Bob Holman’s Kolkata Journals

    Bob Holman
    is an American poet and poetry activist, most closely identified with the oral tradition, the spoken word, and poetry slam. As a promoter of poetry in many media, Holman has spent the last four decades working variously as an author, editor, publisher, performer, emcee of live events, director of theatrical productions, producer of films and television programs, record label executive, university professor, poet's house proprietor and archivist. He was described by Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The New Yorker as "the postmodern promoter who has done more to bring poetry to cafes and bars than anyone since Ferlinghetti." Bob visited Kolkata in 2008.

    Bob Holman’s Kolkata Journals

    Bob, you must write the poem! Yusef cannot do it. We need it for the plaque!
    –Goutam “GaaRRRY!!” Datta

    US Poet Delegation Kolkata Book Fair 2008

    Stock market dives into Ganges! Holes crack Holy Sky!
    US Poets enter Kolkata! Nothing but words.
    Everything is words!
    Words greeting breath
    Words transforming political
    Word’s history roaming finding itself—Surprise Future!
    How about more words? Flow flower full force!
    Words’ roads leading – follow complexities of Heart
    Dance aortic pleasure, rush ventricular whoosh
    Lost? Read map to me—it’s a Poem!
    A gift of imperfect understanding

    US Poet Delegation Kolkata Book Fair 2008

    Ram Devineni show details 1/11/08 Reply
    to me
    from Ram Devineni
    to Bob Holman
    date Fri, Jan 11, 2008 at 12:31 AM
    subject RE: Kolkata

    hi bob:
    I know sunil knew ginsberg . . . can you find out if the others actually met ginsberg in india?
    we probably won’t have much time meeting all these people . . .

    one thing you really really need to be careful of is being invited to an indian family . . . traveling in kolkata takes forever, so we need to maximize our time.
    also, when you go to an Indian house, you need to spend a few hours there . . . time is really really precious during our trip.
    i only want to visit people that directly knew ginsberg and have interesting stories . . .


    Bob Holman show details 1/11/08 Reply
    to me
    from Bob Holman
    to Ram Devineni
    date Fri, Jan 11, 2008 at 6:52 AM
    subject RE: RE: Kolkata

    Rambaby, have no fear! I am simply wanting to spread the nets as wide as possible: as I am able to synthesize info I’ll give my opinions, but I count on you to do scheduling, I think I’m great about getting in and out of places on time (you know my reputation: “Bob Holman, he made poets read on time”), but am ready to admit my naivete re: India time-sense and ultrapolitesse, so I COUNT on you to haul me out w/ samosa chat half-eaten . . .

    Me, I want to get to a real burning ghat (are there any left in Kolkota?), stay up all night w/ Saddhus, and visit an opium den, in that order, as Ginsberg experiences (plus read poems w/ Indian musicians).

    India begins everywhere. Kali’s tiniest toenail, little tag of horn digging deep into lion’s throat, I am swimming in blood… some beginning! Start over, visualization, elaborate birth image: elephant balanced on the back of a tortoise, the gyres unwinding, time spinning round Gandhi’s spinning wheel, and here I am again of course (who else? where else?), wandering the mudra space between elephant toenail and turtle carapace. Hello, India, at the Beginning.

    For purposes of my story, let’s begin with the long-planned trip Elizabeth and I had been looking forward to, 25 years together, parents of two, wait till the kids grow up. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, spring 2005, children now 22 and 20, we moved the trip up, would do it in a year. Which meant I had to figure out a way to hand over the dailiness of the Bowery Poetry Club, downtown NYC culture spot where I serve as founder/proprietor. And amazingly, a year later, thanks to the community of poets around the Club, it happens. Elizabeth and I, and our family, travel, not to India but Valencia, where E’s terrific painting retrospective had moved from MOMA. The next year we’d also travel, this time to Venice, where her work was on exhibit at the Biennale. She died two months later. Five months after that I was in India, an “official US delegate” to the Kolkata Book Fair. Trip as fulfilment of a promise. Trip as first step in a new direction.

    Ref No. Sec/12/26 20 December 2007


    Dear friend,

    We feel honoured to know that you will join us at the biggest book festival of India, the 33rd Kolkata Book Fair 2008. You must be aware that Kolkata Book Fair 2008 is scheduled from 30 January to 10 February 2008. The Inauguration will be held on 29 January 2008 at 4:30 pm.
    On behalf of Publishers & Booksellers Guild we cordially invite you to participate in the programmes to be held at the A.C Auditorium of Kolkata Book Fair 2008. The seminars and symposia will be arranged as per your schedule of stay at Kolkata.
    Expecting your gracious presence in this ‘City of Culture and Literature’ and with regards,

    Yours sincerely,

    Tridib Kr. Chatterjee
    Hony. General Secretary
    Mobile No.+91 9830086653

    The trip expands from the Kolkata invite — Ram Devineni, poetry film mogul (psyche!), is wants to make a on the Beats in India, concentrating on Allen Ginsberg’s search for a guru. Am I up for being the host? Am I up? I am flying! Ginsberg’s been my guru since I was a teen in conservative, rural Ohio, a big force in my escaping to a poet’s life in New York, where we became friends – I produced an album of his when I was at Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, the spoken word label. This in turn can lead into another project – a series I envision to bring attention to the world’s endangered languages via poetry, continuing the work I’d done creating the PBS series United States of Poetry — this can be The New World of Poetry! And as long as I’m in India, Ram wants me to meet his family in Chennai which is coincidentally where my friend Eric Miller is living: a linguist studying the endangered language of the fishermen of Chennai. And there’s more: Catherine Fletcher, a poet who is working on the Endangered Language Initiative with me, and who is administering the US delegation to Calcutta, will be researching in Chennai! And more more: I’ve garnered an invite to read at the Attic poetry series in New Delhi, so we will visit the Taj Mahal, a la Allen. This trip is coming together! And the adventure of leaving my passport at home is just another way to begin….

    January 24

    Big Globs of Beauty on Paper, Approaching JFK Security
    Security: This passport has no visa.

    Me: Sure it does. Security: Find it.
    Me: Hmm, what’s this picture of my daughter
    Daisy doing in my passport?

    Call my friend Howard, have you met my new friend
    Howard, the 40-something bachelor poet of Tribeca?
    His passion: commiseration and poetics, a salvage
    To my new widowerhood. My man not only answers
    The phone, agrees to ferry me my passport, but
    Actually finds a cab, whose driver is savvy enough to speed
    Through Queens local streets, missing the famed rush-hour
    Jams of Long Island Expressway, Howard texting updates
    Relayed to Security, O! Passport!
    Passport with ten year multiple entry India!
    Visas to Eritrea, with Papa Susso! Yemen, with
    Poet laureate in Sa’naa! Working permit to Banff
    Spoken Word Summit! Italy and Spain and England
    For Elizabeth’s shows! Poetry Africa, South Africa!
    Poetry Slams Germany, Holland, France, Denmark, Poland!
    Po Fests in Mexico! Costa Rica! Oh aging vagabond
    Citizen of the World of Poetry!
    Citizen of New Richmond, Ohio!
    Long way from Harlan, Kentucky!
    Who cancelled two of three big Bob’s Not 60
    Birthday Readings to perform poems
    At SXSW Music Fest. Booked reading in L.A.
    Just to see grandsons and Kota, Lisanne! They’re
    The age that E and I were when… and all
    In tears I eat the past, As sour
    Tasting and tear inducing as ever.
    This Is Your Life when You are Utopic and
    Unbearable and in Full Grief Regalia, You,
    Poet in airport bar, c’mon Howard! canceling the past,
    Waiting for everything to be India.

    Flying Over Iraq en Route Poetry Reading Chennai

    Blessed white snow peaks of Turkey
    My x-ray vision delineates travelers on horseback,
    Camel humps! Geography gives way to Iraq.
    Drama! Here in plane, nothing happens.
    Maybe a red wine sir? or the insane
    Death and destruction of a culture to be
    Mentioned in poem writ in airplane perfect
    Accompaniment to the red wine sir? All
    Languages swirl. Creep
    Infatigueably—gonna be 60, always was.
    First time in India. Ratchet up pen.
    Stop war. Don’t even start war. There
    Goes Iraq sliding under. Here comes Iran.

    January 30th
    5 AM waiting for breakfast with Ram at New Modern. Then off to airport where Ram gets the news: the Book Fair has been canceled!

    In which the book fair is canceled after which it opens to a crowd of 500 with speech by Paul Theroux and a great poem and sax by Joy Harjo also meeting Sunil Gangopadhyay at the Rowing Club and other adventures. Headline of Daily Telegraph: Buddhist Battles Book Battalions. The irony, or one of the ironies, is that our plane has to circle an hour over Kolkota because we have to wait for the pollution to lift so there’s enough visibility to land! That’s right! the dust of 2.8 million is such that the Book Fair is cancelled for environmental reasons! More on this later! Poetry Pollutes Brain! Book Fair Canceled! Please come to the Book Fair! Read all about it!

    Meet poet/musician dear friend Joy Harjo at Airport…

    Riding With Joy Airport Kolkata to Hotel Landmark

    Hurrling black taxi into mad river chaos
    Rickshaws! Rickshaw humans, bicycle rickshaws,
    Moped driven surries with fringe, bicyclists,
    Occasional sacred cow bringing all traffic
    To a dead stop candy-colored trucks eyes painted
    Next to head lights ward off accidents and signs
    On back of truck Please Blow Horn!
    OK all together HONK
    Individual build constant bleat eternity Honk Honk
    Honk as you start to pass there are no lanes honk ok come on
    Honk Thanks I am now coming dangerously close
    Honk ok no problem honk I see you I like it this way honk honk ok
    Me too Sort of got by you and I wish to long honk you
    Fantastic I shall staccato burst honkonkonk as drone hoooonnonk
    Goodbye good honking you
    Honk at cars parked too close together
    Honk at cows ambling like Ganges cross thoroughfare
    Honk at bicycles going in the same direction on other side of the road
    Honk at stop signs “Do Not Stop”
    Honk at taxi driver as they
    Honk at rickshaws as they paddle dhosas tin containers
    To market, to hungry masses awaiting lunch curries
    Honk at planes over head – will they honk back?
    Make sure to honk as passengers exit from any vehicle
    Honk at gas stations “you never know”
    Write poem about when not to honk
    Build car around horn
    Holy Mother India
    Every Honk a prayer to God.
    Honk as you approach a fly over
    Honk lullaby
    Honk Howrah bridge
    Honk salt lake
    Honk at wet diaper smell
    Honk if you have a horn
    Honk if you do not have a horn
    And now on back of (honking) truck Joy reads “Please Use Horn”
    Pulls sax ebony alto
    From case begins
    Serenading symphony, Kolkata concerto
    Please honk
    Whatever you do please honk

    Immediate blessed sleep in tiny room with lumber solid bed. . . but first!

    More about Cancellation of Book Fair
    Same thing happened last year, but there was time enough before the scheduled time to go back to court, treat it as a postponement. This year the High Court waits until the day before to cancel totally. Months ago the Guild Committee had done complete environmental review, gotten okay from everyone… Politics as usual says Goutam who hasn’t told Joy yet (this too will become a theme) so I break the news which goes something like this: The book fair is cancelled and everything we’re scheduled to do is going to happen. . . Honk… . Catherine meets us at hotel positively glowing and totally tired from two days communing with press, setting up alternate sites for readings, attending to getting new programs printed. And this is my first view of the US delegation poetry anthology, which she edited: A Mingling of Waters. It’s a knockout! Looks super, 300 pages, and leafing through, guess what, poetry that is actually quite good – moving, diverse in voice, style, content, AND not representing anything. Being! Poetry being, as it should be. True USA Represents!

    And now, they’re off! Goutam, Catherine, Ram to try to save the day if not the whole Book Fair. Room service! Immediate blessed sleep in tiny room with lumber solid bed oh I said this.

    The Official Nonopening

    Off to the Official Nonopening. Traffic is terrible, surprise, Beatriz, Ram’s wonderful Brazilian camerawoman says, “Oh everybody’s coming to the Nonbook Fair!” Ram, drained from long day’s battering nothingness to beauracracy, shakes head — no one will be there. Town Hall is a big white colonial building, gated, huge columns. Lots of press running around. “They have lots of events here,” Ram says, “this isn’t for us.” And then Folks, lo and guess what — It is! Guess what, it’s not that it’s canceled and no one shows up it’s canceled and everyone shows up and it’s front page news! Must be 500 people, with TV crews and photogs up front blocking views of assembled poet dignitaries. Very formal Sunil, totally beloved and in charge, Dr. Napur, the marvelous New Jersey Bengali therapist and free spirit . . . Sodoh Sarkar, poet, nice chap, instant connection. What a buzz! You can feel revolution in air . . . tons of press stepping over everybody . . . the sound of Bengali rolls between Japanese and Romanian, very musical, emotive. . . The mayor is here, the governor… US consulate babbles Bengali, sounds like Iowan….and, from Iowa, the head of the Writing Program there, Christopher Merrill greets the community of the word and speaks for the group – Merrill was here last year, is main connect with the Indian government, our leader, give great talk, quotes Frost
    here’s a couple of couplets from his “Ghazal” for Aga Shahid Ali

    There’s no sugar in the Promised Land
    Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land

    The way you danced along the crowded bar —
    The saffron-harvest in a star-crossed land

    . . Now it’s Paul Thoreaux’s turn – the great travel writer and novelist seems even more disbelieving of the situation, wry, sardonic, — hurt, even, but soldiering on. This will be the last we’ll see of him as he is whisked off in official car for official tour to official reading sites and dinners around the country… poor Paul…I get my moment, hold the Actual Plaque with my Actual Poem on it. The Mayor is reading over my shoulder, “A Gift of imperfect understanding…”
    Many many welcomes in Bengali. At last Joy is introduced but then another Bengali politician steps in in front of her and drones on. Finally Joy launches into poem about her granddaughter and transition. . . incredible overtones with sax. Paul Horn in Taj Mahal — brilliant! but the Bengalis walk out, the hall basically empties press audience walks straight across in front of her as the pure poem covers the air, insinuates the space, builds a future of music. Listening with me is Willie Kgositsile , old friend and ally, poet laureate of S Africa and his pal Kase also from South Africa. They’re staying at the Hilton, will check in later as US delegation is herded into press conference. We all say our pieces. Peace. The assumption is get through this quickly so we can have some dinner

    Wrong! Off to yacht club to hang with Sunil and gang. Several bottles of whiskey and limited menu. Ram hasn’t eaten all day, Beatriz comes all the way across town – down to chips and some fish bits arrive…ah! the world needs these words!. . . drunk poets party blitz chowder dip man Italian/India engineer poet diagrams poems the gallery owner installs on walls. Time for sleep.

    January 31

    Breakfast with Joy Ram Beatrice Christopher fun and games Off to Kalighat.

    One Place To Another

    Something about everything— eg, get in cab
    Head for Kaligat
    But there is no Kaligat so
    We turn around and decide to got Kaligat
    Which is the crematorium we stop and go in
    Yes there is wailing yes I AM WAILING
    Wired for sadness, camera stays out, go into the room
    Of pipes to chimneys, the room of gates
    And grief, a woman is Opari no it is
    A boy, a teenager, keening
    For his mother where are my daughters
    Try to call on phone, busy
    One rupee twenty seconds Kerutala burning ghat
    Now a site for sleeping dogs
    To growl and behind more temples
    Profound simplicity where I sit lotus
    Walk into Mouth of Lion


    Since everything is happening now in front of
    Me is India we go to where Ginsberg
    Learned life is death is life burning
    With desire real flame the final
    Unreeling at extreme
    Speed that is slowly horn blowingly
    Slowly appearing Kali from Ganga, the
    Dripping Naga and Veda cloud poem! the
    Sun is just another thing happening
    Beside the eternal taxonomy of garbage
    Life begins to notice it is not here
    The only thing missing is the body and the
    Leg sticking out of pyre is ever so
    Gently nominated as beauty queen of
    Total Understanding.
    Maybe what we mean is
    Rapture Peace Nothingness

    Off to Howrah bridge! And walk to Ghat through flower market towards Ganges — a riot of colors, garlands red yellow carnation petals like dust find our way to the ghat where we hang our with two gurus, Shanando Mondol and Genehsi shankar. Apni Amar Guru? Are you my guru?

    Teaching at Kolkata University with Bhatri Mukerjee, a paying gig. University conveniently situated next to Coffee House on College Street where Ginsberg first met Sunil. So Subodh, Ram and I stop in for hadj — wind up creaking memories stair to giant room, walls browned by coffee smoke, bored waiters, hubbub of intellectual conversation ebbing and flowering and bouncing. The eternal now of the Kolkota coffee house scene. Outside we are surrounded by hundreds of bookstalls, so jammed that books must arrive by rickshaws – no trucks can penetrate. Proprietors sit on stall, cross-legged, stall sevenfeet wide, thousands of books stuffed in all available space, make that no available space. Old, flaking, falling apart gorgeous University, with stained and faded photos of great professors of the past stretching from forgotten to oblivion, all the way to the ceiling. The students have all read Bahtri’s Jasmine – and she is a wonder, weaving together her Kolkata past and present, her romance in Iowa and the resultant ongoing happy, mixed marriage, her originating what is an now an entire genre, “immigrant fiction.” Students listen closely, well-behaved, smart, like a polite private high school in the States. Beatriz shoots, Ram too, and national TV is on hand. I’m on next, students get into modulation to performance, hiphop. Pay for teaching is $25 for two hours. Lunch is boxed tuna and pasty with cardboard cake. Then it starts to rain, as much inside as out, the old buildings barely standing up to the deluge, just let it pour through.
    Downpour Kolkata University

    Halls hold scholars’ centuries
    Photos yellow dust darkened walls
    Swinging doors to the Dean’s Office
    Pouring down wet precious liquid
    Burble glurg pl’flow write
    Outta the pipes—hold it! It is now
    Increasingly rising over your feet wear
    Sandals—lucky. Hoist your dress, graduate
    Student in Aboriginal Behavior!
    The shadows plummet! Total flood overflow
    Rinses university. Boat drives by, open door
    To taxi? water pours in!
    Water drips from every department:
    History, Literature,
    Science, Mathematics.
    Antiphonal raindrops, galleons subaqueous

    Palm Poem

    The sound of one hand clapping
    Is exactly the same
    As the sound of the other hand clapping

    Breakfast with Joy Ram Bea off to Pakistani refugee—I sit in car prep for tonight’s reading finish inspiring Ginsberg letters a completely different person when writing to his father or to Ferlinghetti. Very formal with Father, very honest, wanting Louis (who is also a poet) to approve of his poems. Ferlinghetti gets mad dash of imagery and publishing biz details. I am fading in and out of sleep in the car, warm Kolkata morning, air still, quiet dirt road somewhere in this City’s madness. Then I hear a twang!twang!twang! It’s a street musician – my opportunity for spontaneous jam! I stop him just as Ram, Bea and Gautam II return, Gautam II translates. Turns out street musician is actually a dhunuri, cotton wool fluffer with string on stick his tool which he idly plucks as he walks to work.—the string sounds like a bass. Ram sets up the camera. Dhunuri accompanies me in a spontaneous poem. I am in heaven.

    Then we realize we’re standing in front of an old print shop. Gotum II, our interlocutor, has an idea, strikes up a connection and next thing you know we’re handing over the text of “Relationship” to be printed on beautiful Indian rag paper. $5 per hundred. I order 200.


    In order to save the relationship
    We will never see each other again.


    We go to Howrah Bridge, where Ginsberg envisioned all human populace crossing, Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims multiplied to infinity, an image that still works as the world hustles by Bea shooting the sunset.

    Poet At Work on Ganges

    The vibrating Howrah is writing this
    As I meditate the sun down
    Ganges, simple flow below, sun sinking
    Into eternal bridge—crossing humanity
    O, India flowers of no resistance, how
    I have waited to wait here forever for
    Night, and night today, and day and . . .
    Which is the only reason for poetry
    Where time stops and only eternity dawns

    Magic Hour At Kolkata Cricket Stadium

    Fanatic nonviolence and fish
    That live on land because no one
    Tells them—hey Fish, Get back
    In the water! Fanatic nonviolence
    Where no one swats a mosquito the
    Mosquitoes die of obesity and malaria
    pills no longer disturb dreams

    In fact dreams are never
    Disturbed no matter what, not even, by wakefulness
    I have been there. I am
    Still there. These eyes you see
    Are my eyelids, these eyes are painted on.

    Dinner – what else? A mass trip to the US Consulate! This will be the worst food I will taste in India.

    31 January 2008
    Hey you,
    You sound great you sound like Kolkata.

    At 10:30 Ram and I took on the faculty at the Satjiyath Ray Film Academy, you woulda loved it. We got so many directions/films/agendas/screenwriter phenoms/friends of Ram it seems Poetry Films is as much a genre as Action or Comedy. There’s Ram’s film school in Sao Paulo. There’s the doc he’s making with Bea about The New India. There’s Bea’s film—Brazil girls dreams of Bollywood, many misadventures as they make way to subcontinent, film of the film. There’s Ram’s and my movie about Ginsberg in India. There’s Ram’s Poetry DVD Magazine Rattapallax. There’s my United States of Poetry and New World of Poetry emphasizing poetry of Endangered Languages (I have a lead on Funding! Whoops, where did I put that address?). Then, we hit the students for two hours of “What is Poetry Film?”. The students are active, engaged, falling over each other to talk, with a few survival of the fittest types grabbing the air. One young woman: Has anyone written a poem in collaboration with the making of the film? You go girl, I say, your idea! But it slowly dawns on Ram and me that that’s exactly what we did, just yesterday, at the Burning Ghats, my improv-on-camera prayer poem.

    We then have another one of those glorious and interminable Kolkata cab rides. Fantastic sights, smells and thrill a minute car maneuvers—one threw all passengers forward, not a bad stunt at 15 mph! All events are separated by these 40 minutes or so of total insane constant horn blare traffic blastoff through deadly poverty and mind-blowing colors on everything. We are to visit Upal Basy, another pal of Ginsberg’s (note:) who turns out to be Alzheimeric except nobody knows but me cause we’re talking esoteric poetry facts “Basil Bunting Scottish poet TS Eliot funeral at Royal Albert Hall” etc., all confused and patched together, stories overheard, remixed, played back at another speed . . .

    So I’m too tired to go to 6 pm reading which has been hastily booked as Opening Ceremony for Canceled Book Fair (I did tell you Book Fair was canceled, correct?) because of 9 pm performance with Joy Harjo but I’m told this will be Big and Important so we fight traffic and guess what it’s Small and Unimportant but that’s OK. At least we get to here Chris Merrill singing “This Land is You Land” with an Indian folk poet. Yes, Joy and I are there singing too. It’s not so much that anything can happen in India it’s that everything happens.

    There’s not enough time to go to hotel and back to 9:30 gig (hotel is at least an hour of traffic away) so we go straight to gig. “Somewhere Else” at Park Hotel is blaring generic US hotel pub with NYC prices. Discover our names aren’t on the set list at The Pub. Discover that the organizers didn’t quite get this thing together and the famous Bob Dylan of India folk-rocker we are to share bill with really isn’t into it — we can sit through his encores and then take the stage for an empty room. so Joy and I nod and it’s traffic and hotel and a cry and email.

    I write you Sweet T cause your life has so much suckiness right now and my as you call it Perfect Life is just one crazy nightmare after another. Somehow your struggles there reminded me Exactly of what I went through today. Also you write so personably and eloquently I feel like we’re talking and that’s a sweet wonderful endearing feeling.

    So I wanted to expand on Hey You and just say that crying is a very good thing and you certainly deserve a good long one and I wish I were there my shoulder could be put to good use. I cry daily still you know. And

    You’ve got a ton of great friends around you, so cry alone and cry with them. I am sorry about the sculpture but now there’s less in the truck right and art is long but not that long, as life is brief, but long enough to hold most everything. And you are young and terrific and this adventure will soon enough be a glorious moment of the past as you find yourself at last! In it and not transitioning To it.

    Thanks for writing me. It feels good, and now I won’t have to write today’s journal. You can be my journal tonight, ok?

    To Guru

    trust eyes
    never lies
    tongue of teeth
    lash of eye
    pure touch
    ash to sky

    okay to do anything
    okay to go anywhere
    just stay here always
    doing nothing

    Fracas on Blanket

    Me and Sherando Mondol
    And 150 flies divided into
    ABCDE forms of caste
    In a very street high school
    All are sitting on Sherando Mondol’s
    Blanket and are singing
    The these words: Lift, voicesky!
    Dance! Dance! Dance!
    As if some magic force!
    Flies fly off Sherando!
    He and I still sitting and
    Next thing you know we are
    Flying off too!

    Are we flies? I ask my Guru.
    Eye compassion
    From my guru lets me
    Know everything.

    3 February

    Of course when rest of US delegation arrives – Carolyn Forche, Natalie Handal, Ed Pavlic, Suji Kwok Kim, Dante Michaux, Idra Novey and her husband Leo Novik— Everybody’s here but Erica Jong, who couldn’t make it at the last minute, and Yusef Komunyakaa, who’s upstairs sleeping, an amazing group and

    Nobody had told them. Nobody had told them about the cancellation of the book fair the week before.

    I have to second Joy’s unbelievable news. Yes the book fair’s tpicture of a group stun. Disbelief and over-tiredness. The complexities breed more complexity and then Yuesf shows up. He’s not happy. Just that no one knew. Not that they would have done anything different, it’s the idea. Gotum finally appears, tension thick as we get through it

    Barhatri is speaking about the effects of book fair’s cancellation — she’d planned to pick up Bengali novels and poems for teaching translation and maybe even publication but, no vendors. Also Bengali audience doesn’t get to hear the incredible US delegation, living representation of mulit-culti lit (see her brilliant essay in A Mingling of Waters, “The Way Back: Bangla/mother Tongue”).

    Catherine is now having a golden moment. She is asking Gotum to give us the schedule. Read it to us, she says, just to be sure. Well it’s true, we still have no idea which events are happening and the new arrivees are vacillating beyween horror and humor. . It is fairly hilarious — now Gotum is speaking Bengali to get back at her. And gets in some licks for the lack of media coverage, ouch. Somehow in the middle of this dustup I discover that the bottled water in the room, which I’ve been drinking, is actually tap water. I’ve been having no problems but now, a week in, will switch to A”real” bottled water. I decide not to tell Ram.

    Another great cab ride, it’s Saturday traffic flows better. That is until we get to the bridge. Cab parks we proceed on foot bridge that crosses the flower market. We make our way out to the Ghat, I really don’t see any “real” saddus but then, sure enough, one appears, with natty dreds and a red turban unwrapping hanging down from his head flies all around. Oh my goodness I’ve already written this. Could this have been yesterday? Yes.

    Now I’m at the art gallery for a reading. Great to see the laid back Sunil as the main man. When he hands out newly published books, a kind of ritual, men reach down and touch his feet or just wave below his knee — is this a hierarchy of obeisance or is it just who’s flexible enough to touch the floor? Next, Una Bodes play harmonium, sings Tagore everybody knows, everybody sings along then she says another she doesn’t mention the name — everybody sings along with this one too.The reading is supposed to be just Joy and me, but we’re all here so everyone reads a poem each first so by the time I’m to read the audience is depleted.

    Off to buy beer back to hotel buffet dinner big party in Catherine and Lloyd’s room. Fun. Next day big ruckus in hallway it’s Goutam dancing and screaming the giants just won the super bowl. The sewage smell drifts in from Salt Lake.

    Last Day
    A morning reading at the Crossroads Book Store. I buy gifts for the kids and grandkids – including a ten-pound brick of Asterix books for Anthony – must be 60 books for $30. It’s asunny morning, and we all seem relaxed. The reading is totally great…

    Goutam: “This day starts like any other day…I wish to play Candyland with my daughter”

    Catherine Fletcher: “How long have girders stretched the skyline/How long before the bridges crack”

    Caroline Forche: “’man and cart disappear in the blast, but their shadows remained on the bridge”

    Nathalie Handal: “There is a country on my tongue/a small world between my heartbeats”

    Joy Harjo: We do not want your version of Progress/There are other versions says Spider who does not considermaking/webs to sell to the highest bidder/but keeps weaving and thnking /and including us in the story

    Bob Holman: If you see something, Say something Banana”

    Sujui Kwok Kim: “Crush my eyes, bitter grapes:/ wring out the wine of seeing.”

    Yussef Komunyakaa: “blow that saxaphone/so deep all the sex & dopoe in the world won’t erase your need”

    Dante Michaux: “Wide-eyed I take my time to daydream/I’m blaqck tea steeping in this salty ocean.”

    Christopher Merrill: he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge/of his nck, heading it/from side to side, softer and softer, like a dying refrain”

    Bharatri Mukhurjee: “There is a reason why the language we inherit at birth is called our Mother T 2 ongue. It is our mother, forgiving, embraacing, naming the world and all its emotions.”

    Idra Novy: “I follow a stray dog/so he will stop following me/and a violin starts forming/in the pockets of my coat”

    Ed Pavlic: “I said I got here/ by tinfoil and waxtwist, bright threads in your hair”
    Dante and I deide on the apot, hop in a cap and hightail it all the way up to the Kali temple two hours north of the city get stuck in a political demo a corpse on a bed of flowers dances through traffic. Driver wants us to leave our shoes in the car. No thanks we’ll take our shoes we’re off to monkey park. Take slow boat to Rama Krisna campus and temple then back for a wander through the incredible red and yellow field of temples Ah Kali! temple ring bells along the station of life. Toll cobra. Pay the cobra, ring the bell, pay to play! See Kali mother smothered in flower garlans! Sweet smells! Kali kali!!! Oh Oh Oh! Sun is setting beautiful duck.!Find way out to cab driver who now only speaks in Bengali, wants more money, I give it to him. Enough to appease him. Dante sees that 30 rupees is written on the paper I gave him 50 to start now 10 more I figure we didn’t do too bad Dust settling in for the night we pass a green bus and a gold star I think of my mother it’s here favorite Chile diner in Cincinnati. A boy selling kerchiefs for 5, Dante wants one give me a blue one I give him a 20 he tossed him two red ones no time for change as car races off to Kolkata.

    Now we’re in the back row sitting between Chris and Ed. Sadbode is reading the last poems. We’re all out of flowers from Kalighat. I give the famous plaque to the major, sit with Dr. Napur it’s a Bengali reading people talk continually walk in and out talk on cellphones. Poems sail. Dr. Napur has us over for her famous fried fish Gotum and I bring the Bhang this is where the poems start to fall down but luckily it’s all part of the dance. Across form the university are a thousand book stalls each on eight feet wide with a desk in front where the book seller sits.


    Last Night in Kolkata

    Talk with Sunil about Lorca
    Sodbah-Tranlations. Publish?
    Ram-Dailies? Pickup shot,
    Benares? Allen’s last night wind blue
    Tonight no wind, still blue
    Allen’s last night carousing. Well,
    There was carousing that’s for sure
    Allen was with Sunil—me too!
    Allen used his name in poem
    That’s too much for Bob Holman
    Who finds his own home
    Writes his own poem

    Opening night details

    Playing the cotton picking instrument

    Introduce the characters

    Party at Dr N’s.

    Tonight is big dinner party at our benefactor and spiritual humdinger, the poet-shrink Dr N, who splits her time between suburban Jersey and a gorgeous pad in old Kolkata. Dr N is renowned for waiting till the kids grew up to divorce her Bengali husband and henceforth become the Bohemian spirit of Kolkata and Indian New Jersey, which is to say, the Little India of USA. Yusef has mentioned that this is one of the highlights of the Book Fair, and there’s a lot of anticipation from all quarters.

    Goutam and I go out to gather supplies. It’s a lot of adventures and misadventures through the greeny Bladerunner smog of Kolkata. He and his driver _____________ have been together so long, with their old Checker car it’s a single unit. Wild to be along for the ride, the back alleys, the old friends. By the time we get to the party, it’s in full swing, Sunil holding court, Yusef roaming the edges, and Dr N singing poems . The food, smelling wonderful alas where – gotta say we do enjoy and Sunil is already holding court when we arrive. The wine is flowing, the cigarette smoke is thick,

    Shopping + lunch w/ Dr Napur

    It’s A Future I’d Have Never Invented

    We’re all on Cellphones! Alone. B.F.D.
    (Big Fucking Deal). Gog Magog. I
    Will tell you the stories. You will eat this poem.

    Ginsberg on Death

    However I am sick of capital D Death wish, Finally.
    Might as well use the head I got— though learned a lot
    From testing it’s limits. The problem to find verbal.

    Even Dogs Go to Sleep

    They do it when you’re dreaming
    So you can dream of them barking
    To balance their barkings’
    Interrupting your meditation

    Even Holy Men Ride Motorcycles

    They pull alongside
    To teach you
    The dog is not interrupting
    The dog is accompanying
    Honk at planes overhead
    Make sure to honk as passengers enter or exit
    Honk at gas station “you never know”
    Write poem about when not to honk
    Build car around horn
    Holy holy mother India
    Ever honk a prayer to god
    “A train is coming straight at you be sure to honk”

    More India

    The shakedown continues. Everyone is.
    Here the sun is just another input,
    Pay extra for the pollution chip
    In your cellphone never stops ringing.
    Cellphones! The new, personal automobile horn?
    The noise builds builds and FINALLY
    Cop nonchalantly waves us on

    Social Commentary: Manners in Kolkata, Iowa

    By happenstance I was sent to Iowa
    Isn’t that like Hollywood? I thought
    You can take dowry money or
    You can get an MFA. Pick # 1, and
    I, says Dad, will arrange the Perfect
    Marriage. We found him—an engineer
    Whose mother was dead: no mother in-law!
    So I head off for school — writing was girls’ work,
    Like sewing. I found myself for the first time
    Ever in a co-educational classroom, first
    Time in a rural setting. So, escaping marriage,
    I promptly fell in love and married after two
    Week courtship. We held hands after a play—
    It felt like the end of chasitiy

    A non-white person in a white society —
    Suddently I was exotic or passing.
    My mind was living in Kolkata,
    The neighborhoods, the life. I was not
    There. I knew Kolkata would change.
    I’m still married he’s wonderful.
    We wrote days and nights together.

    Book by book I change.
    My language changes with me.
    Indian couples come to Queens.
    US did not invented “immigrant fiction.”
    Except for Europe. Brown people were
    Invisible or sojourners.

    Started getting into American pop culture—
    I’d never seen TV before I’d come to America,
    And I haven’t stopped watching it since.
    I have a five room condo, big TV in every room.
    They’re always on! The frenetic jump cuts
    of the news—Keyna, China, India—
    have insinuated themselves in my work.

    The language I write is far from colonial,
    But also different from the American way
    Of self creation. Now, being back, I can say
    We have changed together.