Categories
Interview

 When a Hobo in a Fedora Hat Breathes Tolkien…

In Conversation with Strider Marcus Jones

Strider Marcus Jones
i'm come home again
in your Lothlorien

Strider Marcus Jones wrote these lines about an idyllic utopia that was named Lothlorien by JRR Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Jones writes beautiful poetry that touches the heart with its music and lyricality and recreates a world that hums with peace, beauty, acceptance and tolerance – values that have become more precious than gems in the current world of war, strife and distress. He has created his own Lothlorien in the form of a journal which he has named after the elfin utopia of Tolkien. An avid reader and connoisseur of arts, for him all his appreciation congeals in the form of poetry which draws from music, art and he says, perhaps even his legal training! Let us stride into his poetic universe to uncover more about a man who seems to be reclusive and shy about facing fame and says he learns from not just greats but every poet he publishes.

What started you out as a writer? What got your muse going and when?

In my childhood, I sought ways to escape the poverty of the slums in Salford. My escape, while gathering floorboards from condemned houses every winter and carrying them through back entries in crunching snow to our flat, above two shops for my dad to chop up and burn on the fire was to live in my imagination. I was an explorer and archaeologist discovering lost civilisations and portals to new dimensions our mind’s had lost the ability to see and travel between since the time of the druids. Indoors I devoured books on ancient history, artists, and poetry from the library. I was fascinated by the works of Picasso, Gauguin, Bruegel and many others and sketched some of their paintings. Then one day, my pencil stopped sketching and started to compose words into lines that became “raw” poems.  My first mentor was Anne Ryan, who taught me English Literature at High School when I was fourteen. Before this, I had never told anyone I was writing poetry. My parents, siblings and friends only found out when I was in my twenties and comfortable in myself with being a ranger, a maverick in reality and imagination.

When I read your poetry, I am left wondering… Do you see yourself in the tradition of a gypsy/mendicant singing verses or more as a courtly troubadour or something else?

I don’t have the legs to be a courtly troubadour in tights and my voice sounds like a blacksmith pounding a lump of metal on his anvil.

I feel and relate to being gypsy and am proud of my Celtic roots passed down to me from my Irish Gypsy grandmother on my Father’s side who read the tea leaves, keys, rings, and other items telling people’s fortunes for years with scary accuracy. I seem to have inherited some of her seer abilities for premonition.

Like my evening single malt whiskey, age has matured the idealism of my youth and hardened my resolve to give something back to the world and society for giving me this longevity in it. The knocks from the rough and tumble of life have hardened my edges, but my inner core still glows like Aragorn’s calm courage and determination in the quest to bring about a more just and fairer world that protects its innocent people and polluted environment. Since Woody Guthrie, Tom Waits and Bukowski are influences I identify with deeply, I suppose I am a mendicant in some of my poetry but a romantic and revolutionary too, influenced by Neruda, Rumi, Byron, and Shelley shielded by The Tree of Life in Tolkien’s Lothlorien:

THE HEAD IN HIS FEDORA HAT

a lonely man,
cigarette,
rain
and music
in a strange wind blowing

moving,
not knowing,
a gypsy caravan
whose journey doesn't expect
to go back
and explain
why everyone's ruts have the same
blood and vein.

the head in his fedora hat
bows to no one's grip
brim tilted inwards
concealing his vineyards
of lyrical prose
in a chaos composed
to be exposed,
go, git
awed
and jawed
perfect and flawed,
songs from the borderless
plain
where no one has domain
and his outlaw wit
must confess
to remain

a storyteller
that hobo fella

a listening barfly
for a while,
the word-winged butterfly
whose style
they can't close the shutters on
or stop talking about
when he walks out
and is gone.

whiskey and tequila
with a woman who can feel ya
inside her, and know she's not Ophelia
as ya move as one,
to a closer and simplistic,
unmaterialistic
tribal Babylon,

becomes so,
when she stands, spread
all arms and legs
in her Eskimo
Galadriel glow,
sharing mithril breath,
no more suburban settlements
and tortured tenements
of death,
just a fenceless forest
and mountain quests
with a place to rest
on her suckled breasts,
hanging high, swinging slow.

war clouds HARP
through stripped leaves and bark,
where bodies sleeping in houseboat bones
reflect and creak in cobbled stones:
smokey sparks from smoked cigars
drop like meteorites from streetlight stars,
as cordons crush civil rights
under Faust's fascist Fahrenheit’s.
 
one more whiskey for the road.
another story lived and told

under that
fedora hat
inhaling smoke
as he sang and spoke
stranger fella
storyteller.

You seem to have a fascination for JRR Tolkien. You have a poem and a journal by the name of Lothlorien. Why this fascination? Do you think that JRR Tolkien is relevant in the current context? We are after all, reverting to a situation similar to a hundred years ago.

Yes, on all counts. Tolkien and his Lord of The Rings trilogy have been part of my life since I first read one summer when I was twelve years old.  My young mind, starved of adventure and elevenses in Salford’s slums, willingly absorbed the myths and magic, lore’s and legends beguiling me to enter the ‘Age of Man’. This living in a time of relative peace alongside other, more ancient races with musical-poetic languages reflected part of my own reality in living through the Cold War decades under the impending doom of nuclear annihilation where daily life often felt the shadows cast by the Cuban Missile Crisis, war in Vietnam, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and famine in Biafra.

Sauron’s evil eye and invading armies echo an outgoing President Eisenhower’s ominous warning to curtail the influence and corruption of the banking-military-industrial-complex. Instead, Martin Luther King and President John F Kennedy were assassinated and a surveillance state and gilded slavery ideology is being imposed globally using artificial intelligence. Ancient civilisations in Iraq and Libya have been destroyed for control of oil and to maintain global Petro dollar power. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings is just as relevant today in Ukraine, Yemen, and Syria and as it was through the slaughters of Verdun, the Somme and Flanders Fields. It is a warning that good must prevail over evil and this burden is borne by those with courage and conviction who cannot be corrupted.  

What is your Lothlorien? What does poetry mean to you and your existence?

My Lothlorien is a more peaceful world, with more tolerance of other individuals and cultures. Not perfect by any stretch but a place where people laugh, have their neighbours back and work with each other. A place of social justice and equality, music, poetry and art. It is no place for racism, sexism, ageism, corruption, or war. A kind of homestead with birdsong, forest, mountains and rivers, preferably in the French Pyrenees or Alaskan Bush. A place of words composed into poems and stories read and spoken, passed down and added to by each inspired generation in the Native American tradition. Poetry is all about communication and community in my existence. We are caretakers of our words and the world.

You have used Orwell, Gaugin and many more references in your poetry. Which are the writers and artists that influence you the most? What do you find fascinating about them?

Individuality of expression through fiction, poetry, art and music fascinates me. Now, at 62 years of age so many have influenced my poetry with or without me knowing or realising it. These include:

From the past – Chaucer, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Blake, W.B. Yeats, Auden, Langston Hughes, Hart Crane, Sexton, Plath, Kerouac, Heaney, Lorca, Orwell, Dickens, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, Steinbeck, Heller, Donaldson, P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Vonnegut, Dostoyevsky, Rilke, Rumi, E.E.Cummings, Neruda, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, Thelonious  Monk, John Coltrane, Dylan, Tom Waits. So many.

From now – They know who they are. I have published their work in Lothlorien Poetry Journal.

You play instruments — saxophone and clarinet? Does that impact your poetry?

Saying I play instruments is a huge stretch of the imagination. I get strange notes out of my saxophone and clarinet that must sound like a hurricane blowing in anyone’s ears. My black Labrador, Mysty, covers her ears with her paws but I enjoy trying to play. I love jazz music, anything from the 1920s to early 70s, but Miles Davis, Monk, Coltrane, Mingus, and Ornette Coleman took jazz music to a level that transcends mortality.

Jazz music continues to be a profound influence in my poetry. I will explain how.     

Does any kind of music impact your writing?

In some way, unbeknown to me, jazz music, particularly that of Davis, Monk and Coltrane runs parallel to and interweaves with the rhythms of how I think when I write poetry. It closes my mind to the distractions of the outside world. The sound of those perfect and imperfect notes opens a door in my mind, I close my eyes, float into this dark room and my senses fill with images and words, which hover in the air like musical notes where I conduct them into rhythms and phrases bonded to a theme. Some become poems, others disintegrate into specks of dust, the moment gone. Sometimes, the idea and train of thought sleeps in my subconscious for years. This happened with my poems “Visigoth Rover” and “Life is Flamenco” which come from   my sojourns randomly wandering through Spain but were born years later listening to Paco playing Spanish guitar and Flamenco music which is another key influence in my poetry.

VISIGOTH ROVER

i went on the bus to Cordoba,
and tried to find the Moor's
left over
in their excavated floors
and mosaic courtyards,
with hanging flowers brightly chameleon
against whitewashed walls
carrying calls
behind gated iron bars-
but they were gone
leaving mosque arches
and carved stories
to God's doors.

in those ancient streets
where everybody meets-
i saw the old successful men
with their younger women again,
sat in chrome slat chairs,
drinking coffee to cover
their vain love affairs-
and every breast,
was like the crest
of a soft ridge
as i peeped over
the castle wall and Roman bridge
like a Visigoth rover.

soft hand tapping on shoulder,
heavy hair
and beauty older,
the gypsy lady gave her clover
to borrowed breath, 
embroidering it for death,
adding more to less
like the colours fading in her dress.
time and tune are too planned
to understand
her Trevi fountain of prediction,
or the dirty Bernini hand
shaping its description.

LIFE IS FLAMENCO

why can't i walk as far
and smoke more tobacco,
or play my Spanish guitar
like Paco,
putting rhythms and feelings
without old ceilings
you've never heard
before in a word.

life is flamenco,
to come and go
high and low
fast and slow-

she loves him,
he loves her
and their shades within
caress and spur
in a ride and dance
of tempestuous romance.

outback, in Andalucian ease,
i embrace you, like melted breeze
amongst ripe olive trees-
dark and different,
all manly scent
and mind unkempt.

like i do,
Picasso knew
everything about you
when he drew
your elongated arms and legs
around me, in this perpetual bed
of emotion
and motion
for these soft geometric angles
in my finger strokes
and exhaled smokes 
of rhythmic bangles
to circle colour your Celtic skin
with primitive phthalo blue
pigment in wiccan tattoo
before entering
vibrating wings
through thrumming strings
of wild lucid moments
in eternal components.

i can walk as far
and smoke more tobacco,
and play my Spanish guitar
like Paco.

Tell us about how music and language weaves into your poetry — “i’m come home again” — there is no effort at punctuation — and yet the poem is clear and lyrical. I really love this poem – Lothlorien. Can you tell me how you handle the basic tool of words and grammar in your poetry?

In my mind, music is poetry through sound instead of words. Like words, the combinations of notes and pauses have intricate rhythms and phrases. In many of my poems like “Lothlorien” and those above, I weave the rhythms and phrases of jazz music or Spanish guitar and words together with run on lines so there is no need for punctuation. This gives these poems, and many others a spontaneity and energy which feels more natural and real and has a potent, more immediate impact on the senses and emotions when combined with images and happenings. This whole process feels natural to me. It began in my early twenties, when I was listening to old Blues and the likes of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson alongside Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Tom Waits and Neil Young. These are the raw underbelly notes of my pain and anger at the world. Jazz is the mellow top notes. I hope this makes sense. It is hard to explain something that is natural to and part of who I am, so forgive any lack of clarity.

Sometimes, I just like to add a moment of mischievous fun to a serious poem as in these two:

REJECTING OVID

the fabulous beauty of your face-
so esoteric,
not always in this place-
beguiles me.

it's late, mesmeric
smile is but a base,
a film to interface
with the movements of the mind behind it.

my smile, me-
like Thomas O'Malley
the alley
cat reclining on a tin bin lid
with fishy whiskers-

turns the ink in the valley
of your quills
into script,
while i sit
and sip

your syllables
with fresh red sepals of hibiscus,
rejecting Ovid
and his Amores
for your stories.



OLD CAFE

a rest, from swinging bar
and animals in the abattoir-
to smoke in mental thinks
spoken holding cooling drinks.

counting out old coppers to be fed
in the set squares of blue and red
plastic tablecloth-
just enough to break up bread in thick barley broth.

Jesus is late
after saying he was coming
back to share the wealth and real estate
of capitalist cunning.

maybe. just maybe.
put another song on the jukebox baby:
no more heroes anymore.
what are we fighting for --

he's hiding in hymns and chants,
in those Monty Python underpants,
from this coalition of new McCarthy's
and it's institutions of Moriarty's.

some shepherds’ sheep will do this dance
in hypothermic trance,
for one pound an hour
like a shamed flower,

watched by sinister sentinels-
while scratched tubular bells,
summon all to Sunday service
where invisible myths exist-

to a shamed flower
with supernatural power
come the hour.  

How do you compose a poem? Is it spontaneous or is it something you do? Do you hear the lines or voices or is it in some other way?

Most poems come from life’s experiences and observations of people, places, nature, and events. These can be from the past, or present and sometimes premonitions of the future which often overlap depending on the theme/s and where I want it to go.

When it comes to composing a poem, I am not robotic, and neither is my Muse. I have no set time and never write for the sake of writing something each day which I find disrupts my subconscious process. A poem can begin at any time of day or night, but my preferred time to think and write is mid-evening going through to witching hour and beyond. I put some music on low, pour myself a slow whiskey and sit down in my favourite chair with pen and folded paper. I never try to force a poem. The urge to write just occurs. I don’t know how, or why. It just happens. My subconscious finds the thread, thinks it through and the poem begins to unravel on the page. I care about the poems since they care about the world and the people in it. So, I often agonise for days and in some cases years, over lines and words and structure, crossing out words and whole lines until they feel right. Editing, and redrafting is a crucial part of the writing process and requires courage and discipline. Butchering your own work feels barbaric in the moment but enhances your poetic voice and strengthens the impact of a poem on the reader.

You are a lawyer and in the Civil Service in UK. How does law blend with poetry?

I am a law graduate and retired legal adviser to the magistrates’ courts/civil servant who retired early. I have never practiced as a lawyer.

I never think about law when I write, but I am sure the discipline brings organisation to the orderly chaos of Spinoza’s universe that resembles the space inside my head.

Tell us about your journal. When and how did you start it?

I started Lothlorien Poetry Journal in January 2021. I publish the online rolling blog of poetry and fiction and printed book volumes — currently standing at eight issues featuring established and emerging poets and fiction writers published on the LPJ blog.

We are a friendly literary journal featuring free verse/rhyming/experimental poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and occasional interviews with poets.

We love poems about enchantment, fantasy, fairy tale, folklore, dreams, dystopian, flora and fauna, magical realism, romance, and anything hiding deep in-between the cracks.

I publish Lothlorien Poetry Journal periodically, 4-6 issues every year. Contributors to each issue (selected from the best work published on the Journal’s Blog) are notified prior to publication and receive a free PDF copy of the issue that features their work.

We nominate for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

 What do you look for in a poet as a publisher?

I look for a poet or writer’s distinct voice, that spark of originality in their theme/s, the rhythm and musicality in their language and phrasing.  I have no boundaries as to style, form, or subject – prose, rhyming, free verse, sonnets, haiku, experimental or mavericks who break the rules and write about the darker underbelly of society – if it is good and not offensive, racist or sexist Lothlorien Poetry Journal could be the natural home for your work. The best way to find out is to come to Lothlorien, have a read, and decide to submit.

LOTHLORIEN

i'm come home again
in your Lothlorien
to marinate my mind
in your words,
and stand behind
good tribes grown blind,
trapped in old absurd
regressive reasons
and selfish treasons.

in this cast of strife
the Tree of Life
embraces innocent ghosts,
slain by Sauron's hosts-
and their falling cries
make us wise
enough to rise
up in a fellowship of friends
to oppose Mordor's ends
and smote this evil stronger
and longer
for each one of us that dies.

i'm come home again
in your Lothlorien,
persuading
yellow snapdragons
to take wing
and un-fang serpent krakens-
while i bring
all the races
to resume
their bloom
as equals in equal spaces
by removing
and muting
the chorus of crickets
who cheat them from chambered thickets,
hiding corruptions older than long grass
that still fag for favours asked.

i'm come home again
in your Lothlorien
where corporate warfare
and workfare
on health
and welfare
infests our tribal bodies
and separate self
in political lobbies
so conscience can't care
or share
worth and wealth-

to rally drones
of walking bones,
too tired
and uninspired
to think things through
and the powerless who see it true.
red unites, blue divides,
which one are you
and what will you do
when reason decides.


IN THE TALK OF MY TOBACCO SMOKE

i have disconnected self
from the wire of the world
retreated to this unmade croft
of wild grass and savage stone
moored mountains
set in sea
blue black green grey
dyed all the colours of my mood
and liquid language-
to climb rocks
instead of rungs
living with them
moving around their settlements
of revolutionary random place
for simple solitary glory.
i am reduced again
to elements and matter
that barter her body for food
teasing and turning
her flesh to take words and plough.
rapid rain
slaps the skin
on honest hands
strongly gentle
while sowing seeds
the way i touch my lover
in the talk of my tobacco smoke:
now she knows
she tastes
like all the drops
of my dreams
falling on the forest
of our Lothlorien.

Thanks for your lovely poetry and time.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
The Literary Fictionist

Missing

By Sunil Sharma

Man Crying Out, Rembrandt (1606-1669) Courtesy: Creative Commons

The December morning came with a shock.

Pa was not in his room. It was crisp morning and the air brittle in your numb figure. There were raindrops glistening on the windowpane and on the treetops and the telephone poles. The cold hit you hard and your exposed skin felt like a reptile was crawling on it. It was as if your insides were being sliced with a cold dagger.

A Russian landscape, almost, that is typical of a Chekhovian story!

Bright, yet dismal!

Or Hemingway. Maybe.

The tall eucalyptus trees rose majestically in the distance. A clump of white, slender-waisted eucalyptus, half-a-mile away, near the shallow strip of river, swaying in the wind.

The silvery face of the river threw off a white haze. A few mud houses stood here and there. Vegetable fields ran down to the river edge, all green and rich, in the brilliant sun.

This side of the house, it is urban sprawl. That side, at the back, the country. This, ugly. That one, enchanting. The house he was standing in stood on a rising ground, all three-storied, of red brick, part completed, part painted, dwarfing other one-roomed houses of the small colony, recently sprung up, like the twisted innards, in an area, where basic amenities are as foreign as hunger is to the rich.

He surveyed the illogically constructed and misshapen houses where dirty and ill-clad children, nose running and feet bare, were playing, in the dust and garbage, with great gusto and abandon.

This house could not house a gentle soul! The man who spent his hard earnings in turning this dream into reality!

But where would Pa go?

The room, as usual, was very clean. The bed was made, the sheets smooth, the pillows neatly laid, the quilts neatly piled up. The English papers were kept in a corner. The bed was not slept in, at least, by the looks of it. The bookcases were lined with books — majority on philosophy and language, criticism and fiction. In English.

The soul had deserted the room!

“The aim of literature, good literature, mind it my boy, is to give courage, moral courage, to give insights into the nature of reality, the world,” a faraway look so typical of such encounters, “the courage to come to terms with life. To sort out the mess… to straighten up the whole twisted-up thing-life. What religion could not do, good literature does. It tells you about persons, the world, time…. A good artist is the seer…. Mad for conventional society but sane for the followers. Van Gogh, for example, and his sunflowers…”

During such moments, Pa looked unearthly. A halo appeared behind his head, the face dark in the erupting blinding light, the voice coming from clouds. He belonged to a different realm.

Is Pa an angel in human form?

How articulate!

So calm!

Looking at someone invisible, having a dialogue with that force, a dialogue liberating!

Pa communes with the spirits!

“Yes”, says he, “the dead speak. Through the mist of centuries. They come to me in dreams.”

He, the listener, is mesmerized. He cannot figure out the why of it.

But he looks and listens. Pa is majestic. Regal. Tall, thin. Fine face.

A straight nose. Thin full lips. A pair of piercing brown eyes. A rich husky voice. An erect posture. Commanding attention. That is the sum total.

Pa.

Cogito ergo sum. That is my philosophy.” Pa declared.

When he decides, he can be vocal. Very articulate. Precise.

Otherwise, he can be an iceberg.

Brooding. Off limits.

They had many animated discussions. Prod him on his favourite topic and he would be all animation. Gesturing. Eyes rolling. Hands moving up, down. Voice rising and falling.

“Nobody writes good literature. A soul companion in hours of solitude. Where are the Tolstoys, Romain Rollands, Hemingways, Nerudas in the 80s and 90s of the world? Human spirits speak through them. Now it is exhaustion. Personal idiosyncrasies. Language experiments”. He was dismissive. Hurt. Bitter. Literature had abdicated the messianic role. The artist celebrates a personal hell. What a climb down!

A reversal shocking. Market has ruined everybody.

Could Pa, this man of steel, desert us like this? Disappear?

He could not make any sense out of this sudden exit of Pa.

He returned to the room. It reflected the neatness of its occupant. A cold blast came from the narrow corridor adding to the silence of the room. Chilling! The wind ruffled up a stock of papers. The hissing sound unnerved him. He went out and down to the living room on the ground floor. The family was gathered up there. When he entered, they became quiet. He looked at them. They were lost in their own worlds. He thought he was intruding upon a private moment. He got up gingerly, without being obvious.

“Where are you going, Rajesh?”

It was Uttam, his eldest son.

“Just for a smoke,” he said.

“Any clue? Letter?” Uttam said without any conviction.

“No.”

“Where can Pa go?”  asked Raman, the second son.

“Only God knows.” Uttam said dully.

Their wives and children stared blankly. Two more neighbours dropped in.

“What happened?” asked one old lady. “Nothing.” Uttam said with a note of finality.

“He ate his dinner. Watched the 10 P.M. news. Read a book till 11:30 pm and then retired,” said Raman, voice devoid of emotion.

“Very strange!” The lady exclaimed.

It was a quest for Rajesh now. He went to Amol Shrivastava. The retired man was alone in the flat, sipping tea and reading morning paper. He answered the bell on the third ring. They went out into the small balcony. The news surprised the old man.

“I met him yesterday,” said the old man. “He was cheerful. We went for our regular walk of three miles. He was pretty jovial. I cannot believe it.”

They were quiet for some time.

“I also cannot believe it,” Rajesh said. A healthy man suddenly disappeared without any clues. He was not depressed. Went for a morning walk. It was very confusing!

“When did they discover his absence?” Shrivastava asked, his lined forehead a furrow of crisscrossing lines.

“At about six. The youngest daughter-in-law went to his room with tea. He was not there. She left the tea there. An hour later, she returned. The cup was still there. Untouched.”

“Hmm!” grunted the retired accountant. “She raised the alarm,” Rajesh said. They had searched the house, the neighbourhood. Pa had left no trace.

“Maybe he went for a long walk!” Amol said, the voice drained of any feeling. “It is almost eleven now,” said Rajesh. “A man cannot walk that long!”

“Umm!” grunted Amol.

“A man cannot walk out like this, on a bitter winter morning, wearing a woolen sweater, a shawl, shoes, with little money and vanish just like that! It sounds ridiculous.”

‘Right.” agreed Amol. A man cannot!

‘Why did he do it then?” Rajesh asked.

“Was there any quarrel in the family?” Amol inquired.

“Not. as far as I know.”

“I cannot guess, either.” Amol said in a tired voice.

“Did he ever say anything about his family?” queried Rajesh.

“Never.” Amol answered. “He was very happy with his two sons, their wives. With his three daughters and their husbands. His wife, you know, expired ten years ago. He never complained.”

They fell quiet.

“I cannot figure it out,” Rajesh said, “a man suffering from nothing, apparently very happy, healthy, leaves his own house. And at the age of 63, to top it all. It is absurd!”

His next stop was the college. Some of his colleagues greeted the news with bewildered looks. A.N. Jha, a lecture in English, was unable to believe the fact.

“He is not that type!” exclaimed Jha. “He can never run away this way. I met him three days go in a literary function. We chatted for an hour. There was no sign of any stress or depression. And why should he? His sons were settled. Daughters married. He led an active life. He retired as a lecture in English. He was well known in the town. A great scholar. And a fighter. I mean I cannot believe it at all!”

“Jha Saab is right,” Trivedi from the department of Psychology spoke. “He was a healthy person. Social and outgoing. Affectionate. A hard worker. He can never do such a thing!”

Others also joined in.

The Pa that emerged from this group discussion was the Pa he had admired: strong, heady, realistic, with deep convictions, widely read, honest. A great intellect who was largely ignored in media and university circles of Delhi because of his roots in a small town that was a satellite of a hot, buzzing Delhi with its palace intrigues.

Apart from two books, he never published anything in a long and beautiful academic year. Since these two books were on Marxism, very scholarly and difficult for the pseudo, the Left also was miserly in its recognition of a small-town intellectual. Most of the Left travelled in cars, lived in big houses in south Delhi, worked in the university and had their books published by major publishing houses and went to London, Paris or Moscow. The town was still painfully feudal and backward where goons and the police and the rich ruled, where casteism, in the year 1999, was deeply entrenched in the social consciousness, despite the arrival of pizza huts, MacDonalds, Hondas.

Pa worked against all this with workers and peasants — worked for a dream in a world without Berlin Wall, U.S.S.R., for a unipolar world without boundaries; a world where a young student no longer read Capital but invested his small capital in an Archie card and gave it as a valentine to a demure lower-middle-class girl in the college corridors. In this world eating spring rolls or burgers and drinking Pepsi was more ‘happening thing’ than taking part in the student protests. Where the only ideology was myself and my world. “The whole world is getting Americanised. Third world, too quickly, I am afraid. The MacDonald culture is everywhere. The Walt Disney culture. The dollar culture. American businessmen should be congratulated. They have made all of us Yankees, without any force or coercion. We are Yankee with our brown, black and yellow skins. Is it not marvellous? Ha, Ha, Ha!”

Pa had laughed loudly in a wayside eatery, over cups of sugary tea, surrounded by a group of gaping followers and former and current students. A happy, star-struck group of lower middle-class young men, idealism running like a molten lava in their veins, dreams of conquering Everest, talking Brecht and Howard Fast and Miller, in that steamy, thatched, mud-plastered, small eatery near the highway, on charpoys, under the swaying eucalyptus trees, on a pleasant March evening when early spring was in the air and flowers were blooming and the scented air and the orange disk setting in the western sky lent an ethereal touch to the whole encounter there. Some of them were M.A. students and some, recent post-graduates in English, were unemployed. Majority wrote stories or poems or acted in plays. They wanted to be either famous authors or actors. They lived in a realm of young imagination and pure ideas with an enduring appeal, universal and eternal. They wanted to be artists in a market-driven era, and, in a town where there were hundreds of hotels and restaurant and one, very small shop that sold magazines in Hindi and English and a couple of popular English novels! With no reading culture or very little theatre there, they dreamed, like Pa, dreams that looked impossible for those who were not part of the camp.

“It is like discussing Shakespeare with a whore!” exclaimed a detractor once. Pa was unfazed, unruffled.

All of us have our dreams, some black and white, some Eastman colour, that is the only difference! Pa had remarked, face deadpan.

Remember, guys, the dead never dream! Pa had fascinated him. A hypnotic effect. Whatever he uttered became new gospel for him and souls kindred. Souls that found themselves misunderstood in family, home, society. They thrived on ideas and hopes. They became members of the clan and the Pa was the grand patriarch, a Moses, who was to guide them through the Egyptian wilderness to the promised land. A small band of warriors assaulting the monumental stone walls of the town. He thought Pa was a Von Gogh, painting sunflowers in an ugly urban sprawl which did not have a single potted plant constricted uncrushed by urban squalor and poverty. Only the human spirit thought of sunflowers, open meadows, wheat fields — of freedom, equality, of liberating world of imagination with frothy seas and magic casements and aching hearts. Only a genius could do that.

And suddenly this man disappears!

“Socrates, Tolstoy and Lincoln have one thing in common: a nagging wife,” Pa said once, while taking a long evening walk amid a cascading landscape of mustard flowers and a setting sun that had set the heavens on fire in deep crimson. Bird songs were sonorously punctuated by a scented, tranquil, ethereal air. The humble cottages of a fast-vanishing hamlet, off the main highway and on the outskirts of the town, loomed like far off phantoms in the gathering dusk and the invigorating country air, now seriously endangered because of the rapid encroachment of the town.

“But”, he had paused and stood there for a minute, appearing as a solitary figure in that solitary place, out of breath, “All wives are nagging, my boy. Ha, ha, ha.” The deep laughter unsettled a stork and made it fly. He looked imposing and formidable there, framed by a dark sky, the gentle wind ruffling his hair. He was giant, touching the sky, tall and erect, powerful and mesmerising, amid those undulating fields of mustard.

He resumed walking. The trance was over. “Somewhere at same point, you feel lonely. Terribly lonely. A perfect stranger. Look at Tolstoy. Driven out of his own home. Suffering from pneumonia. Homeless. Old man. King Lear minus the kingdom. Or Marx. Broken by the death of wife and daughter. Terribly lonely and isolated figure. Or Van Gogh. Or Dostoevsky. The list is long and impressive. Masters creating beautiful worlds, blessed with noble souls, yet lonely at a basic human level, suffering pain and humiliation, rejection. Ordinary life is like that. The difference is the artist transforms all this through art and becomes immortal. The ordinary man dies with this pain unsung. He cannot even share this pain with anyone.” He stopped momentarily.

“The thing is, boy, life does not favour art. This age is not favourable to it. It destroys your nobility, soul, person at the altar of money, commerce, vulgarity. You were born with divinity and end up dying as an animal.” He resumed walking again in the gathering gloom, “This age belongs not to Rembrandt or Leonardo but to the stockbroker, to DiCaprio, to Mario Puzzo,” a long pause. Then, “Look at the greats. Joyce becoming blind. Virginia Wolf and Sylvia Plath and Hemingway, committing suicide. Their spirits shining through their monumental works. But the same spirit is caving in, after a long battering. Joyce died poor. O’ Neil and Mayakovski, again embittered. They could never belong to this inhospitable place and cracked up. The most beautiful children, sensitive, highly intelligent and gifted, superior imagination, language — all these beautiful and innocent children of life, totally wasted by a cruel mother!” His voice had cracked up and choked.

A mournful silence descended, and the darkness suddenly appeared as eerie and gloomy. Lights were twinkling in the mud houses and seen through mellow enveloping darkness, looked magical and sweetly assuring and beckoning. A fire in an open hearth danced merrily and lit up a small surrounding area with hovering shadows and the mysterious black beyond frequented by the nightly visitors — the unseen spirits of the forest. The whole thing was unreal.

Finally, they emerged from the dark curtain on to the highway. Ear shattering cacophony of motor sounds and harsh sodium vapour lights invaded these two minstrels of a lost song. They went to a nearby tea stall. Rickshaw pullers were sipping tea.

“The thing is,” Pa said in an even voice, “the fact catches up with you sooner or later. In a grim fight between the fine spirit and the fact it is the vulgar fact that triumphs.” The air was putrid, heavy with charcoal smoke and dust. The tea was served by an ill-clad urchin with a swollen eye and of indeterminate age. The boy listlessly stared at the duo and then shifted his stare at the highway. “Imagination does not offer a permanent sanctuary to the alienated spirit,” Pa said, gazing at the passing motors, the characteristic far-off look in his liquid eyes, voice resonating, “Fancy cannot cheat us long. Facticity returns to claim us back. More viciously. More grimly. We wage a war against the desertification.  A losing war but worth fighting for.”

And then, “What can you write in a bustling Las Vegas? Or what New York can offer you except its dazzling skyline?” If the name of John Barth were to be added to these stray observations, he thought, critics would have already started quoting and anthologising them! That is what marketing can do. They can create icons out of anonymity, obscurity. He looked at pa in the mild darkness lit up by a lantern. “You are wonderful. A genius!”, he exclaimed, admiration oozing. Pa smiled. Said nothing. Finally, “These are your sentiments. For the world I am a retired teacher. No more than that. Anonymous. Ordinary like millions. My name does not sell.”

“But market success is not everything!”

“Yes, it is,” Pa replied, sipping tea, “without market success, in a market economy, you are nobody, howsoever brilliant you are! It is the way you market yourself, that counts. The way you sell yourself. Otherwise, you are a zero.”

“Then why did you not sell yourself?”

“Because I hated the whole process. I can never do that.”

“But you are a great for me, for all of us here.”

Pa looked at him and smiled. “This small recognition is enough for me. And, by the way, after death, all are equal…unto dust thou shalt return.” He winked at him.

Now, looking back at this conversation, he could sense something which he had missed out at that time. Pa was deeply troubled and was trying to communicate this through this pantheon of artists, in an oblique manner, to him the loneliness, anguish, anger of an old, retired person who had made the painful discovery: that he was now redundant to his family and society. How dumb of him to miss the larger picture! A fine example of breakdown of personal communication.

But why did Pa take recourse to such a play?

Why did he not tell the plain truth to an adoring disciple?

That he was adored by a small group of artists who made him feel wanted and the feeling of being superfluous in the family, maybe, this social contradiction he could not resolve meaningfully. He had seen it happen earlier with others also. In late fifties, many had felt useless, with no defined role to play. The kids had outgrown their fathers. Most of them had turned to religion and yoga. They suffered diabetes, elevated blood pressure, angina pin, ulcers, and what not. Their eyes were sunk, skin leathery, teeth caved in, eyesight failing. They went on creating fictions. Reinventing themselves. Deep down they waited for the curtain call. A date with their maker. Religion comforted; paltry pension brought some cheer, but the gloom did not lift. The fact remained. They were no longer wanted. Had no price. Were irrelevant in a fast-changing society.

The police inspector, huge and rude, looked at him with malevolent eyes. So, what, if an old man is missing? He bawled angrily, is he a king or P.M.?

“Our Saab does not care about big shots,” the fawning sub-inspector said in a mocking tone. “He is the PM. of this station.” The huge pot-bellied inspector smiled. The graying handlebar moustache moved up and down on a fat face of a hard drinker. His blood-shot eyes were menacing, teeth pan-stained, garlic on breath. He looked intimidating. “A trigger-happy bastard,” he thought, “who shoots first and then asks.”

“See, officer, we have been made to wait here for two hours and nobody has bothered to take down out complaint,” he said in a mild tone, controlling anger and revulsion.

The inspector turned his full gaze on the speaker. The cop eyes were hard and full of hatred of a common, powerless man.

“Oh!’ He exclaimed and laughed. He pressed a button. A hungry-looking constable burst in.

‘Idiot,” the inspector roared, “where were you? Do you not see we have the governor sir here with us?”

The constable was confused. The inspector laughed uproariously. Sub-inspector also added a few decibels to the racket. “Governor, ha, ha, ha.” Inspector was rocking.

“Now listen Mr. Inspector,” he spoke in a commanding voice. The laughter died down immediately.

“Yes, Excellency!” the inspector said, taking out his revolver and playing it.

“I am Ashok Suri, news editor, with the star TV,” he spoke, slowly, a snarl dilating nostril. “A very good friend of S.S.P. and D.M. very close to the governor. A man is missing. An old man to people like you, but a father to these sons, teacher to me, a precious person to all of us! He is not a figure. He is a man. Ex-president of teacher’ union. Active on many fronts of the communist party. Do you get me?”

The inspector underwent a dramatic change.

Suri got up, followed by the two sons. “And I am going straight to S.S.P.,” Suri said, eyes blazing. “See you there, Mr. Inspector, the doorway. Except a lot of trouble tomorrow. Dharnas (strikes) by teachers, students and communist party workers. Goodbye, Mr. Governor. I will be there to cover it for my T.V. channel!”

They exited in a hurry. The cops came out in a fast-forwarding motion. The trio was escorted back. Tea and biscuits were served. The F.I.R. was lodged promptly. Half-an-hour later, they came out of the station.

Uttam shook hands with Suri, “Ashok you were superb!”

“What if they had caught your lie?” asked Raman.

“Oh!” Suri said, “you know I am a very good actor.”

“I spoke to them in the only language they understand,” said Suri.

The night came early and silently. The lanes were deserted. Houses stood shivering in the cold. Suri looked out of the window. The fog was swirling about like a ballerina, painting everything with a white brush. Somewhere a street dog was weeping, adding to the macabre. He was feeling tired and sad, Shambu came and sat down in the opposite chair. He lit a cigarette and spoke in a musical voice. Pa had come to me last Sunday.

“Was it?” asked Suri.

“Yes.”

“Was he disturbed?”

“Nope, slightly distracted.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“Well, well…lemme think… it was Sunday afternoon, and it was pouring…”

Pa had come around three in the afternoon. The overcast grey skies were pouring rain that came battering the neighborhood in a furious manner. Pa stood in the doorway, dripping, the grey hair being whipped by the cruel blasts of wind. Shambuda lived three houses away and was a good friend. Shambu sprang to his feet and welcomed Pa with a towel.

“So, what brings Marx here?” Shambhu asked.

“To meet Beethoven,” said Pa.

That was the opening gambit. Pa was Marx to Shambhu and Shambhu, Beethoven to Pa.

“What would your majesty have? Tea? Rum?”

“No Thanks.”

“No problem.” Shambhu, known as Da, went and brought two pegs of rum. Some salted cashew nuts.

“This lousy weather…pouring…kills my mood …to the angry elements and to Majesty’s good health.”

They sipped the liquid.

“Good stuff!” Pa said. “Fires up an old guy.”

“And makes the world red and golden,” Da said.

The wind-driven rain came in a sudden gust and lashed the shuttered glass Windows. Families were huddled around T.V. sets. It was bleak place. Dark, rainy, cold, cheerless. Pa was silent. Da refilled the glasses.

“Shambhu?” Pa said.

“Yes, boss,” replied the fiftyish portly man.

“It is dismal. This bleeding rain, this winter.”

“No quarrelling with your judgment, boss!”

“Can I hear a song from you?”

Da looked at his senior friend.

“No problem. Music is my first love.”

Da called his youngest son. Harmonium and tabla were brought out. Da sang a folk song, his favourite, in a sweet voice, the voice of a music teacher and a classical singer, a voice that always drew admirers, like pins to a magnet, from all the corners of the town:

Where are you,

My beloved?

I miss you dear,

In this rain and

Scorching summer,

Come back,

Come back,

Before I die,

Pining for

Your

Beautiful

Hair.

The melody, the earthly song, the rain and the rum. When Da finished and came out of the trance, he saw Pa wiping his tears with his hanky. Music had washed the souls of the two solitary figures on that wind-swept Sunday afternoon.

“I also have a distinct memory of that Sunday,” said Ashok.

Ashok’s Narrative

The sky was overcast, dull grey — a wet early evening gloom spreading in the vast skies, a strong wind pregnant with pearl drops of rain buffeting town and country. The streets were deserted. Pa was there in the doorway, smelling of hard liquor, wet and dishevelled, umbrella dripping. But Pa was always a welcome guest.

“Let us go, Ashok,” Pa said. A simple order. I look my umbrella and we went out on wet, slippery, pebbly road. Trees were shedding rain drops as big as stones. Birds were shivering. We walked two kilometers and then came to an abandoned culvert across a deep drain.

Around us were long stretches of soggy plains and looming mills and chimneys. We sat down on the wet culvert. Pa was quiet.

“Perfect setting for a rum-soaked evening,” I said, “for paneer pakoras (cottage cheese fritters), fried green chilies and roasted grams…”

“And hard-boiled eggs,” Pa said and laughed, his lean body shaking.

“If life were such a royal banquet…”

We lit cigarettes and emitted rings. Pa took out a half-bottle, two plastic cups, disposable soda and a packet of fried black grams topped with onion rings, tomatoes sliced and chopped coriander leaves, from the shoulder bag of khadi.

“Your wish is fulfilled, master.” Pa said.

“No, you are master, my master.” I spoke.

We drank and ate the grams. Pa was silent but I was used to his mood and unpredictable ways.

“Why do you love me so much?” he asked

“Because life teaches me through you. A fine, noble, learned man…”

“Who bothers an’ le guy like me? Who bothers for learning? For a mental worker? They bother for money. Cars. Good houses…Not a writer, a teacher, no, they do not care.”

“It does not matter…to me.”

“You are different, Ashok.”

“You, too.”

“That is why…we interact. I see myself in you.”

We sipped the rum. Dark thickness thickened.

“Folks like us are unhappy. Get crucified. Marked. We cannot escape our lot.”

I clung on to each word. Epiphany, you know.

“Once, during my young days, I walked along with my pop along a country road, on a dark wintry night, for five kilometers, to reach our village home. The road never seemed to end.

Father told many stories to lessen my fright. Then he lifted me up and put me on his shoulders. He walked, carrying his nine- year-old on his heavy shoulders, telling wonderful tales, to relive monotony, to comfort me, to ease my fears. The fields were full of mischievous ghosts…the wind produced strange music.

Shadows threatened…lions roared.

We were two Red-Indians walking the forest in night, watched by the spirits. I forgot my terror and listened to his comforting voice…

He paused for long period.

“That image still haunts me…Two figures and an unending road…A dialogue in the wilderness. He was my father, so was safe. Nothing could harm me. Twelve years later I had to travel the same road, alone. I had missed my last bus. The country road was same. My fears came back…lions still roared in my ears. Ghosts whispered. Shadows danced about. I was awfully scared. Death lurked. I died every minute. The journey took ages…when I arrived home, safe, I realised I was missing my father. A father who had died many years ago…”

Pa looked pathetic. Bent. Gaunt.

Ranting. They stood up on the fringes.

Sympathetically. Boundaries collapsed.

The steel in Pa was cracking up.

“When your own family denies you, mocks you, it is time to bid goodbye. “Listen to the Bard:

“……The tempest in my mind,

Doth from my senses take all

Feeling else,

Save what beats there! Filial

Ingratitude!

No, I will weep no more…”

The rain was pouring. Gently dark veil had obscured everything. Pa was looking across centuries where another old man was holding forth his own private audience…

Sitting now, in Da’s room, I came to realise the import of that last encounter on that rainy lovely night.

.

“I must leave now,” Ashok said suddenly.

“Why?” Asked da, alarmed.

“I am tired,” Ashok said.

“O.K.!” Da said. “Do you think he would come back?”

Ashok stood up and reflected.

“No,” he said. “He won’t.”

“What do you mean?” Da was surprised.

“Well, he said his goodbye, on last Sunday,” Ashok said.

He came out and bent a last look at Pa’s house.

Goodbye, teacher!

Tears were running down the solitary man’s face.

.

Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 23 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. 

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Jared Carter

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." 
Ode to a Grecian Urn, John Keats, 1819 

It was a challenge to interview a poet who does not want to talk of his work or of himself. And yet, here was a person whose poetry moved me and from who, I was sure, we had much to learn. I am talking of an acclaimed poet from America, Jared Carter. He permitted me to introduce him with this: “Jared Carter is an American poet who has published seven books of poetry. His volume of new and selected poems, Darkened Rooms of Summer, was issued in 2014 by the University of Nebraska Press. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.” If you are more curious about him, his achievements, education and awards, visit his Wiki Page.

Jared Carter

Carter’s poetry is remarkable in giving us glimpses of American life and thoughts, especially as he talks of the wind, the snow and cicadas, as he wrenches poignancy in the hearts of readers bringing out the cruelty in the slaughter of cattle. He draws from the life of common people and their work. At times, he could write of  changing a lightbulb and yet create a sense of wonder with his crafting. Despite his obvious Western outlook, he has written of the elusive Yeti – a most beautiful composition. He does tell us in the interview how he wrote it. One would also wonder why he selected to represent ephemerality with such a mythical creature from the East when most of his poems reflect life in America. The poem strangely captures the quality of elusiveness perfectly with extensive crafting.

For him, poetry is more than the first part of the Wordsworthian concept , “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. It is about working on the concept further “in tranquillity” and making it exquisite, like an artifact. We started this interview by reflecting on artifacts that impacted him. Despite his reluctance to speak of himself, Carter does tell us much about his Victorian upbringing and the impact it has had in making him who he is and writing as beautifully as he does.  And perhaps, we can also get a glimpse of why he wrote of the “Yeti”. Let us now step into the world of Jared Carter.

You are fascinated by certain artifacts from India and China. Tell us the story around those. Why do they move you?

I mentioned those two heirlooms — a chess set made of ivory, from China, and a carved wooden box, from India — because they provided my first introduction to those two great cultures, when I was a boy growing up in a small town in Indiana, a state near the center of the United States.

My father had purchased the chess set in September of 1945, in a pawnshop in Chicago, when he was on the last leg of his journey home from serving three years in the war in the Pacific. It was a set of delicate white and red figures, in elaborate costumes, the white side in Victorian dress, the red side in traditional Chinese robes, and on both sides, horses rearing and elephants carrying castles.

If my memory is correct, the attire of the pieces was the very embodiment of colonialism. I was told much later that the set was among several that had been made for the export trade in the nineteenth century.

As a child, of course, I had heard the word “China” and the country was mentioned in school, which I was just beginning at the age of six. But in those days, I had no strong impression of China, nor even much interest in it. In contrast, my father’s ivory chess set was a tangible object that I could look at and admire, and sometimes even be allowed to touch. It had traveled many thousands of miles, from the other side of the world, to be in our home, and was held in great esteem by my father and my older brother, who were both avid chess players.

Once a year, on my father’s birthday, as I recall, they would take down the set from the glass case they had built to display it and play a game of chess with those fantastic pieces. This was always a solemn occasion in our household, and a memorable one. In my young mind, it was an almost ceremonial way of being in touch with a mysterious land that lay far across the seas.

If today, almost eighty years later, I try to think back to my first awareness of China — what it was, where it is, what it might be like — I return to my memory of that chess set. I return to the sight of those delicately carved pieces, in their remarkable formality and fragility, arranged in rows on a chequered board. That image is suspended now, and outside of time, and yet in my mind’s eye, the figures are still waiting to be moved, in ways that will begin once more that most ancient and traditional of games. In this way I was first introduced to the very idea of China’s existence.

By our best estimates, chess was originally invented in India, although I did not know this at the time. In a way, as I look back now, perhaps my memory of the ivory chess set puts me in touch, even now, with something great and lasting about the contributions of both of those cultures.

The elaborately carved box from India had a similar effect on my young imagination. It was a box in which my father’s mother kept her few items of simple jewelry. Sometimes she would let me and my two cousins take it down from her dresser and examine it more closely. There were already a few books in my grandfather’s library about India. We were familiar with the name of that country, and we knew it was quite distant. But the box was an actual object that had come all the way from India, we were told, and that made it special.

The box had been given to my grandmother by her only brother, who was an artist, and who had purchased it sometime in the 1930s, along with a great many other art objects and artifacts with which I would become familiar as I grew older. But this box — again, something made in the nineteenth century — spurred my first awareness of India. I could peer into its carvings of elephants and monkeys and exotic plants and imagine that I was seeing into the heart of that mysterious, far-off place.

India and China of course constitute much, much more than what was suggested by those two objects.  But we are speaking of first impressions here, which are precious to a child, and which, in my case, have proved to be lasting.
      
You had an interesting story about your aunt being in India. Can you tell us about that?

The artist mentioned, my grandmother’s only brother, took as his second wife, in the 1930s, after the death of his first wife, a teacher of English literature, who taught for the Baltimore school system. She had been brought up in India and was evidently the child of missionary parents. 

She may actually have been born in India, and most likely left it in about 1923, to attend an American university.  She lived until 1959, and I was taken to visit her on several occasions, and when I was old enough to drive, I would ferry my grandmother down to visit her, in a summer studio located in southern Indiana. She spoke with a British accent — perhaps the first I had ever heard — and preferred tea rather than coffee. After the artist’s death, in 1946, she would speak knowingly of his own works of art, and of the various items and artifacts he had collected during his lifetime. 

Those things were from many cultures, many eras — a handsome 15th-century refectory table from Italy, a pair of large, nineteenth-century ceramic jars from China, an unglazed wine vessel that may have been Etruscan, a variety of pieces in English pewter, and so on.  The spacious, high-ceilinged, two-story building had been a lodge hall before it was converted into the artist’s studio by my father and grandfather. It was utterly chock-a-block with beautiful objects and gorgeous paintings.

On a number of occasions I was allowed to wander through those rooms on my own, and to consider those different objects. There was no teacher, no guidebook, except for the widow’s occasional comment about where this or that artifact had come from, or when he had acquired it. I simply looked at what was there. This was a part of my informal introduction to art, and exotic places, a tutelage that had begun with the chess set and the carved box.  If nothing else, the experience may have made me into a lifelong museum goer, especially when museums of art are available.

But you asked about my Aunt Carolyn, as we called her, and her origins in India. She sometimes referred to that Indian childhood, although unfortunately I remember little of what she said. I do recall her speaking of a time in the early 1920s when she witnessed a crowd of Indian nationalists demonstrating in a non-violent manner. Raj policemen carrying lead-weighted wooden cudgels waded into the crowd, shattering the kneecaps of the demonstrators with their clubs. The authorities knew, she said, that a broken kneecap was not a mortal injury, but that it would render a demonstrator unable to walk for months on end, thus preventing that person, for a time, from joining future demonstrations. To say nothing of discouraging him from joining any demonstrations at all. Aunt Carolyn seemed to have a very low opinion of the British.

Are you familiar with Indian and Chinese literature?

Only as a reader and an amateur. In about 1961 a younger sister brought home from college, as a houseguest, an Indian student she had met. He was very polite and serious, and generously gave me a copy of a translation of the Gita, which I still have, and which was my first introduction to the classic literature of India. I’ve been sampling that literature ever since, reading essays and an occasional book, attending a lecture or two, taking in a traveling exhibition. So, I have a layman’s understanding of subcontinent history and culture, but it is no more than that, and I am far from being well-versed.

My introduction to the history, art, and culture of China came slightly earlier and has been a bit more extensive. As an undergraduate at Yale, I studied history of art with the scholar Nelson Ikon Wu. It was an introductory course, but he placed special emphasis on landscape paintings of the Southern Song, and with that influence, in later years, I seem to have gone on to develop an interest in many things Chinese, especially art of the T’ang dynasty.

Also while an upperclassman at Yale, I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a young graduate student from Clare College, Cambridge, named Jonathan Spence, who subsequently became a well-known scholar of Chinese history and culture. Over the years, my conversations with Jonathan, and my having read his numerous books, have formed an important part of my informal education.

For two semesters in the 1980s I served as a visiting writer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I met and talked with Professor Sanford Goldstein, the eminent Japanese scholar and specialist in tanka, who for many years now, following his retirement, has resided in Japan. Thanks to Professor Goldstein, and one of his students with whom I am still in touch, and not immediately, but gradually, my awareness of Japanese literature in translation has increased, along with my curiosity about haiku and tanka in English.
I have published a few haiku and tanka, and have corresponded with other scholars in that field, such as Professor Bryce Christensen, who is only recently back from a year of lecturing in Taiwan. By virtue of my acquaintance with these talented individuals, I hope I have developed a better understanding of both Japanese and Chinese literature — especially the poetry of the T’ang dynasty, in translation, for which I have a great liking.

Do you read translations? What is your opinion on the role of translations?

Without translators and translations, we would be utterly lost. For example, whatever I am privileged to know about the poetry of Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770, also spelt as Tu Fu) and all of their marvelous contemporaries, I know their poetry only because they reach me through various translations. So, I have accumulated a small library of translated works by the major world poets — Sophocles through Dante, Basho to Neruda. Every serious poet does this. I would like to think we are perhaps the wiser for it.

Any poet writing in English is immeasurably indebted to Arthur Waley for his masterful translations. Another translator I might mention is the American, Kenneth Rexroth, who happens to have been a fellow Hoosier — which means he was born in the state of Indiana. Rexroth emigrated eventually to California, where after World War Two he became an eminent poet, scholar, and translator of poetry from both the Chinese and Japanese traditions.

Du Fu.
Courtesy:Creative Commons

I possess a number of Rexroth’s books, and thanks to them, and to other translations by many different hands, I have come to have a great admiration for the T’ang poet Du Fu. He is my favourite, perhaps the poet that I return to, most frequently, in my own reading. In the following quotes, Rexroth, in a book published in 1971, employs a transliteration of the poet’s name different from the one in general use today. Rexroth alleges that Du Fu is

in my opinion, and in the opinion of a majority of those qualified to speak, the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet who has survived in any language. Sappho, for instance, can hardly be said to have survived. He shares with her, Catullus, and Baudelaire, his only possible competitors, a sensibility acute past belief.

I agree with that, except the part about his competitors, since there are a few more who might be mentioned. But the remark about Du Fu having “sensibility acute past belief” — surely that is apt. And for me, as for Rexroth, there is even more to Du Fu. It is something almost personal. Rexroth attempts to sum it up:

Tu Fu comes from a saner, older, more secular culture than Homer and it is not a new discovery with him that the gods, the abstractions and forces of nature, are frivolous, lewd, vicious, quarrelsome, and cruel, and only man's steadfastness, love, magnanimity, calm, and compassion redeem the night bound world.  It is not a discovery, culturally or historically, but it is the essence of his being as a poet.

Rexroth goes on to say how Du Fu’s writing has affected him as a person, an admission with which I happen to agree, and have found to be true in my own life:


I am sure he has made me a better man, as a moral agent and as a perceiving organism. I say that because I feel that . . . the greatest poetry answers out of hand the problems of the critic and the esthetician. Poetry like Tu Fu's is the answer to the question, "What is the purpose of Art?"


What writers do you read? Why?

 As a young person, in university and later, dreaming of becoming a writer, I read a great many novels and short stories, and was initially drawn to the work of the American novelist, William Faulkner.. The world he created seemed recognizable to me, and authentic. I hoped to create a similar world. Other American authors I have admired, and tried to learn from, have been Sara Orne Jewett, Willa Cather, and Sherwood Anderson. But there are dozens more, and dozens more European and world writers whom I admire.  

I have been fortunate, too, in having known Joseph Love, a  prominent historian of Brazilian history, and author of a splendid study of a remarkable  moment in Brazilian history, The Revolt of the Whip.  He and I were undergraduates together (he was at Harvard), and I have known him ever since, and through his many gifts and thoughtful recommendations, I have been introduced to a great deal of the literature and culture of Central and South America.

In the last few years most of my reading has been in history. I am a great admirer of the British historian Richard J. Evans, whose history of the Third Reich is unrivaled. Another of my favorites is John Julius Norwich and his history of the Byzantine Empire. I am extremely fond of Shelby Foote’s history of the American Civil War. And at the moment I am reading the late Tony Judt’s Postwar, a history of Europe from 1945 to the near present and am finding out how little I knew about that period, even though I lived through it.

These days I spend much more time reading history than either fiction or poetry. I have a large bookcase full of nothing but books about classic Egyptian history and art, and I have a smaller group of books about Meso-American prehistory and culture, and particularly Mayan art. I am simply curious about such matters.

Which are your favourite poets? Why?

I would have difficulty naming even a few. I have attempted to read them all, which of course is impossible, since new ones appear every day, and one is constantly discovering earlier ones. It has never seemed acceptable to me to list the names of poets who “influenced” me or the way I write. There are a few poets whose work I keep at my bedside, and whose books I still read. Two in particular are poets writing primarily in German, Rilke and Hölderlin. Among Americans, Frost. Among the English, Hardy and Larkin.

What do you learn from these writers? Do they impact you in any way?

I really don’t know. They’re just writers that I particularly like, and find myself re-reading, over the years. Kafka is another. So is Flaubert. I continue to read Henry James and Turgenev — all of those persons on whom, as James pointed out, “nothing is lost.”

Why is it you are reticent to talk of your work and poetic sensibilities?

I seem to be naturally reticent, even introverted. As a child I spent a certain amount of time with my grandmother and with a great-great aunt, both of whom were born in the 1870s. Both were thoroughgoing Victorians who exemplified the traditional virtues — thrift, honesty, industry, steadfastness. And perish the thought of anything vainglorious. I think a bit of that rubbed off on me.

I’ve done a little talking about myself in this interview, but only because you asked. My parents, too, taught me that one should avoid talking about oneself to others. It is also a professional attribute — physicians and attorneys traditionally do not advertise or promote themselves — and although I do not consider myself a professional in that sense, I can understand the reasoning. Professionalism in any undertaking is not a matter of office, title, or entitlement; it is a standard to be lived up to.

At university, it was explained to me that in polite society one does not discuss politics, religion, or how one earns a living. Ezra Pound says somewhere that you can always spot the bad critic if he focuses on the poet and not the poems. Add all of that up, and I seem to have little to say about myself or what I do.


I really loved your poem “Yeti”. You had said that while writing “Yeti” you disposed of a number of lines and picked a few. Would it be possible to share this part of your poetic process with us?

Well, again, “poetic sensibilities,” “poetic process” — I am not a critic, scholar, or professor, and I have no insights to offer about such matters. It is not my business to do so. Instead, I make poems, and I have been privileged to have published a few of them. So that our readers will know what we’re referring to, here is my poem “Yeti,” which your journal kindly published, for the first time, in its May 2021 issue. The poem conjures up the mysterious creature of the Himalayas, whose existence has never been verified, but which continues to haunt the imagination:

            Yeti

Tell me again that nothing’s there,
          that never was
At all, except in places where 
          things slip, or pause,

Yet register, on some high ridge
          where something moves
And then is gone. As though a bridge
          of snow should lose

Its grip, and drop away, but leave
          a shadow where
Such vanishing might still deceive
          in that thin air.

The first thing one notices about this poem, which is in a relatively new form called an Alexandroid, are its formal aspects — its lines end with rhymes, and it has repetitive stanzas and lines of a predictable length. A second thing one notices is its brevity — twelve lines in all, and a total number of syllables amounting to half of those in a typical sonnet in English. It is a small poem, then, in a range of length favoured by the American poet, Emily Dickinson. Longer than a haiku or tanka, but still very brief.

A third characteristic, perhaps not immediately apparent, is the way in which the “sh” sound in the closing lines — should, shadow, vanishing —  suggests the texture of something slipping away. Or the sound of a bridge of snow suddenly collapsing into a crevasse. In certain cultures, it is the same sound we make when we put a forefinger to our lips to signal for silence — shhhh.  

That sound is followed by the stark, icy i’s and e’s, at the poem’s very end, of might, deceive, thin, and air. The trail has gone cold, the Yeti has disappeared. That poetry can suggest strange moments like this, with such minimal input, is one reason why I like it so much.

In the making of such a poem there is, literally, no place to hide. Whoever reads it will be affected, consciously or not, by the smallest detail. It goes almost without saying that to make a poem within these parameters, the writer must, to borrow your phrase, “dispose of a number of lines and pick a few”. This is inescapable. There is simply no room in which to say whatever one likes, or to run on interminably. No room for the vainglorious.

Somewhere there may be a poet who can write a similar poem without hesitation, as though copying it out, not pausing to substitute or change a single word.

I suppose I do the opposite. I experiment and try out many different words, many lines, many drafts, in order to arrive at what I believe to be a poem. In doing this I don’t think I am any different from most other poets.

It has been pointed out that one interesting thing about poems is the way they can talk about one thing while implying something entirely different. “Yeti” is presumably about an elusive, folkloric creature, but at the same time it is talking about poetry, and how it disappears even while you are reading it, and sometimes you are not sure about what you have just read. Something still seems to be there, even while it vanishes into thin air.

What is it you look forward to?

I look forward to making more poems, and more books of poems. There’s an old American saying, from the days of vaudeville, which holds that “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”   

But clearly I am an old man of the forest now, and I think the best claim from an aging artist, about what can still be accomplished in the years ahead, is by the Japanese painter and printmaker, Hokusai. Since we’re discussing art and culture of the East, I’ll suggest that his marvelous statement, in his colophon to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, is a perfect way to end this interview:

From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking into account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own.

In some translations, Hokusai adds, at the very end, with reference to what he has just affirmed, this invitation: “I beg those who live as long as I to see if I do not keep my word.”

Hokusai lasted until he was 88. That final sentence has always seemed to me to be a blessing he is bestowing on readers and admirers — a wish, for whoever might be listening, that those persons too might have long and fruitful lives.

I would hope Hokusai’s spirit still lingers, and that I might join him in wishing that for you, Madame Chakravarty, and for all of your journal’s most admirable readers, there on the other side of the planet Earth. Thanks to all of you for allowing me to come into your world.


Thank you very much Mr Carter for your kind words.

Click here to read the more from Jared Carter in Borderless Journal.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Photo Credit: Meetesh Taneja

Does she need an introduction? Arundhathi Subramaniam who has taken the world by storm with her poetry, reinforcing God, using English as a medium of writing over what we call a mother tongue, and voicing her stand on her own concept of national identity, and yet she has won the Sahitya Akademi award for 2020 for her collection, When God is a Traveller. She has broken rules that defined the modern literary world and moved towards creating her own individual brand of writing. Her writing is full of vivacity and makes the reader emote. She writes from the core of her being — that is clearly evident in the flow of her poems. Clarity, preciseness and perfection in linguistic usage enhance her ideas and grasp the reader in their fulcrum to lever their thoughts and emotions into her world. In this exclusive with Borderless Journal, read about Arundhathi’s journey.

Tell us about your journey as a writer and a poet. When and why did you start writing? 

I’ve been excited by poetry for as long as I can remember, Mitali — the swing, the rhythm, the velocity, the precariousness of it. Thankfully, none of my early efforts at writing it have endured! But I composed many bits of doggerel as a child. In my adolescence and early adulthood, poetry was catharsis and emotional self-expression, as it is for so many. I think it was in my late twenties and thirties that I began to come into my own as a poet. 

My first book, On Cleaning Bookshelves, happened in 2001. I felt I’d been waiting a long time to be published. But in hindsight, it was a good thing. It took me time to find the timbre of my voice, to allow it to embody a mix of assurance and doubt. At least I now began to know the poetry I aspired to. It is what I still aspire to — a kind of textured clarity, a poised uncertainty.  

What gets your muse going?  

I’m still finding out! I know some measure of quiet helps. Long days, devoid of agenda, help. And yet, so much writing also happens on flights, in cab rides, in coffee shops, waiting for a friend to arrive. Poems happen when I’m able to strike a certain creative tension between urgency and unhurriedness.

When you were a child, what were your aspirations? What did you want to become? 

There was a fleeting aspiration at age five to join the army. But I think I realized pretty soon that the path to field marshaldom was an arduous one. It was always poetry after that! 

In 1997 you had a life changing experience. What was it and has it impacted your writing?  

It was a naked-wire experience of emptiness, if you will. A brush with life without form, without any graspable meaning. There was terror in it, but later, also a kind of freedom. I’m never quite sure what brought it on. But the experience faded in a week, leaving in its wake a strong, unwavering awareness that I needed to live my life differently, to commit myself to making my peace with this vacancy. That turned me into a seeker, first and foremost. All the writing – both prose and poetry – that came afterwards probably reflected this shift in some way. 

What have been the influences that impacted your writing? 

The literary influences have been as varied as all the poets whose work I’ve ever loved: TS Eliot, Basho, Wallace Stevens, Donne, Neruda, Rilke, Anne Sexton, Denise Levertov, Arun Kolatkar, AK Ramanujan, John Burnside, and so, so many more. But as my spiritual journey took on a certain momentum, I also rediscovered the Bhakti poets for myself, and realized they were an integral part of my literary lineage. They are my ancestral guides and companions, in a sense: Nammalvar, Annamacharya, Tukaram, Akka Mahadevi, among others. And there are so many other mystic poets I’d add to that list: Issa, Buson, Ryokan, Ikkyu, Dogen, St John of the Cross, Hafiz, Rumi, among them. 

But we aren’t shaped only by what we read, are we? My life experiences have also impacted my writing. I’ve met some extraordinary people, had some fascinating conversations, travelled to some unforgettable places, had some deeply life-altering (and not always easy) experiences, and I’m sure all of those have contributed to who I am and how I write. 

You have done a book on Sadhguru and another with him. What was it like working with him? 

Sadhguru can be funny, profound, provocative, compassionate, a friend, a remote spiritual master — sometimes all in the course of a single interaction. So, I learnt to go into every book session, prepared to be startled. It’s been interesting — the way I have felt provoked, unsettled, singed, during many of our meetings, and still emerged, feeling oddly energized, invigorated, alive. As the writer of his biography, I was struck by the freedom he allowed me, his refusal to micro-manage the writing.  

You have written books on Buddha and Sadhguru. Why did you opt to write on men associated with religion? 

Well, I’ve also edited an anthology of Bhakti poetry, Eating God, and have a forthcoming book on four contemporary little-known women who walk the spiritual path in their own deeply individual ways, called Women Who Wear Only Themselves. So, my fascination is with the realm of the sacred – and not just with men who commit themselves to it, but with women too. 

I am emphatically not fascinated with the exoteric aspects of religion. But I am interested in the nascent experiential insights around which faiths are often built. So, the Buddha has long interested me as the fearless amateur questor, the compassionate guide who showed us a direct path back to ourselves – one that allows us to bypass all the institutional middlemen who ‘sell water by the river’, as it were. Sadhguru fascinates me for similar reasons, as a contemporary mystic – irreverent, flamboyant, and deeply human all at once. 

You have got God back into poetry. Eating God, a recent book of yours, even says it in the title. What made you opt for bringing God back in where the modern trend is to shun the spiritual? What is your perception of God? 

Eating God is an anthology of sacred verse – of devotional poetry. So, it was difficult not to have god on the menu. The bhaktas wouldn’t have forgiven me for it! 

My own book of poems, When God is a Traveller, also uses the word ‘god’. But the god of this book is not a deity in a temple, but a heroic adventurer who, like so many others in world myth, takes off on a journey around the world and returns to find the answers lie within him. So, the god, Muruga, is a kind of alter ego in this case; a pilgrim/ traveller/ vagabond archetype who mirrors us back to ourselves. 

My perception of the divine? It’s still unfolding and is best implicated in poetry. So, let me simply share my poem, ‘Goddess – II’, with you. It’s from my most recent book, Love Without a Story

Goddess II 
(after Linga Bhairavi) 
 
In her burning rainforest 
silence is so alive 
you can hear  
 
listening. 

Have you ever written in any other language other than English? Why? 

No, I haven’t. English is my first language, and it is an Indian language. It may be ours due to unfortunate historical circumstances. But it is no longer a foreign import. It is as much ours today as democracy, or cricket, or chai, or the chili, or tamarind, or okra, or the nose ring! I have translated poems from Tamil and Gujarati into the English, however, working with fellow-translators for whom those are their first languages. 

In your poem, To the Welsh Critic, you have said: “This business about language, / how much of it is mine, /how much yours”. By saying this, in a way you critique the commonly held belief that writers should write in their mother tongue to express themselves. Can you explain your views on this?  

Well, I often say that my mother speaks many tongues. She is a Tamilian, raised in Burma and Delhi, married in Mumbai, and has chosen now to live in Chennai. Consequently, she speaks Tamil, English and Hindi fluently, and is now studying Spanish online! Like most Indians, she has bequeathed to me a multilingual inheritance. I grew up in Mumbai where I heard Bambaiyya Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil and English around me. English, however, was the language I formally studied, and the language I heard plentifully at home, so it is my first language. It is the language I dream in, express rage and grief in. It is the language closest to my skin; it is the language I need, therefore, to write poetry in. 

Rather than impose some doomed project of cultural jingoism upon ourselves, rather than try to aspire to some mythic state of cultural purity, it would make our lives infinitely richer and more exciting if we embraced our pasts. My ‘Welsh Critic’ poem is addressed to all those – in our country and elsewhere — who offer us absolutist formulae for belonging, who would have us believe there is only one way to be ourselves. As I say in the poem, ‘I stammer through my Tamil,/ and I long for a nirvana that is hermetic,/ odour-free, bottled in Switzerland’. My cultural identity is polyglottal, happily hybrid, and for those very reasons and other indefinable ones, I believe I am as Indian as they come. 

How do you think language should be perceived? Should it be bound to the umbilical bonds? Or should a writer, like an artist, be free to choose his medium of expression — for language is merely his tool, his colour or paintbrush?  

Language is and must always be about freedom of choice. Only when we choose freely can we express freely. Rather than chop and hack at a diverse cultural legacy, it makes sense to enjoy its abundance and savour its many flavours. This is why so many Indian poets I know are translators as well. We enjoy the challenges of bringing the textures and insights of one literature into another, opening up new worlds of aesthetic experience. I have worked for years as editor of the India domain of the Poetry International Web, a small but significant online archive of contemporary Indian poetry. It entailed working with poets working in over twenty Indian languages. The work on this website, as well as all my book of Bhakti poetry, has been about translation – allowing literatures to roam freely from one linguistic context to another.  

It is time to talk unapologetically about the language of poetry. Poets everywhere recognize each other because of this kinship. It has nothing to do with jaded arguments around language politics. Those belong to politicians, not poets. 

Some of your poems talk of establishing an identity as a woman and express a fierce desire for an independent existence. “I erupt from pillars, / half-lion half-woman.” Do you think this need is gender related? Or is it the call of poetry? 

Well, yes, some of my poems do consciously assert a female identity. It is one of the many identities I own – alongside being Anglophone, Indian, contemporary, among other things. In ‘Confession’, the poem you mention, the entity that erupts from pillars, ‘half lion-half woman’, is clearly an allusion to the Narasimha avatar of Vishnu – and yes, I’m definitely presenting a female version of that archetype here. I remember the surge of freedom and joy when crafting that metaphor. 

There is an early poem, ‘5.46, Andheri Local’, in which I speak of a women’s compartment in a peak-hour Mumbai local train being transformed into ‘a thousand-limbed, million-tongued, multi-spoused Kali on wheels’. And in my most recent book, I have a song for ‘catabolic women’ – women who are happily ‘unbuilding, unperpetuating, unfortifying, disintegrating’. These are some of the poems in which the female identity is asserted strongly, emphatically.

‘Catabolic Woman’ is a poem that binds you to both your identity as a woman and an Indian. Do you see nationalism as a necessary part of a writer’s identity?  

Well, there’s a playful paradox in one phrase — ‘proudly Indian, anti-national’ — but other than that, the poem doesn’t really dwell on national identity. It’s more about growing into oneself as a woman (something that happens usually in one’s forties and fifties, or at least, did for me), a woman who’s no longer fooled by self-serving rhetoric, vested interests, hidden agendas. As I said of the poem, ‘To the Welsh Critic’, I see myself as deeply Indian. But I’m uncomfortable with dogmatic definitions of what it means to belong to a particular country, a particular faith, or even a particular gender. There are many ways of being not just Indian, but woman, as well. I would like to believe that my work reflects that complex sense of identity. 

Tagore, perhaps the most acclaimed poet from India, wrote in the start of his essay on Nationalism, “Our real problem in India is not political. It is social.” Would you agree with that? 

Well, I know that there are ways of belonging that lie beyond a glib cosmopolitanism and what I think Tagore called ‘the fierce idolatry of nation-worship’. Belonging anywhere is not about passivity. It is always an act of negotiation. It takes time to see plurality as a possibility, rather than a liability. As richness, rather than confusion. Countries everywhere are grappling with this in their own way – how to celebrate diversity, but without hierarchy, a diversity rooted in justice, in equality. That is our challenge too.  

What is your perception of the role of a poet or writer in the world? Is it only aesthetics or something further? 

We sometimes tend to polarize the morality-aesthetics debate. Being morally attentive doesn’t mean turning heavy-handed or perennially indignant, and valuing aesthetics doesn’t mean turning ethically laissez-faire or politically indifferent. The role of a poet, as I see it, is to be true to the way she sees the world and to use language with precision and thoughtfulness. A mix of authenticity and artistry, integrity and craft – both are essential to poetry. 

Poetry alters human beings in very deep and enduring ways. But those changes aren’t accomplished by turning self-conscious, but by growing more conscious – aiming for greater exactitude and greater nuance, but without losing intensity, without losing the fire that burns, and must always burn, at the core of this art.

Thank you Arundhathi for giving us your time.

Photo Credit: Meetesh Taneja

This interview was conducted online by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal.

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Click here to read a poem by Arundhathi Subramaniam.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL