Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

4ac656cc6cd94f862d478f7a03748991-w204@1xby Carole Satyamurti
W. W. Norton & Company, 2015

British poet Satyamurti works from scholarly versions—such as K.M. Ganguli’s unabridged 5,000-page English prose translation—to condense all 18 books of the Mahabharata into this single volume of blank verse. The task is formidable and many would say impossible, yet Satyamurti moves smoothly between episodes with a consistent, understated rhythm. Inevitably, many of the core episodes and events are overly simplified; moreover, the bloody, cataclysmic battle at the end of cosmic time and the struggle for virtue—both human and divine—are unfortunately made to seem far more tame than in the original.  

Carol Satyamurti is a poet, sociologist, and translator. The author of many books of poetry, she has taught regularly for the Arvon Foundation and for the Poetry Society (UK). She lives in London.

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

www.randomhouseby Jane Hirshfield
Knopf, 2015

Hirshfield, a poet and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, ponders the value and function of poetry in 10 insightful essays. Following up on her earlier nonfiction book Nine Gates, Hirshfield delves into various works written across multiple styles and centuries. She begins with a perceptive lesson about the way a poet—and a poem—sees the world, later exploring the theme of “the hidden,” referring to both subterranean layers of meaning in a piece of writing and the protective concealments common in nature, in which, according to a biologist, “hiddenness is the default.” Elsewhere, Hirshfield shows how asking questions about poems, from Basho’s haiku to Walt Whitman’s American epics, can lead to answers about ourselves. In this vein, she tackles “American-ness” as it’s manifested in modern American poetry, concluding that our “culture [is] created by immigration, by mobility of psyche and of body.” Hirshfield writes with a poet’s voice and imparts wisdom on nearly every page. In a particularly lucid selection, “Poetry and the Constellation of Surprise,” she explains how important it is that poetry transcend reason, because reason “cannot and does not encompass the whole of life.” Hirshfield’s in-depth tour of poetry and art leaves a lasting impression. — Publisher’s Weekly

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora

2Q==edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen
University of Washington Press, 2014

Pairing image and text, Troubling Borders showcases creative writing and visual artworks by sixty-one women of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Filipino ancestry. The collection features compelling storytelling that troubles the borders of categorization and reflects the multilayered experience of Southeast Asian women.

The diverse voices featured here have been shaped by colonization, wars, globalization, and militarization. For some of these women on the margins of the margin, crafting and showing their work is a bold act in itself. Their provocative and accessible creations tell unique stories, provide a sharp contrast to familiar stereotypes – Southeast Asian women as exotic sex symbols, dragon ladies, prostitutes, and “bar girls”-and serve as entry points for broader discussions on questions of history, memory, and identity. (Publisher’s website)

Isabelle Thuy Pelaud is associate professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University; Lan Duong is associate professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside; Mariam B. Lam is associate professor of comparative literature, media and cultural studies, and director of Southeast Asian studies, at the University of California, Riverside; and Kathy L. Nguyen is a writer and editor in San Francisco.

 

 

Rhapsody in Black: Poems

51SYQfBrWaLby Jidi Majia; translated by Denis Mair
University of Oklahoma Press, 2014

An indigenous poet of the Nuosu (Yi) people of mountainous southwestern China, Jidi Majia is well known and celebrated among the Chinese. But his lyrical and worldly work, though widely published and honored, has not found its voice in English translation in the West. The poems in Rhapsody in Black, presented in Chinese and deftly translated by the gifted and respected Denis Mair, at long last introduce the English-speaking world to this remarkable Chinese writer. The poetry of Jidi Majia is deeply grounded in the myths and oral traditions of the Nuosu minority. It evokes times past but also speaks with eloquence of our global moment. Replete with cultural textures and local idiom, the poems provide an exquisite opening into the Nuosu world. In their ethnic richness, they also resonate with the voices of the indigenous and the dispossessed, from Native American and South American Indian poets to the African American and aboriginal Australian writers preserving and reshaping cultural identity. (Publisher’s description)

Jidi Majia was born in in Daliangshan, Sichuan, in 1961. He is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry. His work has been published in more than ten poetry anthologies, and has been translated into several languages. In 2006, he became the vice president of the China Poetry Association. Denis Mair has translated the work of numerous Chinese poets into English, including the volumes Reading the Times: Poems of Yan Zhi and Selected Poems by Mai Chen.

Seven Studies for a Self Portrait

41Keu8+dPiLby Jee Leong Koh
Bench Press, 2011

Jee Leong Koh’s third book of poems subjects the self to an increasingly complex series of personal investments and investigations. Ever-evolving, ever-improvisatory, the self appears first as a suite of seven ekphrastic poems, then as free verse profiles, riddles, sonnet sequences, and finally a divan of forty-nine ghazals. (Publisher’s description)

Aptly titled, this is an obsessively curated volume of free verse poems, riddles, sonnet sequences and ghazals; it comprises seven sections of seven poems each, save for the divan of forty-nine ghazals. Each section interrogates the self through a different mirror: through responses to art, the third person narrative, riddles, abstractions, translations of the Other, emotional landscapes, conversations with the self and appeals to a lover. Perhaps due to the ambition of its premise and intended scope, this anthology unfolds like a series of scientific experiments that don’t quite take off, save for a few and the rewarding title section ‘Seven Studies’. — Mascara Review)

Jee Leong Koh is the author of four books of poems, including Seven Studies for a Self Portrait. Born in Singapore, he lives in New York City, where he writes a blog and curates the website Singapore Poetry.

River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir

9781602232273by John Morgan; artwork by Kesler Woodward
University of Alaska Press, 2014

River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir is a book-length poem that takes readers on a weeklong raft trip down a river in southcentral Alaska. Bears, eagles, moose, seals, otters, and salmon inhabit the poem’s world, and the landscapes shift between glaciers, mountains, rapids, and waterfalls. The trip becomes a spiritual journey journey as well, as the poem includes commentary by fifteenth-century Indian mystic poet Kabir (pronounced kuh-BEER), who serves as a mentor to the narrator. The raft trip described in the poem took place in 2003, the year in which the second Iraq War began, so the war is on the narrator’s mind and becomes a metaphor for his inner struggles. However, the main story of the poem is the trip itself, which is influenced and shaped by the river’s waves and currents, and the wildlife and scenery that provide frequent surprises for the travelers. This volume includes artwork by Alaska artist Kesler Woodward. Woodward participated in the original raft trip and makes an appearance in the poem as well.

John Morgan was born in New York. He earned his MFA degree at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Prize. He has perviously published four books of poetry, four chapbooks, and a collection of essays. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, PoetryAmerican Poetry Review, Paris Review, New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Yale Review, and other magazines and anthologies.

The Autochthon Poems

poems
by Simon Perchik
Split Shift, 2001

Simon Perchik was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He is best known for his personal, non-narrative style of poetry. In addition to The Autochthon Poems, Perchik has published seventeen books. His works have appeared in numerous print magazines, including The New Yorker, Partisan Review, AGNI, Poetry, The Nation, North American Review, Weave Magazine, Beloit, and CLUTCH .