Also, most of the references in this poem are very specific, and if you haven't read the books I read as a teenager, you might be completely unfamiliar with them. This poem was written as a conversation with my close friends, but I'm hoping it's possible for other people to find ways of enjoying it too.
May 29, 2006
I am asked my favourite writers and works
I accept the self-indulgence; for there are no other perks
And contemplate on how best to pay tribute
To the pilgrimage to libraries, to bring home the loot
To revel in its brilliance, and smile at its quirks.
Rushdie, here, I will not mention
Seth though, will get an extension.
Repute evades his Two Lives ploy
But An Equal Music and A Suitable Boy
Pre-empt all possible bones of contention.
The Golden Gate carried me away
(My first encounter with verse was way
back when I was a mere seven years old
with the Beastly Tales crocodile – “Go away!”, he’d been told.)
“Talk to us, John”, he says – “we will all die someday.”
Hanif Kureishi is a new-found treasure,
Loved and loathed in equal measure.
For this I thank my dear friend’s love
With years of cajoling (and sometimes a shove)
I found not the bloodstream, but in it the pleasure.
Roy merits not a stanza but two
Dizygotic, though, and quite different too.
The first, for Rahel and Estha I write
With them I have lived; in them I delight
‘Naaley’, she says – a haunting, painful adieu.
The second – please see this from where I am –
- For damning the bomb and blasting the dam
For speaking, for seeking to question malpractice,
With words to do it Infinite Justice
For being human, yes – but the best she can.
And him – the Cinnamon Peeler, should I say?
Or simply (in reverence) Michael Ondaatje?
Of Colombo, of Toronto, of Anuradhapura
Of Count Almasy searching for the Zerzura
And the pain in the paintings on walls of clay.
Poetry is in his every word, they tell me
How he loves, and how much, compel me
He speaks of letters like the bones of a lover’s spine
Of scurrying in the ceiling, or a scar’s strange design
“I am the cinnamon peeler’s wife,” he writes, “Smell me.”
There is, then, the ancient Graham Greene
He took me to places where I have been
In the ageless nights and the dying mornings
of A Quiet American; or just the life dawning
on A Burnt Out Case; I have felt it all - I have seen.
Dancing in Cambodia I have been for a while
Saloth Sar’s life, and that of the king, beguile.
With The Imam and the Indian, Malaria in the Bay
And all the wonder of Mandalay
Amitav Ghosh is ahead of many by a mile.
And him, mailing manuscripts to Ezra Pound
Oh, what treasures in Wastelands I have found!
Thomas Stearns: A magician? Well, yet –
There is some magic in the verse of Eliot
With Prufrock on winter mornings, or Macavity gone underground!
Coming to the part where I must close this door
“Another line”, I think, or “Just a few more”
To Haroun I must acknowledge my debt
To those not mentioned – there will be verses yet
(Though Priestly might say “I Have Been Here Before”!)
Some works, of course, are bigger than their makers
Some I could mention, but they would find no takers.
In writing, I have suffered the reader’s curse
Not knowing how to end this tortuous verse
“A dozen stanzas”, I had thought – but make it a baker’s!