By Deb A.
It has been 40 years since Ghulam Nabi Khayal received one of the top honours of India's literary scene: an award from the National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi).
This week, he gave it back.
Like over 40 of his peers, he's returned his award to the academy to protest an atmosphere of intolerance and violence in India that began to emerge after last year's election, when a Hindu nationalist party took power. The movement was set in motion in September when 76-year-old scholar Malleshappa Kalburgi, who had criticized idolatry in Hinduism, was gunned down in his home; it gained momentum after Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by a mob that accused him of killing and eating a cow.
Members of the literary community have taken issue not only with the Prime Minister's failure to condemn the murders, but also with the academy's perceived silence on attacks on writers that span from deadly violence to censorship. The clampdown on freedom of expression has become so threatening that author Perumal Murugan recently announced his 'death' as a writer following a campaign by rightwing Hindu groups against his novel, Madhorubagan (One Part Woman).
"India's culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault," remarked renowned author Nayantara Sahgal when she became one of the first to renounce her award earlier this month.
Indian-born Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is illegal to sell in his home country, also entered the fray, claiming that inaction from the government and the Sahitya Akademi had resulted in a new "degree of thuggish violence".
In response to the accusations, the academy put out a press release and has called an emergency meeting to deal with the protests and staunch the flow of rejected awards. Letters and cheques are coming in almost daily. The new awards are due to be announced next month.
The New York Times has printed a list of several of the leading authors and poets who are taking part in the revolt. Eager readers will use this as an opportunity to peruse the best of Indian literature while lending support to authors and poets who are taking a stand for freedom of expression.
By Deb A.
Iran won't be appearing at the world's largest trade fair for books this year after the Frankfurt Book Fair invited Salman Rushdie to be a guest speaker. Calling the decision to bring Rushdie, who is still the target of a fatwa issued in 1998 by Ayatollah Khomeini, "an anti-cultural action," Iran's minister of culture urged other Islamic countries to boycott the fair as well.
The announcement comes just days after a kinder, gentler example was set in Tehran with "Gate of Words", a light installation by German artist Philipp Geist that projected words of love and peace onto Azadi (Freedom) Tower. His goal: to promote cultural understanding between Iran and Germany. It appears there is still a long way to go.
"Elizabeth" is the debut poetry volume of English poet, Charlie Baylis, published by Agave Press. Divided into two parts, the first section is a selection of poetry that has appeared in various journals and magazines, including the Pushcart Prize-nominated "Along the Westway" which originally appeared in Agave Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 2. The second section contains his long poem "Elizabeth," a romantic, post-surreal work.
In this second and final blog installment, Charlie continues to regale us with stories of his muses, and a closer reading of the remaining poems, including eponymous, "Elizabeth."
"Midnight on the Spanish Steps"
If you’re ever lucky enough to be in Rome at midnight then go and sit on the Spanish Steps, preferably with a bottle of red wine—that’s my top recommendation. There’s a certain magic in the air, the view is great and it’s also next to the apartment where John Keats died. The nightingales at the end of the poem are a Keats reference, as are the pots of untamed basil. I sometimes think this poem was written by the hand of his ghost, but then it would probably be a much better poem, wouldn’t it?
I wrote this poem in Bari, Italy, on a cloudy day by the sea, so that’s where some of the wavy imagery comes from. This poem contains five different fruits (something I’ve only just realized), so if you ate it you would get your five-a-day. My grandma likes this one. She said, “It’s a bit different, not like the cat sat on the mat." Elizabeth is my Grandma’s middle name, but that’s just a co-incidence.
If spring is where love begins, then winter is where it dies (that sounds rather dramatic!) Here is Federica again, with a lot of snow going on and other wintery things. Yes, the Giants playing away is an American football reference, but I have only watched the Superbowl twice and I know nothing about the sport.
"A Requiem on Repeat"
This is the oldest poem in Elizabeth, dating back to 2011. I’ve re-written it a number of times. If you know your Arthur Rimbaud then you might pick up a reference to "Apres le deluge" where ‘Madam *** installed a piano in the alps’ and in my poem ‘Her piano chimed from the stairs of the Alps.' There is no greater visual writer than Arthur Rimbaud. He’s up there with my all-time favourites.
I wrote the first four parts to Elizabeth in the bath, hence all the water in the poem. It got a little difficult when the paper got wet. The initial inspiration for Elizabeth was a long poem by Gillian Allnutt about Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s muse Elizabeth Siddall, who I’ve always been interested in, (however that’s not to say that’ she is exactly who my Elizabeth is). Elizabeth is essentially an amalgam of muses— there is one in particular who comes up a few times in the poem, the first reference is 'in drowning moons sing to me of burnt parliaments’ and then the next I can find is in part VIII, 'Elizabeth: we were born to die, isn’t that something you sang.'
Any ideas yet? Look at the title of the fifth poem in section I. Still lost? The burning parliaments come from 'his parliaments on fire and his hands above' in the song "West Coast" by Lana del Rey, real name Elizabeth Grant.
The word asperities I’d only just learnt from interviewing Toby Martinez de las Rivers. Someone I’d hate to play him at scrabble – look how many words he knows. The first four parts came all at once; I wrote them on paper and typed them up. Once they were written up I changed nothing. This was completely opposite to the following parts which were really frustrating and took a lot of time and staring at the screen in despair.
This originally had two parts of about the same length but I deleted the second part and replaced it with the italics about the lemon tree. I might post it somewhere random in the future.
This also got changed around a lot. I think I deleted two verses and wrote out a new one over the top. I don’t know what a 'salamander torch’ is, perhaps a burning salamander held aloft in darkness. There’s another reference to Eugene Gardens in the second part, this time capitalized correctly.
Lots of places name checked in this section: Paris, Zurich, Jamaica, and China. I’ve been to three of them. One day I will go to Jamaica and it will be great, I'm sure. Part five was actually meant to start in the Caribbean but I junked a lot of it so now it doesn’t start anywhere in particular.
Here we go with some massive Romeo and Juliet debts, which if you’ve very clever you will know is where my Shakespeare quote above the poem comes from (I think it’s one of Mercutio’s lines). 'If’ is indeed the first word Romeo says to Juliet, 'if’ you’re interested, his first line to her is: 'If I profane with my unworthiest hand …. ’
H, was originally written as Happy, but I thought the H on its own looked more mysterious, “death is amorous” is more Romeo and Juliet, which, I’m sure you’ll agree is a wonderful play. When we read it in school I read the part of Romeo, badly, without any trace of emotion. I was a little shy at that age.
I was very happy to get the egotistic, enigmatic Paris St German striker Zlatan Ibrahimović into a poem, even if that particular bit of footballing action is made up, I’m sure he has missed in extra time at least once, perhaps in the rain. Nottingham Forest are my team.
I have to thank my German friend Nik, for the line “Ich hasse dich wie die Pest” as when I put 'I hate your guts’ into google translate and it gave me rubbish so I asked an authentic German speaker instead. Also another small debt, in my foolishness I’d originally spelt Shelley wrong and some magic would have been lost if Diana Mastrodomenico had not corrected it. Mount Blanc is probably my favourite Shelley poem, but in my poem Mary Shelly is writing, I think she is probably writing a memo to Percy – ‘do write a poem about this mountain dear’.
I wrote bouillabaisse sauce before I gave up being a cretin and realized bouillabaisse is a soup. I don’t know much about food, you would know this if you ever had the misfortune of me cooking for you.
Part XII is not actually the final part of Elizabeth, I’ve also written an epilogue, published in Agave Magazine, Vol.3, Issue 1.
Thank-you, Charlie! As a special treat for our readers, use coupon code Blog15 for 15% off your purchase of Charlie's book.
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