Poem of the Month: Fernando Pessoa

Welcome to the eighth poem of the month!

Set aside all your Monday blues with June’s poem of the month!

Last month, we celebrated Tagore’s 159th birth anniversary with the poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear

This month, in June, we celebrate the birth anniversary of another poet, Fernando Pessoa. His birthday was on 13th June.

Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese poet. His poetry and his unique Modernist style of writing put Portugal on the map of European Modernism.

Pessoa in Portuguese means ‘a person’ and the poet is well known for embracing different sides of his own personality. However, he did not just create alter egos but completely new authors who had their own literary backgrounds and distinct style of writing.

The theme of the poem I picked for this edition of Poem of the Month is something that will resonate with us all. Because all of us fall prey at sometime or the other to thinking and fretting over the future.

Beyond The Bend In The Road
(Para além da curva da estrada)
Beyond the bend in the road
there may be a well, a castle.
There may be simply more road.
I neither know nor ask.
As long as I’m on the road before the bend
I simply look at the road before the bend,
since I can see only the road before the bend.
It would do no good to look elsewhere
or at what I can’t see.
Let’s just concentrate on where we are.
There’s beauty enough in being here, not elsewhere.
If anyone’s there beyond the bend in the road,
let them worry about what’s beyond the bend in the road.
That is the road, to them.
If we arrive there when we arrive we’ll know.
Now we only know that we’re not there.
Here there’s only the road before the bend, and before the bend
there’s the road with no bend at all.

Source: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Portuguese/FernandoPessoa.php#anchor_Toc503461474

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Poem of The Month: Rabindranath Tagore

Welcome to the seventh poem of the month!

Earlier this month, on May 7th, Rabindranath Tagore’s 159th birth anniversary was celebrated. While I, like many other Indians, would instantly recall Tagore’s story of The Kabulliwallah, I have personally not read many of his poems. But there is one that I have read perhaps in school and still remember. It is called, “Where the Mind is Without Fear.”

The poem was written more than a 100 years ago to speak about a different context, about a new India. But such is the power of words that it still rings true today.

It is titled, “Chitto Jetha Bhoyshunno” in Bengali. Tagore himself translated it in English and the translated version was included in the Nobel winning anthology, Geetanjali.

Where the mind is without fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45668/gitanjali-35

Originally written to usher in a new dawn and a way of thinking unshackled by the colonial ruler, the poem still speaks to me today.

British rule of India was not the only dark period that India has gone through. Independence brought in its own challenges. Now, in 2020, as we will celebrate 73 years of Independence, we still struggle with our shackles of narrow mindedness, religious bigotry, sexism and casteism.

We are far from free in these regards and it feels like we have taken 10 steps back into a void where we remain slaves to political spewing, refusing to think and understand on our own. Social media and Whatsapp forwards have limited our ways of thinking, manipulating us into being mere puppets. So, yes, I still dream like in the poem, a world where we regain our sense of reasoning and act upon our ever widening thoughts.

I still dream that the country will awake into a world where it does not fear expressing a different point of view or giving out constructive criticism, where knowledge is not limited or linked to only a few political pandits.

May we all overcome this inexplicable darkness that has overtaken our country today.


Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.

Poem of the Month: Wendy Cope

Welcome to the sixth poem of the month!

Spring has long gone in most parts of India and now most of the country is in both lock down as well as in the throes of summer.

Still hope is a rare thing we must celebrate. Wendy Cope’s lovely, refreshing lyrics give us just that.

Wendy Cope has been one of my favourite poets because of her witty poems. I like her poems for two reasons: her use of parody (which is rare to see in poets) and her humourous treatment of the emotion of love and all its irrationality.  I fell in love with her down to earth and realistic representation of love as well as her parody of The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot! The parody is called The Wasteland: Five Limericks. You can read the poem here. The fact that she could condense Eliot’s masterpiece so succinctly shows her skill and humour as well. It also makes this rather dense, literary and canonical text easily understandable!

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Poem of the Month: Bill Collins

Welcome to the fifth Poem of the Month

This month we celebrate yet another birthday! Last month we celebrated Agha Shahid Ali’s birthday in the Poem of the Month series.

This month it is Bill Collins. He celebrates his birthday on 22nd March. He turns 78 this year.

March rings in the spring season. The budding of flowers. The slowly creeping warmth. In most parts of India, March is the one pleasant month before the onslaught of sunny summers begins. This onslaught is becoming increasingly severe with each passing year, thanks to global warming.

However, for today let us read a succinct poem that celebrates this changing of seasons:

Today 
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

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Poem of the Month: Agha Shahid Ali

Welcome to the fourth poem of the month!

This month we celebrate the birth anniversary of Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali. He was born on 4th February in 1949. He would have turned 71 this year.

In his poems, he gives voice to his sense of self exile and homelessness. Ali immigrated to the US for this studies and continued to stay there. His poetry also depicts his nostalgic view of his homeland, Kashmir. Later on his poems, particularly the one in his collection, The Country Without a Post Office, dealt with the growth of terrorism in the state and its effects on the communities of the region.

I picked the poem below because this was the first poem I had read written by him. I still vividly remember one of my English professors reciting the first stanza in class and how I was struck by the simplicity of the metaphor.

Postcard from Kashmir
Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
This is home. And this the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won’t be so brilliant,
the Jhelum’s waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
so overexposed.
And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

The opening couplet so succinctly and beautifully conveys different facets of nostalgia and memory. It portrays the idealistic image of Kashmir that a postcard would capture. The poem conveys Ali’s own distance from his homeland and how Kashmir’s depiction in a postcard mirrors his own nostalgic and rosy view of the valley.

Nostalgia is a cruel thing in a way. It forces you to ache for something that is not there anymore. A postcard captures exactly that: a place frozen in time, neatly ensconced within 4 x 6 inches.

Related Posts: 

Poesie: The Country Without A Post Office

Poem of the Month: Carol Ann Duffy

postcard from kashmir

 



Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.

Poem of the Month: New Year Special

Welcome to the third poem of the month.

1st January 2020 marks the beginning of  a brand new decade and also heralds the coming of so much hope.

We all ring in the new year with promises and resolutions, leaving behind our losses and the things we didn’t do, promising that we will do better!

So this month, I chose a poem that expresses that hope and that promise so well.

Burning the Old Year
 Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

The metaphor of burning suffuses the poem. Though ironically it is a literal burning that the persona is engaging in: burning the letters, notes, incomplete poems etc. The action is very tangible and one that immediately connects with leaving behind everything unfortunate and old and stepping into the new, starting afresh.

The title also references the tradition of burning the old man during new year. Burning effigies to signify the burning of the past and also of evil is a common motif across cultures, one that resonates with the people’s need to dissolve their bad deeds and usher in goodness in their lives. This poem, however, depicts a burning of a personal nature rather than a symbolic one. No effigy is being burnt here but actual personal things to bid goodbye to the losses.

What do you think about the poem? Please share in the comments below!


Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.

Poem of the Month: Carol Ann Duffy

Welcome to the second Poem of the Month!

This month, December 2019, we will look at Carol Ann Duffy!

Carol Ann Duffy’s birthday is on 23rd December! She was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1955.

To celebrate her birthday, the second poem of the month will feature one of her poems.

Before that let us get to know her a little bit more, shall we?

Carol Ann Duffy is an acclaimed poet and playwright. She also writes picture books for children. She was the first female Poet Laureate of Great Britain. She held the position from 2009 to 2019! She has written several unique poetry collections such as Standing Female Nudes (1985), The World’s Wife (1999) and The Bees (2011). Check out my review of The Bees.

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So now coming to the poem itself! My favourite collection by Duffy is The World’s Wife. It is a collection of poems that give voice to the female characters from historical, literary or mythical fields that have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. So the poems narrate the point of views of varying Western female figures from Mrs. Freud to Mrs. Faust, from Mrs Sisyphus to Demeter, from Mrs. Aesop to Little Red Hiding Hood and many many more. The poems, therefore, form part of a feminist revisionist mythology that is used here to reclaim female voices and experiences.

While it is extremely difficult to choose one from this collection because all of the them are so witty and so satirical! So here is one short, succinct one that will make you laugh!

Mrs. Darwin
7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

This poem is such a sing song one with simple rhymes of two, zoo and you.
The opening date is not significant but it is important to know that Darwin’s evolution theories were published in 1859. Perhaps, then, the poem is then trying to hint that it was Mrs. Darwin’s comparison that actually was behind Mr. Darwin’s ground breaking theories. In just four lines, Duffy has remarked upon the females behind scientific discoveries that are often ignored simply because of their gender!

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Poem of the Month: Anna Akhmatova

Welcome to the first Poem of the Month!

This month, November 2019,  we look at Anna Akhmatova.

Russian literature is known for being dour and gloomy. However, like literature from many countries, it is known more by its male writers than female writers.

I think my interest in learning more about female writers from Russia was piqued when a friend of mine randomly asked about it and I realised I knew about none!

Thus, coming across Anna Akhmatova’s work by chance in a bookstore helped me to dispel my ignorance when it came to female writers from Russia.

Muse
(Translated by D.M. Thomas)
When at night I wait for her to come,
Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.
What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison
With the dear welcome gust, a flute in hand?
She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,
She stares through me with her attentiveness.
I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,
Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’

This poem is from her work, Reed. Though it is extremely difficult to pick only one single poem from such a gifted writer, I chose Muse, because the poem conveys an intimate conversation between the persona of the poem and a Muse.

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Poem of the Month

It’s been a while since The Book Cafe presented a new series! It felt empty. So to fill that strange void, we present a new series on poems!

Once a month, on the 15th, The Book Cafe will present one specific poem, for you, my dear readers, to soak in and enjoy!

This space will be devoted to love for poetry. It will be a space to share our favourite poems and discuss why it is a favourite!

Why poems though? In a blog meant for book reviews? Because poetry reaches out to the soul in such succinct styles and manners that are bound to take your breath away!

This is also to allow for greater appreciation of poems when very few people are attracted to the idea of reading!

If you are a poetry connoisseur like me, come blog about it here!
Share your favourite poems with me at akisabookworm@gmail.com


Stay tuned on the 15th of each month for your monthly poetry updates!