Thursday, July 16, 2015

Versedays: Sydney and the Bush

Missed Versedays last week. So easy to get caught up with life and forget these little pleasures. So I spent some more time this week searching for good poetry and stumbled upon the genre of Australian bush poetry. Stemming from oral traditions in the vast Australian bushland, this genre gained prominence with the advent of colonisation. Highlighting the origins of the Australian people and importance of the bushland in this aspect, bush poetry today is recognised officially and even boasts of the Australian Bush Poets Association.

For today's poem, I chose "Sydney and the Bush" by one of the most acclaimed bush poets, Les Murray. In my limited understanding, the poem addresses the effects of colonisation and the subsequent loss of character of the nation. I found a really nice reading of the poem by Renee and thought that would be more helpful to you in understanding the poem better. Enjoy reading!

Sydney And The Bush

by Les Murray

When Sydney and the Bush first met
there was no open ground
and men and girls, in chains and not,
all made an urgent sound.

Then convicts bled and warders bred,
the Bush went back and back,
the men of Fire and of Earth
became White men and Black.

When Sydney ordered lavish books
and warmed her feet with coal
the Bush came skylarking to town
and gave poor folk a soul.

Then bushmen sank and factories rose
and warders set the tone —
the Bush in quarter-acre blocks
helped families hold their own.

When Sydney and the Bush meet now
there is antipathy
and fashionable suburbs float
at night, far out to sea.

When Sydney rules without the Bush
she is a warders' shop
with heavy dancing overhead
the music will not stop

and when the drummers want a laugh
Australians are sent up.
When Sydney and the Bush meet now
there is no common ground.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman: Denis Theriault

Image courtesy: Hesperus Press

I picked up “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman” by Denis Theriault based on the recommendation of a friend. I am glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bilodo the postman’s story. 

Theriault’s tale reminds me of some of the fantastical Russian short stories like Gogol’s “The Nose.” Realism and poetry mixed with a dash of the imaginary. It begins innocently enough, with Bilodo delivering mail and leading quite the ordinary life. He has a routine – deliver post, eat lunch at the Madelinot, deliver post, go home, watch TV and eat dinner. But afterwards was what Bilodo really looked forward to. Indulging in his “secret vice.” Reading other people’s letters. 

Bilodo’s life was enriched by following the stories that flew back and forth in these letters. There were “… letters from beer tasters comparing notes, from globetrotters writing to their mothers…overly reassuring letters servicemen dispatched from Afghanistan to their anxious wives…”

But it was the love letters that caught his fancy in particular. He even made a photocopy for his records and would keep them to reread over and over. It was one such letter that turned Bilodo’s life upside down.

Bilodo is instantly fascinated by Segolene’s intelligent haikus addressed to Grandpre, a poet.  And then one day Grandpre dies in a terrible accident. Segolene sends him letter after letter enquiring about the long silence. That’s when Bilodo decides to take matters into his own hands. He impersonates Grandpre and begins a long correspondence with Segolene, which takes him to the world of haikus, Japan and calligraphy. 

I absolutely loved the luminous and needless to say, poetic nature, of this book. Magical realism combined with the seductive fragrance of a romance that increasingly becomes more passionate keeps you turning pages. And the haikus. Some of them were simply brilliant. Segolene’s have a lush and luscious quality to them while Bilodo’s are more straightforward with a clear thought. Here are a couple of my favourites:

A hammering in the streets
Shutters are nailed down
The cyclone draws near

Nighttime out at sea
The shark yawns indolently,
Munches a moonfish

You can almost smell the rain in the first one and you can hear the waves in the sea in the second one. Even the prose is as evocative. 

“Still the cursed loop. The serpent bit its tail. Time cannibalized itself.”

I particularly liked the way Theriault’s shows Bilodo’s transformation. He comes alive, slipping completely into Grandpre’s skin, and immersing himself in Japan and poetry. It’s interesting to see how on one hand he gains control of haikus and loses control over himself on the other. As he grows closer to Segolene he goes farther away from reality.  

Theriault’s words are like dancing lights skimming the page. They glide over you and you can’t stop turning till you reach the last page. I generally don’t wax poetic in reviews but this one deserves it. Playful, masterful, emotional and with just a hint of the lugubrious, this is a beautiful, little novelette to be savoured. 

Verdict: One for the collection

Rating: 4.8/5

Friday, July 10, 2015

Salted Biscuits: Jasper Daniel

For the longest time, I had put off reading this book because of time constraints. When I finally began reading it, I didn’t realize the time pass. Combining humor and dark thoughts through vignette like short stories, poetry, and illustrations, “Salted Biscuits” by Jasper Daniel is a mixed bag of thoughts. 

There is a strong personal flavor in the book in terms of religion, relationships and experiences. Some of the short stories reminded me of haikus. The depiction of a scene or a moment in vivid words that remains with you for a while even after you finish reading. Like “The Timekeeper.” This is a short narration of a man who timed the number of times his wife had to feed their baby by winding a clock on a table in their home. Although barely a page long, the story is chillingly effective. 

“Traces” is another example of a prosaic haiku, which projects strong imagery through a few words. 

“The forensic experts came this morning with their dusters, blades and little poly bags. Thy searched what was left of his heart, and found traces of sympathy carelessly scattered around its chambers, by the sweet maid who made his bed every morning.”

How evocative. To think of people coming with dusters to clean away pieces of a broken heart.

I liked “Summer” as well. It reminded me of my own summers spent in the sun, enjoying the dirt and grime associated with it. 

“Television was for older people. We watched flat stones skip on water and counted how many times they hopped.” 

Indeed. Television used to be for older people while, we, children used to play with sticks and stones. I too “think of Summer when she was a friend.”

One of my favourite “haikus” from this collection has to be “My Direction.” Punning on his wife Disha’s name, Jasper says, 

“I asked God
To show me the direction.
He got me married to one.”

There were, of course, parts that I didn’t understand or completely comprehend. I am sure a second reading might be beneficial to achieve a different perspective. 

I am keeping this review short and sweet, just like Jasper Daniel’s small, little slices of life. Thanks to Disha for sending us this book for review!

Verdict: Read this for a break from the ordinary

Rating: 3.7/5

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Versedays: Make the Ordinary Come Alive

I was browsing the net looking for something inspired me to write a blog post for a content writing project am working on. Something extraordinary, something different that would trigger those thoughts and get the pen flowing. How ironic then that I should come across this poem called "Make the Ordinary Come Alive," by William Martin. A modern reinterpretation of some aspects of the ancient classic the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Martin addresses parenthood through verse.

The reason I selected this particular poem is because I felt everyone, not just children, can try to follow what the author has said. There is no great philosophy. The thoughts are what we have all thought a million times. But he puts it in a beautiful manner that made me read it a few times. Hope all of you enjoy it as much as I did!

Make the Ordinary Come Alive
William Martin

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Versedays: Summer Rain by Amy Lowell

 The rains are a constant presence in South India. Sometimes I feel there is no season for them. It can rain anytime. I love watching the rain pouring down, as many of us I suppose, creating muddy little rivulets on the road, and making the leaves look fresh and green.

And that's how I thought this week's poem should be Amy Lowell's "Summer Rain," to denote the rain that occurs at the edge of summer. Lowell was an American poet who posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems named "What's O'Clock." She was highly influenced by the Imagist movement, which is evident in today's poem, in its vivid imagery making the scene come alive. Lowell's lifelong relationship with actress Ada Dwyer Russell has been the primary subject of discussion in most articles on her, with Russell being described as friend and lover alternatively. Whatever it was, biographer Richard Benvenuto has pointed out that Lowell's "great creative output between 1914 and 1925 would not have been possible without her friend's steadying, supporting presence."

Hope you enjoy reading today's poem!

Summer Rain


Amy Lowell

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-coloured
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Movie Review: Evil

Image Credit: IMDB

I discovered two things tonight. One, that Evil or Ondskan is one of the best movies ever made. And two, that Andreas Wilson, who plays Erik in Evil is also one of the most good-looking men ever made. This movie was on my wishlist for a while, but it took today for me to watch it. I think I was partly petrified because I thought it might turn out to be some kind of gory horror flick on the nature of evil, but nothing could be further from the truth while being close to it.

Image : IMDB
Evil is horror. The horror of depravity that human beings can sink to. But at it's heart, and here I go, becoming cliched again, is a story of redemption and courage. Add that gooey Andreas Wilson to that mix, this makes a wonderful and compelling movie indeed. We see at the beginning of the movie that Erik is expelled from his school for fighting. He has a tempestuous relationship with his stepfather who canes him for the smallest altercations. His mother sells some of her family heirlooms to give Erik one last chance to graduate from a prestigious boarding school. It's Erik's brooding presence that captivates you from the beginning. At Stjärnsberg, Erik decides that there is too much stake and resolves to not pick a fight and get himself expelled. But he is immediately picked on by the seniors. At the school, there is a system of kamratuppfostran" ("schoolmate upbringing"). It's supposed to keep the school orderly, but Erik will follow rules, but not succumb to humiliation. It's here that the drama of the movie reaches its highest point. It's a cat and mouse game where the two members of the school council, Otto Silverhielm and Gustaf Dahlén push Erik to the limit, and you can only watch in frustration as Erik refuses. You know that the thread is going to break, and you watch the movie sitting on the edge of your seat as it becomes taut, then frail, and, I won't tell you.

To me, the rest of the movie is not about fighting back. It's not about knowing that the fight lies in not fighting. It's not about the friendship between Erik and Pierre. It's not the slow blossom love between Erik and the nurse Marja (forbidden at the school). But the movie was just an exploration on the nature of the human psyche. Why was I waiting for Erik to lash out? To turn on his perpetrators? Who is truly evil? Was it Erik? He is shown earlier in the movie violently beating a boy. Is it his step father? Or is evil the bullies at the school? Or is it you? Because you are waiting for the thread to snap? Compelling drama such as this, I believe, deserves more than a 68% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Watch this movie. I would do so again.

Lifeometer: Ooooh la la. Just movie watching heaven. Even if I sound like a teenager in saying so.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Movie Review: Stand By Me

There is something about movies made decades ago, isn't there? Stand By Me reminds me of that old song by Ben E King, and the many versions that followed that all-time classic.
Stand By Me has just the right nuances of friendship, a journey, and life lessons to make you watch it with a feeling of nostalgia. The movie is based on the story "The Body" in Stephen King's 1982 collection, Different Seasons. There are no screaming guns. Just a bunch of kids as they take their own little road trip of a lifetime, in the process uncovering some truths about themselves, and the meaning of friendship. Narrated by Gordie (Will Wheaton) after the death of a friend, he talks of how he and his 3 other friends who at the age of 12 go in search of the dead body of a boy presumed missing. That makes you think the story has a dark or sinister element to it. But it is not. The boys, Gordie, Vern, Chris, and Teddy come from a little town called Castle Rock. Each of them have a troubled family life. Gordie and Chris share a closer bond in the movie. Lying to their parents, they set off on a day long hike into the woods to discover the Brower kid's body. All four of them have easily identifiable personalities. Gordie is the serious writer with an air of melancholy about him. Vern is the 'fat' one who is always the target of their jokes. Teddy has an ear burned off by his father, who the town says is in the 'loony bin,' and Chris is the one who you would want as a friend - the one who stands by you. Always. And believes in you. 

As they make their way through the woods, they learn that danger lurks on the tracks. They evade trains that come screaming through them - and always, someone is there to help the other out of a potentially life-threatening situation. To me, these are the precious little episodes that mean the most to me. It might seem like a series of capers from boys who should know better. But each scene in this movie is rich with nuanced meaning. Rich with messages. And possibilities and discovery. From fighting off leeches to angry men with dogs, they stick together. Yes, that does sound cheesy. But what's wrong with cheese? It's not unrealistic. It's just a little snapshot of life. Maybe not as we know it, but no one said movies have to stay true to what we go through.

Lifeometer: Up, up, and away.

You can buy the DVD at Stand by Me

Sunday, May 31, 2015

In The Mood For Love

The rain outside. Thunder. Sparkles of rain you can hear. And as you watch on the screen, Maggie Cheung's evocative face dissolves into a hundred emotions. In The Mood For Love is a masterpiece. It's in the list of Empire Online's greatest 100 movies ever.

I started watching this movie on Saturday. It wasn't raining then. And I finished watching it now, on a Sunday. Stretching to a little more than 2 hours, the movie feels like 4 hours. I don't watch run-of-the-mill movies. I watch a lot of movies that may be called 'art-house' or offbeat or non-mainstream or whatever it may be called. I have come across a lot of beautiful movies because of this openness. I was fascinated by In The Mood For Love because it had an Asian and more so, a Chinese connection. But just like Amour, this will be one of those movies that is rendered beautifully on screen, capturing all the nuances of emotions in an understated and subtle way. But it is a movie that will put me to sleep.

Here's what IMDB describes:

Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

The key thing here *spoiler alert* is that they suspect their spouses of having an affair with each other. Drawn by this strange bond, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) form a platonic friendship that belies the strong tension and intimacy between them. While that tension is beautifully captured, their spouses are never portrayed. Only their voices. Their noisy and nosy neighbors form the only lively part of the movie. 

So what happens? Leung and Cheung exchange glances. Have dinners in restaurants. Stand next to each other in pouring rain. Pass each other by on their way to buy noodles. And Cheung helps Leung to write a series on manga. 

We watch them feel. And I feel for them. Feel for watching such excruciating beauty in such slowness. Mistake me not. The film is beautiful and I know and understand that not all movies have to be fast. But this made me sleep. Sophoric. And may be that's just me. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for love. You can watch the full movie here or buy the CD.


Verdict: One of the masterpieces of world cinema. This was sadly not for me. 

Rating: 3/5