Letters from California #1 | Sophia Naz

Photo : Divya Adusumilli

I've seen the future, baby: 
it is murder 

Leonard Cohen, Sept 21, 1934 - Nov 7, 2016

In the early hours of November 9, 2016 the unthinkable happened. A man who had built his political career on a racist lie disparaging the first African American President of America was himself elected to the highest office in the land. In his run for the White House Trump broke every rule in the Presidential campaign playbook, he insulted minorities, women,  the Muslim immigrant family of a decorated war hero, a disabled reporter, the list goes on and on. Even the leaked video in which he boasted  about sexually assaulting any woman he chose with impunity did little to dent his momentum. Since the election much ink has been spilled on how this travesty could possibly happen, and yes, a large part was played by Russian hacking of the election , the growth of “alt-right” aka white supremacist media, along with the progressive vote being siphoned off to third party candidates post Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination but the bald fact remains that Donald Trump won by blaming the economic troubles of blue collar white voters on non-white immigrants successfully stirring up a toxic brew of racism and xenophobia. For me, this outcome was particularly disturbing  because like countless others, when I received political asylum in America it came with the promise of a country that  would not discriminate  on the basis of ethnicity religion or any of the markers that plagued the country of my birth. I come from lands that know all too well the  horrors that are unleashed by demonising an imagined “other”.

In the aftermath of the election, I was reminded of Brecht. In his Svendborg Poems, written in exile in Denmark in the 1930s, Brecht wrote: ‘In the dark times/Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing/About the dark times.’ His life was shaped by these dark times, as ours will no doubt be, in these years to come. It is in times of trauma that poetry becomes indispensable to our lives because nothing else can gauge the barometer of our horror, or distill the stubbornness of our resistance:

Diane Di Prima,  Revolutionary Letter  #7

what will win
is mantras, the sustenance we give each other,
the energy we plug into
(the fact that we touch
share food)
the buddha nature
of everyone, friend and foe, like a million earthworms
tunneling under this structure
till it falls

Here in California, the election  results could not have been more starkly different. Californians not only voted for Clinton by a record margin, but they also approved a raft of progressive measures, that included the legalization of recreational marijuana, easing parole for nonviolent criminals, raising taxes on cigarettes, extending income-tax increases on the wealthiest few, increase in school spending, restoring bilingual education and banning single-use plastic bags. Californians made Kamala Harris the first Indian-American (and second African-American woman) to be elected a United States senator, and reaffirmed overwhelming Democratic majorities in state politics. With Clinton’s popular vote lead surpassing 2 million, there are secessionist  rumblings that could gather steam if Trump’s threats to withdraw federal funds for so-called “sanctuary cities” such as San Francisco and Los Angeles which do not  expel undocumented immigrants. In general the mood here is one of anger and disbelief, summed up perfectly in Michael McClure’s poem from his compilation Huge Dreams, San Francisco and Beat Poems written in 1961 but eerily prophetic in its tone:

The part left smolders.

Indeed  San Francisco and the “Left Coast” is no stranger to poetry that stands against the status quo. In fact one could argue that it is its very crucible, that the Beats came here because there was already a movement, both poetic and political already underway with the help of older poets like Kenneth Rexroth and Jack Spicer.  Spicer was one of the founders of the Six Gallery, site of the 1955 reading with Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. This was the first important public manifestation of the Beat Generation, as McClure recalls in the documentary, Rebel Roar:

“The East Coast Beats really reached a watershed moment when the Six Gallery reading took place, in particular Kerouac. ( who was in the audience)  It was after the Six Gallery reading that he was able to write Dharma Bums and Big Sur. In all our memories no one had been so outspoken in poetry before. We had gone beyond a point of no return--and we were ready for it, for a point of no return. None of us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the intellectual void--to the land without poetry--to the spiritual drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the process of it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision.”

I lift my voice aloud,
    make Mantra of American language now,
            I here declare the end of the War!
                Ancient days’ Illusion!—
        and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
    let the nation weep,
        let Congress legislate its own delight,
            let the President execute his own desire—
this Act done by my own voice,
                nameless Mystery—
published to my own senses,
        blissfully received by my own form
    approved with pleasure by my sensations
        manifestation of my very thought
        accomplished in my own imagination
            all realms within my consciousness fulfilled

Allen Ginsberg, Wichita Vortex Sutra #3

Post this apocalyptic election the hunger for voice and vision has grown fierce once more. Poetry has taken on an urgency not seen in recent years. Reactions to the election that resists Donald Trump and his ideology dominate Calls For Submissions at journals. The most poignant of these  calls was from DarkHouse Books: “If you are so inclined, maybe send us a Descanso ( roadside memorial marking a fatal accident )for America, and place it, like a pushpin on a calendar, on Election Day 2016”  An array of  poetry protests all across the state are ongoing. Typical  is this notice:  “Open mike at Union Square, San Francisco, Open to all genres, all arts, all people. If not in SF--send work, will read! NOT MY PRESIDENT!”

So, sweet seeker, just what America sought you anyway? Know
that today there are millions of Americans
seeking America. . .

Gregory Corso, Elegiac Feelings American

There is some consolation in the fact that in many ways the counter culture of the Beats has become the culture in California. It now remains to be seen whether the rest of America will catch up or go another way. The fate of our planet may well hang in the balance.

- Sophia Naz
Glen Ellen, California,
November 2016


Poems | Saurav Roy


Grand images
Cows and carts
And dug up roads

Dried up kunds
Locked in land
Coffers and coffins
And ghats

Burning and raging
Spitting pyres
Gold diggers avenged
Cracked skulls and embers
Worth million years

Seats of skins
And luggage
Of dead stinking rotting
Bleak remains of the once bleating
Thrown down at the thrown downs
Two dead men
Once knew themselves as living and now through the bent and crooked alleys
Looking for strength and sorrow at light poles and south of the spitting pyres along castles of burning wood and abandoned castles of time

Cows and dogs and drunk men pissing in silence
Into the salvation spot go streams of jizz

Cheese and Peanut Butter Toasties

Six pieces and six bodies
On red and gold and four
shoulders chanting and bidding

Through the houses and tea stalls
dead men through the stalls, caged, selling spurious concoctions
okayed by the residents and the dogs and crows

Dead men meeting other dead men
in a human traffic jam
narrow alleys, sweating men
and cold dead bodies on red and gold and four
while i gulp hot tea underground
watching wide eyed at
the clergy of Death

Going to Kashi!

Careful on the way
Grace be with you
There are thugs and thieves and pairs
Of golden swords and wretched sands

Three weeks of hustling
On corridors devoid of dust and flourishing away
From the vortex of a city we live in

Dreams and surreal wishes at tea stalls
Our only gifts – a bike a bag a bottle
And two dead men

Three Years

Against the Shining Sun
love notes and photos
folded legs and letters
with red ink of desire

Deferring dreams
daily lives

sticks and stones
silly little quips

Against the shining sun
While it lasts, laugh, Let go..


Poem | German Gallo (Translated by Kathryn Kopple)

Source : wikicommons

9 of October

There is a floor tile with seven black marks arranged in the form of a circle on Corrientes and Callao,
There’s a bookstore just in front with seventeen books by authors that begin with the letter C,
right here, right now,
there’s a guy with Che’s face tattooed on his shoulder and the word revolution written in cursive,
there’s a couple who are arguing out of jealousy - he says look if I go now you’ll be left alone and die of anguish, she remains quiet and looks at the small soda bottle on the table (they are seated at a bar next to the library),
there’s a green car with the window rolled down and the arm of a fatso with a black cigar,
there’s a music place and a CD of Lennon playing because it’s his birthday, it’s time that breaks while he says So keep on playing those mind games together,
there’s an old lady walking slowly dressed in two of your favorite colors and an umbrella in case it rains,
there’s a white and black sky and a sparrow half-hidden in the bough of a tree,
there’s a beautiful sea of cement and people without names,
there’s a street light that changes colors at this very moment, a taxi that breaks hard, an office worker in a white thong tying her shoelaces careful her skirt won’t ride up,
there’s a little boy with a dirty face laughing with his sister,
there’s the slapping of newspapers from cheap whores,
there are four tall policemen walking together and the fifth who is short and carries his hat in his hand,
there’s the billboard of a cinema announcing a series of French films,
there’s a juggler with three orange pins and puffy pants that change color depending on the light, there are the pins spinning by themselves in the air, there is one that gets wet because it begins to rain,
there’s the juggler laughing when they slip from his hands,
there’s the little old lady opening her umbrella, thinking - I had a point when I said she would take it all when she left,
there’s, right now, rain that repeats itself the way people do,
there’s a woman on her way to cry to her psychiatrist- I told you, shouting, into her cell  phone,
there’s the fear of missing the tram and getting wet and arriving home late,
there’s a forty-inch television that plays the same rain on a soccer field,
there’s a black dog that hides under a roof and tries to dry himself,
there’s a big clock at ten past five visible seventy seven-and-a-half meters of concrete away,
where one reads a sonnet by Baldomero Fernandez Moreno,
there are headlights from the vehicles reflected in the asphalt,
there are three friends who race to the corner,
there’s a contradictory festival of mirrors and singularities,
there’s a garbage can from which a chocolate wrapper hangs off the rim,
there is a couple kissing in front of a lamppost,
there are four going down the subway entrance,
there are thirty three cars crossing the street,
two bicycles,
four marks arranged in the form of a rhombus on a floor tile at Nueve de Julio and Saenz Peña  and a piece of mint gum stuck in the middle,

there’s a guy who thinks that
his loneliness
magnifies the details of the city.

9 de octubre

Hay una baldosa con siete manchas negras dispuestas en forma de círculo en Corrientes y Callao,
hay una librería justo enfrente con diecisiete libros de autores que empiezan con la letra C,
ahora, en este momento,
hay un tipo con la cara del Che tatuada en el hombro y la palabra revolución escrita en cursiva,
hay una pareja de novios que están discutiendo por celos -el le dice mirá que me voy ahora, te dejo sola y te morís de angustia, ella se queda callada y mira el vasito de soda que hay en la mesa (están sentados en un bar al lado de la librería),
hay un auto verde con la ventanilla baja y el brazo de un gordo sosteniendo un cigarrillo negro,
hay un local de música y un CD de Lennon sonando porque hoy cumpliría años, hay el tiempo que se rompe mientras él dice So keep on playing those mind games together,
hay una vieja caminando despacio vestida con dos de tus colores favoritos y un paraguas por si llega a llover,
hay un cielo blanco y oscuro y un gorrión medio perdido en la rama de un árbol,
hay un mar hermoso de cemento y gente sin nombre,
hay un semáforo que cambia de color en este instante, un taxi que frena fuerte, una oficinista de tanga blanca atándose los cordones con cuidado de que no se le suba la pollera,
hay un nene sucio que se ríe con su hermana,
hay un chasquido de papeles con putas baratas,
hay cuatro policías altos caminando juntos y un quinto que es bajito y lleva el gorro en la mano,
hay la cartelera de un cine presentando un ciclo de arte francés,
hay un malabarista con tres clavijas naranjas y pantalones abultados que cambian de color según la luz, hay las clavijas girando solas en el aire, hay una que se moja porque empieza a llover,
hay el malabarista riéndose cuando se le resbalan de la mano,
hay la viejita abriendo el paraguas, pensando yo tenía razón cuando dije que se iba a largar con todo,
hay, ahora, una lluvia que se repite como la gente,
hay una mujer que está yendo a llorar con su psicoanalista -lo dice, gritando, a su celular-,
hay el miedo de perder el bondi y empaparse y llegar tarde a casa
hay un televisor de cuarenta pulgadas que muestra la misma lluvia en una cancha de fútbol,
hay un perro negro que se esconde abajo de un techo y se sacude como puede,
hay las cinco y diez de la tarde en un reloj grande frente a sesenta y siete metros y medio de hormigón donde se lee un soneto de Baldomero Fernández Moreno,
hay las luces de los autos reflejadas en el asfalto,
hay tres amigos que juegan una carrera hasta la esquina,
hay un festival contradictorio de espejos y singularidades,
hay un tacho de basura que en el borde tiene colgando el envoltorio dorado de un chocolate,
hay dos besándose contra un poste de luz,
hay cuatro bajando por la boca del subte,
hay treinta y tres autos atravesando la calle,
dos bicicletas,
cuatro manchas dispuestas en forma de rombo en una baldosa de Nueve de Julio y Saenz Peña y un chicle de menta pegado en el centro,

hay un tipo que piensa que
su soledad
agranda los detalles de la ciudad.


* Gallo is a young poet from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Poems | Nivedita N

Photo : Gb

The bonfire 

Chintu's father died the night he turned thirteen.
He couldn't cry; he was too naive for that.

His mother kicked him out of her troubles
with her cracked heels, yet, they spent
a miserable life together.

She bought him fancy t-shirts from Shoppers Stop
but re-stitched her old salwars;
His teenage was spent on the steps
of our apartment's corridors, crying his heart out,
listing troubles that were partly true.

He loved his mother in an unusual way.
He never massaged that back that carried
a bag pack of problems or rubbed her weary feet
that were tired of walking alone, but he blew away
his first salary on an expensive spa.
She was too happy to be annoyed.

The friction in their relation never died;
though it produced bags of heat.
At twenty four, when his mother died, Chintu tied them up
and sat beside this bonfire of memories.

JM Barrie to Sylvie:

Your hands as smooth as cotton candy;
warm as a freshly-baked cookie.
I touch your index finger
with the edge of my thumb--
Spools of thread wrap your
finger nails.

I let go when you pick your
needle to stitch
another navy blue sky
with tiny sleeves for the stars

Sun rays that seek refuge
 in your cheeks, slowly settle there;
as you break the white thread
between your tea-stained teeth,
the reflection of Peter flying out his bedroom
catches my eye.
I leave the cane chair to chase him.

When I return, I look at the sky
and my eyes blossom gaping at
the needle work you have perfected.


Prose | Andy Clausen

Book Excerpt 
(From Andy Clausen's forthcoming book 'The Latter Days Of The Beat Generation, A First Hand Account'.)
Artwork by Divya Adusumilli 

Gregory could be merciless with other poets.

H. D. Moe, David Moe, was a poetry activist, running readings, popping up all over California, delivering his “neo-constructivist” verse.

He had a book called Plug in the Electric Dictionary. It seemed to me to be random imagery, unfamiliar syntax, and concept leaping. Many critics and Moe fans saw genius in the subconscious unconscious hyperconscious odd and rare juxtapositions, the spontaneity of it, an avant-garde argonaut heard in the interior subtext seeds of a hypercontexted lexicon, poetry of the highest order.
In the seventies he had a newspaper called Love Lights. He’d sell it in the newspaper coin machines next to the SF Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, Bay Guardian, East Bay Express, Penny Saver, and the omnipresent porno, hot date, newsprint periodicals the Internet has largely replaced.

Well, Love Lights always had nudity and sexuality on the cover. Folded in half through the news box window one could see only the nakedness and the Love Lights masthead. In the lower unseen half, maybe a TV set or toaster would cover the genitals. The bottom half informed one—lo and behold—inside it was all boho Bay Area poetry and illustrations. He’d sell maybe four thousand an issue. A lot of paper racks sustained damage.

Moe was a personable, often charming fellow exuding sincerity. He carried a toothbrush in his breast pocket like it was a pen or nosegay. It reminded me of the Berkeley rock music writer J. Poet, who for months had a rubber pacifier around his neck on a string, sucking on it if he wasn’t eating or speaking. I think it was some kind of therapy.

I decided to obtain a trademark accessory, so I clipped one of those little round makeup mirrors on a front belt loop. It would send little bolts and sheets of light about a room, it bounced sunbeams and neon, and some folks even squatted low or knelt to see their reflections.

In the late eighties, in the cities, I carried a ball peen in a wire holster. Accessories might as well have practical purpose, never know when you might need a hammer. Anyway, Moe carried a toothbrush.
One evening a group of us, Corso included, headed for a gala event; I’m pretty sure Allen was reading. We were warming up. I believe Gregory’s confidant and translator George Scrivani was there, eight or nine of us, in a well-appointed apartment near Civic Center with real plaster walls, well done ogees, oak floor, large paisley pillows, sturdy wooden chairs and plush sink-in couches, and a chesterfield from the days of the Maltese Falcon. Out the cracked for air kitchen window one could hear the big bassoon boats and oboe tugs, big notes expanding, shaking the potato fog as Karl Malden’s 400-horse interceptor engine roars hopping an asphalt mogul and the eye poultice crisp blue drinkability of the Hamm’s Beer sign, hear the tom-toms, “from the land of sky blue waters, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s Beer,” and the Chinese sounds like Mozart midst Slavic proverbs as new money staggers into dark limos and  Spanglish and Calexico blasts from boombox sidewalks dancing and wall shaking lowriders with the street-side boo wafting and David Moe wants us all to stop our attempts at humor and parsing of the day’s news and listen to his new poem.

He stands and delivers.  I can only approximate and I’m trying to do him justice, but it was something like: “Vast vasectomy pungent King James cobra oscillating pregnant bungalow sake Elvis Sargon II electric kitty penal orangutan rain over under where moon celery platonic plutonium Aquinas virtual illusion footdrop Neo-platonic platoons’ harmonica convergence ingrown hypothalamus bladder Satan.“

There are maybe eight of us in the room; obviously David had wanted to make sure Gregory Corso really had a chance to appreciate his verse.

Gregory blurts out, “The worst. Bank robbing is noble compared to that! That is the worst!  The worst, the worst I’ve ever heard!”

David, crestfallen, whispers a stunned, “Oh.”

And Gregory the merciless turns to us all, “See even his Oh is weak-willed.”

Corso often said, “A poet who can’t hear his poetry sucks is not a poet.”

Makes sense to me. If you have something to say and have put in the effort to be competent with the tools of your trade or fancy, then if someone tells you it sucks it should be like water on a rock, like spit in the ocean.

Anyway, this episode didn’t deter Moe from publishing and promoting his work till the day he left. All artists to accomplish must rise above the praise and criticism of their friends, their enemies, the money, the ones they admire, even the ones they love and especially mothers who wanted them to be a doctor or lawyer and to have a large family. One must be ever vigilant of the appraisals of one’s parents.

Gregory asked me, before our big “Corso Returns to San Fran in North Beach High School Auditorium Poetry Event” (which L. and I were promoting; Gregory said don’t call it a reading use “event”—he knew his stuff), “What if they don’t like your poesy tomorrow? The critics, publishers, the real smart ones will be there. What if they say you just don’t have it?”

I answered, “Well, will I still have a job on Monday? I’ll still be able to go to work, right?”

He smiled. I think sometimes I even surprised him. When I picked him up at Oakland International he had the clothes he was wearing (rumpled, once expensive suit coat, white shoes with no socks, seersucker slacks, I think he had a shirt), his year-and-a-half-old son Max Orphe, a box of pampers, a banana, and a suitcase that rattled with one book, Louis Beretti (He said it was the first book he read when as a teen he went to prison. I read it, a page turner about a kid who rises from Little Italy through the Mafia and beyond to a noble Tale of Two Cities–type ending . . .), and three letters.

The old beat suitcase rattled. He didn’t even have any copies of his books. There might have been a small notebook.

Yes, sometimes I surprised Gregory, such as after a star-studded reading in NYC, Allen got Gregory and me into the hundred-dollar after-party. Gregory called me aside informing me where we were, to wit, with the elite: “Do you know where we are? This is it.”

I said, “This? This aint shit.”

At first he appeared incredulous as he repeated, “This aint shit?”

Then a smile, a head tilt, and he had to laugh. We went for the champagne and petit fours.


Poems | Miyah Poetry Series (Curated by Shalim M Hussain) - Part 2

In part 2 of the series, we feature two poems by Hafiz Ahmed.  Ahmed belongs to the second generation of Char-Chapori poets and is one of the most important precursors of the Miyah poetry movement.

The Dance Floor by Anil Karanjai

জন আদালতত চৰৰ ডেকা (2000)
হাফিজ্ আহমেদ

হয়, সি আৰু মই
সহোদৰ ভাই-ককাই
একে পৰিয়ালৰে
অথচ, ককায়েকটো হৈ
তেজৰ বান্ধোন
ৰজা হোৱাৰ আশাত
সি গাই ফুৰাৰ দৰে
আচলতে মই তাৰ
সতীয়া ভায়েক নহয়,মই ওপজোতে দেখোন
বিচ্ছেদ ঘটাই নাছিল
অথচ সি লগনীয়া-ভগনীয়াৰ
কথা শুনি
আৰ তাৰ ফুচুলনিত
বাৰে বাৰে মোক
‘অবৈধ’ বোলে
মাজে মাজে সি
বৰ অঁকৰাৰ দৰে
অংগী-ভংগী কৰে
আবেগ নতুবা
চণ্ডাল খঙত
আজুৰি পেলায়
গাৰ মঙহ
নাভাবে সি এবাৰো
কিয় গুচি গ’ল
ঘৰ এৰি থৈ
ছজনীকৈ আমাৰ
নিজৰে ভনী
এতিয়া সি বুজন
আমাৰে বিপদ
দেখিছেই,আইৰ বুকুত
কিদৰে জ্বলিছে
স্বজনৰ চিতা
বঙহে দকচিছে
বঙহৰে মঙহ
কিদৰে ছটিয়াও
শান্তি জল এতিয়া
ৰোধো দক্ষ যজ্ঞ
কিদৰে এতিয়া
অক্ষত ৰাখোঁ
সতী দেহৰ অংগ?

A Charuwa Youth vs The People (2000)

Hafiz Ahmed (Translated by Shalim M Hussain)

Yes, we are brothers
He and I
Brothers from the same family.
Yet kokai* is so bent
On being king
That he disproves
Blood relations.

Contrary to his claims
I am not his step-brother
Mother and son
Were not separated
When I was born
He has eavesdropped too often
On the whispers
Of friends and foes
And muddled his own head.
This might be why
He repeatedly declares me illegitimate.

Very often he goes mute
And his anger flows in frenzied gestures
Sometimes in ungodly rage
He tears the flesh
From his body.
Not once does he wonder
Why six of our own sisters
Were compelled
To leave this home

He is wiser now
Or at least I guess so
You have studied our problems
You have seen our own
Burn on the pyre of
Our mother’s heart,
Our own cannibalize
Our own.

How do I scatter
The waters of peace?
How do I stop Daksha’s yagna?
How do I keep intact
The pieces of Sati’s body?


*Kokai - Elder brother

হাফিজ্ আহমেদ

(ব্ৰহ্মপুত্ৰৰ গড়াখহনীয়াত সকলো হেৰুৱাৰ পিছত)

আমাৰ নাছিল কি?
সেউজীয়া ধাননি,
সৰু-বৰ মাছে খেলা কৰা পৃথিৱী
শিশুৰ কাকলিৰে মুখৰিত  ঘৰবোৰ
শাৰী শাৰী নাৰিকল, তামোলৰ বাৰী
পৌষুৰাত শতজনক কৰিছিলোঁ নিমন্ত্ৰণ
বহল চোতালখনত খুৱাইছিলো কতনাজনক।
আজি আমাৰ আছে কি?
হেৰুৱাবলৈ মাথো ডিঙিৰ শিকলি
জয় কৰিবলৈ এখনি বিশাল পৃথিৱী।

Sigh!* (2016)
Written and translated by Hafiz Ahmed

 (After losing everything in the erosion of the Brahmaputra)

What we did not have?
Green paddy fields,
Fish frolicking in fisheries,
Homesteads raised on the laughter of children
Rows upon rows of coconut, betel nut trees,
On Pushura our wide courtyard filled
With people, joy, festivities.
What do we have today?
Only the chain of slavery on our necks
And the whole world to conquer.