Black Notes on Genre for My Beloved

Rukmini Bhaya Nair

I POETRYPull down the crows from the skyPiya, summer’s blood is barely dryWhat is a poem if it cannot tryTo call you a ****ing ***** or dieWhispering in your arms, this lieWhen Kabira met Keats, he said:Our poems make canopies overhead                                                                                AlwaysOr, beloved, if I told youWe are wordsAnd the spaces between usMake poetryWould you not sayPiya, why the fuss?We knew it was thus                                                Always                                                                                sun’s                                                                                amber                                                                                squirt                                                                                or                                                                                piss’s                                                                                intricate                                                                                stains                                                                                on                                                                                indian                                                                                walls                                                                                voice’s                                                                                uncertain                                                                                trickle                                                                                down                                                                                page’s                                                                                length                                                                                small                                                                                syllables                                                                                entombed                                                                                in                                                                                marble                                                                                vastness                                                                                kisses                                                                                    kismet                                                                                some                                                                                call                                                                                this                                                                                poetry Others declare it’s a fact! Check it out on Google or Wiki or just about anywhere.India is the only country in the whole wide world with an ocean named after itWhere cunning gods tricked flatfoot demons into parting with sublunary nectarPlaced in mythic textual jars no human hands could ever touch and lightningStruck dead in the water lovelorn whales keening in decibels no biped ear mightFathom and red coral crumbled to depths in which no ship anchored and grainyInfinities of sand queried: what’s any poem but this endless curving water body?                                                                                                                                                     Always Okay, all right, I think I get itBut, Piya, this universal shitKaavya, dhvani, and infinite woeThis my clownish, doggerel showIt is not poetry, nor IndianAnd I cannot call it EnglishExcept the crows insist it is, it is                                                             Always, the cawing Poetry does not sell!Which may be just as wellNo bourgeois form, thisShaped like a kissAt the world’s dawnWas a tulip poem bornMaybe it was the dawn                                                         Always When that first turtleSpace-time loadedOn its crenellated backLimped gamely ashoreA love poem took shapeOut of thin air and lackAnd that, Piya, was that                                                     AlwaysII PROSEPull down the crows from the sky, Piya!Long before those roads divergedThey cawed above the yellow woods:Syntax is wing and body! SurgeOf air pushing a weight of wordsHad we no prose, Piya, we could not ask why!                                                                                 Why, Piya, why?III EPICOf the epic, we demand feats great godsCannot perform but men easily accomplish.When the Ramayana went to Bali, the godsMounted stilts, casting huge shadows on dimWalls, and the crows crashed from the sky                                                                                     That was history, PiyaIV TRAGEDY Everything happens offstageClytemnestra’s scream, Draupadi’s rageCatharsis rehearsing softly in the wingsThen the crow-garbed chorus troops in and sings                                                                                     Fate, Piya, is a funny thingV COMEDY Beloved, if I told you how the rangeela womenOf  Barsana curse and beat their cowering menAt Lathmar Holi, would you ever stop laughing then?                                                                                         Even the crows, Piya, cheer! VI NOVEL 1864: the first Indian novel in English, Rajmohan’s WifeBlack and white make gray: the long, postcolonial twilight                                                                                             Crows are early birds, Piya VII TWEET Twitter 2006: in this electrifying handholding, our new, pterodactyl longings 
& language in its 6-inch grave unmaking president & slave                                                                                             Characters reveal character, my sweet

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Rukmini Bhaya Nair is Professor Emerita of Linguistics at IIT Delhi. She received her Ph.D. from Cambridge University and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Antwerp for her contributions to narrative theory.  Nair has taught at universities ranging from Singapore to Stanford.  Her first — and only — novel Mad Girls Love Song was listed for the DSC Prize. Apart from her several academic books and articles, Nair has published three volumes of poetry with Penguin. A fourth volume, Shataka 26/11 (Speaking Tiger Press) is appearing in 2020. The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry writes: “her work is widely admired by other poets and critics for its postmodern approach to lyrical meaning and feminine identity.” Nair says she does research in linguistics for the same reason that she writes poetry — to discover the limits and possibilities of language.

July/August 2019

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Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.

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