Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nabina Das -- I call her "spirit"

And that might make her mad. Unless she accepts that word “spirit” as meaning mental motion, humanistic aura, or something else with a more symbolic than superstitious connotation.

Nabina and I have had our disagreements about a certain controversial topic. But we've managed to remain on speaking and joking terms. Her emphasis, it seems to me, is on social manifestations and temporal constructions. In contrast, I tend to drift off on waves of metaphysical resonance.

My friend is from Hyderabad, India. And she commutes to the States for annual teaching residences in Ithaca, NY. Nabina is also an editor and writer – both prose and poetry. Her novel Footprints in the Bajra was published this year to glowing reviews:

Nabina likes theater performance, occasionally participating. In her college days, she did it much more – classical, folk, modern stuff. Nabina is involved physically and “spiritually” in areas of social justice. She is wry and witty and funny and, sometimes, deadly serious. I feel privileged to be a Facebook acquaintance. Oh...she also finds water and fishes to be deeply alluring.

What I wish to highlight here is Nabina's poetry. I am impressed by many of her poems. An artist's intuitive flair and an unteachable talent come through in many of her poems. There is a certain quality or aspect to these poems that I envy. Once a month, I swear an oath to myself that I will begin trying to write my own poems more in that manner. It's a hard thing to put into words. But I'm always cramming impossible stuff into words, so I'll give it a shot.

It's how a good poet allows ego to slip into the background only of a poem. The poet's weight of experience is implicit, not paraded or whined to the far shores of being. Coming from one of her poems, you don't sense that you've been drenched by salty tears. Your inner ear is not buzzing with maudlin melodies. Your heart is not flopping around like an unrequited amorous fish. Rather, living, moving tableaux are arrayed deftly across the lines of Nabina's poems. These depictions of life and being outside the ego make the experience of a poem vibrate with interest, with fascination. Here's one I especially like:

Dead River Longings

That was a poet who pined for a sickle-curved river
Golden perhaps or emitting a glitter through its ripples
The river name evoked glinted crop crowns; he wrote about
Jade paddy fields sliced by crow yells and bloodied streams.

That was a poet who walked the morose city streets alone
Uttering words usually unspeaking, like flow and tide;
In stumps of concrete habitats he did graffiti of a rising sea.
In such forgetfulness, some say drunken stupor, he died
Cut by a car when street cleaners came dusting the morning.
Or was he beaten unconscious and thrown by the police?
Out on the dirt, because the bugger wouldn’t stop chanting

About his mist-shadowed river of dying ivory dolphins
That buried incoherent songs in soft mud made softer by
Human waste. What haste hides is that he came back after
Moon’s wane, on his lips: that river, ujani, is still my bride.

Copyright 2009 by Nabina Das

Now...I don't wish to leave the impression that this way of writing is the only proper way. Or that I don't also enjoy poems sung from the inner courts, sung as melancholic spasms (I write such myself). It's simply a difference. Nabina's style is a refreshment. Navel-gazing is allowed to become a gaze onto alterity.

In that first link above – Nabina's blog “fleuve-souterrain” – you can find many of her poems.

Okay. I called Nabina a “spirit.” What do I really intend with that word? She doesn't go in for mumbo-jumbo and crystal healing and gypsy auguries. If an occasional "spirit" flits through one of her poems, it is an ironic incursion. I cherish such moments of poetic license.

Nabina is grounded to the ground, where life happens, where human beings suffer, where children sing and play. But I discern a numinous luster surrounding her poems, her personality, and her humanism. No ones knows what Being is – we barely manage to get a grasp on being. So...I push onto Nabina the term “spirit” as a way of acknowledging her own inexplicable arising into form and action. As my own mystic way of coming to terms with her artistic channeling of experience into vivid, resonant words.

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