quoted poem. Shakespeare compares, and comparing finds that while poets lie by exaggerating their muse’s beauty probably to please him/her/them, this does not mean that he loves his mistress less. The quoted poem in this frame is apposite, the lover did not compare, but now that the beloved is gone, does. There is regret, wistfulness, and guilt, as he realizes the value of the person gone, but it is too late to set it right. This is beautiful how with a few words, a bareness, an economy, the poet, who is Leonard Cohen, by the way, tells us how much he feels that he should have been more sensitive to the inner and external beauty and needs of someone he actually loved but lost due to his inability to “compare” and articulate what he found. What he regrets, unlike Shakespeare, is that his love was not genuine and poetic enough, while Shakespeare says false love couched in poetic terms (“false compare”) does not interest him, he would rather love genuinely and not use hyperbole but its antithesis, understatement, to describe his lover’s beauty. There is no doubt that both are good poems and good poets but let me now give Shakespeare’s poem.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
We imagine Annie and her eyes and the comparison but here, in the second poem, we not only have a sonnet with meter, rhyme, and perfect stanzas and form, but beautiful imagery and more to imagine as comparison and contrast with inverted similes(“nothing like the sun”), and striking metaphors. We find a rare felicity in the words used that expands our vision and vocabulary. We find humour in the comparisons that make us laugh or at least bring a smile on our face and at the same time the ending brings in an exalted note of both the inner virtue of the woman and the sincere love of the poet.
For me, the first is a good poem, a lovely one, but the second is a great poem. If I was to judge solely on the basis of these two poems, the first poet would be what I call a good poet and the second a great poet but fortunately, I do not have to judge, as both exist in the wide realms of poetry, art, literature, writing as their own suns, lights, moons, candles or flames and have their own niches or mansions but while there may be some who say both poems are equally good and there is no need to “compare”, or that the first one is better being more minimal, etc., for me, the second one teaches more while I also enjoy the first one, and so I lean to that as winning the contest, self-made if this is a contest. Forgive me.
Readers will of course be of many sorts and if given two poems to read and compare with no names of writers attached they will come up with interesting subjective choices as to which they like and some will even say they dislike both or hate both or are indifferent to both or like the one you don’t or love it and vice versa. This is called reader response but even here, over time, objectivity is reached if the readers persist in reading and rereading and are honest with themselves and others as to their own reactions even as they also change.
We see poetry can be enjoyed at many levels but to come to decide for oneself whether it is good or great one has to give it, as readers, more than one takes from it, to reduce one’s biases and prejudices as well as the ones that others would thrust on us as to how to read it, who to read, why, when and where, and probably that is what I want to say in this essay apart from saying that poetry is a world as wide as the universe and so one must walk in it humbly to learn all that it has to give one.
Updated Bio of the Author: Dr. Koshy A.V. is a fiction writer, literary critic, essayist, non-fiction writer, editor, anthology maker, literary theoretician and poet. He has founded Autism for Help Village Project, with his wife, Anna Gabriel, The Significant League, with Reena Prasad, and instituted the Reuel International Prize for Literature besides inventing the Roseate Sonnet form. He is working presently for I-Nurture at Jain University, SET, Bangalore, India, teaching ESP. He has 25 books with his name on the cover. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has certificates from Harvard X, World Bank, and other places, besides having two Amazon best-seller books to his credit with Santosh Bakaya and Jagari Mukherjee, named Vodka by the Volga and Wine-kissed Poems. He is famous for his A Treatise on Poetry for Beginners.
Night arrives in a funeral attire
mourning for an aborted day.
The anointing oil of last rites blinds my vision .
Rain is beating against my windows
not in a gentle patter,
but more like dozens of voices
howling with pain.
The white curtain ,
akin to a death shroud,
sways to the wind’s ordeal.
My mind , a ledger stone
is transported to a cliff-side.
A violent sea threatens me.
Waves retorts against rock walls
I slip into a muddy grass fall,
again and again and yet again –
a Sisyphus’s task perhaps!
I try to catch myself from falling into a
precipice of thoughts that refuse to leave!
Scores of reasoning ramble in my mind.
A little boy gets bullied to the point of suicide
for being a little too heavy.
He turns the green escarpment grey with his
Being nauseous of the putrid stench of hatred
he yearns to disappear from a place
where hate drips from every eye.
He designs his own catafalque!
A divorcee is being bullied into chronic depression ,
labelled a slut because she
chose to remarry!
Now disowned by her kith and kin
she wanders like an unclaimed
blue suitcase lying forlorn
in the railway station.
The bitterness of being defamed
and the insulted disgrace of an enervated hope
to live with respect –
She kills herself in the palm of her hands!
A six year old gets raped
inside a menagerie for six days!
A solitary star ,
now crushed, crumpled, compressed.
An Astral portent
slices her life ruthlessly !
A truncated silence
yearns for a fleet of stars
to spark up her hostile sky.
She draws an albatross
with an obtuse pencil
on a crumpled paper –
broken wings , gasping to fly!
An old man burnt alive in the middle of the street
for the God he chose to (dis)obey.
While men watched in silence,
the flames pranced and leapt!
His grandson spots an albatross
over the sea-
folds his hands in prayers
“ please fly to the sky and ask my grandpa to come back’’.
Calm cacophony of cumbrous
tears creates a riot –
unsettled just like the child !
A woman in a rural village
tied to a Sakhua tree
stripped naked and beheaded
by her own brothers
because she fell in love with a man
who goes to a sanctum forbidden
to her religion.
Collapsing on the tarmac of her own shadow,
she, a marionette, breathes her last!
Men and women
and children dragged out of their homes
and shot on the streets
because someone on a high
decides to play god and annihilate
people that do not feed his needs!
Termite feasts on the exposed lesion of time!
I wonder if all of them had once wished to be an Albatross
and fly into the crocus sky
towards a harvested sun ,
fluttering in search of a safe place
like Odysseus !
But where is that safe place ?
Does it have room
to hold the girth of pain?
** Odysseus – King of Ithaca, one of the heroes of Iliad and protagonist of Odyssey who wanders for 10 years to get home after the Trojan war.
** Sisyphus – He was the king of Ephyra. Zeus punished him by forcing him to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top.
By a flute seller
The garbage collector
In the street
The vegetable vendor
The ice cream card tinkle
The itinerant carpet seller’s cry
At every wedding
Bahaaro phool barsaao*
Every Parent’s Day
Nanha Munna Raahi Hoon**
Beating of the Retreat
Abide with me
At every funeral
Ram Naam Satt hai ***
Angry buzz of Wasp
Caught between shutters
Bees on the Lotus Pool
Humming over every bloom
Koel in the Mango Tree
Every summer without fail
( ASA )
- Shower Flowers, Spring Seasons
** I’m a Little Traveller
*** The Creator’s Name is Truth
I watched the spry squirrel
scamper away hearing
my footfall; Its ear turned
to even slight dissonance of
sound and it rushed to guard
its nest; a fretful companion,
content to feed its
squealing offsprings, also
hearkening to my short fuse.
Its energy was unfailing;
it would sweep to the
terrace to grab any morsel
It could feed; the red stripes
on its back, blessed by mythical
Lord Ram*, kept egging it on
perhaps; It knew when
the windows would
drop down at night to squeeze
inside for a nap in its niche;
Its squealing heralded
the dawn of dawn too.
Nudging me to open
the window to the trove
of morning breeze flowing in;
And it would rush out.
Wonder what is its missive?
“Wake up Man, it’s time.”