Wednesday
Oct242018

The Anti-Austerity Anthology, reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Anti-Austerity Anthology

Edited by Rupert Dreyfus, Harry Whitewolf and Mike Robbins

Amazon Digital Services, 2018

Concern about rising national debts throughout Europe and the UK since the 2008-9 recession, have led to so-called “austerity programs” in many countries. The dual approaches to austerity have been to raise taxes and to lower government spending, although, in the United States then-president Obama’s  response to the recession was a series of “stimulus packages,” which involved injecting government money into the economy to counteract unemployment and business failure. Almost uniformly, the austerity programs have hurt those most vulnerable in the societies in which they were implemented. Depending upon the country, government worker pay, mental health expenditures, unemployment programs, pensions, and most social programs have been cut to reduce spending. Increases in homelessness, poverty rates, unemployment and even death rates have been seen in vulnerable populations.

The Anti-Austerity Anthology, a collection of (mostly) British short stories, poems, and essays published by the Anti-Austerity Collective, which donated the proceeds from the book to food-bank charities, represents a literary response to austerity programs.

Rather than an exposé of the political and economic bases of the recession and the programs designed to combat it, which is well-covered in the Foreword  by Steve Topple and an essay by Mike Robbins, the contents of the anthology are personal stories of the pain, frustration and most of all, the powerlessness felt by the victims of austerity programs.

I felt that the short stories generally worked better than the poetry in this collection, mostly because the stories seemed more personal and the poetry more political. Some of the poems were powerful, however, in their use of words, Matthew Duggan’s “Charcoal,” for instance, or a poem such as “Prole Baseline” by Ford Dagenham.

Riya Anne Polcastro’s story, “The Night Shift” is horrifyingly memorable for the realistic picture it portrays of  a nurse, paralyzed by an attack from an emergency room patient and subsequently denied health and social services as her husband becomes more and more frustrated to the point of violence. Chris Harrison’s “The Bet” is a quirky tale of the inaccuracy of public opinion about those who can’t find jobs and the surprising response of one man who finds out the truth about the difficulty of finding employment.  The extract from her book The Single Feather, by Ruth F. Hunt, reveals how depression and competition for the meager resources available to those with disabilities can turn one person against another and rob those most needing it from support. Mary Papastavrou’s story, “Maria Jumps,” is a frightening view of life inside a dystopian society in which only the powerful survive. A few writers are able to inject humor—black humor—into their stories: Rupert Dreyfus in “Workfarce,” for instance, or Harry Whitewolf in “Word Tax.” The fake and hilarious advertisements of Jay Spencer Green are  a welcome lightness interspersed throughout the book. 

It’s impossible to come away from the Anti-Austerity Anthology without being personally affected. I’ve singled out a few of the entries that struck a particularly responsive chord with me, but none of the stories or poems is weak and all convey a message.The book is a testament to the personal toll on people’s lives that a government more interested in economic matters and preservation of the wealth of the rich and powerful can have. It’s also a wonderful example of how art can be turned to the examination of social issues.

I strongly recommend the book.

 

Tuesday
Oct022018

"Knows No End" by Dustin Pickering. Reviewed by Casey Dorman

Knows No End

Dustin Pickering

Kolkata: Hawakal Publishers, 2018

 

Dustin Pickering’s Knows No End is a long poem, focused upon the death of Hyancinthus, in the arms of Apollo, struck by a discus—a fixture of Greek mythology. At the same time, it is an homage to the dedication of the female painter trying touch the essence of life’s meaning in the natural object of beauty—the hyacinth flower. I found the poem profound and moving. Immediately, the poet projects himself into the artistic consciousness of the painter, confronted with nature and seeking to both find meaning and convey that meaning in her re-creation of what she sees and intuits. The poem cycles through the four seasons, from hope to disillusionment, and finally through surrender and giving of oneself to the creation, to hope again. It can be read at many levels, but for me, it seemed a personal account of the quest for meaning in nature, in the world, in the beauty one sees but may not be able to reach, and in the need for love and to love.

The words are marvelous. In the First Moments:

 The wind is a mild friend

visiting in my doubting hours.

 Then approaching the object in Summer

 I may have offended your repose

but I promise friendship

 In Fall, after failure, her inspiration allows the painter to try again to reach the essence of the beauty she loves:

                                   Yet it doesn’t reach deep enough

and I find that what it says

is only part of what is really said.

How do I pull the essence from this romance?

 

The flower shyly closes its eyes.

seeming to know what I seek,

the Hyacinth protects its interior

but playfully suggests answers.

Finally, the painter asks,

If I become what I admire,

will I know it fully?

In Winter, the painter’s task is to bring the beauty back alive:

As I paint, I am reminded

 

of the reason I began my art.

capturing essence in the fleeting, 

chaotic  existence enclosed within time

is an impossible and dissatisfying task.

 And in Spring, the reality that love is projection is faced and overcome by a higher truth:

Is love too an illusion? Is my heartbeat

merely sensation, something external

to my own existence?

Fortitude teaches me

 

That intense pain and doubt are chained

As prisoners in the dark.

I surrender the unique work created

by my hands to You.

Knows No End is a creative poetic achievement of substantial magnitude. It reaches the depth of the reader’s experience while telling a story of another’s experience, another time, another place. The intense longing, the doubt, the joy and inspiration and, finally, the movement toward greater meaning are all there and the reader is pulled along within the poet’s world, but always touching on what is familiar in each of us. I was frankly, overwhelmed, and I hope this book reaches a wide audience. It is certainly worth reading.

Knows No End is available on Amazon here

Saturday
May122018

"the heart is an attic" by Srividya Sivakumar, reviewed by Dustin Pickering

“Wander my restless heart…”

Review of Srividya Sivakumar’s the heart is an attic

By Dustin Pickering

the heart is an attic

Srividya Sivakumar

Hawakal Publishers (2018)

 

In the heart is an attic, Sivakumar loosens the paradoxes of emotion and the roles we play in those emotions. For instance, she balances the role of being a woman in traditional society with being an iconoclast poet filled with rage and disquietude. One serious discussion underlying the work is the relationship between freedom and slavery.

            For example, in “The Merry Widow” the rage at being an unknown and misunderstood being, such as a poet, is evocatively communicated. Only the poet truly grasps that poetry is the foundation of life. As the final line speaks, “Someone’s walking on our grave.” This statement is bold but it reflects the aforementioned emotional paradox. The poet is balanced with the woman tending her domestic duties. In “Bystander”, the profile of woman’s being is deepened. Sivakumar writes, “now you conduct panel discussions / and my tears are a wall of silence and reproach.” She is able to create an analogy from being woman to being misunderstood generally as a poet. Her actual feelings are ignored for pointless diversions, and her poetry is carved into by critics who fail to see its merits and fullness.

            We are all human, equipped with similar desires and dispositions. Each of us feels misunderstood, neglected, and powerless to a degree. The human soul is deep and full of intricacies we wish to express. Poetry only can fathom these depths and put them in an artistic language. Because the world is overcome by population, a tax on leisure through exhaustion and overwork, and bored clichés, the poet seems like a trivial thing. Combine this with being a woman whose moral and emotional strength is ignored by a masculine world and you can get a glimpse of what drives the language of the heart is an attic.

            Another wish is elemental to these poems. “You do not text or call / or make any move to drive a distance / to come see me…” (“Ironic”, page 51) writes Sivakumar. This is damning of men. She exposes the beast within that behaves selfishly. She sees neglect and lack of initiative in men both as a social issue and an individual problem. In the same way she wants encouragement from the literary community, she wants a man to go the extra mile for her. In “Obituary” she unveils the true importance of her observations: “oh we all die this way / as a poet a lover in eternal disgrace”. She does not speak merely for woman or woman-as-poet, but as an analyst of human relationships. These lines declare that the final aim of all existence is a life of disgrace.

            Such an observation may reflect back to St. Augustine’s discovery of Original Sin. St. Thomas Aquinas, upon reflecting on Plato, discovered just how logical such an idea is. In “Lent”, this truth is embraced in a specifically Catholic symbolism. Two lovers meet at Christmastime and seem like godsends to each other. Love plays at being heaven and at the same time, a gift from heaven. However, the imperfections within humanity resolve into a devastating end, and the poet herself faces the darkest hour. “All the / colours fled, swept away by anger and regret. / i gave you up for Lent, i said. / i meant for life.” The ritual is complete. We must forgive and realize all becomes ashes.

            Permanence doesn’t appear too dominant a theme but the human condition is called for what it is. In “Congé”, the poet writes “take this soul that wasted so long / and this secret that it has kept.” In our innermost depths, our heart does its most pertinent adventuring. We come to know ourselves and hence, others. When we move outside of ourselves, we face that heated rejection we fear most. In this poem, the poet reveals her anger at lost time and the dissolution of a long-time relationship. In her inner world, she can be purely honest with herself. As poet she can communicate her heart. When she faces the real and actual world of reality, these things no longer matter. We cannot bend the will of other people. The poet writes, “Love is a tchotchke.” In this poem (“Tchotchke”, page 35), she also writes, “But the entrance into this world of mixed tastes and deep heartbreak, is often, almost always, a quick trolley ride down an aisle full of mines.” Here we face ambiguity, the confinement of choices, and the confusion of a multitude of choices. The poet reveals the reality of love as volatile and fickle, thus exclaiming it as something with neither anchor nor guarantees. This is an essential human truth we pretend doesn’t exist.

            Finally, Sivakumar creates an intriguing metaphor for life using daily routine. The poem “Impressionist” disguises a mild cynicism but also curtails in a revelation of beauty. Life requires illusions to soothe desperation, but these illusions skirt the actual truth. T. S. Eliot wrote that we can only handle so much reality. Those who deny the presence of illusions are the worst sort of megalomaniacs. Too much sensory data leads to fight-or-flight reactions. Knowledge seems like balm in Gilead but, like love, it is only such as illusion. Ideal forms are not substitutes for the things-in-themselves.

            The heart is an attic is an enjoyable read for its feminist rage and symbolic realism. In writing this collection, the author dives in and reveals herself in lucid honesty. You may find hidden gems of passion in this slim volume. Attics hold the priceless artifacts of our past experiences. As you climb through Sivakumar’s attic, you may recognize something of yourself. Attics also accumulate dust and spider webs. As you enjoy these verses, wipe away the refuse and relish the language. It signifies a distance between Self and Other, Reader and Author, and Subject and Object. It is more than an awakening of consciousness. It is an awakening of identity. 

Dustin Pickering is Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal, Harbinger Asylum and founder of Transcendent Zero Press.

 

Thursday
Apr052018

The Madness of Grief by Panayotis Cacoyannis, reviewed by Casey Dorman

To say that Panayotis Cacoyannis’ characters, in whichever of his books one is reading, are not whom they first appear to be, is as much of an understatement as saying that Donald Trump sometimes stretches the truth. This is no less true of the characters in his latest novel, The Madness of Grief. The story is a coming-of-age tale told by the protagonist, 16 year old Jane Hareman. It is a recollection, with the immediacy of a current account, perhaps triggered by the taste of a Black Forest Gateau, reminding us of Proust’s Madeline Cake-inspired return to the past.

The plot is simple, if circuitous. At the moment of a young girl’s tentative sexual awakening, a series of events reveals truths about her father, his lover, her aunt and the boy with whom she is enamored. The deceptions that have hidden many of these truths are mostly a reaction to the death of her mother, ten years earlier. But, as each façade is removed, the underlying reality becomes less certain and more mysterious, culminating in answers only in an epilogue-like chapter occurring fifteen years later.

The events cover a mere several days, but their impact is Titanic on the lives of those in Jane’s immediate circle. Jane seems to be the only one who is sure about who she is, yet it is her life and the changes in her perception of those who surround her, that are the focus of the book.

The characters are complex and entertaining. There is  Jane’s father, George—Mister Magikoo—a retired magician who, after accidentally electrocuting his wife during one of his performances, runs  a magic shop. George hides his grief behind a gruff and manly exterior, which also shields, among other things, his tender and loving feelings toward Jane. Aunt Ada, George’s sister, has taken Jane under her wing, but is hiding her own secret behind her anger at her brother for killing Jane’s mother. Mia-Mia, the live-in brainless girlfriend of Jane’s father, turns out to be Jack, the educated and sensitive live-in boyfriend, and Karl, the musical prodigy who Jane feels is her closest friend and confidante, betrays Jane in her most vulnerable moment.

None of the above descriptions adequately captures the complexity portrayed in the nuanced interactions of any of these personalities. Beneath their deceit, which we see is based upon the grief that each of them feels and is trying to deny, is a humanness that Jane’s innocent and trusting perceptiveness is able to reveal. The events of the few days in which the novel takes place tumble from one revelation to another, and for both Jane and the reader, the truth that was hidden behind the magician’s curtain is shocking, while at the same time it initiates the next step in her appreciation of a reality that is far less simplistic than she had thought. As each layer of each character is pulled away, the reader finds himself more deeply engrossed in the people about whom he is learning. Jane’s acceptance of the necessity of these illusions for the survival of those she loves (and her stark awareness of the tragedy that results from stripping them away), provides a blueprint for the reader’s suspension of his own judgment in the service of understanding other people’s foibles as essential aspects of their selves. Along with Jane, the reader is able to grow and accept what might have seemed odd or even grotesque if he weren’t able, through Jane’s eyes, to see it as an expression of human nature—and human love— with its myriad complications. In this sense, The Madness of Grief represents a coming of age in which the reader finds himself taking an active part—no mean feat for a short novel such as this.

As in all Cacoyannis novels, the language in which the people and events are described is impeccably precise and evocative. Throughout the novel, there is a balance between the humor implicit in the recurring revelation that people can also be their own opposites and the underlying tragedy of the difficulty of coping with this all too human predicament. The story moves rapidly, contains a genuine mystery, and is thoroughly entertaining. I found it to be a story that left me with a deep sense of satisfaction about the potential within my fellow human beings.

 

 

Tuesday
Mar272018

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh  Nguyen

Grove Atlantic, 2015

 

I was on my way to Vietnam to visit my wife’s family and needing something to read on the long flight to Ho Chi Minh City via Tokyo, so I decided to read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which I had bought six months prior, but only gotten forty pages into. The debut novel of the USC professor was the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize and it seemed appropriate reading for my trip.

The Vietnam War (or for Vietnamese, the American War) is still a touchy subject in America and particularly among the Vietnamese immigrant community, many of its older members of which (including three of my brothers-in-law) served in the South Vietnamese Army and were imprisoned in concentration camps following the war. My own wife escaped her native country fourteen years after the surrender of the city where she grew up and lived, following a difficult two-year journey by land and sea and residence in a refugee camp, finally arriving in America. I, on the other hand, a college student in the 1960s, had protested the U.S. involvement in the Southeast Asian war and had viewed it as an internal civil strife with no clear good or bad side, and better left alone for the Vietnamese to solve. I learned a different side of the war from my newly acquired relatives after I was married and after I traveled back and forth to Vietnam on several occasions to meet my wife’s remaining family in Saigon.

Things aren’t what they seem when one is presented with only one side of an issue, or even when presented with both sides, but within the framework of a doctrine that interprets all information from a single point of view. Life is complicated and the human mind prefers simplicity. We welcome divisions of black and white, of right and wrong and have great difficulty balancing ourselves within the gray interface between conflicting ideas and positions. Actions are difficult to plan or justify when we see too many sides of an issue.

The dilemma of straddling the middle, either because our sympathies are split between opposing forces, or because we insist on seeing a deeper view of reality than the tunnel vision of allegiance to one point of view affords, is the subject of The Sympathizer. The novel focuses upon the end and immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, seen through the eyes and heard through the words of a Communist Viet Cong spy who is positioned within a South Vietnamese Army intelligence unit and who accompanies his commanding general to America following the collapse of Saigon. In Los Angeles, among the refugee community, the protagonist’s job is to send back, by secret code, information on the plans of the exiled general and others to return to their country to try to retake it from the Communists who have won the war.

The descriptions of the fall of Saigon and the desperate efforts of those who will fall prey to the victorious Viet Cong to escape with whatever valuables they possess, but often with just their lives, are hair-raising, but the characterization of the intricate plotting within the exiled refugee community, amidst the prejudice encountered from Americans is even more telling. Within the American government there are elements for whom the sting of an American “loss” in Vietnam is unbearable and who are eager to promote the efforts of the displaced South Vietnamese veterans to return to their country to fight again. At the same time, the majority of Americans just want to move on and the presence of Vietnamese refugees in their midst is an unpleasant reminder of an ignominious period in recent U.S. history. Most don’t want to see the civil upheaval caused by the war reemerge. The refugees themselves, often former army officers, distinguished teachers, or successful business people are reduced to being pizza deliverers, chefs, restaurant owners, or menial workers in their new country.

The narrator (he only is referred to as the “Captain,” and never by name) is sympathetic to the plight of his fellow immigrants while he remains a believer in the revolutionary ideas and mission of the followers of Ho Chi Minh. His life and his feelings are complicated by having two best friends—“blood brothers” from childhood—one of whom is a former South Vietnamese soldier who lost his family and is active in developing the resistance army that will return to his homeland to fight, and the other who is his Communist contact in Vietnam, who receives his coded messages and sends him his orders. At the same time he is having an affair with a Japanese-American who sees all of this focus upon one’s country of origin as wasted effort and regards herself as just “American” and resents being treated as if her Asian roots were the most salient thing about her. 

Needless to say, the narrator’s sympathies are torn in a number of directions and the beauty of the novel is the electric, humorous and cynically perceptive style in which the author portrays this dilemma. Viet Thanh Nguyen has been compared to Graham Greene and Franz Kafka, but I found his ability to reveal the absurdity of such a human conundrum with sparkling, often hilarious wit, reminiscent of Saul Bellow. The ingenious use of humor and creative riffs of ludicrousness are enough to carry the novel by themselves.

The delicate balance the narrator tries to achieve is doomed to failure, because his efforts are to be judged by one side or another in a split population of opponents who have chosen vehement rejection of each other as the sine qua non of their identity. When he returns to Vietnam as part of an opposition reconnaissance force hoping to foment counter revolution (but all the while being a loyal spy for the Communists who now run the country), he is captured and must try to explain himself to the “Commissar” of the prison camp to which he is sent. His “confession” to his Communist captors, which is the first 307 pages of the book, is too nuanced, too impartial and even-handed in his appraisal of both the enemy and of his own side, to pass muster. He cannot be forgiven and return to his homeland unless he re-assumes the kind of tunnel vision necessary for a revolutionary. He cannot do it; in fact, he disagrees with the premise. He argues that the revolution, which sought to overturn greed, prejudice, and inhumanity toward one’s fellow, has become the very thing it despised, mostly because it makes all humanitarian, liberal assessment of one’s fellows subservient to its rigid dictates. Fortunately, the Commissar who turns out to be his childhood friend, appears to sympathize with him, but disagrees in terms of what the revolution requires in order to succeed. The Commissar recognizes that the narrator cannot survive in the new Vietnam and allows him to escape, albeit as a “boat person” with an unknown fate, presumably back in America.

While “The Sympathizer” may be a Vietnamese American’s attempt to voice the dilemma of a people who split themselves in two and a large segment of whom became strangers in strange lands, caught between trying to assimilate and trying to remain loyal to the history and culture they continued to value, it is also a brilliant description of the anguish of maintaining one’s thoughts and sympathies poised in the crux of cognitive dissonance. Reality is many sided and multilayered, and to try to see it clearly is not just psychologically painful but also leads to rejection from a society that prefers loyalties, opinions and thoughts to be phrased in black or white. For the immigrant or refugee this dilemma may be more explicit as he or she weighs assimilation against retention of culture and loyalty to one’s past, but the quandary is present for all of us.

The Sympathizer is about the Vietnamese-American experience at the time of the first great influx of Vietnamese into the United States. It is also a story of the human psyche and the human condition, which transcends that particular experience and thus has a message for everyone who reads it.

 

Wednesday
Nov012017

Dovecote by Anne Britting Oleson. Reviewed by Casey Dorman

 

Dovecote by Anne Britting Oleson

Bink Books

Fairfield, CA

2017

 

A small English coastal village is where widowed Gwynne Forrest finds herself after inheriting the tiny Gull Cottage owned by her late great aunt Gwynneth Chelton, her American grandmother’s sister whom she had never met. It’s a house that seems unfriendly from the moment she steps into it. There are strange sounds in the night, a garden with brambles that not only grow back as soon as they are cut, but which reach out their grasping vines to slice her skin when she walks among them. And then there is the mysterious garden beyond the gate, the garden containing the abandoned and decaying dovecote, even more forbidding than the house itself. The only saving graces are the people who come to tend the house: Mary, the housekeeper and Colin the handyman who brings the wood, both having served her great aunt for years. As it turned out, they were years of unthanked service, since Gwynneth Chelton was a morose and lonely woman who asked and gave almost nothing to those around her. But Mary and Colin were devoted to her, as they soon are to Gwynne.

The setting of Dovecote is at least half of the novel’s charm. The homey, English ways of making tea, of walking from one place in the village to another, the familiar names of kitchen utensils and furniture. Gull Cottage and its surrounds are fully picturable to the reader.

But what starts out as a cozy story of settling into life in a new, classically English surrounding soon becomes a story of mysterious and unseen forces, dominated by the personalities of the dead occupants of the cottage and the message they have for Gwynne. Her great aunt’s life was an unpleasant one—fully attributable to her husband— and after his suicide she live for 50 years as a solitary widow, telling no one of the horrors of her marriage. But Gwynne, whose own life and marriage and the death of her own husband mirrored that of her great aunt’s, has been summoned to the village and the house, through the inheritance, for a reason, which she and the reader will slowly and circuitously find out as the story progresses as a first-class mystery.

Did I mention that there are ghosts? Well there are, and although I don’t generally enjoy ghost stories, this one is as much a story of emotions and relationships as it is one of ghosts. Gwynne’s great aunt has something to tell her and Gwynne finds she has a task to perform—if only she can find out what it is. And finding out involves learning about her great aunt's first love, Martin, who, although now 94 years old, joins Gwynne in solving the mystery. And Colin, who becomes a lover, but finds that the same emotional blocks that strangled the life of Gwynneth Chelton for 50 years, have their hands about the heart of her niece. Only solving the mystery of Gwynneth Chelton's marriage, life, and dath can save Gwynne, who is in both emotional and real physical danger.

This is an excellent story for lovers of mysteries, ghost stories and of excellent, literary writing. The author, Anne Britting Oleson is a first-class poet and she writes beautifully, sensitively and tenderly, exploring emotions as well as a complex plot. I recommend this book to everyone. It will keep you reading and guessing and simply enjoying the act of reading until you reach the very end.

Casey Dorman, Editor: Lost Coast Review

Tuesday
Sep122017

The Nature of Man: Fry and Tomasello reviewed by Casey Dorman

Fry, Douglas, Ed. (2013). War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tomasello, Michael (2016). A Natural History of Human Morality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

 

Those of us who favor nonviolence and espouse cooperation over conquest in both everyday interpersonal relations and politics, including relations between nations, cultures and religions, are often accused of having our heads in the clouds.  Human nature, we are told, is naturally aggressive, based on dominance of one person over another, and follows the Darwinian rule of “survival of the fittest.” The strongest will always win in the end and those who can display the most aggressiveness toward their more weak-willed neighbors will reap the largest rewards. To argue otherwise is to deny our basic nature as human beings. Athletic contests, political elections, economic and military competition between nations, and even conversations on talk radio, TV panels, and on social media are all based on this premise.

But is human nature inherently  aggressive? Is interpersonal dominance the rule that governs human social interactions? Are we doomed to solve international conflicts on the basis of whose weapons are most powerful? Two recent books suggest otherwise.

War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views is a 2013 collection of essays and studies, edited by Douglas P. Fry, Chairperson of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. In addition to an introduction and conclusion by Fry, it contains sections on Ecological and Evolutionary Models, Lessons from Prehistory, Nomadic Foragers, The Primatological Context of Human Nature, and Taking Restraint Against Killing Seriously. A common theme is to examine and refute the view of man as a “killer ape.” The volume includes 27 chapters contributed by 32 scholars.

One of the main themes of War, Peace and Human Nature is that our most  immediate genetic relatives in the animal kingdom, Chimpanzees and Bonobos are not as vicious toward one another as some accounts have portrayed them. Bonobos, which form into matriarchal troops, are particularly nonviolent toward others of their species, and in fact there is no record of them having deliberately killed one another. Chimps are less so, but actual killings are rare and although there is some cooperative behavior involved in some attacks, actual wars between troops are nearly unheard of. Most aggressive encounters result in one or the other Chimp backing down. Another theme is that archaeological records from the hunter-gatherer period of human history, which comprises 99% of the history of genus homo, and is generally accepted as the period in which most of our uniquely human genetically based behaviors evolved, shows almost no evidence of inter-group wars (with one exception), although there is evidence of death by probably intra-species violence (i.e. murder). An increase in intra-species violence, and the advent of inter-group warfare occurred in coincidence with the agricultural revolution about 10,000-12,000 years ago. Studies of  modern “primitive” groups include true foraging hunter gatherers, equestrian (horse-dependent) hunter-gatherers and sedentary hunter-gatherers –who remain in one place and often do slight farming. Some of these groups, for instance some Native American equestrian tribes, were quite warlike. But as several authors point out, Native American use of horses was a consequence of the presence of Europeans on American soil and their behavior represented a reaction to European-American incursions into their land as well as their relations to other Native American tribes. Most of the sedentary hunter gatherers likewise represent an existence within the context of a larger developed community around them. The few true foraging hunter-gatherer groups studied are not warlike, but they do sometimes kill each other, usually as a result of wife-stealing, revenge behavior, or insults to honor.

In both primates and humans the rarity of actual killing of other members of the species is moderated by the development of a number of behaviors aimed at restraint. Such behaviors, which are also seen in other mammalian species, include the use of aggressive and submissive displays, mock fighting (often involving no actual physical contact), avoidance behaviors, and advantages in conflict that accrue to whichever animal is on its home territory or holds a position of dominance within a group. Chimpanzees are known to show “reconciliation” behaviors to reestablish harmony within a group after an aggressive encounter.

Humans, in particular, have evolved a number of signals involving gestures and expressions, which signal a reluctance to fight. The reluctance of modern humans to take another human being’s life is illustrated by studies of men in war in which it is revealed that the majority of soldiers in battle either don’t fire their weapons or don’t fire them at another person. This reluctance to kill may be diminished as we proceed to a greater use of missiles, airstrikes and drone killings, in which the actual presence of the person to be killed is not experienced.

A common theme in War, Peace and Human Nature is that our cultural biases have promoted assumptions and research biases that have led to erroneous conclusions about the degree to which a “killer instinct” and a “tendency toward war” are embedded in our evolutionary history and, as a consequence, in our DNA. The data, this book insists, do not show it. War is seen as an “atypical” type of behavior of humans, one that developed late in our evolutionary history and is much more a cultural adaptation than a genetic one, although these influences are never just one or the other. Even killing of another human being in isolation is not a typical behavior, although it has been seen throughout human history. Cooperative behaviors involving restraint on our aggression are much more the pattern seen over eons of human development.

Michael Tomasello’s  A Natural History of Human Morality (2016) is concerned with the same issues as War, Peace, and Human Nature, but comes at it from a different angle. Tomasello’s goal is broader; it is “to provide an evolutionary account of the emergence of human morality…” which he says arose through the dual pathways of “sympathy and fairness,” both of which were part of the evolution of cooperation as an interpersonal and then intra-group adaptation. His analysis focuses primarily upon both primate behavior and that of human toddlers.

Tomasello cites studies that show that Chimps and Bonobos will share food and other resources and, when they do so, they show an increase in the mammalian “bonding hormone” oxytocin, suggesting that the immediate instigation for sharing is a sense of sympathy for the other primate. On the other hand, they show no sense of fairness in terms of comparison of portions of resources either received or given to their compatriot primates, although humans do. Although chimps will show reciprocity – they help or share with those who help or share with them – Tomasello argues that this is based on sympathy, not a sense of fairness. This leaves the development of a sense of fairness as something that must have evolved through uniquely human pathways.

 A great deal of Tomasello’s argument is conjecture. He notes that Chimps and Bonobos engage in group hunting,  which is not common in non-human animals, although neither species is dependent upon group hunting for survival. But such group behavior, he suggests, is a basis of more sophisticated group interdependence that developed in early humans and was, in his terms, obligate, in their hunting and foraging activities; i.e. they were dependent upon it. In order to collaborate in mutual activities, early humans had to have joint intentionality—a sense of “we” as they both attended to the same task—and some sort of sense of equivalence—if either one didn’t do his or her part, the collaboration would be unsuccessful. In Tomasello’s words, “based on the recognition of self-other equivalence, there arose a mutual respect between partners and a sense of the mutual deservingness of partners, thus creating second-personal agents.” The collaborative aspect of early human behavior, which probably developed as a result of hunting larger game, replaced the primate reliance on dominance to determine relationships and settle disputes. Instead, early humans developed pair bonding among mates, emphasizing also recognizable sibling relationships, which reduced intragroup aggressiveness, and food sharing following collaborative hunting, which produced “social selection against bullies, food hogs, and other dominants, and thus social selection for individuals who had a greater tolerance  for others in cofeeding situations.” Additionally, collaborative childcare developed. These social situations led to greater survival and thus natural selection of “less dominance-based interactions and more gentle personal temperaments,” resulting in “a greater balance of power among individuals.” Studies of modern foraging hunter-gatherers show a remarkably egalitarian social structure in their groups, with a variety of subtle and not so subtle pressures against any one individual asserting dominance.

One result of this greater interdependence  in the context of collaborative foraging was the selection of greater concern and sympathy for conspecifics who were not relatives, but potential collaborators. In fact, human toddlers show evidence of helping others based on sympathy before they develop a sense of altruism based on reciprocity. This sympathy is a “first step on the road to modern human morality” and includes empathy, in which we feel bad for someone, even if they are not feeling bad themselves (e.g. a handicapped person), based on how we think we would feel if we were in the same state. This type of empathy is based on the self-other equivalence that developed out of collaboration.

Collaborative activity also relies on and selects for those who possess a sense of mutual trust. We can count on the other to fulfill his or her role. Research on human children shows that they expect such behavior and try to reengage someone who stops collaborating, while Chimps never do. Not only do human children expect to be able to trust a partner, they engage in behaviors that show others they are trustworthy partners themselves. They adhere to standards of trust (“normative trust”) the violation of which leads to not just sanctions from others, but self-criticism as well. All of these behavioral tendencies are related to what Tomasello calls a sense of “deservingness” in dividing up rewards evenly; something found in young children but never in primates. What is created in young children, and presumably in early human groups, is a social contract, what Tomasello calls “the original ‘ought’.”

Tomasello goes on to describe the development of more complex and sophisticated morality based on these precursors that comes from collaborative activity and the development of a sense of “we” based on equivalence and role changeability in performing collaborative tasks. In hunter-gatherers, social structures develop that sustain and constrain moral behavior based on conformity and imitation and the development of a cultural identity. Eventually this led to a group identity and in-group/outgroup favoritism and in-group equivalence, accompanied by a sense of knowing what others in one’s group are likely to think even if one has never interacted directly with them. From these beginnings, social norms and a sense of the right and wrong ways to do things, based on how one’s in-group does them developed. Although these latter developments are social phenomena, based on observation, interaction and communication, rather than directly on evolved genetic mechanisms, they are ultimately dependent upon the selection of tendencies for sympathy and fairness among our ancestors.

Tomasello’s arguments are a based on a collection of primate observations, research with human children, anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherer communities, and historical accounts of codified human morality. What emerges is a picture of human beings whose social structures are built, not on dominance and aggression, as are those of Chimpanzees, but on sympathy, helping, collaboration, a second-personal sense of agency involving putting oneself in the other’s position and viewing an activity as a product of “we” as much as “I,” and finally, a sense of fairness, in which one’s own interests must meet the same standards as others in one’s group.

 

War, Peace and Human Nature and A Natural History of Human Morality are two very different books, both relying upon evolutionary arguments, but one, the collection by Douglas Fry, with a more limited goal of showing that man is not inherently warlike, based on voluminous pertinent research, and the other, the book by Michael Tomasello, based also on research, but with a more ambitious goal of showing how human morality developed and basing its thesis on a great deal of speculation. Both volumes provide a welcome contrast to current popular views of man as a naturally aggressive and warlike species in which dominance over one’s fellow men is the basis for our evolved social structures and a fact of human nature to which we are inextricably, and perhaps catastrophically, tied.

Casey Dorman, Editor Lost Coast Review

Author of "2020" a new political novel

Tuesday
Aug292017

Solitary Stillness by Kiriti Sengupta, reviewed by Uday Saha

 

Stillness, a Companion! 

Reviewed by Uday Saha

 

 

Title: Solitary Stillness

Author: Kiriti Sengupta

Illustrations: Joyeeta Bose

Published by Hawakal Publishers, Calcutta. 2017

ISBN: 978-81-934230-6-6 (Paperback)

Everyone talks about chaos but very few venture into the world of stillness. There is an entire universe within the stillness which is to be explored; and there is immense stillness to be discovered. Stillness allows one to reach beyond the mundane while appreciating and experiencing a universe that is different to the one most people are aware of. If you can still your mind you’ll feel different. No longer will the chaos be a hindrance; it will rather make you desirous to explore the undiscovered stillness. The chaos is already present and apparent, so the question is, how can you enter into the world of stillness that runs parallel to the chaos?

Kiriti Sengupta’s newest collection of poems, Solitary Stillness, is quietly affecting and has all the potential to inspire readers both in India and abroad. Even so, the most striking aspect of Solitary Stillness is how Sengupta’s thought-process and poetic mind have changed over the years since the release of his first book in 2013. On the 43rd page of Solitary Stillness there is a declaration — “The camera mocks the disguise/ and celebrates light.” Walking along “the concrete lane” Sengupta has celebrated the light within stillness of things and objects of his interest. Here the subjects of the verses differ from each other but they induce stillness to the readers. They bear an impeccable quality of being meditatively still.

When India is witnessing much of communal and political imbalances of late, and opinionated people often question a poet’s stand, Sengupta has meditated deeply to absorb much of the existing anarchy and put down his thoughts in “solitary stillness.” The collection is comprised of twenty “writerly texts,” which compel the readers to work at understanding and interpreting them. To Sengupta “Poets are loners, no doubt!” And undeniably the question like “Where do old birds go to die?” can come upon them.

The journey starts with “The Pilgrimage” where Sengupta has reflected on the proverbial saying: “The ants grow wing to fetch death.” To say, the two-line piece of work is subtle, for the ants (like the human beings) fizzle out to see through because of besotted ignorance. In “The Bengali Phenomenon” Sengupta is loud as he sneers the nonchalance displayed by the Bengali people. He writes: “It took ages to savor the ecstasy/ until Lapierre released his City of Joy.

City of Joy (1985) is a novel by Dominique Lapierre. It was later adapted into a film by Roland Jofee in 1992. The book chronicles despite facing hunger and death the people still hold on to the belief that life is precious and worth living, so much they named their slums “Anand Nagar” that translated into English to become “city of joy.” In “The Bengali Phenomenon,” “Jubilation ahoy” and “…released his City of Joy” if read together, it does poke different nooks and corners.

In “Quietude and Loneliness” Sengupta writes: “For God’s sake don’t take silence for granted.” I would rather say: For heaven’s sake don’t take solitude for granted. While reading this verse readers will notice the use of space in between these lines:

You never know if it will declare you dead

 

And then you see the resurrected spirit

 

The space carries forward the silence until the spirit is resurrected again. Here Sengupta significantly maintains the poise to create an imposing effect. “Tournesols” is a highly symbolical poem. I’ll consider it homage to van Gogh. The water as mentioned here is redemptive; it’s like sprinkling water upon the artist’s own dry leaves of life. But, the last two lines of the poem, “Life would not have stilled/ had there been water in the vase,” have words that are not “signifiers,” for a reader can not have a specific “signified.” What I mean is that the poet’s approach in this poem follows Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure looked at language diachronically. He traced words over time looking for the changes in sounds and meanings. And if based on deconstruction, the signifier and signified in “Tournesols” are unstable, and they can take on multiple meanings.

A picturesque portrayal pervades throughout “The Shoreside.” Topographic details of the site (mountainous rocks — sharp, edgy, and difficult ... boulders were loosely bound) did not escape Sengupta’s eyes. “The Shoreside” is rich in imagery:

Small waves came to merge…

Small waves failed…

Large waves failed…

Larger waves appeared…

 

In all these lines the treatment is kinesthetic. In the garb of subjective images, when Sengupta writes, “The sea sprinkled on our dry skin” we receive a soft, tactile image. Here I must quote Dustin Pickering, “Life is rarely what it seems, and the larger picture sneaks in over the smaller prints (“Smaller waves failed to erase the footprints!”).” Like “Toursenols,” “Manhattan Skyline” heightens Sengupta’s knack toward the great works of art. Here I remember what he wrote in one of his earlier books, Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral: “You have numerous folders in your life since your birth until the last light. In all such folders you are given poetry in its nascent form.” Sengupta strums the chord hard as creative personas like singer, painter or a poet strikes through “the concrete lane” to “mellow the water” or to have “mind still.” In this piece by juxtaposing prose and verse Sengupta has given a pure contemporary touch.

In Solitary Stillness Sengupta has proved that a poetic persona cannot and should not keep mum in the times of chaos and anarchy; however, a poet needs a calm to reflect. When Sengupta asks, “How long does a bird live to be called old?” he echoes the humanitarian voice of Bob Dylan who once wrote, “How many roads must a man walk down/ before you call him a man?” Apparently, Sengupta has sympathized with the state of the careless creatures. He touches so many issues and raises so many questions at the same time when he writes:

I can say, birds heal themselves

and die solitary

amidst the quiet flora — unnoticed.

 

Sengupta’s walk is of a man of flesh and blood while he is putting down the lines, but his heart is of a bird. On the other hand, if we take a look at the poem, we will find the first person “I” dissolves as it reaches the concluding (not a conclusion though) lines as if the writer wants us to feel the silent “we” resonating — “and (we) die solitary.”

In this age of post-truth and nihilistic literature, structuralism believes that the structure of language comes from human mind. It won’t be improper to say that poets are blessed with a third eye. For, only a poet can sense “the trees were paying attention /to the instructions sent from the sky.” (“The Pillars of Soil”); “They will rather find /another summer /to captivate and tantalize” (“Rolling Stone”); “Here lies a merger between two men...” (“Manhattan Skyline”).

Suppose you are left alone with your solitude, what will you think of? What will you look at? What will you write on? You will certainly come out with the realizations like, “birds no longer fly high,” “I no longer seek company,” “I heard my heart first,” among others. And once you realize “I now have arrived to an understanding,” you will spontaneously learn the etiquettes that will keep the aura of stillness alive.

The works of Picasso, Joyce, Camus and T. S. Eliot shattered and overturned everything traditional and ushered in new media. In India it’s Kiriti Sengupta, a poet with tapering fingers and soulful eyes. Solitary Stillness will stir the unearthed stillness and instill new hopes and aspirations in the minds of its readers.

 

Uday Saha was born and brought up in Coochbehar, India. He teaches English language and literature in Uponchowki Higher-Secondary School, Mekhliganj, West Bengal. Saha did his post-graduation in English Literature (M.A.) from North Bengal University in 2008. A bookworm, bilingual poet and co-editor of Mujnai literary magazine, Saha has published several poems both in Bengali and English. He has conducted many workshops in the district of Coochbehar, and as a trainer he has been appreciated in the Ananda Bazaar Patrika in the recent times.

Saturday
Jul222017

Appraisals: Kiriti Sengupta, reviewed by Rosalind Princess Reshma

BETWEEN THE LINES AND BEYOND BARRIERS

A review of Appraisals: Kiriti Sengupta by Rosalind Princess Reshma

Title: Appraisals: Kiriti Sengupta: Breaking the Barriers

Edited by Sunil Sharma and Dustin Pickering

Published by Transcendent Zero Press, Houston (Texas)

ISBN: (Paperback): 9781946460943

 

Roland Barthes, in his monumental essay says, “We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture.” This speaks volumes about the impact any written text has on the readers. It would be naïve to say that a work of art has an absolute and/or intrinsic meaning. The enlightenment or simply the pleasure that a reader seeks from poetry seldom lies in the written words but lay hidden between the unwritten lines, waiting to be discovered which in return help the reader reconstruct the poet as an artist and as a kindred spirit. Appraisals: KiritiSengupta is a collection of reflections on poetry and the poet.

Poetry has always been a vehicle of spirituality. The symbolisms and the poetic license to experiment with figurative language helps the reader embark on a journey to understand the poem which is another side of discovering the self. Sengupta’s poems, with their rich symbolisms and universal themes provoke the reader with thoughts which Dustin Pickering aptly calls “an education in truth.” Talking in detail about how the ambiguity in the poems keeps the reader’s curiosity ignited throughout this search for truth, he says, “The way each image twists and turns, perhaps due to its translation, from ambiguity to an unexpected consolidation of objects that have nothing in common superficially, can only be the work of a poet-magician who seeks to grasp the external/objective world by poetic and analytical absorption.” (page 22) This ‘self’ that a poet intertwines with the metaphors and allusions, has traits which are universal, yet subtly colored with characteristics which are culturally significant and unique. As Sharmila Ray points out, “Kiriti’s poems are a montage of responses to the everyday philosophy that runs subterranean in the orient. These experiences are common to all men. But the poet remembers them and gives them form through words without frills.” (page 191) Ray compares the poems with abstract paintings suggesting the active role of the readers in creating the “meaning.” While Sengupta experiments with themes that provoke not only thought but a deep and honest contemplation, he makes sure that these themes are presented through images and experiences that are directly borrowed from life, and thus, the poem as a whole becomes something the reader can relate to. Calling the poems “direct references to life,” Ananya S Guha says, “These poems are not arid intellectualism. They are poetry of the heart, the spirit. Yet, they are complex interfaces of existence.” (p-193)

It is intriguing to notice that the style of Sengupta’s writing is always in sync with the nature of the themes and content. The poet has aptly used free verse to “educate” the readers of truths and perceptions that grow beyond boundaries, and thus, cannot be captured within the traditional protocols of poetic art, such as rhyme and meter. Analysing the prose poems in The Earthen Flute, Susanta Kumar Bardhan states, “It is evidently a modernist-postmodernist venture on the part of artist (who practices this) to explore the multiple facets of the mystery-laden complex reality of existence and its relation with humanity at large and to reflectively as well as aesthetically give shape in a text to those.” (p-216) Another interesting aspect of the poems is the stream of consciousness narration used by Sengupta, making his work tangentially touch different genres while not digressing away from the theme. This can be attributed to the complexities of the issues the poet handles in his work. Placing the different sides of these socio-cultural issues in a particular order will not do justice to the consequences of the same which impact the ‘self’ that the reader is attempting to discover and understand. In the words of Usha Kishore, “The narrative moves from light hearted satire to sobriety, to counter narrative and philosophy. The issues of gender and transgender transcend the experimental format and venture into the realm of Indian socio-politics.” (p-156)

While poetry helps the reader discover the inner self, it also acts as a medium through which the reader bonds with the creator of the work. While deconstructing the poems based on its umpteen linguistic and literary aspects, the reader is also reconstructing the poet as an artist and as an individual who has been influenced by the time and place while influencing the same through his art. Sengupta has been described as a “romantic poet” by Ananya S Guha who says that his poetry contains the very essence of romanticism; “idealism,” “pantheism,” and “humanism.” However, by refusing to be confined within the stereotypes of a genre, he lets the universality of his themes blend in with the uniqueness of his perspectives. In reference to “Saffron” Koushik Sen writes, “This is a vivid yet disturbing image that Sengupta produces, and establishes the fact that Sengupta is here to stay — he is not just another writer among the mass.” (p-250) The various reviews in the collection help the reader see Sengupta not just as the globally recognized poet and blogger but a good human with interesting thoughts on the things that surround him. He is also described as a good friend who values relationships by those who have had the privilege of knowing him personally.

Appraisals: Kiriti Sengupta is not merely a compilation of interpretations and perspectives on Sengupta’s poems, but a detailed synopsis of the many sides of his poetry and the diversity of his thoughts and opinions as a poet and as a human. The book, on one hand, answers the many questions that arise while reading Sengupta’s poems, and on the other hand, it gives the reader new questions, to find the answers of which a re-reading of the poems becomes inevitable. Apart from fulfilling the academic and literary needs of the critical reader, the collection also satisfies the curiosity of a poetry lover who just wants to know more about the creator of the poetry which has so beautifully appealed to the intellect and the imagination.

 

Rosalind Princess Reshma is an educator and a poet who has recently published a chapbook, Lost Interpretations. She holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics and applies it in the creative use of language. Being a polyglot and an admirer of languages, she is interested in reading and analyzing translations of literary texts.

 

Wednesday
Jun142017

Ten by Joe Lyman, reviewed by Casey Dorman

Ten by Joe Lyman

Amazon Digital Services, 2012

Ten, the 2012 novel by Joe Lyman, is an unusual book for many reasons. It is too long to be considered a novella, but at least a hundred pages shorter than the typical novel. It begins as an intimate story of the daily lives of a normal middle class family and ends as a semi-horror story, worthy of Stephen King. It is a hard novel to pigeonhole. But despite, or perhaps even because of this unique quality to the book, it is highly absorbing, to the point of becoming one of those stories that is difficult to put down.

The leisurely pace and plain-talking narrative of the beginning of the book is masterfully done. One of my favorite writing styles, best exemplified by William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, is the minimalist, ordinary-language sentence that seems to provide a precise mirror of the reality it is describing. Joe Lyman’s sentences, as he describes the daily life of 9 year old Dylan playing football in the street, his mother shopping, or his father tinkering in the garage, are each laid out carefully and with precision and economy. We are provided with a detailed picture of an American family with the assets and flaws that make the portrait seem real. Although the setting is today, I was reminded of my own childhood or the families of my childhood friends.

In the midst of this not idyllic, but decidedly pleasant family life, disaster strikes in the form of Dylan’s family’s uninsured home burning down and the story begins to take a turn toward the dark side. Dylan's mother becomes psychotically depressed. His father moves the family to a remote trailer park near the desert and only visits every few months. Dylan meets a gang of trailer park kids.

At the beginning of Dylan’s association with the other boys from the trailer park, we learn that they are secretive and can be cruel. Dylan, who has led a relatively protected middle class life up to the point his family moved to the trailer park, wrestles with the same issues of manliness, courage, pride and saving face that were issues, but minor ones, in his neighborhood football game but now are the determining factors in how he will be accepted by his new peers, and perhaps whether he will join them or be a victim of their violence.

Instead of engaging in delinquency or criminality, as one might expect for a group of poor boys, engaging mostly with each other and under no adult supervision (a situation reminiscent of Lord of the Flies), the boys, under the iron-handed leadership of Nico, the most powerful of them, play a ritualistic game of “war” each day. The game is played with toy guns in the middle of a dense forest near the trailer park. It is a mysterious game in which the lines between reality and imagination are blurred to the point of surrealism. We are unsure whether it is life-threatening or just a game.

Dylan goes through all the stages of hazing and finally acceptance into the group until he finally is not only a full-fledged member, but also a leader—strong enough to challenge Nico. I won’t give away the ending, but it is as surreal as the moments leading up to it.

Ten is a small book but it is a finely drawn picture that addresses childhood at multiple levels, taking the reader from the surface of childhood musings, to the deepest and darkest depths of fantasy. It is a highly original work from a talented writer. 

 

Ten is available in Kindle format at Amazon.com

Monday
May082017

Watershed a New Novel by Colin Dodds, reviewed by Casey Dorman

Alternate Reality Or The Real Thing?

Review of Watershed by Colin Dodds

Casey Dorman

 

Watershed by Colin Dodds

Published by Amazon Digital Services

Release Date: May 12, 2017

 

I love stories involving alternate realities, especially those that take the trends of the present and project them—in exaggerated form—slightly into the future. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the classic film, “Bladerunner”) is a famous example. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history that has recently been resurrected through Amazon’s hit series based on the book. Although Dick’s dystopian novels were, during his lifetime, enjoyed mostly by his sci-fi fan base, they have since been recognized for their imaginative vision as major literary accomplishments. Modern writers as diverse as Philip Roth, William Gibson and Kazuo Ishiguro have achieved literary success with the genre. Currently, Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian view of a repressive, ecologically damaged, United States is the toast of streaming television.

Colin Dodds has achieved a highly readable, quirkily creative alternate reality that comes frighteningly close to real life in his new novel, Watershed. The United States described in his story is one in which most people live half in and half out of complete absorption by their electronic equipment—cell phones, total wall video screens, streaming information across their cars’ windshields and so on. It is the present taken to its logical extreme. The lines between entertainment and reality have been blurred to the point of farce. On the anniversary of the 9/11-terror attack, the country assembles, either in person or around their video screens, to watch a reenactment of the disaster as a planeload of prisoners flies into a reconstructed version of one of the Twin Towers. Half the watchers cheer for the fake “terrorists’” and half for the imagined victims.

Amid this projected vision of today, six people live out an interconnected plot, which is intricately related to the environment around them. Norwood is a Ludlite, one of the minority of citizens who reject the electronic domination of their world by eschewing smart phones, using old-fashioned emails on computers, which they borrow from internet cafes, and watch movies on DVDs. They are Luddites with enough use of modern electronics to make the Luddite “lite.” Norwood is a sculptor, who, when he was consigned to sculpting cartoon video characters, chose to raise exotic snakes instead. Raquel, an expensive prostitute who parachutes, nude, into his life one night as part of a performance/sexcapade, becomes his lover, wife and perhaps the mother of his child. Both are pursued by Hurley, the genetically strange and long-lived former senator, illicit lobbyist and millionaire who avails himself of the latest surgical and electronic advances to change his identity whenever his adversaries begin to close in on him. He believes that Raquel’s child may be his. One of Hurley’s pursuers is Wilhelmina, a woman detective who used to be a man before having his genitals shot off. Wilhelmina also employs Norwood in a devious plan to profit from the 9/11 reenactment. Both Norwood and Wilhelmina are targeted by Hurley’s assistant, Tyra and her hired goon, Gavin, a part-time financial advisor who enjoys killing, and is employed by Hurley to kill both Wilhelmina and Norwood. The story concerns Norwood and Raquel’s attempt to elude Hurley and his hired staff and establish a “normal” life in a Lublite community somewhere in the U.S.

The convoluted story treats us to a tour through this future possibility United States while also leading us on an exciting chase by a cast of characters, each of which is explored in greater depth than would be usual for a thriller-genre story and rivals some of Dick’s stories in terms of the nuances of twisted personalities. Identities are acquired and shed, sometimes via paperwork and just as often through plastic surgery. Norwood and Raquel are the definitely good and sympathetic heroes of the novel and Hurley is the villain with few redeeming qualities. Everyone else is too human to be classified so easily and this fact draws the reader deep into both the story and the characters’ personalities.

Watershed is indeed a watershed when it comes to revealing the dominance of our electronic, internet based world on our lives. I of course was aware of this before reading the book, but it did make me self-conscious about my own obsessive reliance on new (mostly trivial) information streaming nonstop into my brain through various devices. But Watershed is much more than social commentary. It’s a genuinely captivating edge-of-your-seat thriller, which kept me reading from beginning to end, looking forward to each new chapter. My only self-conscious pang of guilt came from the fact that I read it on a Kindle device instead of as a hardcopy. But then Kindle books probably qualify, along with DVDs and audiotapes, as Lud “lite” devices. At least I didn’t read it on my smartphone.

 

Watershed is scheduled for release as a Kindle ebook on May 12, 2017. Find it on Amazon 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Mar072017

Polk, Harper and Who, by Panayotis Cacoyannis reviewed by Casey Dorman

To read a novel by Panayotis Cacoyannis is to delve deeply into the psyches of always complex, and often unusual characters. Although his latest book, Polk, Harper and Who has it’s requisite number of kooky people, the two main  characters, Adam and Eva, are not strange at all. That is not to say that they are simply drawn. Both are complex, Eva is, by far, the more complicated of the two. She has secrets, from her best friend, from her husband, and from herself. But they are not secrets meant to harm anyone, only to protect. Her greatest secret is why she continues to play the role of daughter to her stepmother, concealing that her real mother died to everyone, including the husband with whom she shares almost all else. We never learn the why of that particular secret, except that to divulge it, at least while her stepmother is alive, would threaten the delicate balance she has achieved in living under the parenting of a woman she hates. I must keep the other secrets hidden in this review, as they might spoil the story for future readers. Adam, her husband, although complex in terms of his art and his views, is more straightforward with those he loves, almost to the point of perfection. The reciprocal love of these two persons is the central theme of the novel.

As with other Cacoyannis novels, the language, the cleverness, the juxtaposition of heartbreak and humor and the presence of truly hilariously drawn characters is at least half the pleasure of reading the book. The author has a way of describing mundane scenes in  ascending lines of subtle  humor that, for me, often results in an outbreak of irrepressible laughter by the end of the scene. The attention to detail and the complexity of  his desriptions of both character and setting are captivating.

I live a busy life with a crowded schedule, much of it consumed by reading and writing. It took me awhile to finish this book, but I must say that it was the pleasure to which I turned at the end of each day. It is well worth reading.

Wednesday
Jan182017

The Image Maker: A Collection of Poems by Donald B. Colson reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Image Maker: A Collection of Poems

Donald B. Colson

Createspace Independent Publishing Platform 2017 

 

At 78 years old, Donald Colson is a “new” poet, publishing a collection of 39 short poems, each with an accompanying prose “comment” explaining the poem’s “origins and meanings.” The poems are arranged into six themes: State of Mind, Relationships, Mourning, Nature, Ageing, and Faith and Spirituality.

Of the many impressions I had of this collection, three things stood out: the honesty of the observations, the sense of self-discovery, and the inventiveness of the imagery. Several of the poems are a faithful, sometimes brutal, often stark examination of the poet’s thoughts and feelings. “Writer’s Despair,” in which he confesses to longing “for recognition/by others with talent” is one. He examines the emotion of “Shame,” noting that “As a snail touched/reflexively withdraws/into its shell, shame burdens/ and turns us away from others.”  The poems, “Temptation,” “Help,” “Obsolescence,” “Metamorphosis,” and “Here and Not Here” are all searingly truthful in their examination of the poet’s emotions. The most memorable lines of emotion and truth may be contained in his prose prefaces to each poem, particularly when he is talking about the loss of his wife. “We agreed to meet after her death at a specific time (2 p.m., April 15) and location” he tells us while introducing “Awaiting Jane,” a heart wrenching poem in which, as he waits for the mystical meeting he had hoped would emerge, he finds that, “Although I linger/you do not answer” so that he responds, “Mute and hollow/my heart and hope/shrivel and sink./Salvation lies in/a return to grief.” Memorable, honest, and depressing, but not hopeless observations. In his introduction to “Love Long Lost” he says, “If we are fortunate we have experienced love so intense and deep that, for many years, the loss continues to be like a searing pain, penetrating to our center.”

The self-discovery, which is not unrelated to the collection’s honesty, is primarily related to the poet’s appreciation of the influence of his immediate ancestors, his parents and grandparents, on his conscious and unconscious thoughts and, indeed, on his being. His father was Jewish and his mother Catholic, though neither of them practiced their faith. Their parents, while living on a farm in America, were from Europe. The poems “Mother,” “Grandma’s House,” and “Paternal Grandmother,” among others, focus upon how he gradually came to realize how his memories shaped his own life and the genetic gifts, which he inherited, were evident in even his own children and grandchildren. Curiously, he wonders about his own legacy, although we see the rich legacy of his own parents and grandparents in his memories.

What makes these poems so remarkable and pleasing to read is Colson’s facility with figurative language. Immediately, in the first poem, “Night Train,” we are presented with a beautiful image, followed by a poignant association: “Wistful as the wail/of a night train passing./A mother’s cry/sad longing.” Then, we hear the interweaving of sensory experience with imagination as he describes the sound of the receding train as “Leaving a whisper/of roads not taken.” In “Kentucky” he describes “Fireflies, like stars/stream by the moisture/streaked car windows.” And in “Metamorphosis” he talks of faded passion as, “Longings like railroad tracks/parallel but never converge.” Colson is both imaginative and inventive. In “Grandma’s House” he recalls being soothed to sleep by the “buzz and hum of tires” on the two-lane highway that passed the house, then ends the poem with an echo, recalling his grandfather’s use of Canadian French to speak to him, as a sound, “for me as comforting/ as the buzz and hum of tires/on the highway.”

This is a remarkable collection by a poet with a remarkable ear and even more faultless vision of scenes, objects and nature, which he is able to transform into poetic images. He explores the layers of consciousness as found in both dreams and memories. He lingers on the loss that defined much of his life, and how he tried to cope with it, always holding onto the memories, even of the pain. Each poem is both a pleasure to the ear and a revelation to the heart and mind. This is a collection well worth reading—and re-reading.

The Image Maker is available from Amazon Books

Casey Dorman

Editor, Lost Coast Review

Saturday
Nov122016

On The Edge Of A Very Small Town: Poems By Mark Jackley reviewed by Elizabeth Conte

Pure Poetry.

I don’t say this lightly.

Mark Jackley’s new book of poems, On The Edge Of A Very Small Town, is exactly that and more. His words are visceral and beautifully crafted making the reader not just read, but live his words:

 

Shuffling,

she clutches

her coffee like a torch.

 

Although writing is subjective, to me, poetry is the purest artistry form of writing. It is the closest you can get to painting a picture with words. On The Edge Of A Very Small Town is a colorful detailed piece of art soulfully crafted with a mixture of keen wit, cynicism, love, and loss:

 

Undertaker

Once you’re there, death

just isn’t the same, he thinks.

 

He carefully sews her mouth

to keep the secret in.

 

Reading Mark Jackley’s poems made my mind escape from life, and indulge in serenity. A serenity of spirit and mind.

How often does one get to do that?

His words transported me to a quiet space and gave me the luxury to indulge in the observation of life, people, places, and things. Nothing bold, of things imminently important, nor of things deeply philosophical.

This collection of poems is a picture of moments that most of us forget. A simple day in February, Milk And Eggs, or an old love named Kathleen. Quick observations that have such meaning, yet we rarely take time to remember…remember what affects us the most.

 

In a kitchen window, the silhouette

of an enormous man who thinks,

grazing at the train,

he could love anyone on board

 

Poetry changes. It’s purpose, it’s style, and it’s expectations. Stream of thought has dominated the poetry scene for a while now, making me forget how utterly lovely poetry can sing with so few words; how it can transport you from the mundane of every day to the majesty of every day. Mark Jackley’s book of poems is the gift of simplicity that explains everything, makes you feel everything, and makes you see everything. His substance is not simple, but simply said in a way that makes this book something special…and reminds you that the beauty of life is truly in the ordinary.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Nov032016

A Box of Ticky-Tacky by Somdatta Goswami, reviewed by Dustin Pickering

            The generation gap is an age-old theme in world literature from certain ancient Greek myths to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Human society, in assimilating variety, assembles old and young side by side. Naturally, tensions arise from both parties’ fears and abilities. The young are alive and healthy, preparing for a full life. The elders, having already lived long, impart their wisdom. The old perhaps see a semblance of their former selves in their children, and the young may fear guidance because of their own stubborn wills.

            In A Box of Ticky-Tacky [Chitrangi, Calcutta], characters are influenced by such generational differences in a profoundly distinct way. In “Old Papa Crown” we are met with an elderly gentleman who refuses to succumb to his old age. Even in sickness, he rebounds with humor and meets with the schoolchildren he greeted every morning from inside his house. This seemingly trivial detail reminds the reader that the smallest of gestures still resonate in life’s expansive dream.

            These stories, told imaginatively and recounted as vividly as actual memories, are united morally in the reminder that life is not to be taken for granted. “To Fly to Zurich” is amusing and ironic as well as instructive in this central motif. An elderly woman’s trip to Sweden is complicated by several small misunderstandings until she finally loads a plane without trouble. When she arrives in Zurich, she has no way to contact her son who she was to meet after landing. Overall, we perceive her as one resolved to visit “the most beautiful country” even if she gets lost in it. As she recounts the tale she explains to her listener, who is surprised at her determination, that she had nothing to lose after so long a life.

            Our elders aren’t the only celebrated heroes of this collection. In “The Queen of the Roads”, a young woman learns to drive by competing with her father. She becomes an expert on cars and driving. When she stops to help an older gentleman change his tire, the crowd is in awe of her unique capability. This story has other strange surprises. I found it to be the most amusing and imaginative writing of the book. The situation is possible yet undeniably fantastic.

            A more universally valuable lesson is uncovered throughout.  This lesson is easily recognized in “The North Wind”, a story about a university student who is bored of the classroom and her studies. The last sentence of the story reads, “Life holds our key to happiness in such very insignificant things...and it is for us to discover and recognize them...they are there...just under our noses...for us to find them!” The collection proclaims an honest optimism to supersede pain, error, and harsh circumstances. In “Welcoming William”, a severe accident alters the course of an arranged family. In “The First Day of Baishakh”, a marriage is suddenly cancelled to the couple’s despair, but the disappointed bride-to-be restores her family’s fortune with her patient efforts and optimism. The example is one of outstanding resolution. Even when faced with sudden heartbreak, forbearance makes flowers bloom. At the end of “Baishakh”, she acknowledges the approach of her own life’s end and prepares to let go for the sake of her grandchildren. Her struggle in these final moments is poignantly detailed.

            The title of the collection seems silly and ultimately frivolous. Perhaps Somdata Goswami intends to be playful yet wise. Ticky-tacky holds things together and keeps them in place. These stories show life’s wisdom to be one of guiding us proper to our highest lights, and holding life together even when it is passing.

            The collection ends with “The Sign of Love”, the most delicate and touching story in the collection. The truth contained within it exhibits a sharp contrast to the book’s other themes. Instead of a celebration of life, we see the despair of unjustified killing and vengeance. In this example, we are reminded that life is precious by an entirely different situation. As the hero is gunned down violently, his final gesture is the sign of love to his deaf students. Our imaginations are left to reflect on what could have been; why was such a heroic and gentle man murdered by misguided revolutionaries he once sought to benefit? Why is their ideal counter to the act and results of the act?

            Somdata Goswami is a careful storyteller. Her thoughts are masterfully disguised within the narratives so the reader can investigate. The circumstances of the stories are unique and excite the imagination. Her ability to guide the reader as plot develops toward resolution demonstrates the patience of intellect and clarity of thought necessary for genuine storytelling. Each character created by Goswami is perhaps a figment of our own consciousness, some hidden invention of our daydreaming, or a unique characterization of our innermost desires. While we read to entertain our longing for escape, these stories read our hearts for the reason we wish to escape.

 

Dustin Pickering is Editor-in-Chief of Harbinger Asylum and founder of Transcendent Zero Press,

 

 

Monday
Oct242016

Selfhood: Varieties and Experience—Afterword by Dolonchampa Chakraborty

Editor's Note:Varieties of Experience is a remarkable collection of poems and essays involved in the discussion of the meaning of Selfhood. This anthology will be released in America by Transcendent Zero Press and in India by Hawakal Publishers. An introduction by Lyn Coffin, whose poetry and prose has appeared in Time Magazine and Prairie Schooner among other publications, questions the similarities and differences in Eastern and Western conceptions of Self. Lyn Coffin is also the recipient of the Republic of Georgia's Saba Prize in 2016. The engaging questions of identity, one's relationship with the world, and the influence of culture on the human mind are addressed lucidly and openly. Poets both highly respected and emerging are included. The anthology will be available on Amazon for $8.00 by the end of October. 

  

 

Afterword: Selfhood Anthology

          As I started my journey through the Selfhood anthology, the word “self” formed a little misperception. The word “Selfhood” in its general sense had provided me a notion of a personal consciousness, an emotional state and an insight about vivid experiences in life. However, as I kept delving further, it became palpable that this book is not restricted to the strict and prevalent idea of the self’s day-to-day existence. I realized that my delusion about the word “self” was rather deep-rooted in the passive practice of my Hinduism, while the use of “self” probing through the book has a far wider spectrum of meaning.

         “Self” in a more ancient Eastern term means atta (Pali) and atman (Sanskrit). The Atma Upanishad thus establishes the idea of atma (Soul or Self) dividing it into three categories known as Bahyatman—the physical person; Antaratman—the inner person who sees, thinks, distinguishes and Paramatman—the supreme source or reality.

         In contrast to these teachings of Hinduism, the main doctrines of Buddhism abide by the concept of anatma (no-soul or no-self). It clearly rejects the Vedic notion of the soul or self and states that there is no soul inside a living human body and hence it cannot be a connection between the mortal self and the higher immortal self. The Buddhist viewpoint, however, is in stark contrast to materialistic annihilationism, e.g. Charvaka; according to it, there is no soul, no self, no karma, no rebirth, and no afterlife. Tathagata advised against this practice known as Natthikavada. However, there seems to be a twilight point where Buddhism strongly insists the human body has a soul or self but does not acknowledge that the self does not exist either; because in order to accept it, first the existence of soul will have to be accepted.

         Anatta (anatman) doesn’t mean that there is no afterlife, no rebirth and no karma, Buddhism does not recognize the ideas of Hinduism which particularly upholds the theory of eternalism and says that every living human body is an adhaar (container) of a soul; and that this soul is a part of a greater reality, immortality and a hypothetical existence—hence, each and every human being is also part of a greater immortal being (Paramatman). This concept known as Atthikavada is also judged in Buddhism. The Theraveda Buddhism destroys the “I,” and “I am” by an inflexible practice of the Anatta doctrine as it defies that particular effort to become one with the apparently unknown and the Supreme One by destroying the active and the innermost ego of a person:

 

सब्बे धम्मा अनात्ता

(sabbe dhamma anatta—all things are not-self)

एतं ममम एसो ‘हम अस्मि, एसो में अत्ता ती’

(etang mamam eso ‘ham asmi, eso me atta ti’— this is mine, this I am, this is myself)

 

         Thus, when a mind is trained enough to detach itself from all forms of obsession, demand, expectation, revenge, pride, love, fear, loss, it comprehends the Shunyata (vacuum or emptiness) by realizing that everything in this world is devoid of a “self” or ego and attains Nirvana (salvation). This supreme attainment ends the cycle of suffering, death and rebirth.

         The central focus of the Nirvana Sutra is the Buddhadhatu—the nature of Buddha, an ultimate blissful form of “self” is present in every man. It is said to remain when all—every form of non-self is perished.

         Mark Blum writes: “He [the Buddha] makes it clear that while he will disappear from their sight, he is not going to die, because in fact he was never born in the first place. In other words, Buddhas are not created phenomena and therefore have no beginning and no end.”

         While Hinduism says that the Atma (self, soul) is the ultimate reality of human life—an unbound, free, uncreated, unlimited, immortal and liberated divinity because it existed even before the Universe took shape (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad); hence it is the same as the Brahmana—the omnipresent, unbounded, genderless, and eternal reality which has not changed since time immemorial and so, he is one with the Atma, which is indestructible.  According to The Vedas, the Atma (Self, Soul, Brahmin) is the cosmic principle as it was there, will be there. Similarly the concept of the ultimate attainable vacuum or Shunyata as advised in Buddhism and as the Buddhadhatu in every human being and the ultimate feature of Tathagata— the one and only true bliss and truth, it is free from all earthly cycles of suffering and at the same time it is the cause of everything which was never there, never born, hence never dead.

         In my opinion, the poets in this anthology have touched upon fascinating contrasts and similarities of these most practiced faiths in their extremely intelligent poems and essays, and by a habit of keen observation and listening to others’ stories.  

        I did not try to decipher the poems, rather searched for some connection with the parallel worlds of art and mythology that have filled them with an eternal fountain of bliss, even when their expression is of despair, grief, hollow—certain memories which date back centuries as they do not belong to a single entity but connect the whole universe, instead of expressing torn and broken pieces of a particular nation. They make every individual as one of the many children of Gaea—the Supreme Mother.

         In the very beginning there is the mention of the “door-keeper” and the “human-headed bird” which apart from their biblical referents, strike me with a humble yet bold appearance of the soul/self:

 

Open to me, the door-keeper.

My human-headed bird

steps from the niched recess

in your night chapel—

(“Ancient Spell” by Elina Petrova)

 

         Ba (a human-headed bird, especially a Falcon) is the classic Mediterranean example of the spiritual manifestation of soul through the concept of rebirth; while it is a part of a complex polytheistic interpretation practised in ancient Egypt; the mention of a human-bird is found in many other texts (Japan, Tibet. Garuda, the mythical bird-man creature mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana and other folk-tales, actually represents anonymous entities or powers and the ultimate survival of a “being.” It is being called upon by the door-keeper whose desire to become a bird is a symbol of liberty and movement  which is even more established by the rivers rapidly advancing through unchosen, random valleys, to keep the cycle of life alive and vibrant.

 

I roamed in an indigo sari

through jungles and villages

of my chain dreams:

(“Ancient Spell” by Elina Petrova)

 

         Roaming in a dream and draping oneself in a colourful saree denotes a very special social life that starts with settling down in a marriage or being involved in a spiritual quest. As for the color psychology here, Indigo means a communication with the intensified spirituality of oneself as well as celestial guidance. In terms of the emotional spectrum, Indigo suggests the compassion part of the rainbow—as if the person is developing an intuition towards serving the humanity guided by the inner wisdom (antaratma).

         The dreams are vivid in terms of color and objects—the Indigo saree, the turmeric splash of sun, Indigo scarabs—all point to a curious and empathetic mind—and also perhaps suggest an essentially sensitive mind, as all these point towards the possibility of traveling a tranquil path toward attainment. The dreams create a mysticism, though seeing scarabs emphasize rebirth, cleansing of the soul and protection from evil, while listening to music always fills the dreamer with a positive, harmonious feeling.

         The piece [“Finding the Courage to Always Be True to Ourselves” by Elizabeth Esguerra Castillo, page 21] on the theme of Paolo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello is an interesting one.  While we should have the courage to be true to ourselves, that seldom happens and the truth lies buried somewhere inside our eyes. The part where Roscoe Snowden is quoted: “There are at least two kinds of cowards. One kind always lives with himself, afraid to face the world. The other kind lives with the world, afraid to face himself”—reminds me of Korean director Ki-duk Kim’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring—a film released in 2009.

         Had it been a western film, the same operational structure that tells the story of a child and the Buddhist monk residing in a small cottage in the middle of a vast lake—even within the basic Buddhist platform would not fit. Because it is the difference of the Western ‘I’ and the Eastern ‘I’ that makes the treatments discrete. Basically, what we face is the changing time and the changes time makes in our lives. Hence, it is possible to disagree with what Snowden said in the context that everything is ever-changing and nobody can either keep oneself from facing the world or the self.

         On another note, “bedlamite” talks about an ethereal connection between everything said and unsaid, written and unwritten, accumulated and un-accumulated, done and undone:

 

all the unsaid bliss, compressed & hardened

to hieroglyph, to silence, to belated indifference

unable to share the stories fast asleep inside you & me.

Unlike accumulation,

there is something evanescent that no one sees,

that shapes us, drives us, binds us

within the optimistic brilliance of hope—”

[“bedlamite” by henry 7. reneau, jr.]

 

         Every person has a story—whether it will be told or not, it is a part of the great cosmic vacuum; because the eternal, ethereal Om [ॐ] is out there, has always been there since even before the creation of the universe. First ever mentioned in the Vedic text, Upanishads, the Om is also known as the mystic syllable which refers to the Atman or the self and the Brahmin—the ultimate divine and supreme entirety. The factual statement, “a broken self cannot mend other broken selves – he must heal himself first” refers back to this mysticism of the Om.  He must connect to his own self, cleanse it of all ill-feelings and learn to accept life’s vastness as it is.

         “A Special Sort Of Box” by Anya Ezhevskaya reminded me a very old saying: It is the giver who is blessed and should be grateful to the receiver for accepting a contribution with benevolence. The lines of a very popular poem by Rabindranath Tagore are along the same lines:

 

What I gave you was yours in reality / you’ve brought me in your debt by accepting it.”

 

         In an effort to achieve attainment, it is essential to forget the ego-consciousness, to cleanse the self or no-self off greed, hatred and ignorance.

 

 “But we are leaving us, we are leaving us… We are within me, the distant residence of that forlorn spring. Miles after miles sunflowers are blooming, where we kissed death.”             [“Words” by Niladri Mahajan]

 

         The language of this poem is uniquely associated with the theme of the book. We’re leaving us—the ego, the self and moving towards a non-self, thus gradually achieving a completeness in its entirety. But I feel that there can be another angle to it—a rather mundane and non-philosophical angle that hits our restricted entities every day. In my experience I’ve seen that the language of companionship is same all over the world, irrespective of the philosophy and politics of the geographical influence. The reminiscence of such a bond remains alive even after centuries have passed. That keen sense of togetherness expressed in a field bright with sunflower colours reminds me of Les Alyscamps—a pair of paintings done by Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin in 1888. From companionship comes a sense of belonging which in turn becomes an obstacle to Nirvana.

         The first few lines of “A Bankrupt Strategy” by Lucy Wilson are harsh and so is the whole poem named “Witch Hunt” by Jennifer Lagier, but these are realities especially in the developing as well as the war-torn nations even in the 2nd decade of the new millennium. Anger, frustration, helplessness are piling up to avenge the agony caused by the influential half and leading to the production of such lines with utmost mockery. “Conversation with a Dream” by Sasha Kamini Parmasad discusses the ancient account of the Vedic text:

 

“Wish I could wish

to show you Allah

as I promised

but in this life

I have lost my wisdom

finally

and can only point

to your own image.”

 

         Pointing towards one’s own image stimulates the energy of awareness which is mainly controlled by Agni (fire)—supposedly, one of the main ingredients of human body. Incidentally, children are supposed to be the image / mirror image of their creators—this book started acknowledging the Supreme Mother, Gaea, who had apparently removed the void, chaos and confusion—to give birth what mortal life is today.

         The book perseveringly tests the efforts to break the idea of “self”—as practised in the West in its quest for the unseen and unidentified entity and consequences:

 

“You have thrown the spear

through the eye

of my I.”                  

[“Conversation with a Dream” by Sasha Kamini Parmasad]

 

         “I” is not only the uncleansed self, it is also the ego—aham that collides with the super-ego, which is omnipresent in every life and simultaneously nowhere to be found.

         In “Not My Own” by Susan Summers, the mother sees her unborn child which is supposed to fill the would be mother’s life with magnificent goodness as two different minds, unknown to each other, connecting with each other’s consciousness. An eternal question is posed in this poem about the very existence of humans.

         The last poem of the book is named “Krishna” (by Kiriti Sengupta, one of the editors of Selfhood anthology). In this poem, Krishna delivers the message of The Gita. He is not only the offspring of the body (Devaki) and the life-force (Vasudeva), he is also considered the God of eternal love. While the concept of the soul is ambiguous, love can seldom be eternal. It is also a form of Maya. Hence, these lines are strikingly truthful from the days of ancient epic war to our contemporary age of false living:                                      

 

No matter if someone indulges in an unfair deed, the gods would suffer through us, and thus, we would remain unaffected.

 

         The peacock feather on Krishna’s head denotes freedom—a detachment from all earthly ties which keep humans from moving towards the salvation.

         Lyn writes in the introduction: “The anthology Selfhood encourages us to regard familiar intellectual territory in different contexts and varying lights.” As a reader of Eastern and Western treatment of practices I would say that this book deals with many and tangled theories of simple faith—faith that talks about happiness, peace and bliss in today’s untrue times and makes the reader communicate with one’s innermost fear, truth, and liberty.

 

Dolonchampa Chakraborty

Nagpur, India

 

A translator and transcriptionist by profession for last twelve years, Dolonchampa Chakraborty has authored two collections of Bengali poetry. She is currently the executive editor of a Bengali Webzine, www.bookpocket.net and is also the Chief Editor of The Nilgiri Wagon (www.nilgiriwagon.org), a webzine dedicated to Indian, Spanish and Greek literature and art.

 

Thursday
Oct202016

The Dead of August by Panayotis Cacoyannis, reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Dead of August

Panayotis Cacoyannis

Amazon Digital Services LLC

2013.

 

The esteemed critic and novelist William Gass once claimed that novels require stories, literature does not. The Dead of August has a story, and unlike some of Gass’ novels—Middle C, for instance—the story has a plot. But the plot is not what this novel is about. It’s about character, the nature of reality, and words. And the words are a pyrotechnic display, providing enough pleasure in themselves to satisfy readers who enjoy what Gass would call, “literature.” 

James Linthwaite is a an obituarist; he writes obituaries for the London Herald. We never get to read any of his obituaries, but we hear about them. They are about “the tortured souls of those middling celebrity types who do have a talent of sorts – on occasion even a talent to speak of - but whose needy ambition exponentially exceeds it.” And he writes these obituaries “euphemistically” using “vastly more subtle and sophisticated one-off inventions” to describe what otherwise would be tragic or tragic-comic lives, depending, probably, upon one’s sense of humor. In fact, an anonymous reviewer’s claim that “Mr Linthwaite is able to wrest a sense of the perversely comic tragedy of existence, and through the paradox which his subjects embody, distil the very essence of our lives - of what it is, so absurdly, to be human,” is an almost perfect description of what Cacoyannis provides us in The Dead of August and its story of James, his acquaintances and his family.

James’ life is, for no particular reason except perhaps middle age ennui, if not disintegrating, at least sinking low enough to raise troubling questions in his mind. Why do he and his wife never have sex anymore? Does she value him or his work? Why is his son so contemptuous of him? His wife accuses him  of being “too abstract, …My focus was soft. My perception was fuzzy. I never paid attention.” In his words he’s a “Bigger Picture man.” In fact he regards that as the “hub of my character, and much more encompassing than a mere trait.” But in truth, the fact of the forest eludes him as he gazes at the trees.

Does James misunderstand himself? Probably no more than the next person, although he ponders the question more deeply (though without penetrating its surface), and with brilliant, often hilarious and sometimes perversely euphemistic, inner dialogue to which we are privy because of the first person narrative. But he understands his peers and family even less than he understands himself, and they appear to understand themselves not terribly more than he does. James’ real problem seems to be that this all too human characteristic of failing do understand what is happening within or around him leads him to passively accept the directions provided by others; he does not take charge of his own life.

The plot of the novel is simple, but inventive. A mysterious invitation to attend a week-long “happening” at the country home of a wealthy recluse arrives. Without anyone ever saying what the happening is to be, James is urged by his wife and editor (whom he suspects are having an affair) to head to the country for a week and attend the event. He has no inner sense of whether he should or should not go, he vacillates, makes up his mind not to then changes his mind to fit a minor conversational exigency and ends up going. Prior to that, we are treated to a dizzying sequence of meetings with his editor, with the sports writer who will take over the obituaries during his absence, with the sports writer’s sister, to whom James is attracted. None of these people proves to be whom he or she first appears to be.

Once at the country estate of the eccentric, who has assumed an identity as “Max,” we learn that the man is planning a happening at an avant garde gallery and that James is one of three people who, over a period of time, have been invited for a week to visit Max and pen a 900 word obituary of him.

We can guess that the “happening” will include Max’s demise, but James, faithful to type, fails to anticipate this. At any rate, the actual event doesn't occur until a year after James is thrown out of his house by his wife, with the help of his son, for reasons he of course fails to comprehend. In fact, his understanding is hampered by his focus upon details at the expense of the “Bigger Picture,” showing us how little James understands himself.

In the end, Max commits suicide  during the happening, James is shocked but uses his debilitating reaction to wangle his way back into the good graces (and house) of his wife, and is back writing his obituaries, but this time less worried about his sex life, the wanderings of his wife, and has taken up an affair with the owner of the gallery (who was at one time a lesbian, the object of desire of the unsuspecting dictatorial editor, and has now reverted to heterosexuality). The editor, with whom James had suspected his wife was having an affair, accidentally suffocates himself while attempting a sexual scene copied from James’ wife’s best-selling pornographic book. James is taken by surprise, another intricate example of his misapprehension of the character of those around him. James finally decides not to be untrue to his wife, and the book ends with a titillating suggestion that he had been right all along about his wife’ affair with his editor.

In Cacoyannis’ novel Bowl of Fruit (1907), Jack Faro, the protagonist, searches for an identity by copying that of others—Picasso, Kafka— and then learns that everything he thought was true about himself and his history was not. James Linthwaite is continually learning that everything he thought about the people around him was wrong, or at least only a glimpse of one side of them. He never quite addresses his own lack of self-understanding and as a result, he never grasps the forces that are propelling him hither and thither. I’ve read enough reviews of The Dead of August to realize that such a character irritates or even angers some readers, who demand the main character of a novel be more “appealing.” I would hazard the suggestion that such readers are denying, or at least underestimating, the degree to which James is each of us. He never realizes that he doesn’t have a clue why he does what he does or what is “happening” around him, but do I dare say, most of us don’t either? It’s a painful realization, but one that Cacoyannis presents with brilliant, verbally glistening humor. It was a book that, for me,  was an immense pleasure to read.

Casey Dorman

Wednesday
Sep282016

After the Gonads Stop Snapping: Daniel Klein's "Travels with Epicurus" reviewed by Casey Dorman

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life

Daniel Klein

New York: Penguin Books (2012)

 

When I was a very young man, having just earned my degree and secured my first full-time job as a psychologist, I was given the assignment to consult to a preschool class for disturbed children taught by a woman in her late sixties. She not only shared her teaching philosophy with me, but also her views on life. One day I remarked on how broadly she seemed to consider her life in relation to the world around her. She offered that, it was wonderful how well one was able to think about things, “after the gonads stop snapping.”

Daniel Klein (Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, The History of Now) expresses a similar point of view, not so comically, but in a more reasoned way, in his 2012 book, Travels with Epicurus.” He talks about libido “having run its natural course.” Waning libido is not the central theme of Klein’s remarkable book, but allowing oneself to age gracefully and thoughtfully is.  He mentions a friend, who at age 73, had gotten prescriptions for both testosterone supplements and Cialis and who “felt like a young buck again.” Klein is skeptical, not about the truth of his friend’s report, but about the wisdom of trying to prolong or recapture youth. There is a natural rhythm, he says, in the way an older person walks slowly, takes rests, sits and thinks, spends time with friends, and mostly, enjoys the moments, rather than experiencing them as stepping stones on the way to some future goal.

In his early seventies, Klein revisited the Greek Island of Hydra, familiar to him from many earlier visits. His visit was “… a personal quest: I am an old man myself now—seventy-three—and I want to figure out the most satisfying way to live this stage of my life.” His inspiration was the fourth century BC, Greek philosopher, Epicurus, founder of a well known school called “The Garden” in Athens. In fact it was my own interest in Epicurean philosophy that originally attracted me to Klein’s book.

Epicurus is a remarkable and underrated philosopher, the latter fact being due to the paucity of his surviving writings. A believer in Democritus’ notion of the atom as the basis of all matter, his universe is infinite and nothing can be either created or destroyed, except in the momentary form it takes from the configuration of its atoms. While he does not deny the existence of gods, he views them neither as creators of the universe nor as meddlers in its course. For Epicurus there is no life after death. The soul resides within the body and when the body dies, the soul’s atoms are no longer attached to the person; they dissipate as an entity.  “Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved is devoid of sensation, and that which is devoid of sensation is nothing to us.” Much of his philosophy is based on the principle of not fearing death, nor bargaining with gods regarding a fictional afterlife. “Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terror for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are not terrors for them in ceasing to live.”

Epicurus is remarkable in a number of ways: Unlike virtually any of the ancient philosophers I have read, he is able to suspend judgment. He cites various natural phenomena—the stars, the movement of the stars, the wind, hurricanes, thunder, lightning, rainbows, lunar haloes, earthquakes and admits that the sense impressions we have from them (sense impressions, he believes,  being the source of our explanations) lead to many contradictory explanations and do not provide, in his time, a conclusive argument for any particular explanation. So the explanation of such phenomena is left open, to be decided by future observations. He is a naturalist and an empiricist when he says, “we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions, whether those of mankind in general or to those peculiar to the individual and also to attend to all the clear evidence available, as given by each of the standards of truth.” This seems to me to be a stance that could support the development of science.

Daniel Klein is less concerned with Epicurus’ natural philosophy than with his social philosophy. Epicurus believed that happiness is the ultimate goal of living. “So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since if that be present, we have everything, and if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.”  But, in contrast to our modern-day use of the word “epicurean,” the ancient philosopher meant a more measured and sober pursuit of pleasure. “When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life,; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul.”

Klein notes that Epicurus directed much of his attention to old age. He quotes Epicurus saying, “It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate, but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.” Klein notes that Epicurus discourages wanting not only that which is unattainable, but also that which is so difficult to attain that it is not worth the trouble. Simple pleasures, Klein learns while on Hydra, are often easily attained. Enjoying the simple dinner that is readily available brings more pleasure than yearning for a more sumptuous and expensive one. Walking slowly, even with a stick, can bring a pleasure that hurrying, while one’s mind dwells on the destination, rather than the journey, cannot. And perhaps above all, spending time with friends is a pleasure uniquely satisfied in old age. Why uniquely, because, as Klein points out, “Wanting nothing from one’s friends is fundamentally different from the orientation of a person who is still immersed in professional life or its relationships.” He quotes Epicurus: “Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”

Travels with Epicurus is a window into the musings of a 73 year old, intelligent, humorous, man, searching for the wisdom to guide his elder years before, in his words, old old age hits him. We sit with him in the Taverna, watching his friend Tasso, of a similar age, playing cards or talking to his friends, also old men with time on their hands, we observe with him other islanders going about their daily business, we watch Tasso and his friends admire a 19 year old beauty and joke about the beauties they have known in earlier years. Each of Klein’s observations is the occasion for reflection: on the pleasures of the people he is watching and on his own enjoyments and thoughts.

Klein began his journey after being told by his dentist that he needed dental implants. Either he must endure a year containing several painful dental surgeries and periods of recovery as he has his precariously balanced teeth removed and replaced or he will soon lose those teeth and require a denture, impairing his ability to eat some food and giving him “the unmistakable clunky smile of an old man.” Despite his initial choice to opt for the implants, he reconsidered, asking himself, “In my early seventies did I really care if I presented to the world and old man’s goofy smile? And even more to the point, with my years of clear thinking and reasonable mobility dwindling as quickly as my jawbone, did I honestly want to dedicate an entire year to regular visits to an oral surgeon?” He did not. Instead he decided to explore how best to live as a seventy-three year old man.

Most of us will never spend a month on the island of Hydra, probably not on any Greek island, for that matter. But some of us can afford a life of leisure in our old age, not necessarily an opulent one, but one which allows us to do things that we find pleasurable. Following Daniel Klein along on his journey to find what brought him happiness, was worthwhile. He and Epicurus and many other philosophers and thinkers whom he quoted learned that, especially as one gets older, it is the doing that is pleasurable, not some end to be attained if the doing is successful. And Klein takes special care to be sure that the doing fits not only what he enjoys, but what he is capable of doing at his age. For those like him who enjoy thinking and reading, much is available. Companionship is available to many and Klein shows us how to enjoy it by treating, in Kantian terms, our friends as ends not as means.

Epicurus is sometimes regarded as a Stoic and sometimes as the opposite of a Stoic. It is unstoical to seek pleasure in every action. But it is in line with stoicism to find one’s happiness in reasoning, in sober, prudent living, in enjoying what is available rather than striving after what might never be attained or attained only with great difficulty. Klein seems to see this Epicurean approach to life as a perfect fit for old age. When we are younger, we still are driven by goals, by ambition and yes, by our gonads. But pleasure is there for the taking even in our seventies and probably beyond. When he contemplates old old age, Klein is pessimistic. Death does not provoke dread, but  such ailments as dementia, incontinence, and chronic pain do. He muses about the choice of suicide and when to take such an action if that is one’s choice.

Traveling with Epicurus is a thoughtful book, one that can help to attain an insight into how to make one’s elder years pleasant ones. I almost said “meaningful” but that term has too many somber and profound connotations to fit the message of this book or Epicurus’ philosophy. Finding happiness in old age is not about leaving a legacy, not about making one’s impact extend beyond one’s life. It is about doing what brings pleasure and a sense that one is right with one’s conscience and one’s world. To me, that is a goal well worth seeking and this is a book well worth reading.

Wednesday
Sep142016

The Flesh and the Mortar Prophecy by Nathan Hassall, reviewed by Jeff Cannon

Nathan Hassall’s new collection of poems entitled, The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy, is far from an imaginary romp into the bizarre realms of madness. It is a deep and penetrating journey into the meaning of fleshy being that includes the poet and engages the reader. The author’s poems relate to each other in such a way that each one offers another clue to the descent into finding true consciousness: the way painted trees point out which path to take deeper into the forest.

Hassall is another explorer who marks a way for us to navigate the perilous and porous walls between madness and sanity; imprisonment and freedom. Read the preface. There, Hassall provides the reader with not only an intriguing background but more importantly a helpful framework for the reader to better jump into and engage these provocative poems.

This is a tightly written little chapbook. Its sharp, succinct words, sometimes rhymed, often free flowing, punctuate brisk paced verses. Each one has its own descriptive character and meditative tone, yet does not stand alone. Each poem relates to the others to form a distinctive and cohesive poetic piece. The sound of each one resonates with trembling urgency. As well, there is the pulse of revelations, Johannine apocalyptic, with a sprinkle of Mephistopheles. Lastly, there is more than a pinch of old time English asylum life and the physically wrenching and spirit wracked torment of finding a centered life and living it.

Ambivalence runs rampant with its antagonisms wrestling the reader. She or he gets pulled from one poetically descriptive tussle to another. Just when they might think they are free, Hassall reminds them that despite the fact “…the present clears…arms do not forget their shackles.” With the next bout the reader discovers “…the heart bleeds like sap, trickles to the roots, awakens hope.”

Here, body, spirit, soul and heart with their physical agony combine with the anguished mind to become wrapped in the metaphor of illness: one Susan Sontag deftly described in her prose book of the same name. Here they mingle and deliver not only the poet but also the reader to a place both discover where “…a familiar man… looks into me trembles, ‘welcome back’ ”.

Magic happens here. First, as every journey has clues, this one seeks keys that lock and unlock. With each twist of their iron fingers they change the adventure from ambiguous darkness to starry light or the wish for ‘comfort of frost just beyond the Asylum gates’. Second, pronouns join the fray. ‘I’, ‘your’ and ‘you’ play the Trickster dancing their own mischief throughout this work. Yet, the author, protagonist, is not undaunted. He proclaims near the end despite everything that has already transpired and what is yet to come: “I want to be aware, and I want to be awake.”

Another vital element that subtly augments Hassall’s poetry is Rachael Tester’s art work. Here artistic forms blend sound and visual image to stir dark shades of madness. Its Goth hues create a swirling stew that simmers into its own destination. Tester’s offerings not only compliment, but also with graceful presence, accent the work in a wonderful way.

Hassall’s The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy is an ingenious work. Stark poetic images unlock so many levels of individual madness and sanity. Yet the personal voice breaks through the restraints of the self. Its echo becomes an icebreaker that frees one to reach into the collective and social realm. It liberates meaning beyond the tiny, insulated island of individualism - hopefully for the better. I find this an intriguing and provocative work. It unlocked past crisis times for me. Unafraid, I could open those doors and re-enter those places to be more “aware and awake” myself!

BIO: Review by Jeff Cannon, poet and author of “Passionate Leaves’ (Chapbook, 2008, 2009, self- published), Intimate Witness: The Carol Poems (2009, Goose River Press), Eros Faces of Love and Finding the Father at Table, 2010, X-libris).

The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy is available at Amazon.com  CLICK HERE

Tuesday
Sep062016

Reflections on Salvation by Kiriti Sengupta, reviewed by Boudhayan Mukherjee

 

Title: Reflections on Salvation

Author: Kiriti Sengupta

Page: 48 [Paperback] First ed. July, 2016

Published by: Transcendent Zero Press (Houston, Texas)

ISBN-13: 978-0996270465

Price: 8.00 US Dollars

 

 

 

The Sreemad Bhagavad Gita (Gita in short) is a narration in the form of 699 Sanskrit verses, contained in 18 chapters, which were composed between 7th and the 6th centuries B.C. and later incorporated into the great Indian epic, The Mahabharata. Gita depicts the dialogue of Arjuna, the great Pandava warrior-prince with the Hindu avatar Lord Krishna. The entire dialogue between them took place on the war-field of Kurukshetra; Krishna trying to convince Arjuna why he should shake off his inhibitions to fight against his own cousins and relatives, the Kauravas. The discourse has been aimed to establish that if actions are performed with an unattached mind, then their defects cannot touch the performer. It is a two-person conversation about Philosophy and yogic principles as opposed to a treatise of battle. Lord Krishna insists that the righteous man will be focused on actions and will not be concerned about the fruits of action (results). By this will come detachment and attainment of godliness. No action should aim at personal benefit and thus, this would lead to the liberation of the mind and finally, renunciation. Gita is, in fact, a many-layered synthesis of ideas and interpretations.

The Gita is the strongest pillar of Vedic teachings, which the greatest minds of the world, both of the East and the West have acknowledged. It is of course the holy book of the Hindus, just like The Bible or The Quran. It is the Hindu custom to read out the slokas (verses) to one who is on the verge of death.  And finally to place an abridged edition of The Gita on the chest of the dead body on its way to the funeral. This is an external measure that makes sure that the deceased attains “salvation” by the grace of the holy text. But there are a few questions that stir a thinking mind. How many Indians, or more specifically Hindus have actually read The Gita? Do the Dalits, the economically downtrodden mass, or the illiterate multitudes of India know about its existence? Is the scripture meant only for the high-cast, the patrons of wealth and power, the so-called scholars and now the political Chanakyas? The sacrosanct scripture has no use for the rag-tags, alas! More so, it has no bearing in the life of our younger generation, who are deeply engrossed in the luxury of materialistic comforts, inappropriate imitation of the Western lifestyle and sometimes super-hedonism.

Kiriti Sengupta’s Reflections on Salvation has probably been written against the said backdrop. Sengupta is a known poet who has a wide range of published works to his credit. The aura of spirituality has always touched his poetry and it is no surprise that he will center on The Gita to ask relevant questions that must have haunted him during the course of his literary ventures. The chapbook is comprised of 18 poetic prose pieces of “anecdotal wisdom that serves to both illuminate and discuss the paradox of faith.” It often questions the logic of the teachings as laid down in The Gita, especially about action without aspiring about a fruitful result, the hypocrisy involved in the act of renunciation, the absurdity in the realm of salvation or moksha. Scriptures of all religions are flawed with their infallible instructions and authoritative dictum. The common man is barely encouraged to question, but to follow them as blindly as possible. The priest or the clergy entertains no questions about the sacrosanct teachings. Religion is made to play an evil role even in the 21st century, causing marked destruction and blood-shed everyday.

But the common man in India cannot shrug off religion completely. Sengupta writes, “I’m aware of a few families who give away funds to the monks and carefully preserve the receipts of their donation. Donors are proud owners of such receipts as those are useful to claim income-tax-exemption. (“Return”)” Indeed! It is also a means to convert black-money into white.

Sengupta believes that “salvation is but enlightenment, achievable only by actions and through your sensory gateways.” He is doubly sure that every action deserves a positive result, which the performer is keen to secure. Sengupta writes further, “Why won’t I dream of eating mangoes if I plant or intend to plant a mango tree?” He hardly believes in afterlife. In “Stagecraft” Sengupta says, “Pleasure of exploring and realizing the unknown arrives only through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue or skin.” He also refutes the advice in The Gita that if you “stop meditating, you are only giving up your zeal to carry it on” and therefore, as the holy text suggests, “benefits would be nullified. (“Meditation”)” This warning is notorious.

There are many such gems in this well-produced book. The foreword by Casey Dorman is a very well-written piece that also contains a candid discussion about the book and his personal opinion about the merits of such a book. The highly interesting post-script by Alan Jankowski followed by an interview of the author by the publisher, Dustin Pickering, are added attractions of this creative enterprise. A must read book by the innovative Kiriti Sengupta who has chosen prose instead of poetry to express his take on religious misconceptions.

 

 

*Boudhayan Mukherjee is a published poet and translator who resides in Calcutta. He has authored six books of poetry and has also taught creative writing.