Monthly Archives: June 2011

Jun 27, 2011 from Bidrohi

In a short biographical essay, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri says that one of the books she remembers her mother reading was a yellow copy of poetry by Kazi Nasrul Islam, “which seemed to be a holy text to her.” And maybe it was. Mr. Islam (1899-1976) was a practitioner of fiercely spiritual and nationalist verse, which he deployed in the face of all kinds of oppression. He is known simply as “the rebel,” after his 1922 publication “Bidrohi,” which remains his most famous. For this and other works, he was jailed by British authorities, but the imprisonment served to enflame, rather than crush, his convictions. As a  writer, Islam is renowned for his large volume of work, as well as for his introduction of the ghazal–a form originating in Persian and Urdu poetry, and which we’ve studied in this forum–into the Bengali language.
I am including for your reading pleasure an excerpt of the very long “Bidrohi.” This is from the end of the poem. I apologize that I cannot include an original language version. The problem lies partly in my inability to search in Bengali, and partly in the fact that every time I find a promising link to the original text it is blocked by the new internet filters my MFGD boss just put up. If anyone would like to share a copy, or to elucidate any of the references here, please respond.
Speaking of workplace deficiencies, a challenge: A client of ours who is detained by immigration authorities and cannot contact his family is in need of a phone card. If you’d like to take advantage of this opportunity for a charitable work, please contact me off-list. -ed.
from BIDROHI
I am Orpheus’s flute,
I bring sleep to the fevered world,
I make the heaving hells temple in fear and die.
I carry the message of revolt to the earth and the sky!
I am the mighty flood,
Sometimes I make the earth rich and fertile,
At another times I cause colossal damage.
I snatch from Bishnu’s bosom the two girls!
I am injustice, I am the shooting star,
I am Saturn, I am the fire of the comet,
I am the poisonous asp!
I am Chandi the headless, I am ruinous Warlord,
Sitting in the burning pit of Hell
I smile as the innocent flower!
I am the cruel axe of Parsurama,
I shall kill warriors
And bring peace and harmony in the universe!
I am the plough on the shoulders of Balarama,
I shall uproot this miserable earth effortlessly and with ease,
And create a new universe of joy and peace.
Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel.

I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!

-1922

Jun 20, 2011 Crossing Borders

In her recent essay “Trading Stories,” Jhumpa Lahiri talks about her growth from a child reader into full-time writer, and mentions along the way a handful of poets: Kazi Nazrul Islam, Carl Sandburg, Seamus Heaney, Bill Corbett, Ezra Pound. The two that piqued my curiosity were the 2 I’d never heard of, Islam and Corbett–and more on “the rebel” Kazi Nazrul Islam next week. Corbett sounds like someone I would have liked to bump into during my 9 years in Boston–he’s well-published but not famous, and has been a writing instructor at Harvard and MIT for years. He also edits a small press/literary magazine that prints chapbooks and the like by unheralded poets. And some of the Boston contingent may also know him for his book reviews in the Phoenix.
I found a poem by him that I really like. I don’t have much to say about it, but I sense a deep and wry humor. I suppose it’s about being a writer. Or is it? -ed.
CROSSING BORDERS
The mailman. Gold hood.
The mailman. Cold out.
How many are there
like me sitting at
desk, unshaven, 10 a.m.
the radio on one
ear cocked for the crash
of mail through the slot?
You can’t live
for yourself alone.
Oh, you can but
is that all
there is to it?
Demonstrate charm,
advertise connectedness,
know the different
cheeses, how to garden
where to travel
until the dark rises
out of the indifferent bushes.

Jun 6, 2011 Ballad of the Landlord

Dear readers,

I finished reading Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities last night, and how often is it that one can say that a book published in 1967 was eye-opening? Well, it was eye-opening. It recounts in horrifying detail Mr. Kozol’s experience as a teacher in a segregated Boston public school in 1964-5, and culminates with his termination for reading the below Langston Hughes poem to his class, distributing copies, and allowing some of the students to memorize it for recitation. The memorization was not an assignment, because as Mr. Kozol says, “I do not think that memorizing a poem has any special value.” He and I may disagree on that, but the point is that none of the schoolchildren had ever really engaged with the reading and poetry assignments they’d been given before, which they sometimes described as “babyish.” The parent of a white child complained vociferously, and the next day Mr. Kozol was fired, with 8 days remaining in the school year. He was told to collect his things and not to inform his students that he wouldn’t be back.

A school board member later justified Mr. Kozol’s firing by noting that he had deviated from the prescribed curriculum. Since the school they taught in included special, remedial programs, it encouraged some innovation. “However,” he continued, “this flexibility does not and should not allow for a teacher to implant in the minds of young children any and all ideas.” The poem in question was inappropriate “since it could be interpreted as advocating defiance of authority.” In conclusion, “Mr Kozol, or anyone else who lacks the personal discipline to abide by rules and regulations, as we all must in our civilized society, is obviously unsuited for the profession of teaching.” It goes without saying that Mr. Kozol went on to a most distinguished career in teaching and writing. But it also bears repeating that in 1965, in Boston, a public school teacher was fired for bringing this poem into his class. Can it really be that powerful? -ed.

BALLAD OF THE LANDLORD

Landlord, landlord,
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don’t you ‘member I told you about it
Way last week?

Landlord, landlord,
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It’s a wonder you don’t fall down.

Ten bucks you say I owe you?
Ten bucks you say is due?
Well that’s ten bucks more’n I’ll pay you
Till you fix this house up new.

What? You gonna get eviction orders?
You gonna cut off my heat?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?

Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on–till you get through.
You ain’t gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.

Police! Police!
Come and Get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
and overturn the land!

Copper’s whistle!
Patrol bell!
Arrest.

Precinct station.
Iron cell.
Headlines in press:

MAN THREATENS LANDLORD

TENANT HELD NO BAIL

JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL

-1951