Sunday, July 31, 2011

London Fields...

... where the homonymous Martin Amis's novel is NOT set.

Greetings from London! I'll be also covering the literary London...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

“Because of India. Selected Poems and Fables” by Suniti Namjoshi

Rated among the best Indian contemporary poets, Suniti Namjoshi has published several books of verse. In spite of this, her best achievement are nonetheless prose pieces: unusual fables, “Feminsit Fables” (also the title of one of her books) of which there are a couple of examples in this  collection published in 1989. Being fables, Nanjoshi’s fragments – I cannot but call them such, as they are merely one page each in length – feature animals rather than humans and have a moral lesson.
My favourite fable of this book is “The One-Eyed Monkey Goes into Print”, where the monkey wants to have its book published, but she is been told that, as they are not many one-eyed monkeys, she should write about humans if she expects humans to read her book (or about crocodiles if she expects them to read her book). Consequently, the monkey leaves a blank space every time the expression ‘one-eyed monkey’ appears in her manuscript, but she is been told by the editor that it is not clear who is talking to who, therefore it is not possible to publish the book. Tired and frustrated, the monkey fills the gaps with the original words and tries with a small publishing house. Her book is accepted, but because there is no audience for such a book, she is asked to contribute with some money for the publication. At the end of the story, the monkey decides to rewrite her book with the help of her crocodile friends and she publishes it with the title ‘The Amorous Adventures of a One-Eyed Minx’.

This story tells of how the publishing world works, of course, but is also a metaphor for the situations which people like the author have to face every day. Suniti Namjoshi is in fact an Indian lesbian feminist writer, hence the choice of a one-eyed monkey as the protagonist of her fable: they are not very common, they can even be called exceptions in the natural world, as lesbians and, even more, Indian lesbians are. Yet, the monkey would like to be published and the reader clearly wants the monkey to achieve its goal. Sadly, there is hardly any audience for third-world lesbian poets. Suniti Namjoshi uses animals as a metaphor for gender and for a different sexual orientation that makes her Other. She writes in the preface to a section of poems called “The Jackass and the Lady”: ‘It’s apparent to many women that in a humanist universe, which has been male-centred historically, women are “the other”, together with the birds and the beasts and the rest of creation. And identification with the rest of creation, possibly with the whole of it, would only be logical” (pg. 29). Now I’m curious to read more of these fables and that is what I will do when I’ll look for another of Namjoshi’s books. In my opinion, they are so much better than her poetry: more original and fresh, funny and immediate, but also deep and wise.

Through the words of Suniti Namjoshi (in this book there are poems, but also short introductions to every section) the reader learns of the steps the author took before reaching a feminist and lesbian conscience. It is interesting and puzzling to learn that at the beginning, she did not even included the word ‘lesbian’ in her vocabulary, resorting to a ‘“Well, all right, do what you like, but BE DISCREET”’ (p.9) kind of attitude.

Her poetry is simple and linear (she uses everyday words exclusively), but the result is sometimes stilted. Luckily, when her poetry is more relaxed (this collection spans twenty years, with ups and downs) some interesting images come out (an upside swan, for example, has me thinking since I read that poem). In her work she often expresses the difficulty and fear of facing a real love affair and not imagined, unnreal ones (‘And if I spoke to you, what would I say? / That there’s a change? That I can still feel the ground / Shifting and giving under my feet?’), but also tackles issues such as cultural clash, or the bundle of languages spoken in contemporary India (‘The government official / speaks in English with friends, / in Hindi with servants, / and reserves his mother tongue / for his 2 Alsatian dogs’) and the role of poetry in a world of violence (‘Next time a battery / of poets will be ready’).

She often resorts to mythology – ‘Homage to Circe’, for instance, is one of my favourite poems in the collection – or literature: “Alice in Wonderland”, a book congenial to her because of ‘the sense of the absurd, the satirical devices, the effective alteration of perspective ad the subversive skills of “the outsider”’ (p.103), but also Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, attractive perhaps because of its exotic location (‘in English, things Indian became exotic’, p.42) and of course because of the presence of Caliban, a perfect Other.

All in all, it is a nice introduction to this little known poet. It provides a lot of information on how, when and where her single books were written. It is not exhaustive and one feels that a couple more fables would have been appropriate, but for that you have her other books anyway. There are some interesting ideas in the poems as well, but it is not the kind of poetry I enjoy the most: no word plays, no lyrical moments, almost no verses that stick to your mind, only down-to-earth evocations of the most common images of poetry (the mermaid, the moon, the rose). The fables are so much better: who can resist a fragment called 'The Saurian Chronicles'?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"La Linea d'Ombra" di Joseph Conrad

La mia recensione di questo libro è uscita su Paperstreet ed è disponibile a questo link. In più, vorrei suggerirvi di leggere l'introduzione al libro scritta da Roberto Saviano, scritta per l'edizione  della Biblioteca di Repubblica. Tra le varie cose che dice su questa novella (o romanzo breve?), c'è questo passaggio che vorrei riportare, non perché sia una cosa che non è stata mai detta su "La Linea d'Ombra", ma perché riassume in poche righe qual è il succo di questo testo:

Alcune narrazioni sembrano dei romanzi per l'anima. Ti spiegano come affrontare delle situazioni esistenziali, come smontare e rimontare le idee che ti sei fatto a proposito. "La Linea d'Ombra" è uno di questi: un capolavoro della letteratura che può divenire strumento pratico di consapevolezza del proprio essere e agire nel mondo. Perché racconta di un'esperienza universale, la gioventù e il passaggio all'età adulta, dalla quale però - come spiega Conrad nel libro - "ci si attende una sensazione particolare e personale: un po' di se stessi".

Monday, July 4, 2011

-- and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

A Supermarket in California

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
          In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
          What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families
shopping at night!  Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?

          I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
          I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops?  What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?
          I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
          We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

          Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in
an hour.  Which way does your beard point tonight?
          (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
          Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be

          Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
          Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Berkeley, 1955
Allen Ginsberg