Saradha Koirala

Tag: Poetry

Stories that shaped the world

BBC Culture has just published a list of The 100 Stories that Shaped the World from international writers’ contributions. I was stoked to be one of the contributors! Check out the whole list at BBC Culture and read about my top 5 here: 

  1. Leaves of Grass.jpgSong of Myself (Walt Whitman) and, indeed, Leaves of Grass as a collection, reads like a Humanist manifesto that celebrates a love of land, freedom, self and the connections between these. Whitman embodies a universal and omnipotent “I” into which readers can place themselves and have done over generations. It’s very much an epic poem, but plays with structure and language, the long lines moving with the breath, and surprising, explicit imagery. The shift away from traditional spiritual reflection – rumination on the connections between nature, God and the human mind – marks an important change in how we view the body and physical world. The many references to Song of Myself in pop and high culture over the years are testament to its potency, endurance and relevance. (number 87!)

 

  1. HowlHowl (Allen Ginsberg) marked a cultural shift, not just in literature (although this is hugely significant), but also in the way people view literature and art as something powerful and dangerous. The poem spoke to a group of marginalised writers and musicians and challenged the expectations of language and ‘high art’. Post-WWII when people were feeling either a strong desire to settle into familiar comforts and gender stereotypes, or anger at the establishment, Howl opened a gate for freedom of expression and allowed discussion, anger, excitement and all kinds of love out into mainstream society, subverting and questioning the norms. The Howl Obscenity Trial (1957) sent a message to the world about just how powerful language can be and the idea that a poem could incite legal action is thrilling. (number 53!)

 

  1. To kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) has been read and studied year after year in high schools and today, nearly 60 years after its publication, it’s still a deeply loved book by people of all ages. The links to American history and race relations are both specific to the Deep South in the 1930s and hugely relevant to today’s society. The themes of prejudice and empathy are quoted and referred to time and again to highlight aspects of our own society that need examining. To Kill a Mockingbird documents important historical ideologies that must never be forgotten as well as asking us to examine the way we treat all members of our communities. (number 27!)

 

  1. Romeo and Juliet.pngRomeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare) is considered a deeply romantic play, but there is less to learn about love here than there is to learn about the petty differences that keep factions of communities separated. The tragedy is in the secrecy of the love between Romeo and Juliet and it’s a constant reminder to always questions our prejudices, whether they be newly formed or ancient grudges. This play has also been studied and read in classrooms for generations, influencing the way people view human behaviour and highlighting those aspects which are centuries old; deeply engrained notions of love at first sight and the lengths some will go to. Of course, Shakespeare has also influenced literature and pop culture in more ways than we can count. (number 13!)

 

  1. The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), a powerful cautionary tale, has never felt more relevant. Ideas around the treatment of women and the dystopian society created are perhaps extreme, but feel like a plausible future for societies where women are continually being marginalised and their bodies legislated. The novel is a harsh indictment of gender stereotyping and patriarchal societies, reminding us how important it is to empower women to be agents of their own destinies and not allow their voices to be silenced. People have turned to Atwood’s horrifying view of the future time and again when reflecting on the current status of women in society. (number 16!)

Love Poem for Taika

Sunday 4pm

I saw you. Sunday 4pm, old hood

until then I hadn’t known for sure if you’d stayed on

although sometimes I’d find selfies framed with the familiar

white walls of a kitchen we briefly shared.

 

I knew what you were doing. Sunday 4pm

rounding the corner with your reusable shopping bag

well-trod path to TT Mart, well-browsed aisles of not-quite-fresh-enough bread

potato chips whether on special or not, the endless search for kale.

 

Most days we would laugh, dance down those aisles

criticising pop that blared through shop speakers, but falling for it too.

Wasn’t that always your way? The world is awful, you’d say

and move to its beat nonetheless.

 

Sunday, so perhaps you were headed for apple pie

to stand in front of the freezer door

staring into reflected childhood traumas

explaining away the guilt you felt at wanting dessert.

 

Deep-dish psychological reasons why

no one in your adult life should deny you your desires.

You could talk yourself into anything

with those qualifications of yours.

 

I don’t remember bad times at the TT Mart with you

but there were moments when neglecting to go

resulted in empty cupboards. I copped it.

And at least once we walked home in blue-stone silence

 

your face sinking to the shadowy state

that made my stomach flip and clench, my whole system in a holding pattern

until it could work out what I’d done wrong. Always searching for

that mysterious thing I’d done wrong.

 

Cobbled silence reached crescendo back in the kitchen

you hurled the filled bag at white walls, settled into that hollow place of yours

while I cleaned up scattered vegetables

smashed mushrooms, broken bottles.

 

Sunday 4pm and we were driving past your corner

on our way to play tennis. I hadn’t held a racket in years

six of us piled into my boyfriend’s car, a week’s worth of news

bursting to tell them we’re moving in together.

 

My new friends had heard all about you

so when I pointed to your shape moving along the footpath

they joked unrepeatably.

Jason kept an eye on you from the rear-view mirror

 

but I knew exactly where you were headed

walking solo with your empty bag.

*

Last week I spotted my ex in the neighbourhood we used to live in together. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and had at times been curious as to how I would feel if I did. I wrote this poem to show how that simple walk to the supermarket could be a microcosm of an entire confusing, anxiety-provoking and often emotionally abusive relationship. It felt so perfect that I was happily crammed into a car with some of the lovely new people in my life, being driven by a much calmer, kinder man when we saw him. Everything’s symbolic, of course, but it’s also just how things are now: safer and better; far less lonely and much more fun.

New Year

I didn’t realise the front yard’s potential until you took to it in gardening gloves, trimmed back the privet.

As last year changed from this year, and I could stop saying ‘last year’ with such portent, such regret; a phrase loaded with the weight of an on-coming sob-story, we were camping by the Wellington river. A settlement of pegged-out shelters, fairy lights and bonfires. I was miles from my Wellington home.

I say the h word again with a kind of inflection, trying it out for size, sighing out the həʊ, the m buzzes past my lips. I hold it in my mouth like a pill. This constant starting over exhausts me. Always has. Newness of a cleared front yard. I’ll dig in my toes, resolve to thicken like the trunk of a grapevine, let the porch be built around me for a change. Feathered things perch in my branches.

Disturbing the privet seems to be making my eyes stream, but on New Year’s Day I sprained my finger, slipped on rocks in flimsy jandals, a little drunk. There were bull ant bites on the tops of my feet and a blush of sunburn between my breasts. What I mean is, these things pass, they clear up. We heal and adapt. We look back and see fairy lights strung between trees, flickering with comforting regularity, we move closer to each other on an old brown couch. We look back and then we don’t look back.

Reading Medea on the Train

I stand for the woman whose feet

strain at the straps of her shoes

stare daggers at the snorer

slumped in priority seats.

 

The 7.17 chorus tells

of a recent Greek wedding

her brother’s? The audience invested as

festivities fill the carriage from a phone.

 

Jason’s woken early, texts a busy day ahead

we’ll be promised an ending

as long as we plan the next beginning.

His paged namesake remains oblivious.

 

Medea’s children smile at her

and she breaks down again.

 

I give her one more station

to change her mind.

 

Ride

In the 80s bikes were

handed down from someone taller

gearless

back pedal braking

daydreamer

I rode so slowly I

ended up on the ground

daily lessons in

momentum and

the way a knee-scab dries, lifts

from the outside edges in.

 

90s bikes faux mountain bikes

Shimano gears a point of pride

fluorescent touches on the frame

double towbar car rack family weekends

there have always been bikes.

 

The red one that moved

house to house with each break up

makeshift shelter beneath outside stairs

or leaning against a laundry wall

still so much to learn

about hills and hearts

about maintenance, about holding on.

 

Red was my favourite

my next bike was blue

bought days

after I changed my life

for a love that matched in hue

I fell off into a rosemary bush

smelt amazing, sure

but that feeling of betrayal

again and again

flat tyres

slackened chain

forever loosening the brakes

so a buckled wheel can still turn.

 

Balance

The last time we were strangers was on the roof of a party / you’d climbed higher to photograph bands playing at one end / view of whatever suburb we were in / I’d lost my sense of direction long ago

I pictured a fall, but you reassured me / only on your second drink and I guess I’ve always liked that about you / always only on your second drink / always just that little bit higher / even when the rest of us are on top of a roof

I was dancing solo to Paul Simon’s Graceland / not my favourite track on that album, but a definite favourite album / a link to my past in a place still so new / I was only a little self-conscious at that point

you introduced yourself and I felt this kind of safety, like, my situation was difficult then – disappointed in the man I’d moved here for                    struggling

to fit in –

but there would be people to know and to meet, I mean, if the roof collapsed out from under us…

I’d be okay, you know?

and with that clumsy realisation, clunky metaphor

my awkwardness around you was born

it’s hard for me not to look back searching for signs / even though I’m coming to understand there is no fate, no destiny, just good old-fashioned cause and effect / although that in itself can get pretty metaphysical

like the retroactive significance of you being / the first person I bumped into in the city. As in / my first ‘bumping into someone I know in the city’ experience / I was counting things in firsts / until they recurred

less mystical, more meaningful the moment you brought me / all the chocolate you could find from your cupboards / sat with me under a tree / I was pale that summer and in need of your blue-eyed chatter

I ride the two right angles / between your house and mine / lights if you let me stay late, or with you / your arms wide on the bike path, because of course you don’t need to hold on / of course you’re not going to fall.

Bio

Mostly it’s easy, the days I mean

text book teaching senior biology

free periods in the staffroom. It’s a good life

I state as fact, not like saying, ‘she’s lovely…’

an epigraph to the gossip I write.

 

Suspicious of superlatives, endlessly

but hard-wired for romance

tell me I’m capable, resourceful, reliable

adore the way I follow through with things I say I’ll do

let my eyes be an after-thought.

 

And I’m probably on the brink again

because what else is there to do with this

flesh-covered universe we call body?

System of lungs and blood and gravity

tugging at us to love.

 

Anyway, turn to p80 that picture of the genome

looking to you like Dante’s hell

long-limbed chromosomes

tumbling headless towards a fiery cell

because you’re still sixteen

and haven’t understood any of this.

 

 

Vitamins

(hello) apparently there’s only so much

the body can absorb

excess passes through the system

pointless, flushed

 

I overdo it anyway, hedging my bets as always

conversation plates spinning across platforms

waiting for someone to fall

for me, me for them

 

now here I am living in the cadence

of your poetry

like a blush of tulips brought to my door

when I thought I just needed tissues

 

soft & gentle steeped in aloe vera, but still

just tissues I thought.

 

So I’ll learn to accept chocolate bunnies

perhaps even eat them – and the deeper meaning of emojis

(am I really so awkward, so unused to sweetness?)

 

Run through thunder to hear you read

make plans to catch trains irl platforms

irl smiles, trade a giggle for the view across your pillows.

 

Paterson.

red-wheelbarrow

Did we depend on you too much, old red? / The rain water soaked through / And the chickens / Where are they now?

Things you probably already know about me:

  1. I like poetry – not just the words, but the poetry of circumstance, scenery, synchronicity, people
  2. I like to make reference to William Carlos Williams poems, especially in my Instagram feed
  3. I value gentleness and am on a quiet crusade to revolutionise the world thusly.

this-is-just-to-saySo you’ll not be surprised to learn that Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is my new favourite movie.

It’s a poem in itself structured with stanzas like days of the week, repetition that imbues deeper meaning with each encounter, a homage to the poetry of lives being lived without judgement or drama. There’s ambiguity, subtlety and I’m sure it would reward re-watching, just as there’s always more to be gleaned from re-visiting a good poem.

Paterson drives the bus in Paterson, New Jersey – the home of WCW and Allen Ginsberg. Lines of poetry pace through his head as he walks to work and he writes them in his notebook sitting at the wheel in the morning.  It’s a quietly persistent art form that exists in his every day – the conversations he overhears, the familiar scenes of his home town – contrasted perhaps by his quirky and lovely Laura who expresses her artistry by staying home painting the curtains, the walls, decorating cupcakes and buying a “Harlequin” guitar to match her aesthetic. The bold black and white is hard to miss, but she’s just as gentle and poetic as Paterson and the sweetness of their relationship is one of the most heartening aspects of this film.

I totally believe poetry is the antidote to a high-conflict society, where everything makes us mad and nothing is ever good enough. The calm world of Paterson reminds us, but doesn’t indulge that we have been conditioned to expect drama and conflict in movies and in life; secrets being kept, relationships falling apart, tempers flaring (spoiler: the bus doesn’t burst into flames). Life doesn’t have to be like that. Instead we can simply do our jobs, be kind to each other, walk the dog and look at the world through a poet’s eyes. How lucky is that?