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Saturday
Jan092016

Book Reviews: The Translator, Late in the Day, My Glass of Wine, The Reverse Tree, and Healing Waters Floating Lamps

The Translator by Dah

Transcendent Zero Press (2015)

Reviewed by Michael Minassian

 

            Dah shows his skill and a careful craftsmanship in his latest collection of poetry, the aptly named The Translator. This collection is a rich journey into the mind and words of the poet. From the moment I stepped into Dah’s poems, I felt I was entering a place of magic, memory, and sight. Questioning his place in the universe, and sometimes answering, the poet seems to be seeking a moral compass to navigate through the world. In the title poem, “The Translator” the speaker hints that the poet and poetry can help us find our way:

 

                        in between there is a message

                        that we can neither locate nor decipher

                        and we can only hope that it surfaces on time

                        with a proper translator

 

            The “You” voice, the sensuous feminine voice that speaks in the poems, suggests answers, some of them uncomfortable truths, about life and death and the mutability of existence. From the excellent poem, “The Moon’s Deep Wounds”:

 

            You said: ‘Maybe life is an invalid

            or a guide gone astray and inside each

            circle of breath there is a path of light’

 

The speaker doesn’t linger in the grip of melancholy and the reader is able to see the “path of light” as images of hope appear near the end of the poem:

 

            We hear voices coming from along the river,

            children’s delicate voices, gentle laughter

            happiness the color of autumn

Yet the reality of existence is its non-permanence, and the speaker’s lingering fears and doubts creep into the last stanza:

 

            and the wind shifted to a steady chilled motion

            You shuddered in silence.

            Overhead, the noisy geese made their escape

            and every leaf was shaking.

 

            Throughout the book, the poet seems to be asking the question: How do you translate the natural and sensory world so that it has meaning. In many of the poems, the reader gets a sense of place and the contemplation of what is seen and heard. And the poet’s other self, the constant “You” of the poems provides a touchstone through this journey:

 

            Your face, your open eyes

            thrive in memory, mythology.

 

            In one of my favorite poems in the collection, “Harbor Scene” the poet uses fresh images and metaphors to paint the landscape and give the reader a window to the natural world. In the penultimate stanza, the young couple is briefly introduced and painted in bold strokes, anchoring the poem in the physical world:

 

            a young couple presses into each other’s warmth

            the way noon shadows press into hot adobe walls

            as the imposing air from autumn’s icy saturation delivers

            a tight aching emptiness seldom known by lovers

 

            My only complaint about the collection is that a few of the poems are printed double-spaced, rather than single-spaced as the majority of the poems. I’m not sure if that was the poet’s intent or a decision by the publisher, but I found it distracting and felt it didn’t add to any of the poems in question.

            Throughout the collection, Dah’s poems explore the natural world around him: the earth, sea, sun, and wind and the creatures, large and small that populate it. Through his poems, he explores his inter-relationship to the natural world and probes it for meaning. Sometimes this leads the speaker in the poem to recognize the negative side of human behavior. But there seems to be a hope to tame the negative impulses with kindness and compassion. He does this through graceful poetic metaphor such as in the poem “We Are Only  Sleeping”:

 

We must hold tight to the harmony/that is left…

            words of love in the cockpits of our mouths,

            dive bombing, softly dive bombing

 

Often, I was startled and moved by an image such as the opening lines of the poem “Dust”

 

What we think about

            is our motion

            almost never our stillness

 

What Dah has created in these poems is a space for us to think about our own stillness and in that stillness to drink in his poems and savor what is contained.

 

Late in the Day by Ursula K. LeGuin

PM Press, 2015

Reviewed by Anca Vlasopolos

 

Late in the Day, the title of Ursula Le Guin’s most recent poetry collection, sounds a valedictory note that is borne out only by a few poems in this astute, incisive, wide-ranging book that is beautifully designed and fits nicely in the hand. I expected no less than to have my breath taken away by a writer whose works I’ve admired, learned from, and taught for several decades. This book did not disappoint.

I will not discuss the masterly prosody of these poems since Ms. Le Guin herself does so in her Afterword, where she even lists the poems in the book by form, for the convenience of readers unfamiliar with quatrains and sonnets, free verse, etc.  Her exacting method—“By free form I mean a discernible pattern”—if followed by people professing to write free verse would elevate the genre above the abuses into which it so often falls.

The erudition and passion that underlie these poems make them a discovery and joy to read. Each thematically selected or prosodic section becomes a journey into complexity. Both “Relations” and “Four Lines” are reminiscent of Neruda’s Odas Elementales, poems that zero in with minute attention on the seemingly ordinary, the every day, the object of use: “a tool” that by sonnet’s end becomes “this weight that wants to fall and, falling, sing.” “The Salt” is an equally stunning four-line poem that sums up earth and its beings. The last section, “The Old Music,” takes us to the beginnings of poetry—folk songs, ballads, hymns—yet with this poet’s inimitable imprimatur: an “unblessèd” America where no “god or priest” rules; a medieval Sir Thomas whose pursuit of the “gleeful Happy Beast” ends in defeat.

Brought up with Greek mythology as my nightly going-to-sleep tales, I was surprised and moved by Le Guin’s version of the Eurydice-Orpheus myth, in “Hermes Betrayed.” The poem begins with a stanza quietly announcing a supposed fact: “When a god grieves/ the deep stones/ at the four corners/ of the world tremble.” That Le Guin celebrates Hermes/Mercury, “airy, jaunty,” should not come as a surprise to those of us steeped in her writings: she’s always seen the trickster, the go-between worlds, the bi-being as attractive since that foot in both worlds allows such a being a more rounded, more encompassing vision; Coyote and the protagonist of Always Coming Home, to name but two, attest to this authorial affection. Yet in this poem, even Hermes of the “cool aplomb” is betrayed, as is his charge, Eurydice, for, as “The burden of his deathlessness/ weighed ever less/ at every step of that/ brightening way with her,” it’s the poet who “turns” and breaks the god’s only chance of learning mortality. And though Hermes, given his nature, “would not grieve,” “the deep stones shook.”

There are devastating statements on the lateness of the day: one such is “Disremembering,” where the specter of a body that goes on without its mind is as chilling as it gets: “the soul plods onward to no end.” Yet this is a book that celebrates life, its last word a benediction upon our much-benighted earth: “dancing.” If there is a cluster of images that dominates this collection, it’s stones—their stillness and silence, which the poet prizes. In Late in the Day Le Guin herself to some extent embodies her own character, Stone Telling, showing us through this great variety of utterly mastered poetic forms the way home.

 

My Glass of Wine, The Reverse Tree, and Healing Waters Floating Lamps by Kiriti Sengupta

Hawakaal Press, Moments Publication

Reviewed by Dustin Pickering

 

 

Waiting in the Garden of Eden

I read Kiriti Sengupta’s three collections My Glass of Wine, The Reverse Tree, and Healing Waters Floating Lamps.

My Glass of Wine advocates a return to religious principles and compassion. The author truly believes the world left sane compassion and sweetness when it began to deny the truths of religion. Sengupta discusses everything from namesake to the Bhagavad Gita in this prose and poetry collection. Lately I have noticed a new form of literature being written by Indian writers. A combination of prose and poetry that mutually complement one another is emerging from this sacred land where literature is honored and adored. My Glass of Wine fits this category and is a national bestseller. We are first introduced to Sengupta’s key concepts in this small volume.

His work reads like an exploration of life—seen from the Yogi’s angle—and an acceptance of its universality and uniqueness. We are taught that Yogis meditate to bring the Mother to the Father, a metaphorical journey that describes the climb of energy up the spine in meditation. Much of Sengupta’s imagery stems from this symbolic process.

There is one odd poem in Healing Waters Floating Lamps called “Fish-Lip” that seems to have caught the Foreword writer’s attention as well. It turns from the imaginative and accessible to the strange and uniquely personal symbolism presented by the author. In this poem, I am reminded to review the opening thoughts of the book:

 

“On the ascending shoots

Your fear matures

A few apprehensions as well

Your roots hold it tighter

Desperately deeper

 

And much deeper rests your God”

 

This reminds me of the poetry of The Reverse Tree. I am also brought to the Biblical proverb, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom is distinctly universal and perennial in its goodness. Much life is lived before it presents itself and is brought to the light. Fear is what brings us closer to our deepest values; we feel the world tugging at our Selfhood, wanting to avenge its confusion; and, we cling tighter to our sense of Self as our roots are exposed upward. The Reverse Tree is an extended metaphor for human nature, a life of service, and just how strong we, as people, must become to expose our graces toward others.  “With service evolves dependence, and honestly, it is the ladies who turn out to provide better shade than the men,” Sengupta opens in the first chapter. Why then is the tree commonly conformed to men? Being flows through all things like water and wisdom is the greatest joy. Sengupta quotes the Bengali of Tagore, “I envisioned the external through the light of my eyes.” The Soul is God Himself, so the light of the eyes is the revelation we experience as we live. The Soul is Master, Commander, and the lens through which we perceive our golden glories.

I think a bit on the Garden of Eden and the allegory it presents in light of this book. Much of the myth’s imagery can be reconciled with the Guru’s meditation metaphors. Adam and Eve as Father and Mother, but the Mother turns away instead of rising up toward the Father. She is “tempted”, perhaps distracted, by a wise and clever serpent. This serpent is assumed to be the Devil in traditional interpretations. Perhaps the snake is rather a symbol of the spine, and this allegory reflects the very same wisdom as holy India’s religion! The Mother turns directly to the spine, and takes its advice to eat the fruit (the core of the head where the Father and Mother meet), and the result is the expulsion of the couple—yet they are expelled as one, in unity. The snake is forced to consume dust—recall the dust that accumulates on our self-image. Adam and Eve have already attained wisdom but are now guarded from picking the fruit of the Tree of Life. This Tree is protected by a young angel with a flaming sword. This is symbolic of the process mentioned in The Reverse Tree: “Removing agony from life is not an easy task unless we recognize the source. This is all about the worldly attachments that we grow knowingly or unknowingly…” Even the great Sufi poet Rumi explores the tarnishing of Self by worldly attachment. Our humanness is distinct in worldly attachments. They are why we live.

Why does Eve turn from Adam after all? In Genesis 2:7, there is a pun on the Hebrew “Adam” and “adama”—adama means “ground.” It is woman, Eve, a reflection of Man, who turns him from the Garden and worldly pursuits to knowledge of good and bad. Adam is a reflection of God in his dominion over the fertile plain, yet he is evicted from his paradise and punished with death. To know good and evil is a death itself, the “sickness unto death”, the separation of Self and Other, and the hesitation we experience in our apprehensions. God, wise and primal, tricked the original couple by putting the pieces in place—expecting them to learn the powerful lesson they would only understand from experience. A very similar expulsion and detachment occurs during Adam’s sleep when Eve is brought from his rib. We are taunted with reminders of our origins we cannot understand. Things aren’t ideal for this very reason. We learn distinctions. We learn judgment, the very vice the Savior advised us to harness. The cherubim and its revolving sword of flame, mentioned in Genesis 3:24, are acknowledgements for the insatiable quest of humankind to find permanence and its ultimate truth of origins.

Sengupta, page 36 of The Reverse Tree:

 

“and the wounds surface again

in all directions

sporting the guise of youth…”

 

Is he not reflecting the same paradox?

Eve, mother of all living, is cause of our mysterious life and our long thirst for paradise. She was the first to survey the land and truly seek dominion in ways her husband could not imagine. She implores him to remember her birth so he can find himself. She was the one in true service to the betterment of humankind by fulfilling human destiny, and leaving a legacy of wonders.

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    We learn distinctions. We learn judgment, the very vice the Savior advised us to harness. The cherubim and its revolving sword of flame, mentioned in Genesis 3:24, are acknowledgements for the insatiable quest of humankind to find permanence and its ultimate truth of origins.

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