Friday, May 12, 2017

The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel

Jeffrey McDaniel is a heartbreak, wisecrack poet, and his poems contain a potpourri of metaphors that astound, amuse, hurt, and linger in your imagination. Though there is often a subtext of dysfunctional family, unrequited or unsavory love, crack or alcohol addiction, in nearly every line Jeffrey invents a language for human condition that is scintillating in its originality and imagery. Do not attempt to read these if you are a prude, do not attempt to recite these if your lips have never been silted by tears or blood. In poem after poem, Jeffrey stuns you with his metaphors, and his wordplay brings to page a gorgeous imagination that thrives in the surreal landscapes of "The Utopia of Scars" co-inhabited by desolation and hope. I find his poems intoxicating, and as I sip his punchy phrases, I feel I am at a cocktail tasting, as a special guest of a bartender renowned for discovering savory concoctions, made with unexpected ingredients.

In "Renovating the Wall", he writes: "I enjoyed my time in the uterus, reading / what the previous fetuses had written / on your walls. That's how I learned / to spell. That's how I came out speaking."

In a poem titled "Dear America", Jeffrey talks about addiction: ... In college I took so many drugs / the professors looked at the samples of my urine / just to know what books I'd been reading./"

Jeffrey has a remarkable ear and eye for curious word combinations that are charming, endearing and apt.  "The Scars of Utopia", he says: "... There should be Band Aids // for what you don't know: whiskey breath minds so sober people // can fit in at wild parties; a Smithsonian for misfits: / an insomniac's mucky pillow hanging over a naroleptic's // drool cup, ..."

The collection is as spectacular as his poet titled "The Jeffrey McDaniel Show". "The Archer of Gluttony" or "Old Flame Thrower" enthralls us with sounds and images so crisp and finely crafted that you delight even at phrases that are highlighting desperation or melancholy. The poems showcase the skill of one of the finest metaphor makers of our times, and yet the poems are very readable, very likeable.

The seemingly autobiographical or persona poems are full of razor-sharp observations and unforgettable sentences: "...your tongue,/ ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts". Or in a poem about Grandma, he says: "I press my ears to her lampshade-thin chest / and listen to that little soldier march towards whatever / plateau, or simply exhaust his arsenal of beats." I highly recommend this collection by Jeffrey McDaniel and also recommend all his other books. Like me, you will discover that within the poems abides a sensitive, compassionate, witty, sympathetic and remarkable, self-effacing voice that must be celebrated word by word, line by line.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Middle-class Traditions Featuring Lemon Tree Leaves

- for Stephen Dobyns and Dean Parkins

Adolescent cousins sneak out, smoke
cigars, hukkahs, cigarettes, beedis,
opium sometimes, chillum fumes.
Cousins chew lemon leaves before
returning home. Explain why my uncles,
aunts, (their parents), cousins, neighbors,
never smell a lemon? Why not count
how many leaves vanish each night?

Cousins inherit the trick,
but fathers ignore the nostalgic lemon.
Mothers go on washing kurtas / shirts,
give head massages, hugs and career
advice. Mothers descry each drab stain
but fail as spies in a smoker's domain.
Is it maternal instinct to nurture
ignorance of chewed leaves?

Middle-aged uncles sneak out to savor
scotch, dancing women, rum quaffs,
sacrilegious ham or beef kebabs.
Though their lemons control
their households, the habit
plucks a leaf or two.
Rich don't care, poor brawl,
middle-class avoids confrontation
by swallowing bitter leaves of lemon.

To ward off evil-eye, grandmas
string lemon-chilli necklaces
for cars and all entrances.
Aunts treasure lemon trees,
they occasionally worship.
Lemons – spice up their dishes,
scare away unwelcome spirits,
and add flavor to their kisses.

My dead grandpa's friends
resent guilt and thrills of their young.
I imagine them unzip trousers,
loosen pajama strings with flourish
and tremble with a sly joy as they spray
golden, odorous drops, offered as ablutions
to the life's deceits and to all lemon leaves
that their spiraling, musty jets can reach.


First published in Muse India, 2016

Monday, January 02, 2017

Advice from Saraswati and the Muses

Write what is wrung from your tongue
a blistering song, a howl from your lung,
strum every veena vein muscle string
of your throat and your thumb.

Write with a bite that goes below, to the bone,
to marrow and to moan, to the seed of a seed.
Write to merit a sigh, a smile or a sob
from a granite idol or a brass snob.

Embrace the past, encompass eternal, vast
feelings. Empower -- under the thumb, mum,
conquered -- with hymns. Leave no crumb
unversed. Croon with aplomb.

Invoke immortal ideas, idols, ideals, idioms.
The wise mine for poems in realms forgotten
or uncharted. Seek, master the unknown,
the before and the after of Allah, Yesu, Om.

To celebrate and sing of the light like a skylark,
begin in the dark. Curate a spark within, burn,
transcend the limits of the Brahma and a quark.
Publish. Deserve immortal art.


First published in Muse India, 2016.
Saraswati: The Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, Speech and Music.
(My new year resolution for 2017: publish, publish, publish -- mostly science, also poetry)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Books Read in 2017

Read in 2017 (60 = 40 + 20; NF 13) 
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (12): Silence by Shushako Endo [Translated from the Japanese by William Johnston], Rudin by Ivan Turgenev [Translated from the Russian by Richard Freeborn], The Monkey's Wrench by Primo Levi [Translated from the Italian by William Weaver], The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann [Translated from the German], By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano [Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews], Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbagh [Translated from the Kannanda], The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano [Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer], Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima [Translated from the Japanese by Michael Gallager], The Swimmer by Zsuzsa Banks [Translated by Margaret B. Dembo], The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati [Translated from Italian], A Night in the Cemetery and other Stories of Crime and Suspense by Anton Chekov [Translated from Russian by Peter Sekerin], Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz [Translated from Arabic by]

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (14): The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie, The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, A Painter of Our Time  by John Berger, Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, The Confidence Man by Herman Melville, Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, (Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand), Angels  by Denis Johnson, Love, Again by Doris Lessing, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities on the Plain by Cormac McCarthy

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (5): The Poetry of Zen  [Translated from the Japanese and the Chinese by Sam Hill and J. P. Seaton], Issa's Best: a Translator's Selection of Master Haiku by Kobayashi Issa [Translated from the Japanese by David G. Lanoue], The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets [Translated from the Japanese and the Chinese by Sam Hill] , The World's End by Pablo Neruda [Translated from the Spanish], Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta by Pablo Neruda [Translated from the Spanish by Ben Belitt]

POETRY IN ENGLISH (15): Sweet Ruin by Tony Hoagland, Station Island by Seamus Heaney, The Long Meadow by Vijay Seshadri,  A Street of Clocks by Thomas Lux, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth Poems 2004:2006  by Adrienne Rich, The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel, Winter's Journey by Stephen Dobyns, Evenings and Avenues by Stuart Dischell, The Forgiveness Parade by Jeffrey McDanielAs I Walked Out One Evening by W. H. Auden,  Backward Days by Stuart Dischell, Letters from Aldenderry by Philip Nikolayev, The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolano, To Urania by Joseph Brodsky, Selected Poems: 1988-2003 by Seamus Heaney,


POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (3): Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers, Flow and Branches by Philip Ball,
NON-FICTION - OTHER (10): Ways of Seeing by John Berger, The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young, A Writer's Nightmare by R. K. Narayan, The Uncertain Certainty by Charles Simic, Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately, (Twenty Poems that Could Save America and Other Essays by Tony Hoagland), The Miles Between Me by Toni Nealie, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Micheal Pollan,

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 1 + Poetry: 0 + Non-fiction: 0)Bhasmavrit Chingari by Yashpal,

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 0): 

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2016, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Best among the books read in 2017
(1)  The Savage Detectives
(2) Gachar Gochar 
(3) To Urania
(4) Drink
(5) Cairo Modern
(6) The Splinter Factory
(7) The Magic Mountain
(8) The Swimmer
(9) The Miles Between Me
(10) A Street of Clocks