Poem of the week: from a renga by Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr | Poetry

Wolves accompany
me, a dream I’d wish to have,
lope throughout a steppe,

howl an ode to the half-moon,
break bread with al-Farazdaq,

hunt mice if we should.
Overarching, the night time sky
blankets town

we’re immured in, or opens
it as much as ghazals of rain.

MH, 19 April 2020

A rain of ghazals,
petrichor from verse by long-
misplaced poets, crumble

many sabre-toothed daymares,
if only for a rainbow whereas.

Ghalib, Faiz, Firaq,
Sahir (all the time Sahir), then
the doyen, Khusrau:

sufi, secular or plain
kafir; then ghazal, nazm, and

sher, the primary to strike
my early, unlearned ears;
demand rebel

but earn adoration from
a resolute nastic coronary heart.

KN, 20 April 2020

This week’s paired poems are from A Different Distance: A Renga by the American poet Marilyn Hacker and the French-Indian poet, dance producer and curator Karthika Naïr. Renga (that means “linked verse”) is Japanese syllabic writing in prolonged and collaborative kind. Its composition was historically shared by a gaggle of poets at a pleasant and bibulous get-together, who took turns to improvise response-poems till that they had accomplished the verse-chain. Dwelling in Paris throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, Hacker and Naïr had been in a position to meet in particular person solely as soon as, and constructed their two-poet renga by electronic mail.

Like postcards or letters sharpened by formal constraints and the desirability of swift response, the poems in A Totally different Distance made me consider Gerald Manley Hopkins’s sorrowful strains evaluating his cries to “dead letters sent / to dearest him that lives alas! away”. These “letters” are the other in fact – briskly alive, and listening responsively to at least one one other. They include the power of their second, and the pleasure of spontaneous verbal interplay, a reminder that, past the confines of renga, poems are sometimes sparked off by different poems. The 114-page sequence begins in March 2020 and closes in March 2021.

Hacker’s “Wolves accompany / me” is launched by the earlier poem from Naïr, which begins “Who is aware of something” and concludes by juxtaposing the picture of “sun-drenched” Parisian quais with herself, brooding “indoors with / Coke as treatment and firm”. Naïr begins with a flourish of scepticism in regards to the skills of “Prefects, monks, pressmen, / physicians” to know something for sure. Hacker’s response is the “dream I’d wish to have”, through which she finds her personal firm of wolves, and shares their freedom of the steppe. There’s an nearly out-of-body expertise, a fluid mixture of wolf and human, looking mice “‘if we should” and time-travelling again “to interrupt bread with Al-Farazdaq”, the Arab poet who died in 790. (Al-Farazdaq can be Ghalib, the poet named first within the group listed by Naïr). Though the dreamer in Hacker’s journey returns to nocturnal Paris and imprisonment, the waking dream lingers within the glowing, arrowing picture of “ghazals of rain”.

Liberation by poetry is the theme Naïr takes up. Her response-poem is in a really completely different temper from her earlier piece. Translating Hacker’s “ghazals of rain” to “a rain of ghazals”, Naïr swiftly invokes refreshment with “petrichor” (the scent of latest rainfall).

Naïr says that “Wolves accompany / me” had galvanised her when she first learn it. It arrived simply as she’d begun common classes of chemotherapy, which she describes as “a gruelling weekly rhythm”. That tough rhythm turns into within the poem the liberating rhythms of the poets she first revered: the names themselves make insistent rhythms, and kind a synecdoche for his or her work.

The poets listed are Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a Twentieth-century Marxist poet writing in Urdu; Firaq Gorakhpuri (1896-1982) the Indian poet and critic; Khusrau, Twelfth-century Sufi poet; and poet and film-song lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi. Naïr additionally names some poetic constructions: “ghazal, nazm, and // sher”.

The paradox for the author is that she’s an atheist (nastic): the Sufi writers due to this fact “demand rebel // but earn adoration”. It’s so usually that method with the poets of the previous!

Each poems open passageways by photos and sounds to an historical poetic backyard, mysteriously in bud. The syllabic “lockdown” of the tanka kind is all the time current within the renga, however there’s a way of bigger, rougher life reducing by the partitions. The poems lean inwards solely to steer outwards and in direction of one another. In an attention-grabbing essay Renga: the Literary Embodiment of Impermanence and Nonself David Landis Barnhill argues that the shape is basically Buddhist. The renga printed by Hacker and Naïr, conversely, testifies to permanence (the seize of expertise) and enhanced – if generally lonely and struggling – selfhood. Distinctly private moments and moods are caught by every poet “only for a rainbow whereas” as Naïr memorably places it. Although intertextuality is highlighted, their voices are enjoyably distinct.

When you’re pondering of embarking on a renga, right here’s a useful guide to the craft. For deeper inspiration, take heed to the poets themselves reading from their newly launched collection.

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