Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear four poems read by the poet Monica Mody. The first poem, “Glass House—Anthropocene” is from Mody’s chapbook called Ordinary Annals. The second poem “That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat” is from Mody’s forthcoming book Bright Parallel. Mody follows by reading two sonnets by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a writer from Bengal who lived from eighteen twenty-five to eighteen seventy-three.Monica Mody:
I want to rise above my limitations
I want to let bird shapes of words flock together into language that will change skies
I want courage to let the cross burn
Swoop of crow on branch outside fills me with referred pain
Why am I inside this glass enclosure
To land gently on a branch
I need supple wisdom of a nature being
but nature is burning
I find body itself tremors running deep every time
patina of noise on ears
I came in search of home
There is no shape after which I will not dive if on the other side I may find nature intact
I am like the blind woman who rubs darkness over her face wears a face of wail
It is a long way home
I am walking on my hands
if not in body in word
grief entangled in hair
trickle inhibited by sewage and noise
Sounding sonar hymns inside glass enclosure
rocking back and forth
Others inside look at me with feral eyes
Only eyes betray their remembering
Who are we when collapsed with earth grief
In panic, I step away from poem to regular
consternation effability of situation
written in body
Deep nature in retreat I long to bury my face in
I leaf through selves old
plans I had made lists
topics of sanity
Apathy stares back with white eyes
Death procession approaching I’d joined death’s procession
Do I dare exit this glass house
What will I find there
This is comfortable see machine cooling air
I weep cannot deny
needs embrace of Earth
It is soundless
You cannot even tell I am crying
But animal in me is pacing
up and down
up and down
This pacing it is not someone else’s responsibility
It is mine
"That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat"
Ancestors! When I see the least, I am closest to you.
That I have forgotten to praise you, but without this praise & this knowing I am nothing.
That sleep runs like sweat off my face & awake I am inviting you to come visit me. Come visit me & make my heart hospitable—make my heart soft & fierce, make it so alive that any animal that wanders in would know its home.
The poems I've chosen to share with you are by the Bengal Renaissance poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. In the nineteenth century, literature in English was being written not only by Europeans, but also by non-European peoples because the English language was an enabler of the colonial project. But when non-European artists and writers wrote in English, they often brought in embedded anti-colonial critiques, even as they hedged admiration for European forms and aesthetics.
I am not rich, nay, nor the future heir
To sparkling gold or silver heaped on store;
There is no marble blushing on my floor
With thousand varied dies:—no gilded chair,
No cushions, carpets that by riches are
Brought from the Persian land, or Turkish shore;
There is no menial waiting at my door
Attentive to the knell: and all things rare,
Born in remotest regions, that shine in
And grace the rich-man's hall, are wanting here.
These are not things that by blind Fate have been
Allotted ever to the poor man's share:
These are not things, these eyes have ever seen,
Tho' their proud names have sounded in this ear!
But oh! I grieve not;—for the azure sky
With all its host of stars that brightly shine,
The green-robed earth with all her flow'rs divine,
The verdant vales and every mountain high,
Those beauteous meads that now do glittering lie
Clad in bright sun-shine,—all, oh! all are mine!
And much there is on which my ear and eye
Can feast luxurious!—why should I repine?
The furious Gale that howls and fiercely blows,
The gentler Breeze that sings with tranquil glee,
The silver Rill that gayly warbling flows,
And e'en the dark and ever-lasting Sea,
All, all these bring oblivion for my woes,
And all these have transcendent charms for me!Alan May:
You just heard Monica Mody read her poems “Glass House—Anthropocene” and “That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat.” She followed by reading two sonnets by Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Mody was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home on the Ohlone territory of Northern California. Monica Mody was born in Ranchi, India. She holds a PhD in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including Ordinary Annals, and two full-length books, Kala Pani, a cross-genre work, and Bright Parallel, which is forthcoming from Copper Coin. Her writing has won awards including the Sparks Prize Fellowship, the Zora Neale Hurston Award, and a Toto Award for Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Poetry International, Indian Quarterly, Almost Island, Dusie, and The Fabulist; as well as anthologies including Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing and The Penguin Book of Indian Poets.
Poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt was born in Bengal, India. He studied several languages and was well-versed in English and European literature. His literary practice started in English, and he returned later to Bengali. In eighteen sixty-one, Dutt published Meghnadbadh-Kabya, an epic poem that is perhaps his most famous work. Between eighteen fifty-eight and eighteen seventy-four, Dutt penned at least nine plays, including three translations. He is known for his experimentation with verse forms, introducing blank verse in Bengali literature and the sonnet in Bengali—through a reconstruction of both Petrarchan and Shakespearean forms. You can find Monica Mody’s book Kala Pani in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.