April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 24

Last night was the launch party/reading for my first book as editor -- Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems. We had a crowd of 50 people at the Towson Library, part of the Towson Arts Collective's Cruelest Month/National Poetry month reading series.

Life in Me is a non-traditional love poetry anthology (looking at 7 different aspects of love), published by Maryland Writers Association Books

I've met some amazing folks working on this book. One of them is Dr. Tapendu Basu, who also goes by the name Gandharva Raja.

His poem "The Bridge" is in the Madness of Love section of the anthology. It's a short poem exploring the magical thinking that can happen when we are swept away by love. Tapendu read the poem last night -- powerful stuff.

Tapendu is also the author of Epic Mahabharata: A Twenty-fist Century Retelling. I chose a love poem from his book to share with you. It combines an enthralling narrative and beautiful descriptive details.

A related writing prompt follows.

Savitri and Yama
[A love story]

by Tapendu Basu

One night in the forest dreary,
Draupadi, lonely as the moon at night,
asked Vyasa to make the season light

with a story of love.
Said Vyasa, "Listen:
There lived a princess with wavy tresses

lovely as a heron in flight.
The princess wed a woodman
knowing her love would never wane,

never want more than his hand's caress.
Upright as the trees he felled,
strong as his axe,

the woodcutter was unaware
of his noble birth and royal line
and how in the forest he was lost.

One night Yama pounded on the gate
and let her know of his fate --
by the sword of time hung over his head

at year's end he was destined -- dead.
On the day death would claim
Savitri kept wakeful vigil, faithful that

the glow of death would certain thaw
death's unwelcome chill.
As darkness snail-paced covered

the chopped wood piled high,
the woodman fell in a faint
and would not stir his eye.

As shadowy silhouette cloaked in red --
his jet black hair bound in a net --
crouched over the lifeless form

and covered the death-paled face.
Saying, 'Prepare the funeral, O fair lady.
Satyaban's time is ended.

and Death has no time to spare,'
Yama plunged his hand
into the dead man's heart

and pulled out the thumbsized soul.
He spun a thread -- a web -- around it
and saved the soul in his net.

Savitri tugged on his flowing red robe
and begged that she be allowed
seven brief pace --

seven steps alongside her husband's departed soul
But she walked yet longer
keeping pace with the red robed Yama

till the evening light was spent.
Adamant, she refused to part.
'The thread you tied

when my husband died
has me in your snare,' she said.
Persuaded, with softness rare

Yama permitted one petition --
a single soulful plea and reason.
The moon burst through the cloud

and Savitri's face was aglow.
Pleaded Savitri, 'I wish for a son;
but, consider, a son ill becomes a widow.'

Savitri's wish was impossiblewise.
Yama was willing to compromise.
'If half your days you willingly sacrifice,

I will revive Satyaban for as many days --
death's count will not alter
and fate stays without fault.'

In each inflection of the story
Draupadi found comfort.
Easy it would be to spend

pensive placid days by the river's bend
where river Jamuna holds in holy embrace
the water that flows from Shiva's hair."

Posted with permission of the author.

Writing Exercise:
Sacred texts like the Mahabharata can be a wonderful source for fiction and poetry.

When I taught high school English, my students had an assignment to write a "side story" with its roots in a Biblical tale. One boy wrote a story that takes place after Lazarus is brought back to life. After Jesus commands Lazarus to awake, the man realizes he cannot sleep. I've never forgotten the story.

Choose a moment in a sacred text where you can tell a side story, a what-happened-next? or a point of view piece -- "how did this person feel about X."

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