Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, whose interpretation of the work of Kabir we published to much acclaim earlier this year (In The NY Times, August Kleinheider said it brought Kabir “to life in English for the first time”), was interviewed for a radio program about the poem-cycle Jejuri by his friend and colleague Arun Kolatkar. Admirers of Songs of Kabir should have a peek at Arun Kolatkar as well. Both Indian poets confess to a love of the blues (“Hound Dog,” a particular favorite) and American popular idiom in general (see Kolatkar’s famously cranky list of influences).
The program also includes some readings from Jejuri and will be available until the end of December 2011.
Design freaks will also be interested in the discussion of Kolatkar as one of the most distinguished men of Indian graphic design and advertising. He was also a bit of a star cover designer as well. Some examples of his work can be seen here.
Last night Arvind Mehrotra talked to an engaged crowd at Poets House in Lower Manhattan about translating Kabir into the “American demotic.” The talk was part of a Poets House 25th anniversary reading series tracing 3,000 years of poetic language (coming up, Petrarch and Dante).
Poets House made us feel welcome by projecting the words of Kabir onto the sidewalk in front of their beautiful headquarters—and Mehrotra was obliging enough to pose behind it.
Brother, I’ve seen some
A lion keeping watch
Over pasturing cows;
A mother delivered
After her son was;
A guru prostrated
Before his disciple;
A cat carrying away
Driving a bullock-cart;
A buffalo going out to graze,
Sitting on a horse;
A tree with its branches in the earth,
Its roots in the sky;
A tree with flowering roots.
This verse, says Kabir,
Is your key to the universe.
If you can figure it out.
Read an interview with Mehrtotra in which he discusses Kabir.
“The ludic and trickster elements in Kabir are emphasized in this collection, blending traditional Indian scriptural allusion with contemporary slang and colloquialisms: “bedroom eyes,” “sucker,” “dreadlocked rasta,” “smelling of aftershave,” “Faber poets.” There are epigraphs from Marcus Aurelius, Leadbelly, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Richard Hugo and Tom Paulin, among others. The main text, which consists of 60 short poems, is mixed in with learned commentary by Mehrotra and others, always pertinent, illuminating and straight but, finally, not really necessary, so vivid and accessible are the poems themselves, even when certain of the names, tropes or conventions are unfamiliar. One can get a sense reading through the book that not only is Kabir being playful in method, with his “upside-down” poems, often provoking or scolding, however serious in intent, but the translator, as well, inserting learned disquisitions after the poems or not, perhaps at random, perhaps not. The effect can seem like a reverse haibun, the Japanese literary form, where a short prose piece is followed by a haiku, related in tone and poetic subject matter, serving as a kind of complement or coda to the prose.”