Kathmandu My Love (a ghazal)

Following the Nepal earthquake in April of this year, i was asked to contribute a poem to a fundraiser. I used to live in Nepal. My (now ex-) husband is Nepalese. I spent a year living in Kathmandu 10 years ago and, for health reasons, have not been able to go back since. I had a beautiful house, and a job I had spent an entire career trying to achieve. It is hard for me to imagine a place I loved devastated now by an earthquake and all those ancient monuments flattened, and lives lost. This is the poem I wrote especially for the fundraiser. It is also my first ever attempt at a South Asian formal poetic structure: the ghazal.

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Kathmandu my love: A ghazal

Butterflies as big as hands flit through the Kathmandu I love.
Power stagnates by changing hands, in the Kathmandu I love.

Voices that rise above the rains are the songs of lovesick frogs;
Songs of protest on the streets rouse up the Kathmandu I love.

Gloriously coloured gladioli, 10 rupees a stem;
Youth’s flower cut down in conflict round the Kathmandu I love.

Mountain air that dazzles pure on Himalayan snow-capped peaks.
Traffic clogs the dusty streets, choking the Kathmandu I love

Garuda watches over earthquake-flattened Patan temples –
Kaal Bhairab still stands proud and fierce, in the Kathmandu I love.

Walls torn, bricks crushed to ashes, tin-roofs twisted, roads split open,
Streets I walked now fractured graveyards of the Kathmandu I loved.

Shoes lost, belongings scattered, supermarket shelves collapsed,Mothers, heroes, children, brothers died in Kathmandu, are loved.

My eyes drown; the country weeps. My sweetheart’s eyes are still as            brown:
He may be far and faithless, but he’s from Kathmandu, my love.

Sometimes things must be shattered to remake them piece by piece. Will
Parties, people, politics bring peace to Kathmandu, and love?

However broken, how much lost, we will rebuild our city,
We will rebuild and resurrect this sweet, great Kathmandu, our love.

(19 June 2015)

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Reviews and poems

There must be something about October… It’s been a whole year since I wrote here. However, inspired by my writer friend, the lovely Isha Crowe who blogs at http://ishacrowe.wordpress.com/author/icrowe/ I thought I should start again.

Instead of blogging, or novel writing, for the last year I have been writing reviews, mostly for a great little online magazine or ezine for writers, called Words With Jam. Words With Jam produces a themed issue six times a year covering publishing, writing technique, fiction and poetry, and running great competitions as well as reviews. It also has a regular review-based blog at http://www.bookmuse.co.uk. I have reviewed Negotiating With The Dead, a book by Margaret Atwood on the strange beast known as a writer, and what it means to be one; The Bastard Pleasure, a ‘Belfast Noir’ novel by  philosophy prof. Sean McGrady, a short but dense and lyrical read full of violence and questions of identity; Sightlines, a book of essays by poet Kathleen Jamie, about her various journeys in Scotland and further north looking at our relationships with the natural world, and A God In Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie, a novel set in World War I examining the role Indian soldiers played and how their experiences fed into the independence movement. Right now I’m contemplating what my next review should be as I need to produce another by the end of October. It will have to be short – the book, not necessarily the review – as I plan to try once again to tackle National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) again this November – to finish that *&^!!* novel!

This year has been a year for setting goals. Another writerly-readerly related one has been the 50 book pledge (based at a canadian website) in which I have committed to read 50 books this year. That’s almost one a week. Simple! I hear you cry… except not at the pace I read, and not when you have the attention span of a gnat, as is currently the case here. As things stand I’m behind… not way way behind, but behind enough to make it hard to reach my goal unless I read 15 “Mr Men” books in the next 3 months to achieve it. Needless to say, I have already been reading quite a lot of short books – mostly poetry – to hit my target, regardless of what I might otherwise have wanted to read. However, this has had the strange effect of a) making me realise how little poetry I read normally, a situation that will henceforth be rectified; and – and this is even more unexpected – b) inspiring me to start writing more poetry of my own. If only I’d known that before – to write, you need to read. Sounds obvious now.

Well. So I reach October having added around 10 poems I’m quite pleased with to my lifetime tally. More poems in a year than ever before. Possibly more poems in a year (in fact in about 2 months) than I have written before altogether. I’m not claiming they’re good, mind, just that I am more satisfied with them – the little knotty puzzle of putting words together in a pattern that flows and negotiates a single idea with many metaphors – than anything I’ve done previously. I feel as if I’m beginning to crack that thing called poetry that once seemed so mysterious and elusive. I only wish I could say the same about short stories. I would post a couple of poems here, but that would be publishing and would invalidate their appearance anywhere else (I keep hoping).

The third writing-related activity I’ve been involved in this year – one which I gifted to myself as self-development after two years of promising myself – was an Arvon course in August at the beautiful and very isolated Arvon centre in Devon. Totleigh Barton is an ancient farmhouse (16th Century) and barn with martins nesting in the eves and broad oak-strewn meadows all around. This is the second time I’ve been to a course there, and the place continues to inspire, as do the other course students who attend – this time a wonderful international group who worked brilliantly together – and the teachers. We were lucky to have Clare Allan, author of Poppy Shakespeare, and Tash Aw, author of Five Star Billionaire, to teach us, both of whom were complete stars and hugely inspiring and encouraging. We spent a lot of time laughing as well as writing. I would recommend an Arvon course to anyone.
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The seagull

Harsh in winter flight the bone-white wings
Went screeling across the sky. Set I
To fishing, then, and the light was fading as
I hauled on my oilskins. Ah, fish,
Scaling the waves, how sly,
How slippery unloved existence! No hook
to name things by.

Thoughts of her roam in shoals with
The currents, how she trawled
With her hair for the sunlight,
Wrist deep in dough by the window.
I’d catch her haloed there.

Now heart among the waves
I was, the grave deeps of
Sorrow, flesh cold, and the restless
Sea-souls breaking the surface like
Remembered wrongs in need of forgiveness

Then on the bow a bird came
Lighting out of the cloud bank,
Dark in the eye of the West.
Cocked its head at me
Bold and mortal, as the day dipped
The gold of its beak in the ocean.

I swung it a fish gut, winding
Its slime in an arc through the air
That it caught, fought with, gannetted,
Gulping the glaucousness. Till,
Sheering away, it wheeled
Grey about me, flung like her
Ash to the tear of the wind.

On land again doors hide
The silence of furniture; legs,
Backs crowded together,
Mourners grieving the spaces. I
Lost me without her. Frying the fish
In the dark on a one-ring stove.

I looked up and there…! At the window
Its eye again! Surely the same
Gull, followed me in from the sea?
Tipping its head to appraise me for all
The world just the way she did.

Her voice – shaping words
Like a bird, with no meaning
But salt and sweet and relief
And yearning – the sound of an end
To my troubles that welcomed me home.

It’s as if we had never needed
Language. Was there syntax when Adam
Found Eve in a long day’s hunting?
Did they fish for the luminous phrase in
Eden’s dark waters, ‘til the day-star’s
Falling ruined the world’s clean dawn?

And the hope that was
born and took flight in me then on
its wings to reclaim her – a soul
drowned in feathers –

Is that a star in its eye or only
the lights of the harbour rekindled?
“I’ll be right with you, love.” Softly I called her,
Reeling in brightness, my own wings unfurling.
“Now – tell me how to begin?”

Some poems on pomegranates

Pomegranate

The soldier boys know nothing
of the world but how to end it;
nothing of books but how they burn.
Fire’s another slow reader
to begin with, then it skims,
remembering all it knows already.

Today the town square’s primordial
with mist and smoke, a smeared
flask of new beginnings; flames
well into their stride are strenuous
with cartloads of the mint and foxed
guilty of being on the wrong shelves.

And last of these, the luscious herbals.
Speed-edited for wormholes
and disinformation, they split, spill
their tinted cornucopias; fruit rises
blazing and exotic then descends
to seed the square with purer black.

Better than scandal sheets or almanacs,
agreed, but maybe we’ve seen endings
enough where nothing grows but hunger;
and soldiers with their sooty bayonets,
they’re known to get bored with embers,
to remember other work they have.

So fades the evening’s entertainment.
Pinched streets begin to fill the way
leaves and ashes clog the fountain
where the daft woman will spend her night,
begging for any fruit to spare, begging
the soldiers for her daughter back.

Alasdair Paterson, published in STRAND 195, vol 10 (3)

The Pomegranate

Once when I was living in the heart of a pomegranate, I heard a seed
saying, “Someday I shall become a tree, and the wind will sing in
my branches, and the sun will dance on my leaves, and I shall be
strong and beautiful through all the seasons.”

Then another seed spoke and said, “When I was as young as you, I
too held such views; but now that I can weigh and measure things,
I see that my hopes were vain.”

And a third seed spoke also, “I see in us nothing that promises so
great a future.”

And a fourth said, “But what a mockery our life would be, without
a greater future!”

Said a fifth, “Why dispute what we shall be, when we know not even
what we are.”

But a sixth replied, “Whatever we are, that we shall continue to
be.”

And a seventh said, “I have such a clear idea how everything will
be, but I cannot put it into words.”

Then an eight spoke–and a ninth–and a tenth–and then many–until
all were speaking, and I could distinguish nothing for the many
voices.

And so I moved that very day into the heart of a quince, where the
seeds are few and almost silent.

by Khalil Gibran (The Madman)

Pomegranate

You tell me I am wrong.
Who are you, who is anybody to tell me I am wrong?
I am not wrong.

In Syracuse, rock left bare by the viciousness of Greek
women.
No doubt you have forgotten the pomegranate-trees in
flower,
Oh so red, and such a lot of them.

Whereas at Venice
Abhorrent, green, slippery city
Whose Doges were old, and had ancient eyes.
In the dense foliage of the inner garden
Pomegranates like bright green stone,
And barbed, barbed with a crown.
Oh, crown of spiked green metal
Actually growing!

Now in Tuscany,
Pomegranates to warm, your hands at;
And crowns, kingly, generous, tilting crowns
Over the left eyebrow.

And, if you dare, the fissure!

Do you mean to tell me you will see no fissure?
Do you prefer to look on the plain side?

For all that, the setting suns are open.
The end cracks open with the beginning:
Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure.

Do you mean to tell me there should be no fissure?
No glittering, compact drops of dawn?
Do you mean it is wrong, the gold-filmed skin, integument,
shown ruptured?

For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.

D. H. Lawrence, from Birds, Beasts, And Flowers