Student Writing | Editorial, June 2020

Hello readers,

Stories are the most important things in the world—they are teachers and companions. Every emotion you’ve ever felt, even the ones you can’t put into words are found and felt here. We are living in perhaps the most compelling socio-political atmosphere in history where every ideal—from communism to feminism—is up for grabs. Generations later, the intrinsic core of our society—our hearts and minds—will not have come from our politicians, leaders, and businessmen; it will have come from our writers.

That’s why story-telling is so important and why young authors are even more so. Students around the world are actively engaging in bettering it. A young person’s perspective, a young person’s emotions are far different than those of adults. The urgency, the clarity, the resolve is often far greater (or maybe I’m just biased!). It is our future, after all, that we’re fighting for—how can we not be passionate and hysterical and all the things they tell you not to be? From Instagram posts to tweets to personal blogs, students are constantly telling the stories that matter the most.

The Bombay Review has proved itself to be the standard for story-telling in India and all over the world. This new initiative to feature student voices only enhances that narrative. By empowering the youth to speak freely and loudly, we are already making great strides towards a more accepting society. Writing is one of the most powerful forms of protest—giving a voice to the voiceless—and young people are at the core of this revolution. This new section puts TBR on the right side of history.

The pieces featured here are extremely different in the themes and ideas they deal with, but are equally compelling. Heartbreak, romance, isolation, angst…they’ve all been covered. I’m sure all of you will take away something from each, at least the joy of a good story if nothing else. While many of these pieces are riddled with socio-political motifs, it is the emotion and intention behind them that are truly significant. These young authors have shared stories that are close to their hearts and am sure that they will grow close to many of you too.

Happy reading!

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Anahita is a 16-year-old rising junior at an international school in Mumbai. She is an avid reader; her favourite authors are Khaled Hosseini and Arundhati Roy. She is deeply involved in the writing sphere at her school and hopes to reach more people through The Bombay Review.

Student Writing

A new section showcasing young voices in fiction, poetry and non fiction; featuring writing from students in schools and universities aged 19 or below.


Student Writing | Latest Pieces

Student Writing | Editorial, June 2020

Hello readers, Stories are the most important things in the world—they are teachers and companions. Every emotion you’ve ever felt, even the ones you can’t put into words are found and felt here. We are… More



About the Editor

Anahita is a 16-year-old rising junior at an international school in Mumbai. She is an avid reader; her favourite authors are Khaled Hosseini and Arundhati Roy. She is deeply involved in the writing sphere at her school and hopes to reach more people through TBR.

Poetry | Slavery (from ‘The Task’) by William Cowper | Classical Archives

William Cowper (1731–1800) revolutionised the act of allyship in the 18th century through his poems. Seen as his supreme achievement, The Task: A Poem, in Six Books became one of the first imminent written attacks on slavery and support of the Abolitionist campaign by a White author. Published in 1785, Cowper uses this poem as call for freedom and liberty for slaves while effectively undermining the very system of oppression that has long existed in the United Kingdom and United States. He affirms that slavers have no real need for slaves, appealing to both the rational and emotional in his readers to paint a heart-wrenching image.

The Task was an outrageous and bold publication of its time. As a White man, his outspoken support for the Blacks and criticism of the slave trade at its height was a scandalous move in English society. His poems would go on to be quoted by Martin Luther King Jr. during the 20th century civil rights movement. It’s a must read for everyone interested in the history of slavery and Abolitionist movement all over the world.

Slavery.‌ ‌
From‌ ‌“The‌ ‌Timepiece”:‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Task,‌ ‌‌BK.‌ ‌II.‌ ‌
William‌ ‌Cowper‌ ‌
1785‌ ‌
 ‌
O‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌lodge‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌vast‌ ‌wilderness,‌ ‌
Some‌ ‌boundless‌ ‌contiguity‌ ‌of‌ ‌shade,‌ ‌
Where‌ ‌rumor‌ ‌of‌ ‌oppression‌ ‌and‌ ‌deceit,‌ ‌
Of‌ ‌unsuccessful‌ ‌or‌ ‌successful‌ ‌war,‌ ‌
Might‌ ‌never‌ ‌reach‌ ‌me‌ ‌more!‌ ‌My‌ ‌ear‌ ‌is‌ ‌pained,‌ ‌
My‌ ‌soul‌ ‌is‌ ‌sick,‌ ‌with‌ ‌every‌ ‌day's‌ ‌report‌ ‌
Of‌ ‌wrong‌ ‌and‌ ‌outrage‌ ‌with‌ ‌which‌ ‌earth‌ ‌is‌ ‌filled.‌ ‌
There‌ ‌is‌ ‌no‌ ‌flush‌ ‌in‌ ‌man's‌ ‌obdurate‌ ‌heart;‌ ‌
It‌ ‌does‌ ‌not‌ ‌feel‌ ‌for‌ ‌man;‌ ‌the‌ ‌natural‌ ‌bond‌ ‌
Of‌ ‌brotherhood‌ ‌is‌ ‌served‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌flax,‌ ‌
That‌ ‌falls‌ ‌asunder‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌touch‌ ‌of‌ ‌fire.‌ ‌
He‌ ‌finds‌ ‌his‌ ‌fellow‌ ‌guilty‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌skin‌ ‌
Not‌ ‌colored‌ ‌like‌ ‌his‌ ‌own,‌ ‌and,‌ ‌having‌ ‌power‌ ‌
To‌ ‌enforce‌ ‌the‌ ‌wrong,‌ ‌for‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌worthy‌ ‌cause‌ ‌
Dooms‌ ‌and‌ ‌devotes‌ ‌him‌ ‌as‌ ‌his‌ ‌lawful‌ ‌prey.‌ ‌
Lands‌ ‌intersected‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌narrow‌ ‌frith‌ ‌
Abhor‌ ‌each‌ ‌other.‌ ‌Mountains‌ ‌interposed‌ ‌
Make‌ ‌enemies‌ ‌of‌ ‌nations,‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌else‌ ‌

Like‌ ‌kindred‌ ‌drops‌ ‌been‌ ‌mingled‌ ‌into‌ ‌one.‌ ‌
Thus‌ ‌man‌ ‌devotes‌ ‌his‌ ‌brother,‌ ‌and‌ ‌destroys;‌ ‌
And,‌ ‌worse‌ ‌than‌ ‌all,‌ ‌and‌ ‌most‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌deplored‌ ‌
As‌ ‌human‌ ‌nature's‌ ‌broadest,‌ ‌foulest‌ ‌blot,‌ ‌
Chains‌ ‌him,‌ ‌and‌ ‌tasks‌ ‌him,‌ ‌and‌ ‌exacts‌ ‌his‌ ‌sweat‌ ‌
With‌ ‌stripes,‌ ‌that‌ ‌Mercy,‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌bleeding‌ ‌heart,‌ ‌
Weeps,‌ ‌when‌ ‌she‌ ‌sees‌ ‌inflicted‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌beast.‌ ‌
Then‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌man?‌ ‌And‌ ‌what‌ ‌man,‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌this,‌ ‌
And‌ ‌having‌ ‌human‌ ‌feelings,‌ ‌does‌ ‌not‌ ‌blush,‌ ‌
And‌ ‌hang‌ ‌his‌ ‌head,‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌himself‌ ‌a‌ ‌man?‌ ‌
I‌ ‌would‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌slave‌ ‌to‌ ‌till‌ ‌my‌ ‌ground,‌ ‌
To‌ ‌carry‌ ‌me,‌ ‌to‌ ‌fan‌ ‌me‌ ‌while‌ ‌I‌ ‌sleep,‌ ‌
And‌ ‌tremble‌ ‌when‌ ‌I‌ ‌wake,‌ ‌for‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌wealth‌ ‌
That‌ ‌sinews‌ ‌bought‌ ‌and‌ ‌sold‌ ‌have‌ ‌ever‌ ‌earned.‌ ‌
No;‌ ‌dear‌ ‌as‌ ‌freedom‌ ‌is,‌ ‌and‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌heart's‌ ‌
Just‌ ‌estimation‌ ‌prized‌ ‌above‌ ‌all‌ ‌price,‌ ‌
I‌ ‌had‌ ‌much‌ ‌rather‌ ‌be‌ ‌myself‌ ‌the‌ ‌slave,‌ ‌

And‌ ‌wear‌ ‌the‌ ‌bonds,‌ ‌than‌ ‌fasten‌ ‌them‌ ‌on‌ ‌him.‌ ‌
We‌ ‌have‌ ‌no‌ ‌slaves‌ ‌at‌ ‌home.—Then‌ ‌why‌ ‌abroad?”‌ ‌
And‌ ‌they‌ ‌themselves,‌ ‌once‌ ‌ferried‌ ‌o'er‌ ‌the‌ ‌wave‌ ‌

That‌ ‌parts‌ ‌us,‌ ‌are‌ ‌emancipate‌ ‌and‌ ‌loosed.‌ ‌
Slaves‌ ‌cannot‌ ‌breathe‌ ‌in‌ ‌England;‌ ‌if‌ ‌their‌ ‌lungs‌ ‌
Receive‌ ‌our‌ ‌air,‌ ‌that‌ ‌moment‌ ‌they‌ ‌are‌ ‌free;‌ ‌
They‌ ‌touch‌ ‌our‌ ‌country,‌ ‌and‌ ‌their‌ ‌shackles‌ ‌fall.‌ ‌
That's‌ ‌noble,‌ ‌and‌ ‌bespeaks‌ ‌a‌ ‌nation‌ ‌proud‌ ‌
And‌ ‌jealous‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌blessing.‌ ‌Spread‌ ‌it‌ ‌then,‌ ‌
And‌ ‌let‌ ‌it‌ ‌circulate‌ ‌through‌ ‌every‌ ‌vein‌ ‌
Of‌ ‌all‌ ‌your‌ ‌empire;‌ ‌that,‌ ‌where‌ ‌Britain's‌ ‌power‌ ‌

Is‌ ‌felt,‌ ‌mankind‌ ‌may‌ ‌feel‌ ‌her‌ ‌mercy‌ ‌too.‌ ‌

 

Essay | Reading Bombay through Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda poems – Saranya Subramanian

 
Shit city, he thunders;
the lion of Bombay thunders,
Shit city!
 
I shit on you.
You were a group
of seven shitty islands
 
given in dowry
to the Shit King of Ing
to shit on
 
— and now it’s all
one big high-rise shit,
waiting for God
 
to pull the flush.
And it won’t be long
for God is great.

- The Shit Sermon, Kala Ghoda Poems, Arun Kolatkar[1]

I read Arun Kolatkar to read Bombay. Is it right to read a poet, or poetry, as an extension of a place? I don’t know. Maybe not. Or maybe there is no right way to read a poem, or a poet for that matter. Still, I can’t help but see Kolatkar as synonymous with Bombay. Or perhaps synonymous with a Bombay that is musical and hilarious, twisted and hopeless, and very much existent even today. To me, Kala Ghoda Poems is an honest, unique narrative of my city that was otherwise unapparent to me until I read Kolatkar. For the first time I stopped to notice parts of Bombay that were right under my nose all along, but perhaps not visually appealing or relevant enough to be worthy of my seemingly precious time.

I started my initiative, The Kolatkar Crawl, as a continuation of my research. My graduate thesis was a digital humanities project, where I used the software tools of spatial mapping to chart Kolatkar’s stellar collection published in 2004, the Kala Ghoda Poems, onto a map of Bombay and the world. Pinning poems, characters and events onto a visual map was a fantastic, insightful experience that explicated on the truths and fantasies of urban development. But the real fun, and the real struggle, was in finding these locations firsthand in my own city. My primary research involved walking around Bombay to follow the animals, people and piles of rubbish in Kala Ghoda Poems. To see Kolatkar’s Bombay is to see a city stitched together by a poet (and the Pi-dog). Ordinary things are turned upside down and magnified. Multiple lives jostle against each other and are made apparent in lyrical verses that subtly expose the collateral damage of a city plagued with development. The Bombay that Kolatkar writes, while being a global city, does not project the illusion of globalization as one that only involves skyscrapers and successful narratives of becoming rich and famous worldwide. The very real consequences of uneven development—pockets of rich and poor, past and present, grand buildings and piles of rubbish coexisting—distort this illusion. Kala Ghoda Poems teaches me to shift focus of my own city to the sidelined people on the streets and the scraps of dirt that are peppered on the ground. Kolatkar writes them down in poems that are delicate and light, never taking themselves too seriously. The poems are just as whimsical and musical as they are jarring and expository.

The first thing that strikes me about Kala Ghoda Poems is its characters. These are animals, objects and people who are almost spillovers of development, pushed out from social institutions and buildings onto the streets. For the first time, I viewed them as stuck, stranded, marooned in Bombay, far from home. The people from Kala Ghoda Poems are best described in “Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda”: “the little vamp, the grandma, the blind man/the ogress,/ the rat-poison man,/ the pinwheel boy,/ the hipster queen of the crossroads,/ the Demosthenes of Kala Ghoda,/ the pregnant queen of tarts,/ the laughing Buddha,/ the knucklebones champ.[2]” As opposed to the bankers and lawyers who remain on the periphery of these poems, here are street dwellers, prostitutes, drunks and the homeless, made out to be almost mythical, magical creatures, asserting themselves over unmarked patches of land. The Barefoot Queen of the Crossroads has dominion “over two traffic islands/ and three pavements,[3]” the so-called Man of the Year stands proudly at a street corner, the girl who looks like “a stick of cinnamon” sits upon a concrete block “as if it were a throne[4]”. I see how the whole city, including my home, is literally either in their hands or on their body. Pi-dog’s body patches look like a “seventeenth century map of the city,”[5] the Barefoot Queen of the Crossroads wears Bombay on her sari: each flap representing Dadar, Parel, Lalbaug, Byculla, Bori Bunder, Flora Fountain and Kala Ghoda.

Kolatkar’s characters make me question my own identity and experience of Bombay. Suddenly the colonial Kala Ghoda statue, that lent its name to the entire South Bombay locale, is replaced by the Pi-dog who commands his city from there. The Pi-dog chooses his lineage by tracing his descent from his mother’s side—a bitch who was brought from England to Bombay. He consequently opts for a narrative twice subversive: of colonial and matrilineal descent, challenging common postcolonial attempts of reclaiming the Indian identity. My position in an increasingly commodified world is questioned when I find myself wearing or carrying objects that are presented in Kala Ghoda Poems as rubbish littered on the road, in ubiquitous piles and pieces of junk that have been ridden of all their utilitarian properties. Yesterday’s commodities become today’s garbage, and Kolatkar urges me to stop and look at them—really look at them—as he individually picks out a red plastic hair comb, scraps of paper, an old bicycle tyre, a three-legged chair, castoff condoms, prawn shells, dead flowers and clay. As I walk around the beautiful, artistic hub of Kala Ghoda, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s turned into a garbage dump. But rubbish and urban expansion are inextricable from each other, and I am reminded that much of Bombay is built on landfills converted into sparkling suburbs. As Kolatkar says, “the more you clean Bombay,/ the more Bombay there is to clean[6].”

The first time I followed the Kala Ghoda Poems trail, I expected to be taken on a linear journey from morning till night through 28 poems, but that was far from reality. In between “Pi-dog” and “Traffic Lights,” Kala Ghoda Poems goes back and forth in time and space, tugging me all around the world even, making a chronological trail an impossible feat. Other time zones and time periods are very much alive and breathe life into Bombay’s present reality. David Sassoon’s spectral presence looms over Bombay, indicating how the 19th century Baghdadi Jew painfully watches over his “cement-eating, blood-guzzling city[7]” of which I am a part. A queen from 13th century Granada is embodied in the Barefoot Queen of the Crossroads, whose demeanour could very well make the pavement she dominates equivalent to a courtyard in Alhambra. Time is also a paralysed, stagnating thing in Bombay. Kala Ghoda Poems stops time and stretches moments of a box of idlis collectively sighing, a pinwheel rolling down the street, or a woman delousing her lover’s hair. I am made to stop and smell the idlis. In “Knucklebones” a women selling drugs controls time in the modern world: “Your sari wears a grin/ where your buttocks have sucked it in./ Which sets us all back by a good ten seconds./ It isn’t just your sari;/ it’s time itself that feels the pinch./ The clock outside the Lund & Blockley shop/ that shows the different times/ in all the big cities around the globe/ stumbles and loses ten seconds worldwide./ Flights are delayed./ Trains run behind schedule[8].” Suddenly, I see the fate of all my travel and business plans in the hands, rather buttocks, of this street peddler. The absurdity of development depending on the economically weak sections of society is made obvious in hilarious verse.

Some locations are often impossible to find or measure in exactitude while on The Kolatkar Crawl, locations that are beneath mahogany and banyan trees (trees themselves are a rarity in Bombay these days), at a street corner and a pavement teashop. Others are impossible to reach, such as the Danube River, the Black Sea, Hindu Kush Mountains or Heaven, Sheoul, all of which are tied to Bombay through drug trading, migration and even violent processes of war and colonization. Buildings that have lent their names to roads and areas become mobile caricatures stripped of all magnanimity and glory. Jehangir Art Gallery is “sleeping with its mouth open, as usual,[9]” St Andrew’s church “tiptoes back to its place,/ shoes in hand,/ like a husband after late-night revels,[10]” and the drunk in “The Shit Sermon” yells curses that circle over “the stock exchange,/ the High Court and Mantralaya”[11]. These buildings of art, religion, finance and law, are made comical and fluid, cursed and laughed upon.

Walking through Bombay and reading Kala Ghoda Poems recreates a city that is constantly shifting and dancing around, full of noises and colours, all the while exposing those lives that are pushed out of an expanding concrete jungle, hidden under bright lights and tall towers—the triumphs of development. Kolatkar weaves a Bombay that has no spatial and temporal coherence. I walk in zig-zags and stop midway to search for the smallest of creatures: crows, dogs, homeless snails, injured rats, black cats. Bombay, I realise as each poem pulls me in all directions, cannot only be drawn on the ground. It is a collection of fragments from land, air and sea; it is a disjointed, multidimensional city. Kala Ghoda Poems is an evocative, visceral read. The collection heightens all senses, making me smell and taste and hear all sorts of things as I even visualise Bombay through a charas pill’s journey and traffic lights. It’s a city full to the brim with filth and life pouring out from all cracks and corners.

Is there a right way to read poetry? I don’t have the answer, but I believe that experiencing poetry physically allows me to see things that I have never noticed before. Right now, under lockdown, the characters from Kala Ghoda Poems are important voices of those generally treated as dispensable—migrant workers, unemployed labourers, hungry, homeless strays—victims of a glaringly uneven development. Living on the streets, outside of Bombay’s high rises and social institutions is detrimental, today more than ever. I started The Kolatkar Crawl as an initiative to take people on walkthroughs of Kala Ghoda Poems, but the entire pandemic, lockdown and migrant labour crisis has fuelled the collection with a renewed urgency.

The Kolatkar Crawl is momentarily paused due to lockdown, but the virtual world still allows us to share our thoughts on Bombay and poetry. I conducted a conversation with researcher Laetitia Zecchini and poet Arundhathi Subramniam titled “Reading Kolatkar Under Lockdown” on 6 June 2020, which explored all three of our own entry-points into Kolatkar’s work. Bringing together the perspectives of a poet, an academic and a self-entitled flâneur (myself), was an enjoyable, enlightening experience. Arundhathi spoke about how she is drawn to Kolatkar’s incisive usage of unsentimental, unflinching image and tone and how there is reverence in his seemingly irreverent poems. Laeitita Zecchini seconded this, and added how she is fascinated by how Kolatkar never, never imposes his voice onto the characters in his poems. He gives them time to surface, and in doing so immortalises a city that hasn’t yet been ‘cleansed’ and sanitised.

Reading Kala Ghoda Poems becomes an act of reading Bombay. Now, I surrender fully to the delegations of crows, walls of cafes, watermelon carts, the legless hunchback and jerrycan of kerosene, delinquents in jail, lepers and potato peelers, street dwellers ruling over pavements and playing cards under banyan trees. I learn from them how my city has a shared geographic history with a larger subcontinent and I see the multiplicity of lives and stories that coexist with my own. I learn that my city cannot be tied down to a singular language, identity or history. This is the Bombay that Kala Ghoda Poems encourages me to experience. This is the poet’s city.

WORKS CITED:
Kolaṭakar Aruṇ, and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English. Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2010.

BIO: Saranya Subramanian is a writer and theatre practitioner based in Bombay. Under her initiative, The Kolatkar Crawl, she takes people on walkthroughs+readings of Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems, bringing the poet’s city to life, verse by verse and step by step. And she writes because, well, it’s all that she can really do.

Follow @thekolatkarcrawl on Instagram and Twitter for updates!

[1]Kolatkar, Arun. “The Shit Sermon.” Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Bloodaxe Books, 2010, pp. 146–149.

[2]  Kolatkar, Arun. “Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda.” Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Bloodaxe Books, 2010, pp. 120-144.

[3] Ibid., 124.

[4] Ibid., 108.

[5] Ibid., 84.

[6] Ibid., 87.

[7]   Kolatkar, Arun. “David Sassoon.” Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Bloodaxe Books, 2010, pp. 173.

[8] Ibid., 116.

[9] Ibid., 84.

[10] Ibid., 80.

[11] Ibid., 149.

Essay | Of our Spiritual Strivings (from ‘The Souls of Black Folk’) | W. E. B. Du Bois

Book: The Souls of Black Folk
Piece: Of our Spiritual Strivings
Year: 1903
Author: W. E. B. Du Bois

This landmark book is a founding work in the literature of black protest. W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) played a key role in developing the strategy and program that dominated early 20th-century black protest in America. In this collection of essays, first published together in 1903, he eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind. He also charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy advanced by Booker T. Washington, then the most influential black leader in America, would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.

Publication of The Souls of Black Folk was a dramatic event that helped to polarize black leaders into two groups: the more conservative followers of Washington and the more radical supporters of aggressive protest. Its influence cannot be overstated. It is essential reading for everyone interested in African-American history and the struggle for civil rights in America.

Of Our Spiritual Strivings

O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,
    All night long crying with a mournful cry,
As I lie and listen, and cannot understand
        The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea,
    O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I?
        All night long the water is crying to me.

Unresting water, there shall never be rest
    Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail,
And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;
        And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,
    All life long crying without avail,
        As the water all night long is crying to me.

ARTHUR SYMONS.

musical score

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the words I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten. The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx. Through history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man’s turning hither and thither in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like absence of power, like weakness. And yet it is not weakness,—it is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan—on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde—could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people,—has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.

Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:—

“Shout, O children!
Shout, you’re free!
For God has bought your liberty!”

Years have passed away since then,—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—

“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!”

The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power,—a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.

A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil,—before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom “discouragement” is an unwritten word.

But the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came home upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.

So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past,—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,—all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. The training of the schools we need to-day more than ever,—the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defence,—else what shall save us from a second slavery? Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek,—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire. Work, culture, liberty,—all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folklore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humility? or her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs?

Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.

And now what I have briefly sketched in large outline let me on coming pages tell again in many ways, with loving emphasis and deeper detail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.

Call for The Booker Prize Winners’ Reviews

TO PITCH OUR EDITORIAL BOARD

The Bombay Review, ambitiously so, plans to review all the Booker Prize winners, since 1968 when the Prize was first constituted. We welcome review pitches from professional and freelance writers, journalists, columnists, and book lovers. All submissions must be exclusive, and previously unpublished. To review a book for us, please send us a pitch between 200 and 500 words.

In case a book is not available with you, we will send you a copy if you are selected to write the piece.

Send an email to thebombayreview@gmail.com. The subject line of the mail should be – ‘Book Review : Book Name : Your Name’.

We are starting the reviews section with The Booker Prize winners, but we would love to have pitches for other books as well.

Due to the volume of submissions, we can only respond to those of interest.


 

PLease make sure to include the following information at the top of your pitch:

*Book(s) and/or writer(s) you would like to discuss in your piece
*Approximate word count
*Your bio
*Two relevant writing samples, preferably of reviews.
*Availability of the book with you. (Please note that we will be sending you books only in select cases)

You are encouraged to briefly explain any critical, historical context you consider relevant apart from the reason you picked the particular book. 


 

TO PUBLISHERS AND AUTHORS (for books not in our list)

To have your book considered for review, send a pitch to thebombayreview@gmail.com; copies of books will be asked of you. This is a paid service. You can mail us for a quote.


ABOUT THE BOOKER PRIZE

The Booker Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Booker–McConnell Prize (1969–2001) and the Man Booker Prize (2002–2019), is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the United Kingdom. The winner of the Booker Prize is generally assured international renown and success; therefore, the prize is of great significance for the book trade. From its inception, only novels written by Commonwealth, Irish, and South African (and later Zimbabwean) citizens were eligible to receive the prize; in 2014 it was widened to any English-language novel—a change that proved controversial.

A high-profile literary award in British culture, the Booker Prize is greeted with anticipation and fanfare. It is also a mark of distinction for authors to be selected for inclusion in the shortlist or even to be nominated for the “longlist”.


 

The Complete List of Man Booker Winners

 

2018
Milkman
by Anna Burns
United Kingdom / Northern Ireland

 

2017
Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders
United States

 

2016
The Sellout
by Paul Beatty
United States

 

2015
A Brief History of Seven Killings
by Marlon James
Jamaica

 

2014
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan
Australia

 

2013
The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton
Canada / New Zealand

 

2012
Bring Up The Bodies
by Hilary Mantel
United Kingdom

 

2011
The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes
United Kingdom

 

2010
The Finkler Question
by Howard Jacobson
United Kingdom

 

2009
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
United Kingdom

 

2008
The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
India

 

2007
The Gathering
by Anne Enright
Ireland

 

2006
The Inheritance of Loss
by Kiran Desai
India

 

2005
The Sea
by John Banville
Ireland

 

2004
The Line of Beauty
by Allan Hollinghurst
United Kingdom

 

2003
Vernon God Little
by DBC Pierre
Australia

 

2002
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Canada

 

2001
True History of the Kelly Gang
by Peter Carey
Australia

 

2000
The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood
Canada

 

1999
Disgrace
by J. M. Coetzee
South Africa

 

1998
Amsterdam
by Ian McEwan
United Kingdom

 

1997
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
India

 

1996
Last Orders
by Graham Swift
United Kingdom

 

1995
The Ghost Road
by Pat Barker
United Kingdom

 

1994
How Late It Was, How Late
by James Kelman
United Kingdom

 

1993
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
by Roddy Doyle
Ireland

 

1992
Sacred Hunger
by Barry Unsworth
United Kingdom
and*
The English Patient
by Michael Ondaatje
Canada / Sri Lanka

 

1991
The Famished Road
by Ben Okri
Nigeria

 

1990
Possession
by A. S. Byatt
United Kingdom

 

1989
The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
United Kingdom / Japan

 

1988
Oscar and Lucinda
by Peter Carey
Australia

 

1987
Moon Tiger
by Penelope Lively
United Kingdom

 

1986
The Old Devils
by Kingsley Amis
United Kingdom

 

1985
The Bone People
by Keri Hulme
New Zealand

 

1984
Hotel du Lac
by Anita Brookner
United Kingdom

 

1983
Life & Times of Michael K
by J. M. Coetzee
South Africa

 

1982
Schindler’s Ark
by Thomas Keneally
Australia

 

1981
Midnight’s Children
by Salman Rushdie
United Kingdom / India

 

1980
Rites of Passage
by William Golding
United Kingdom

 

1979
Offshore
by Penelope Fitzgerald
United Kingdom

 

1978
The Sea, The Sea
by Iris Murdoch
Ireland / United Kingdom

 

1977
Staying On
by Paul Scott
United Kingdom

 

1976
Saville
by David Storey
United Kingdom

 

1975
Heat and Dust
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
United Kingdom / Germany

 

1974
The Conservationist
by Nadine Gordimer
South Africa
and*
Holiday
by Stanley Middleton
United Kingdom

 

1973
The Siege of Krishnapur
by J.G. Farrell
United Kingdom / Ireland

 

1972
G.
by John Berger
United Kingdom

 

1971
In a Free State (short story)**
by V. S. Naipaul
United Kingdom / Trinidad and Tobago

 

1970***
Troubles
by J. G. Farrell
United Kingdom / Ireland

 

1970
The Elected Member
by Bernice Rubens
United Kingdom

 

1969
Something to Answer For
by P. H. Newby
United Kingdom


Books will be made available to reviewers whose pitches are accepted.

Essay | The Art of Language and How it Matters in a Pandemic – Paras Abbasi

 

Rutha he rahan par hujan hayati

Bhali paya wirhan suhnra bhali paya wirhan sunhra

Par hujan hayati

Language is sometimes convoluted—too complicated to translate. It has its own expression—the way we move our mouth, open our lips, the way our tongue touches our teeth to make a sound, give it a meaning, no translation could decode the sentiment of it. Therefore, we tend to preserve our languages. Words change over time because people change. Words become archaic because customs and rituals change, and so do habits. Perhaps the feelings change over generations too.

I heard this song when I was little, too little to perhaps remember where the memory comes from, let alone know the meaning of it. But it kept coming back to me, reviving the intimacy of it—in times of sorrow and in moments of joy.

There was a time when I was finally able to grasp the meaning of it but laughed at its romanticism. Was it possible that you keep praying for the life of a beloved when they have forsaken you? (At one point the lyrics of this song talk about the beloved butchering the protagonist but the protagonist keeps praying for their life). But ‘forsaken’ is not the right word for ‘rusanr’. Nor is ‘being angry’. ‘Rusanr’ in Sindhi or ‘roothna’ in Urdu/Hindi is not equivalent to forsaking someone or being angry at them. Perhaps there is no synonym for it in English. ‘Rusanr’ or ‘Roothna’ signifies the state when the beloved does not talk to you, does not respond and yet thinks about you and complains about you so that there is always a flickering hope that they will come back to you if you plead them enough. And thus there is always a ray of hope between the lover and the beloved. Roothna in our desi culture is a common practice—which is why a specific word for it—often between members of the extended family, siblings and friends, besides purely romantic relations. Every desi wedding and funeral would have someone from the family who would need persuasion and pleading because they are ‘ruthay huay’. And so we try to persuade them, bring them back to our side, take benefit of the delicate thread hanging between the two sides. Roothna, besides everything, also signifies a relationship of deep faith, on whose basis one lets go of all contact and yet trusts the other party to return to them.

So when the lines say, rutha he rahan par hujan hayati, bhali paya wirhan suhnra, hujan hayati’(roughly translated to: even if they remain angry, may they be alive/even though they may keep fighting with us, may they be alive), they keep up the hope of the beloved returning to us, because we’ll keep on trying to win them back.

In these uncertain times, when some of our loved ones are thousands of miles away, this Sindhi song resonates more than ever. For now, the anger, arguments, quarrels and squabbles are not important; only lives are. Hence, when words fall short in one language; songs, secondary languages, lines and phrases from books, music and art come to rescue—to articulate how we feel.

“This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.” James Baldwin said in 1961. “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to them from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true for everybody.” His words have never rung truer.

Paras Abbasi is a poet and a short story writer. Her work has been published in Confluence magazine UK, East Lit Journal, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, New Asian Writing and local news websites in Pakistan . Paras lives in Karachi, Pakistan and can be reached at ofconversations.wordpress.com and on instagram: @ofcoffeeconversations

Poetry | First Letter Home from a Migrant Worker – Andy Conner

Dear Ma-Baba,

It has broken my heart to leave our village
leave you so far behind.

This astonishing city holds many challenges.

My first great accomplishment:
I visited Chowpatty Beach
And stood shoulder to shoulder
Amongst the Mumbai elite
On the most prestigious
Rubbish dump in all of India.

It was truly a sea of inspiration
No well, no river
But an ocean of plastic bottles
Stretching further than the eye could see
Farther than my mind could dream.

I am grateful for your sacrifices
Your lifetime of simple meals
Fruit, sabzi, dhal, chapatis
To give me this opportunity
This golden wandering
Through potato chip packets
Ice cream wrappers
paper plates.

This isn’t trash.
This is cash.
And you know?
I couldn’t resist removing my sandals
To feel Lakshmi’s love
Dusting my feet.

The sea harbours such indescribable smells
No outdated salt
Or bygone fish
But bouquets of industry, progress, exports
I’ve heard it said they’re channelled
In a pipeline from Malabar Hill.

Such beautiful pollution
Is attainable for all.

Mumbai couldn’t be
Without filmy magic.

I have heard the most entertaining fable
About a mythical palace called Antilia
A palace of such treasures
It could not exist on this earth.
I believe it serves as an inspiration
That no matter how great one’s wealth
There’s no harm in coveting more.

I am enclosing three hundred and twenty rupees
But Chowpatty has strengthened my resolve
To become more than you or I
Ever dreamed I could be.

I am also enclosing half of a paper plate
I took as a souvenir.

I was tempted to take two
But wish my successes
To be tempered with the humility
You have instilled in me.

Please show it to my siblings and cousins.
As the oldest, I need to be the strongest of role models.

You have brought me up not to take without giving.
So I dropped my bus ticket on the sand
May it serve as a symbol.

I am a man of the modern world.
A capitalist, a Mumbaikar

Your loving son

Andy Conner is a Birmingham, UK-based poet and educator, with a long track record of performing his work nationally and internationally. His credits include BBC Radio 4, Jaipur Literature Festival and India International Centre. A highly dramatic and visual performer, Andy’s work ranges from the humorous to the very dark. Many of his poems are for young people. Some of Andy’s poems have been written to help children of all ages deal with issues such as bullying and domestic violence. Recently, Andy has also worked in British schools, conducting workshops for National Refugee Week. A compelling live performer, Andy is known for his close rapport with his audiences and can be relied upon to deliver a memorable show with humor and intensity.

Poetry | Shadow – John Drudge

I wait
like an insect
watching you

Hoping to catch your eye
as I sink back
to sand

for the silence
of you.

John Drudge is a social worker working in the field of disability management and holds degrees in social work, rehabilitation services, and psychology. He is the author of two books of poetry, “March” and “The Seasons of Us” (2019). His work has appeared in the Arlington Literary Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Poetica Review, Drinkers Only, Literary Yard, The Alien Buddha Press, Montreal Writes, Mad Swirl, La Picoletta Barca Literary Journal Cambridge University, The Avocet, Writers and Readers Magazine, Sparks of Caliope, Harbinger Asylum, Black Coffee Review, Setu Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, and the Adelaide Literary Magazine. John is a Pushcart Prize nominee and lives in Caledon Ontario, Canada with his wife and two children.

Poetry | ‘Eye of the needle’, ‘Fortunate Son’ – Alan Britt

Eye of the needle

Camel that slips through the eye these days,
we don’t know whether friend or foe—
hell, it could be ourselves we
shouldn’t trust or camel unwilling
to trust us.
Bristly toes of pollen whether we want
them to or not, but the universe can’t
resist us, so driven by insatiable desires
to spread chaos to nearby roses-of-Sharon
or tulip bulbs hibernating the Blizzard
of ’16, we enter the clover of better
judgement and not a moment too soon.

Fortunate son


(It ain’t me, it ain’t me,
I ain’t no fortunate one, no.)
~John Fogarty

We emerged slimy and six-legged poised
for a fight with anything and everything
that moved or promised to move
in one alternate universe or another.
We grew dorsals along our spines
and with eyes like dwarf planets we
marched down Main Street dragging
the flag through blood and mud.
Some of us sailed home in pine boxes,
others lined marble ledges
above grandmothers’ fireplaces
just in time for the holidays.
Some of us did as we were told
because we believed in the flag
being dragged through the blood and mud.
We were not senators’ sons; we
were ordinary sons, sons of mothers
and fathers who fought for freedom
in the good old days, freedom we were
taught to worship in the good old

Alan Britt has been nominated for the 2021 International Janus Pannonius Prize awarded by the Hungarian Centre of PEN International for excellence in poetry from any part of the world. Previous nominated recipients include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bernstein and Yves Bonnefoy. Alan has published extensively in Agni, Christian Science Monitor, English Journal, International Gallerie (India), Irodalmi Jelen (Hungary), Kansas Quarterly, Letras (Chile), Magyar Naplo (Hungary), Midwest Quarterly, Minnesota Review, Missouri Review, New Letters, Pedrada Zurda (Ecuador), Poet’s Market, Queen’s Quarterly (Canada), Revista/Review Interamericana (Puerto Rico), Revista Solar (Mexico), Steaua (Romania), Tampa Tribune, Tulane Review, and Wasafiri (UK), and was recently interviewed at The Library of Congress for The Poet and the Poem. He has published 18 books of poetry and served as Art Agent for the late great Ultra Violet while often reading poetry at her Chelsea, New York studio. A graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University he currently teaches English/Creative Writing at Towson University.