Saradha Koirala

Tag: Poetry

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?

Love stories in blue covers and alternating narratives

Despite the different themes and agendas, these two new YA novels from Pan Macmillan do have things in common, including both being told in alternating chapters from each character’s point of view.

minaDeep blue.jpgWhen Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah  is set in Sydney amid the refugee debate, the alternating narrative between the two main characters reiterating the idea that there are two sides to every story – even if one side is clearly influenced by ill-informed, Islamophobic parents and easily swayed – and ultimately showing a more compassionate way to live.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is set in a whimsical second bookshop where people hide letters to loved ones in significant copies of texts and secretly grieve for those they’ve lost.

The first novel is politically charged, topical and raises serious concerns about social justice and the dangerous views held by those who don’t welcome refugees and migrants to Australia’s shores. The second references some of my favourite books and poems – Great Expectations, Cloud Atlas, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock – and shows how these shape our understanding of love, death, knowing and how they can draw us closer to each other.

Both novels show the developing relationship between two teenagers. There’s Michael, proudly standing by his family and their ‘Aussie Values’ but attracted to Mina who arrives at his school from Afghanistan, via Auburn. Mina’s initial dislike of Michael is completely understandable given his views on immigration, but she stands her ground and is determined to show him another perspective. The other novel has Henry and Rachel, best friends for years, briefly estranged and inevitably destined to be together. There’s the complication of Amy – demanding, beautiful, unobtainable – and the lost letter Rachel wrote declaring her love, but ultimately this is a charming journey of friendship and love.

Rachel and Mina are both grieving for lost siblings. It’s difficult to talk about for both of them and their losses makes them more complex than others can comprehend. Rachel helps us understand more about the dead and develops her own ideas about souls and memory in relation to what she reads. I love that David Mitchell’s transmigration of souls comes into this book in a way that changes a character’s understanding of the world.

I feel like every time I finish reading a book my understanding of life is altered just a little more and through this understanding, living becomes just a little bit easier. I think Rachel and Henry would like that idea. Words in Deep Blue gently helps readers navigate the unexpected changes and losses of life without ever feeling preachy or forced. There are more specific understandings that we gain from books too and When Michael Met Mina shows us what it’s like to have to move to a new country out of fear and embark on a dangerous and horrifying journey, hoping for safety. Michael learns about this through getting to know Mina and it’s an important lesson for all of us.

When Michael Met Mina has a strong purpose and a point of view that shifts in the way the author hopes others will also shift their perspectives. The high school dynamics are believable and real difficulties of Mina’s family are held up as a way to examine current society.

Words in Deep Blue is a more timeless story and although the cast of characters are still distinct people the messages are much more subtle. They are patient with each other, kind when they’re called on and most appealingly they all read, talk about what they read and look at the world differently depending on what they read.

Both hold important messages; both books highly recommended.

Tuesday’s Poem

Those waterproof pants
haven’t seen much use
bought on another whirlwind trip
ferrying towards family surprises
old friends and the waves
rolled through us.

I roll myself through Royal Park
cross the tram tracks
follow the train
cycle past pale trees
reflecting back morning light, faint
eucalyptus smell of Here Now.

Warmth spreads
to gloved extremities
my angled reflection
in the Red Rooster window
turns to habit and blossom
blows gently over the schoolyard fence.

Yard Duty

I’m teaching again. Students smile at me and say hi as we pass in the corridor. Sometimes they ask how I am. When we’re practising writing they might ask me the name of that feeling like butterflies in your stomach, but not excitement. It’s anxiety I tell them. Oh, anxiousness, they say.

On Monday and Wednesday lunchtimes I’m on yard duty. I have to shoo all the students out of the corridors and I have a walky-talky that I assume works, but have never used, except to pretend to call for back-up when someone’s trying to ask too many questions of me. I hold it near my mouth and make a fake static noise. Kkkkkk. They get the idea and move on.

Today a bird was trapped inside. There was a warm breeze and the sun was out, but that bird was obsessed with the unopenable window at the top of the stairs; wouldn’t move from the windowsill. It fluttered its wings like the butterflies in our stomachs, oblivious to the door we’d opened at the end of the empty corridor.

Road trip

Service station coffee and codral
I’ll always come for the ride
join your scathe at Australian drivers
Hammock in the dark of morning
Led Zeppelin as the sun
rises over the M1.

Mostly tradies on the road
shiny utes and toolboxes
vans with ladders strapped to rooves
small business logos branded on the side
high-vis life, Princes Freeway
Yarragon, Trafalgar, Traralgon, Moe.

Morwell, Gippsland, heart of coal
in the small town’s mall
there’s a small town shuffle
slipper-shod or uggs
and an unexpected queue
at the movie theatre.

Across the tracks a rose garden
art gallery, I’m drawn
to Peter Upward’s Orange Accent II
his optimistic name rises
like abstracted flames in the corner
of a white-washed room.

Upward_1960_Orange_Accent_II.jpg

Peter Upward – Orange Accent 2

http://www.cbusartcollection.com.au/works/?id=285

Digging – Writing, Work and Sci-fi Stereotypes.

At the start of last year I was sifting through some old posters in the English department, trying to make the classroom walls less grim, and found a laminated copy of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging.’ Perhaps a poem about potato farming wasn’t quite the thing to liven up the walls, but it was a nice reminder of my love for the work of the poet who had just died a year and a half earlier. I felt strongly it was a poem I needed to share with my classes.  It was my tenth year of teaching (a fact I found many opportunities to proclaim with both pride and astonishment) and, as it turned out, my last. For now at least. Teaching is hard work.

I’ve used the word “work” twice there very deliberately, of course. And I’ve been thinking about Digging again. There is such respect in Heaney’s poem for the hard labour of his father and grandfather, who “cut more turf in a day/ Than any other man on Toner’s bog.” It’s not the kind of work the poet will do, but it’s purposeful, necessary and skillful work nonetheless “Nicking and slicing neatly,” – there’s a craft to it.

The comparison between physical labour and intellectual / creative pursuits is pronounced in this poem and it’s easy to feel defensive of the latter as equally worthy, even if the results are not always as palpable.

Recent Netflixing of Sci-fi films brought up a discussion point in our house that the scientists, analysts, intellectuals and academics in movies are often portrayed as either very rigid in their thinking or a little bit unhinged. They have social anxieties and neuroses and we could attribute their obsessive interest in their particular field back to some childhood incident that needs resolving, rather than a sheer love of it. There’s little respect for curiosity and wonder.

Meanwhile, the ‘heroes’ of the films tend to be the working class – soldiers, tradespeople, the deep-core drillers who are the only ones who can save the world from an in-coming asteroid with their highly-trained and specific skills. They are physically, not intellectually, strong and they’ll need to be – combat is key to world-saving. It’s a triumphant uprising of the blue-collar as sparked by 90s Hollywood. These characters have hardships too, but they toil, construct and contribute. Science is both mocked and idealised as the final victory lies with the most ordinary, humble and unassuming character who’s just doing his job the best he can. Albeit with highly sophisticated, carefully researched, meticulously designed technologies.

Of course Sci-fi films are known for their extremes and Hollywood notorious for unrealistic and unfair portrayals of all kinds of members of society. It almost seems pointless to even bring it up, except that it feels like a constant and powerful theme.

Perhaps this is partly why I often find myself trying to justify the importance and effort involved in the work of the writer and end up reading all sorts of reassuring articles about writing, such as these ‘non-rules’ for writing by Elizabeth Percer. The third of her rules seems to fit nicely with what I’ve been thinking (daydreaming, wondering, lying around contemplating): The idea that writing work looks different to other kinds of work. Percer says,

About 80 percent of the writing I do looks nothing like writing. It looks like reading, or daydreaming, or driving, or drawing, or listening to music, or lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

Many other authors have discussed their ideas about writing as work (e.g. Ford, Eugenides) and often approach it as a desk job or nine-to-five. But to Heaney’s father it must not have looked like he was very busy at all, with much of what he did being possible from the same seat all day and hardly sweat-raising stuff.

As my students read Heaney’s poetry last year they discussed ideas about the importance of writing especially during difficult times, as Heaney was doing; writing as a craft or calling as worthy as potato digging when potato digging needs to be done; and that constant voice in our heads trying to tell us that what we want and do is just as valid as what anyone else is wanting or doing with their time on this earth. It was a fine moment for an English teacher to ‘retire’ on.

Heaney ends his poem with the decisive lines, “Between my finger and my thumb/ The squat pen rests. /I’ll dig with it.” It moves me every time.

When so much in the world is Hollywood constructed, media-manipulated, target marketing and just plain inauthentic, to find moments where people are doing what they do because they genuinely love and believe in the value of it – well, it keeps me digging, “down and down / For the good turf.”

The Great Weight of Metaphorical Lightness

Never get so attached to a poem you forget truth that lacks lyricism – Joanna Newsom, “En Gallop.”

12744005_1050761621613372_681022737855470830_nJust as I was trying to learn that not everything in life is a metaphor, we got a new bed.

Beds are so deeply symbolic and a new bed bought together is steeped in meaning. On a more practical level, it really has changed our lives. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic, but lives are just made up of days and nights. It really has changed our days and nights.

Sometimes I think I’m living in The Great Poem of Life where everything stands for so much more and demands to be read twice, scrutinised, figured out figuratively. Sometimes I think that sounds like an excellent place to live.

The old mattress has been dragged to the shed out back and very quickly looked like something one should not be touching, let alone relying on for the restorative properties of a good night’s sleep.

It reminded me of how the light leaves a person’s eyes when you suddenly realise you don’t love them any more. But that’s not something that’s happened to me for a while, and far too much weight to give to an old mattress that already sags with such woe and the burden of having been such a burden.

This, Time

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” ― Oscar Wilde

In the spirit of just getting on with it, I’ve started writing a poem a day. It doesn’t have to be great, I don’t need to spend all day on it, I may not even share it with anyone – and somehow those facts have liberated me. Okay, so this is only day two of the project, but I have a good feeling about it.

I always learn something about myself when I write a poem. Yesterday’s poem had these lines in it:

A future exists again and again I say:
This time is a gift.

My ability to think about the future comes and goes and it’s hugely reassuring when I can see those first rays of light above the horizon again, as I can now.

But the slippery nature of the future means it’s always renewing itself and therefore can exist “again and again.” Also, I need to remind myself that having time to write is a gift, so writing a poem a day is really the least I should be doing with that time, something I remind myself of over and over: “and again I say…”

Seeing the future can also help alleviate my anxiety and hold me in the present – enjoying now with a feeling that the future is going to be okay. “This time” is the present; right here and now is a gift.

Having explained my intention with those lines, I do acknowledge that “This time is a gift” is completely cheesy and the kind of memefied nonsense I’ve railed against in the past. So today I changed it to:

A future exists again and again I say:
This time, it’s a gift.

I hope the same levels of meaning remain: A view of the future exists again and again; the two separate thoughts, one of a future existing again after it had disappeared and one of me again telling myself to enjoy the present; and also the acknowledgement of the gift of free time – but I’m learning something else too. The comma changes “this time” so that the future I now see is a gift, something good, implying I’ve seen it before and it looked unappealing or possibly frightening (a classic role for Future to play).

These altered lines reassure me because the slippery nature of a future (note indefinite article still) is grounded slightly with “this time” – perhaps it won’t elude me this time. There’s something different (probably better) about the nature of the future I see…this time.

There’s a feeling of trust too if a future is being gifted to me and I can relax a little from worrying and straining to see or create it myself.

“This time, it’s a gift” also seems to lend more weight to the nature of time when there’s a pause just after the word and it’s reiterated through the pronoun. It expands beyond the present, which we know we must value and into that future – whatever it is this time – time itself is a gift.

But I’m still left trying to reassure myself “again I say: This time…” as if, naively, I’ve believed in this idea every time with as much conviction as I do now.

 

see snippets of my daily poems on instagram