.
 

 

Reviews
 

Photos
  Introdution to Days in the Life
"These Hybrid Expressions"
By Manjushree Thapa
September, 2010

.
 
  Nation Weekly, May 16, 2004
The Buddhist Behind the Camera
By Sushma Joshi

.
 
  Nepali Times, April 23, 2004
More Than Just Pretty Pictures
By Smriti Jaiswal

.
 
  Nepali Times, November 22, 2002
We all make each other
by Manjushree Thapa

.
 
  Nepali Times. June1 2001
If bodies have voices
by Nina Bhatt

.
youth
 

Sunday Post. June 3 2001
wayne's world 1985-95
by Spost

.

flatline witness
 

Kathmandu Post. 2001
Standing Witness
Kathmandu Post Review of Books

.

construction

Lectures, Essays and Reviews (by Wayne Amtzis)
 
Sept 19, 2015 Yalamaya Kendra, Patandhoka
SAFEI Lecture in Aesthetics of Nepali Arts

.
Nepali Times (#19 DEC 2000)
The Urge for Equality: the poetry of Poorna Vaidya

.

Rising Nepal. April 8 1994
On reading the photos of Rajendra Chitrakar

.

Rising Nepal. 1994
Newspaper photographs to teach writing


eggman
Talking Violence:
Narrative Method in the Poetry of Carver, Levine, and Ai

.
 
FATE, FEAR AND HUMAN WILL IN POEMS BY DELMORE SCHWARTZ AND ROBINSON JEFFERS
.
 
Nepalese Linguistics
Vol. 13. November 1996
THE MIRRORED SELF –
Reading the Reader's Response

.
 
Kathmandu Post Review of Books
December 1998
Delusion's Games

.
 
FORUM (vol. 33 #1), 1995
Whose Story Is It?
Conflict and Roleplay in Narrative Writing

.
 
Conflict and Roleplay: Using Film Adaptations of American Short Stories
Forum (vol. 31 #2) April 93

.
 
Nepali Times (#149) June 13, 2003
Being Seen: the photos of William Mebane

.
 
Nepali Times (#141) April 18, 2003
Mani's Moments: the photos of Mani Lama

.
 
Nepali Times (#134) Feb 28, 2003
Someone Else's Country: the poetry of Tsering Wangmo

.
 

Translation
 
Nepali Times (#524), Oct 22, 2010 - Oct 28, 2010
Whose language is it?
By Wayne Amtzis

.
 
#562 (15 JULY 2011 - 21 JULY 2011)
Days in the life
by SMRITI JAISWAL
.
 

Fiction
 
 
 
Rising Nepal May 25, 1994
The Coming of RAM

 

 

THESE HYBRID EXPRESSIONS
Review by Manjushree Thapa


I

Poetry is the highest form of language, the most refined utterance possible in words. It exists, in pure form, only in the language it is originally written. In translation, it alters into a hybrid expression, the meanings, rhetorical styles and silences of one language transferring only partially into another language, and fusing with the meanings, rhetorical styles and silences of the other language.

This hybrid expression is necessary if we are to understand others through the highest form of language, through the most refined utterance possible in words.

Who best to translate poetry but a poet?

The translations in this book sparkle especially because Wayne Amtzis is first a poet, and then a translator. He brings to the task of translation a keen attenuation to craft: to
word choice and diction, to rhythm and sentence structure, to sound—alliteration and onomatopoeia—to metaphors, images, symbols.

He also brings to the task a rare empathy for Nepal.

Since arriving in Nepal some decades ago on a quest for dharma, Amtzis has taken in the myriad forms of suffering and liberation in this land. As a poet he has stood witness to the times. This requires an unwavering intellect and a generosity of heart. Whether writing on spiritual hunger, as he has done in his early poems, or expanding outward to encompass Nepal's brutal poverty and its desperate, often violent struggle for social equality and political liberation, Amtzis has held up a mirror to this land.

His occasional poems in Nepali Times have come as a cry from the heart, urging Nepal to see itself clearly. An excerpt from his poem "Sandcastle City/Quicksand Nation" is as good a distillation as any of where this land is today:

Dank cries, interrupted prayer,
even the self-arisen stupa,
Swayamhbu, in the Form of Light,
sinks in on itself, though resplendent,
ashamed. In the rank Kathmandu dawn
as the city-in-play aspires,
a nation-on-hold
conspires. Aspire. Conspire.
How the currents cross!

His voice is as true as that of any poet writing in the Nepali languages:

Sandcastle dreamer, quicksand schemer,
take a farewell glance all around
at what's been done, not done, undone—

This is because rather than skimming along the surface of Nepali society, Amtzis dwells in the depths, where human nature is revealed. There he gazes unflinchingly at that which most of us would rather turn away from.

Poverty, in particular, is a fact that challenges poetry. Many poets would leave this subject for economists, policy makers, politicians and activists to write about.

Amtzis has made poverty—and the shame it brings to us all—a core subject of his poetry:

CITY ON HIS BACK

Nepal's the one
who barefoot bent and weary waits,
who barely moves, but leans he must
against the weight, against the road
Nepal's the one
who at your beck and call
heaves the city on his back,
who swallows sweat, breathes
fumes, whose breath's gone,
who puts off death
by drawing from the end
in days, in pennies gained,
who asks why one man
crouches, and one man
sprawls, why one man
hauls the city on his back,
and another rides
That city rising all around Nepal's the one
against the wall, whose blood's thin, whose chest caves in,
who being who he is
can't go on—goes on!

In recent years, as Nepal succumbed to war, Wayne Amtzis steadied his gaze on the root causes:

NO END TO IT

Where buses spew forth fumes,
on a curb, her hand round a cigarette. With forceful gait he emerges
from the five-o'clock-crowd
Recruited as protagonists
for the play you'd have me perform, gaining in confidence
they speak their own words
Their demands appear ludicrous
They ask for a glass of water, a few flat loaves,
a tablespoon of sugar,
a match… Between echoing traffic and the stealth of dusk
…a bottle of cheap rum,
a blanket, passersby slip away
a glass of water, a few flat loaves There's no end to it
a tablespoon of…

Though darkening streets
manhandle all who remain,
a temple alcove's refuge
The blanket they speak of
warms us. With them
we sleepwalk past the angry,
the pained, the vengeful
There's no end to it! A narrow lane,
a woman bends to her sewing, a sunken abattoir,
a face at a window
Do we wake? Despite the blanket Do we shiver?

II

Literature is generous; it gives back to the society from which it arises.

Wayne Amtzis has given back to Nepal through his poetry. He has given back, also, through his engagements, direct and indirect, with Nepali writers.

I am someone who has directly benefited from having him as a friend and teacher. My own foray into translation was inspired by his. There is a craft to translation, and I learned it by observing his technique and by collaborating with him on specific poems, some of which are included in this book.

But my debt to Wayne Amtzis is greater than this.

In the small, inward-bound world of Kathmandu, it has been a great gift to me to be able to discuss literature, theory, craft and the minutiae of writing with him. I have listened to him expound, finely and intricately, on the work of any variety of writers—Elaine Scarry, Saul Bellow, WG Sebald, Jorie Graham—and I have had my mind pried open by his wild, blue-sky assertions: on the benefits of falling asleep with a book laid open on the stomach, for instance, or on the value of composing "poems to the wind," forever unwritten and often forgotten. Early in our friendship, we conspired to publish his review in The Kathmandu Post of a book that didn't exist, by a fictitious author—as an exercise in absurdity, or maybe in fabulism—and to this day that review remains an example of the close reading that reviewers anywhere should aspire to.

Other writers who share a direct engagement with Wayne Amtzis will agree, I think, that there is something of the teacher about him. He is often contrary, sometimes didactic, now and again doggedly argumentative, and always curious, always questioning. It is in his nature to want to unsettle assumptions and destabilize truths. It is in his nature to try to expand the space, to make room for the imagination.

This, above all, is the lesson he has taught me. It is a generous lesson to offer.

III

Translation, too, is an act of giving. It is especially generous when done purely out of affinity for the original text, as is the case in this book.

The poets translated benefit, of course, by reaching a new readership. Readers also benefit from being able to access the work of these poets.

But something else, something more magical, also takes place in the act of translation.

The Nepali languages in which the poems in this book were originally written bring with them their own particularities: their deep etymologies and unique histories. All of the poets in this book have reflected deeply—in very different ways, ways emotional, social and political, and philosophical—on Nepali experience and subjectivity. Through the hybrid expressions that result in the translation of their poems, English readers encounter some of this society's highest forms of language, its most refined utterances.
These hybrid expressions expand our collective imagination.

These hybrid expressions enrich our humanity.

These hybrid expressions help us look, make us understand, and more: they allow us to empathize with the other and ourselves.

Manjushree Thapa
Introduction to Days in Life, September 2010

   
If Bodies Have Voices

Review by Nina Bhatt

Up

Poet Wayne Amtzis' photographic exhibition currently on display at the Siddhartha Art Gallery compels its viewers to acknowledge the pain of the difficult socio-economic circumstances experienced by Kathmandu Valley child laborers, abandoned women, petty traders and porters.  The collection of 43 black and white photographs is an uncompromisingly harsh portrayal of the vicissitudes of modern urban life.  It depicts the drudgery of physical labor, moments of hopeless respite from work, solitary mad women, dejected street vendors, and elders whose furrowed brows bear testament to their struggles to earn a daily wage.

What is remarkable about this ten year retrospective is the intimate engagement between the artist and his subjects. Those photographed are aware they are objects of the camera’s gaze, yet there is an unusual degree of consent, albeit momentary, to allow Amtzis to penetrate their lives.  Both parties tacitly acknowledge that a kind of intrusion is occurring, but somehow appear to recognize that this intrusion, on this occasion, with the sympathetic nature of this camera lens, must happen.  Thus do the subjects engage directly with the viewer, unapologetically offering a piece of their troubled lives.  This frankness reveals itself more the longer one spends on each photograph.

Take for instance, the Youth at Indrachowk (#9).  This handsome boy is seated for a brief respite from his work as a porter.  At any moment, his name will be called out to haul a load probably beyond his capacity.  His facial expression is one of explicit engagement.  He seems fresh, still innocent, but his eyes have begun to ask “why me?”  As viewers, we can weave a narrative as we move on to the young man in National Refrigerator, Gairidhara (#12).  He seems to designate the future of the boy from #9.  Yet a sense of determination still emerges in his face and eyes.  This young man knows his life is hard, but he hasn’t succumbed to resignation and despair.

The people whose portraits appear in this exhibit are cornered by the walls and streets of Kathmandu.  The barbed wire they hang to, the ropes looped around their bodies and hands tell us how bound and limited are their lives.  Representing “everyman” - they symbolize the drudgery carried out daily by millions of Nepalis.  In a wider sense Amtzis’ photographs provide a global commentary of on-the-edge urban workers and denizens of the street.  Giving themselves the time these portraits deserve, the viewers can move beyond cursory impressions and appreciate the exhibition’s complexity and subtlety.  With patient scrutiny, what emerges are highly personalized “voices” which convey narratives specific to each individual.

The serendipitous timing of the taking of these photographs (1985-1995) makes for disheartening political commentary.  In today’s Kathmandu “democracy” has arrived.  Civil sector groups and NGOs flourish; politicians wax eloquent while expatriate and local development wallahs continually reproduce new ‘agendas.’  Meanwhile, life for those depicted here remains unchanged.

From the Street: Kathmandu 1985-1995
Photos by Wayne Amtzis
Siddhartha Art Gallery May 25-June 11, 2001
Babar Mahal Revisited

 


These photos are responsible for their own images. If taken out of context their narrative would dissolve into fragments. And that, surely, is not the purpose. They stand as silent bearers of their own destiny waiting for a response from the viewer. They evoke a sense of displaced vision, an interlocking of what is common and everyday in this city yet, still, existing a world away. It is a collection of data from the past now standing as a narrative of the present, which we , as viewers can choose to ignore or embrace. If we choose the former the we do so at our own peril.

If we see these studies as objects of our gaze, we see them at a distance, something seen and casually dismissed. If we choose to go beyond that, accepting responsibility, then they call for a personal response, an interrogation of ourselves and the way we see .

They cover an expanse of ten years, from 1985 - 1995, circling Kastamandap, Indrachowk, Ason, Bhotaiti, Ranipokhari, Jamal,  Maha Bouddha, Tangal and Gairi Dhara etc. The terrible thing about these photos are that nearly all are portraits of, what society has called, the marginalized . Common Laborers, rickshaw drivers, oil collectors, vagabonds, the mentally insane, the retarded, small out of the way shop owners, the living people whose home may be the street, without a fixed address, those who have been forced into the background. And they are common in any city.

Though a narrative, the photos are also individuals and ask to be taken as individuals set against the familiar scars of any city. The street, the temple, the crossroads, the construction site, the wall, the tea stall, the park, the club, the street as the margin, the perimeters of the park and the barbed wires. Though they do not speak, they cry out for a response as living icons within the photo frame out of the reverberation of the past.

If photos are the imprisoning of the of the past, then one image asserts itself. Flatline Witness, Ranipokhri, shows a body crumpled against some railings. The shadows from the railings look like prison bars, symbolically imprisoning the photo's content, the present recorded, clicked.

 


Book Excerpt : Standing Witness
Kathmandu Post Review of Books

Up

flatLine witness is the collaboration between poet and photographer Wayne Amtzis and visual artist Rolf A Kluenter. Both men have spent long periods in Nepal, and their work in his book equally investigates their local and universal engagements as artists . Amtzis' photographs of the forgotten of  Katmandu city offer representation to the subaltern and moral conscience to the viewer. Kluenter's meditative paper objects offer the viewers an opportunity for quiet self examination. Containing 21 images by each artist, the book offers viewers a chance to bear witness to the external and the internal, the political and the personal, society and self.

Available through Siddhartha Art Gallery, Indigo Gallery, and the Patan Museum Shop, the book is excerpted from, here, for readers of The Kathmandu  Post  Review of Books.

 

On reading the photos of Rajendra Chitrakar
By Wayne Amtzis

Up


On September 9, 1993, three photos by the journalist Rajendra Chitrakar appeared in The Rising Nepal.  The images are common enough—a woman learning to read, garbage piled in a public place, a boy flying his kite—and surfacing as they did on separate pages they can be seen as stereotypes.  Taken together, however, they represent a succinct photo essay of social conditions and attitudes in Nepal.  In March, 1994, two other photos of Rajendra’s, ones that capture women and girls doing physical labor normally consigned to men, were published in The Rising Nepal.  A close reading of these two groups of photos, these five images, shows that photography can be used in Nepal as a language of clarification and social commentary against which the more flagrantly abused spoken and written languages can be measured.  As of now, like many photographs that appear in the press, they are merely buoys, markers, in a turbulent sea of words.

Consider the first group of photos.  We see prominently placed on the front page of the newspaper a sari-clad woman sitting cross-legged on a mat.  A kerosene lantern in the foreground casts light on the notebook where she writes.  Behind her are rows of women and girls, who, we learn, are also “Chitwan women participating in the adult literacy program”.

Reassured by the caption NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN, we turn the page and see garbage spread out in the grass and grass overgrown pavement in front of Kathmandu District Court and garbage overflowing a garbage bin in front of the Court.  Beneath tall white pillars ringed with dirt and in front of the walls flecked with peeling paint, a few people pass unnoticed along the dark weatherworn corridor that rings the building.  The caption reads: GIVE THEM JUSTICE.

On the back page, a young boy, casting his shadow across a path, guides a kite in the air above eroded and terraced fields; low clouds hang in the sky touching the surrounding hills, an outcrop of city buildings encroach on the fields in the distance.  The caption, innocently enough states BLOWING IN THE WIND.

How are we to look at these photos?  In the photo of the sari-clad student our attention turns, as she does, down to the notebook where she writes; in the photo of the Court our eyes skip across the sea of garbage looking for a resting place, only to confront the darkened entrance, the once proud columns and the wooden railing of the second floor framing us in; in the photo of the boy reigning in his kite our eyes ride with the wind from the far left-hand corner where he stands to the far right where the kite rises, taking us beyond the eroded path and terraced fields towards a city shadowed by a darkened sky.

The thin pencil in the hand that writes, the unseen kite string alternatively loose and taut, and the columns, balustrade and rails of the court announce their human intent in different registers.  A settled determination shines on the forehead and face of the woman set to her task.  The sure eyes and hands of the boy cannot long conceal the elation we know rises from within as the kite is drawn by the winds.  Yet how does the petitioner pass where foul odors reek?  Are the once lordly columns there only to raise Justice above an encroaching sea of refuse?  Here near the apogee of civilized tasks we detect decay, unconcern—human failure.

In the first of the photos that focus on women doing physical labor (March 13, 1994), a man and a woman are pushing a two-wheeled flatbed cart down New Road.  The sari-clad woman bends to her labor, her arm stiff against the sideboard, her eyes cast down, her mouth open, breathing, gasping.  Buildings stucco-ed with signs and long lines of people three abreast clogging the railed-in sidewalk provide the backdrop for the photo.  Loaded with crates and burlap and plastic bags filled with goods the cart seems stopped in its tracks as if the man and woman were wedded to an immovable burden, but this is only an illusion.  Traffic moves in the opposite direction and these workhorses moving towards us seem even to outdistance the jeep falling behind them in the distance.

In the second photo, (March 25, 1994): two girls in Dulikhel; their heads bear the weight of wicker baskets half-full (for they are young) with bricks; paired as if dancing a duet, their lead feet, one right, the other left, bare and flat on the ground; their back feet, one left, the other right, bent at the toes springing forward.  They must be aware their picture is being taken, for the lead girl has averted her eyes and the other is smiling.  Their backs and heads are bent forward—how could they rise against their burden to look the camera in the eye?  In the background, other laborers (one surely a woman, for she wears a sari and her basket is full) leave the long fallen wall of bricks in measured sequence.

In March, when these photos appeared, the 84th International Woman's Day had just passed, so surely Rajendra was directed toward marking the status of women in Nepal.  Physical labor unites the woman on New Road with her sisters in Dulikhel; the only difference besides age is that she wears cheap thongs on her feet while theirs are bare.  And what of the woman in Chitwan learning to read and write?  Her sari is lovely; jewelry adorns nose, ears, neck and wrist; her arms are tattooed with lines and circles as beautiful as those of a peacock.  She seems relaxed, yet she too is laboring.  Behind her, other women bend to their books in the half-light and some stare ahead, young girls, who, perhaps already, despite their efforts to learn, know what the future will bring.

On New Road, although we can barely see him, a man bends as the woman does, straining to push cart and goods.  It is the woman, however, who is highlighted in the photo; the man’s labor is accepted as a given.  Thus, only the boy is free.  Momentarily.  The eroded fields on the outskirts of the city are his realm of freedom, but the sky overhead is dark, the two and three story houses, though half-built, are clearly defined.  Young girls have been enlisted to haul the bricks.  Will they raise-up buildings as grand as the Kathmandu District Court?  What we don’t see at the Court midst the garbage and stately columns are the petitioners, the lawyers and judges, those who dispense or dispense with justice.  The workings of the Law are hidden from us here.  We see no striving nor labor in measured sequence.  What we note is the absence of human endeavor, so apparent in the other photos.

In this series we are not confronted with the usual imprint of photo-journalism, the images of newsmakers whose faces and voices collide on the front pages of the daily press.  Nor are we subjected to the facile images that crowd the postcard racks belying the situation of a country and its people.  Moreover, although Rajendra works with an awareness of form, it is the content of the photos—the individuals, their actions and the situations depicted—that bears the weight of the message conveyed.

What is it then that gives meaning to what we see in these five photos?  Is it that the situations rendered are clarified in the interplay of images or do the inner striving of the protagonists call forth our recognition and empathy?  Take the photo of the young girls hauling bricks and lay it beside those of the boy flying his kite and the woman writing in their notebook by the light of the lantern.  Or better yet, take the baskets and bricks and lay them beside the book and pencil and the kite and string.  Reader, which ones would you choose?  The momentary freedom of the kite, the long apprenticeship of the pen or the debilitating bondage of the doko and bricks?  But you say, the bricks must be hauled, the wind will whisk the kite from the boy’s hand and the light on the book dims.

The people seen here do not have these choices.  Glancing at the man and woman wedded to their labor and at the Court in disrepair, I recognize that the ethos does not allow it.  The photos show us what is, not what will be. For that I must admit I can only respond with a final allusive reading of the photos.
 

Kerosene fumes, paint-flecked walls,
paths that falter, a pencil nestled in a hand,
the taut string of a kite,
columns, the balustrade of the Court in session,
a failed verdict, a sea of refuse,
a city shadowed by darkening sky,
a determination that shines,
hands that are sure,
elation that rises from within
Half-built buildings, buildings in disrepair,
buildings stucco-ed with signs,
sidewalks clogged with people,
eyes cast down, averted,
bent-backed men and women wedded to their labor,
burdens borne in measured sequence,
or the lifting of an ankle,
the fluttering of a peacock’s eye,
a kite borne by the wind.
.
In Rajendra Chitrakar’s photos, by what we see and what we don’t, a country’s future is sketched out.  May those who labor and those who are privy to youth’s freedom prosper there.


No more the brick-hauling girls,
nor men whose photos collide,
nor petitioners setting forth
on a rank discredited sea.


Newspaper photographs to teach writing
by Wayne Amtzis

Up


Having taught writing to English language learners for many years I have come to the conclusion that the most involvement and progress come when familiar local situations, contexts, and materials are used.  At the highest levels this pertains to work being done on the job or at the campus in which the students are actively involved.  For students gaining and then utilizing the most basic skills, familiar contexts and situations allow for easier communication and deeper student involvement.  Today I would like to focus on one simple approach to writing that is useful for students who have acquired some basic writing skills and are ready to utilize them to consolidate and expand their expressive and communicative abilities. 

            To prepare for this lesson the teacher need only look through the various locally available newspapers and magazines.  The photographs that appear in them provide the context and focus for the approach I am suggesting.  In the course of a few weeks the teacher can gather at little cost a supply of different photos (other than political leaders and sports contestants) that refer to local situations and to individuals and the lives they lead.  The plethora of postcards of Nepali scenes and people for sale locally tend to romanticize and present a uniform unrealistic picture of Nepal and its people and therefore are not useful here.  Students should also be asked to go through the newspapers and magazines they and their families read and to gather photos that appeal to them. 

            The first task would simply be for the students to decide, preferably working in groups, which photos—which people or scenes depicted—they want to write about.  However, the first time the writing lesson is taught, the teacher may want to choose one photo for the entire class to write about.  I have often done this with a photo that I have taken of a man carrying a ‘kharpan’ full of eggs to the market.  I will use it here to characterize the approach a teacher could take in the classroom. 

            Who is this man?  What is he doing?  Where is he going?  These questions are useful guidelines for writing third person descriptions.  Descriptions written by students as observers can then provide a basis for first person narrations.  Narrative accounts in the first person singular allow students to present the farmer’s thoughts.  What are you (as farmer or porter) thinking about on the way to the market?  Profit?  Purchases?  The weight and fragility of your load?  Your family and their needs?

            Once the students have developed a basic description of the farmer and his concerns, the teacher can introduce a title or first line that will evoke a theme.  In this instance I chose “Broken Eggs” as the title.  Students should consider what such a title would indicate.  What would such a story be about?  What would happen?  An accident on the way to the market?  What kind of accident?  How did it happen? 

            When students are ready to write a story (in the first person singular), the teacher should ask that they consider and convey the farmer’s thoughts as he was walking to the market or his emotions immediately after the accident.  Was there any relationship between his thoughts and the accident?  Was he already counting his profits, or worrying about his family, and because of this daydreaming did his trip on a stone? 

            This allows students to introduce themes other than the one relating to the accident.  One question often raised about the man is:  “Is he rich or poor?”  Depending on how the students answer that question, their stories will differ.  If a student decides the “eggman” is rich, then he is depicted as thinking about his wealth on the way to the market.  If he is seen as poor, then he will be weighed down by concern for his family.  Both men are lost in thought.  Both have an accident because they are daydreaming. 

            In discussing their writing, the students usually agree that the rich man has a character fault and the poor man is a victim of circumstances.  Thus, in this simple writing lesson the students create stories that are sometimes “comic” or sometimes “tragic”.  The combination of familiar character and setting and a simple story line makes this an enjoyable and rewarding writing lesson for both teacher and students. 

           
The following two (corrected) versions of the story “Broken Eggs” were written by students:

            Story 1.  I am a poultry man.  Yesterday morning I was going to the market to sell eggs.  I had a lot of eggs in my kharpan.  The kharpan was over my shoulder.  I was thinking about my family.  “If I sell all these eggs, I can buy new clothes for my son, my daughter, and my wife.  They don’t have any new clothes.”  At that time, I was not paying attention to the street and I tripped over a stone.  As a result, all my eggs were broken.  Now I am worried about my family.  “How can I give them new clothes?  I don’t have money to buy new clothes.” 

            Story 2.  I am a farmer.  Four months ago I bought some chickens.  Now they are large hens and have begun to give eggs.  Yesterday I went to the market to sell eggs.  I carried those eggs in a basket called a kharpan.  I was very happy because it was the first time I was going to sell the eggs of the hens that I had raised.  I was filled with joy, the happiness that arises when one see the fulfillment of desire. 

            At that time I was walking down the road towards the market thinking about the past days when they were still chickens and how hard it was to raise them.  Then suddenly I heard a crash and felt my shoulder lighten.  The basket had slipped and the eggs had fallen.  “Oh No!”  I should have tied the knot more carefully.  How absent-minded I had been!  All the eggs were broken!  I began to search through the fallen eggs.  Were there any left?  “Yes!”  The basket had fallen on the grass.  It was a warning, not a punishment.  I thanked the god and promised to be more careful in the days ahead.


            Once the teacher has introduced the process of writing from a photograph, the student can on their own or in groups write descriptions, narratives of events and stories drawn from the photos they have gathered.  Or they can take their own photos.  One needn’t have a camera to do this.  Photos isolate individuals from their surroundings or depict scenes that we may not have noticed as we walk through the city or village.  Students like writers anywhere can learn to observe the outside world.  These “snapshots” taken by the mind can provide the basis for writing that the students do on their own.  It is a way of bringing the outside world into the classroom and allowing the students choice in the content of their writing lessons. 


            I’d like to conclude with the following (corrected) paragraph written by a student who was asked to isolate and observe a person or scene and write about it. 

            I’m an old shoemaker sitting in the shade of a tree on New Road.  I am from a village in western Nepal.  I’ve been working here for 6 years.  I work all day in every season and earn about 50 rupees per day.  I’m well known throughout the city by the name of Golchee Sarkie, the shoemaker, because I was a defeated candidate for the mayor of Kathmandu in the last election.  Now I’m dealing with one of my customers at my own work place.  However, I’m going to fight once again the General Election, this time for the post of Member of Parliament.  Remember my name, Golchee Sarkie, the shoemaker. 

            From the work done in the classroom the student had learned to describe what he saw, to speak in the first person singular as if he were the person he is writing about, and finally to include perceptions that he, the student, brought to the writing.  It is the use of familiar and the commonplace that allowed this student to write so readily, so simple and so well.

Talking Violence:
Narrative Method in the Poetry of Carver, Levine, and Ai

Up

 


The American poets, Raymond Carver, Phillip Levine, and Ai utilize a narrative voice that is strongly descriptive. The poems I am considering here: "Wes Hardin: From A Photograph" by Raymond Carver; "On The Murder of Lieutenant Jose Del Castillo By Falangist Bravo Martinez, July 12, 1936," by Phillip Levine, and "Interview With A Policeman," by Ai, all describe executions. Wes Hardin was an outlaw in the American West brought down by gunmen; Jose Del Castillo, a lieutenant in the National Guard of the Republican government of Spain killed by a Fascist opponent of the government. The victim in Ai's poems, a young black man caught robbing a liquor store, remains nameless, as does the policeman who shot him.

The poets themselves have not witnessed the executions. To structure their poems, Carver relies on a photograph; Levine, on the eyes of a street hawker, and Ai on a television interview. Levine takes an omniscient third person perspective that allows him to describe the attack on Jose Del Castillo as well as Castillo's death experience, while Ai speaks with the immediacy of the first person, with the voice and perspective of the policeman. Carver too uses a first person narrative, but the poet narrates and his perceptions form an integral part of the poem.

The three poets also differ in their attitudes towards the events described. Carver does no more than describe and recognize that which has drawn him to the photos; Levine makes himself witness the murder out of unmentioned solidarity with the victim and his cause, while remaining aware of the limits of the authenticity of his empathy; Ai narrates from within, through the voice of the executioner, yet she makes explicit the complicity of those directly involved in the killing.

These differences in attitude are characteristic for each poet and reflect a difference in stance and personal voice that is common throughout the larger body of their work. Carver writes only of his own experience; Levine is drawn to the victim with the need to tell the victim's story; Ai, on the other hand, deals not so much with the immediate victim, but with the energy of violence itself, and it's the perpetrator of violence whose voice she often renders in her poems.

Wes Hardin: From A Photograph

Carver begins by telling us that "turning through a collection of old photographs" he comes "to the picture of the outlaw, Wes Hardin, dead." He has come upon Wes Hardin by chance, perhaps, in a moment of distraction. Why didn't a photograph of two lovers on a bench in the Tulleries catch his eyes, or a soot-faced boy emerging from a West Virginia coal mine? Yet the description that follows is in such detail: "the bruised face, " "the bullet hole above his right eye" that Carver's role in Wes Hardin's life becomes clear. Is he not like the undertaker called to lay Hardin out for his funeral?

Thus a solemn voice intrudes into the proceedings: "nothing so funny about that, " nothing so funny about "a big mustached man, in a black suit coat, lying on his back over a board floor in Amarillo, Texas." For we can see a "bullet has entered his skull from behind." Noting this, Carver turns to the "shabby men in overalls who stand grinning a few feet away." Doesn't he see that they are smiling for the camera? Even the dead man has his head turned that way.

Carver's sympathies have been aroused. In moving from foreground to background and back again, Carver compares Wes Hardin with his executioners. It's not just that they are shabbily dressed; they are "shabby men," holding rifles and the outlaw's hat like hunters posing with the animal they've snared. At their feet a man lies riddled with bullets. A man wearing a fancy white shirt, "in a manner of speaking," Carver says.

He too having joked at the dead man's expense, Carver tells us "what makes me stare is this large dark bullet hole through the slender, delicate looking right hand." The contrast with the executioners is complete. (The outlaw at least dressed for the funeral.) Wes Hardin, a big man, by his own reputation larger than life, offers in his final moment a hand drawn by El Greco. And Carver turning through a collection of old photographs stops, and stares, and it is into the large dark bullet hole in the outlaw's, that gunman's hand that he is drawn.

With Carver we have the photos, and though we can see the basis for his interest in his exact and contrasting characterizations of the killer and the killed, we are left only with Carver's curiosity and the poem in place of the photo, itself a curiosity. It is a post mortem. For the execution we must turn to Levine.

On The Murder of Lieutenant Jose Del Castillo By Falangist Bravo Martinez, July 12, 1936

The lieutenant hears the first shot and we turn with him to see his assailant. Three more shots tear him from his comrade's arms and then we lose count. As he slides towards the gray cement of the Ramblas in Barcelona, Levine with swift strokes paints Castillo's death experience and the surroundings of the wide street closing in. Now we are truly in an El Greco painting: "the blue sky smudged with clouds," "his eyes filling with their own light." The counterpoint continues: "the pigeons that have spotted the cold floor of Barcelona rose and sank below the silent waves crashing on the far shore of his legs, growing faint and watery." This is the weakest imagery and the weakest moment in the poem, but it is redeemed when the lieutenant "who knew only that he wound not die," when his hands opened a last time to receive the benedictions of automobile exhaust and rain and the rain of soot."

Levine is portraying the death of a man, of a soldier who like any man is vulnerable: "His mouth that would never again say I am afraid closed on nothing." The old grandfather hawking flowers quickly mourns and turns away "before he held the eyes of the gunmen." Silenced, but "the shepherd dogs on sale in their cages howled and turned in circles." Their rage cannot be contained. And for Levine "There is more to be said." Astonishingly, not judgment for the murder committed, but "prayer that comes on the voices of water" "and hangs like smoke above this street he won't walk as a man ever again."

The title of the poem proclaims Levine's judgment. He has not chosen to depict just any murder. We know that Spanish Republic was as vulnerable as Jose Del Castillo. This is what Levine wants us to see. Describing the lieutenant's assassination and his inner transformation, Levine realizes that he cannot say what needs to be said. The voice that needs to be heard, and is heard, can only be the voice of "someone who has suffered and died for his sister, the earth, and his brothers, the beasts and trees." So the lieutenant who entered our consciousness with a gunshot leaves us hearing that benediction. We are left with his life lost and that prayer.

The lieutenant walks the streets of Barcelona as a protector of the Spanish Republic. We are made aware that he is a vulnerable man who can say I am afraid, a courageous man who will turn to face his assailant, but Bravo Martinez we never see. Only through the shots that tear through Del Castillo's body and the verdict of the title do we know of him. For the killer and his confession we must turn to Ai.

Interview With A Policeman

Where Carver's voice is noncommittal, Levine's is passionate and Ai's is defiant. Carver stares, but not at death; it is a bullet hole in a man's hand he sees. Levine offers us the look and feel of death to the man who does not believe, and prayer is born in desperation, but it is not the voice of blood that we hear. Ai speaks with the voice that encounters and brings death in its wake. Whether the crime is sanctioned or not, the killer is marked by his victim's blood: "when I stared at him, a cough or spasm sent a stream of blood out of his mouth that hit me in the face."

Carver and Levine describe exactly what they see. The Wes Hardin Carver gives us is the Wes Hardin of a photograph. Carver attempts no more than his title indicates. Levine gives us Jose Del Castillo in flesh and spirit; the poem itself becomes a document to be admitted in evidence not only for the murder but also for the soul's accounting. In Ai's account of a television interview, the policeman will not be a scapegoat. The story can't be told without rage. "You say you want this story in my own words, but you won't tell it my way. Reporters never do." The external details interest them, not the soul's accounting, unless to condemn the policeman (an exculpate themselves) for his act.

In Levine's account the man hawking flowers on the Ramblas turns from the murder he witnesses. He shields himself from the murderer and the violent force he represents. Ai makes the need to witness killing ("You say you want this story in my own words") and the inability to take responsibility for it ("underneath it all, just like me, you want to forget him") a central theme of her poem.

Carver constructs his poem by drawing contrasts between Wes Hardin and his killers and by admitting to his need to perceive and describe. Levine's poem draws its dramatic intensity from the counterpoint of internal and external action and by admitting to and overcoming his own inability to witness these events. The killing of the armed robber in Ai's poem resonates with the off duty policeman's necessary rage and the accusation born of that rage, and with the recognition as the camera and tape are turned off that the policeman's fear and hate are the interviewer's own. The denouement is in Ai's voice, though spoken by the policeman as he sends the "boy like a shark redeemed at last yet unrepentant" to renter our lives by the "unlocked door of sleep." Carver shares his perceptions with the reader; Levine asks us to partake of his vision, to take on his hope; Ai renders us guilty by her accusation. All three rely on exact description of action to accomplish their aims.

These poems move with the clarity and rapidity of prose; the poet's voice like a rudder coursing the narrative in a certain direction: Carver's being aesthetic; Levine's, historical and spiritual; Ai's psychological and social. In their own way each bares witness to killing and recognizes the inability of their prose-like lines to account for death: Carver by what he does not attempt, Levine by recourse to metaphor that wills belief. Ai, however, does not question the poet's voice as witness; she calls to account the reporter, the TV camera, and a society that relies on the media to form its social consciousness and the police to save it from the violence that lurks in its streets. The policeman and "the black kid who pulled the gun at the wrong time" are nameless because endemic. On the Ramblas in Barcelona "the old grandfather hawking daises" "turned his eyes away before he held the eyes of the gunman." Murder and averted eyes brought dictatorship, but what does killing and a need to look into the face of violence as if it were not one's own bring? Not a photo, nor a TV clip, nor a scene from a movie, but a negative washed in the waters of dream, a recognition that can't be shunned, a shark whose outline is etched by fear.

Literary Studies #14, March 95
Annual Conference of the Literary Association of Nepal, March 1994

WAYNE AMTZIS
LINGUISTIC SOCIETY KATHMANDU
NOVEMBER 1995

SEMANTICS/POETICS

THE MIRRORED SELF -- READING THE READER'S RESPONSE
by Wayne Amtzis

1. Introduction

In this paper I will present an original poem, THE HOURGLASS, and three reader responses to that poem (by the critic and poet Abhi Subedi, the short story writer and poet Manju Kanchuli, and the poet Manjul). I will look at the poem from the perspectives they provide and consider the nature and bases of their particular responses. Then I will offer my own (privileged) reading of HOURGLASS, examining the nature and basis for that response as well. In the course of this presentation I will discuss the significance of the words and images used and the relationship of the title to the poem.

Abhi Subedi and Manjul responded within the context of their relationship with me and their previous reading of my poems. Manju Kanchuli, although familiar with my writing, took an impersonal approach, one assuming no prior knowledge of the poet or his work. For Abhi, HOURGLASS capsulizes my "poetic response to the Nepali milieu." For Manjul it represents a characteristic mode of writing, that of "painting ideas in words." For Manju Kanchuli the poem stands before the poet, but it reveals him -- "in his inner and outer worlds." All three recognize "the man in the painting," "the lovers," and "the workers" as motifs that form the body of "THE HOURGLASS." All three identify snow and snow falling as a key image. Yet what they make of the interplay of these motifs and images varies as does the tone and direction of their readings.

For Abhi and for Manju Kanchuli HOURGLASS is a poem of "time and experience"; for Manjul the central motif is that of the interplay of consciousness and death. Abhi's approach is structural; Manju Kanchuli's psychoanalytic; and Manjul's symbolic.

2. The Psychoanalytic Reading Style of Manju Kanchuli

Within the distance set by an impersonal vantage point, Manju Kanchuli considers the poet as well as the poem. The hourglass is seen by her as "a symbol of the organ for libidinal instinct and its subconscious innate desire." According to the psychoanalytical interpretation she proposes "the poem represents the interplay of Id (man and woman entwined) Ego (these words I seem so fond of) and Superego (turns and turns and turns). The image of snow falling is identified as " a memory of childhood and youth" and "the word freezing," she asserts "signifies unhappiness felt at the present time." However, she goes on to say that the dominant mood in the poem is that of empathy and equilibrium maintained by a philosophical stance and the logical interplay of images carrying the poem towards its resolution.

"As a poet" herself, Manju Kanchuli says she "was trying to find 'the poet' in the poem directly, since it has been my personal desire to feel the poet's nerves through his written words. I could catch the innate feelings of the poet in my apprehension nowhere so explicitly as in the following lines:

"till snowballing
like these words I seem so fond of
till freezing"

Yet Ms Kanchuli does not tell us what she makes of these lines. She does tell us that the poet uses language to make his way in the world and specifically in this poem to come to terms with the "urge that something happen," and of course it does, quite logically, as she has pointed out: "The images lead in a certain direction from beginning to end" where "the poet shifts from a physical (lover's copulate) to a metaphysical (turn and turn and turn)," "ending in an anticlimactic falling tone and philosophic mood." The conflict she identifies between "a materialistic voluptuousness (the lovers turn in their sleep)" and "a spiritual omnipotence (the buddha himself raises his hand)" resolved by the acceptance of time's inexorable workings.

"Like a genuine poet" she says "he aspires for nothing in this materialistic world except "words' as his own entity," meaning, I suppose, embodiment. With words mediating the poet's encounter with the world, "adding life to time," and interpreting inner feelings. However, she does not tend to the words and phrasing of the poem as Freud would, nor does she identify the id as a working force within the evolving poem. Although a psychoanalytic approach is introduced, it is not used as a tool for laying bare the poem's hidden workings or the poet's submerged feelings. Instead of a poet, a man with a particular dilemma and an idiosyncratic way of resolving it, the reader is left with the universal idea of poet -- one that readily fits into a Freudian typology.

3. Abhi Subedi's "Structures Of Conciousness"

Abhi Subedi sees THE HOURGLASS as "a structure of consciousness," as structuring his consciousness and as "a description of a complex painting." The primary datum of the poem are "scenes," "mobility," and "drama." The human action complemented by the movement of the snow and the hourglass provide a "kinesis," a mobility which he compares to "the movement of the visible and invisible lines of a painting," with "color being the sound of the words in motion."

Abhi reads the poem as if he were viewing a painting. Running our eyes over the surface with him, we feel the movement of words. The words, it seems, do not move referentially towards an outer world identified by the poet, but inferentially towards an inner experience had by the reader. A comparison is made not by what the lines of the poem point to, but what they are like, a comparison through resemblance based on form, not through a leap based on content. It's true, words read this way don't stand forth like stones one can leap to and from; they float with the current. They are more like barges carrying cargo. That the cargo is meaning is unimportant. What matters is movement itself; not the cargo, but the transport. For how would we value the cargo? The barges, or the high speed boats they've become, nosing in and out -- see how they veer, how they change lanes, the oil trailing blends with the dark waters and frothing waves. Thus the poem is a painting, the letters, brushstrokes quickly drawn distorting and almost concealing the figures sinking within.

Having isolated the structure of the poem and its interrelated motifs and having codified them under "scenes" and "drama," all under "the interplay of time and experience," Abhi, tending not to the semantics of these relationships, nor to the unfolding of the drama, resolves his reading through the simile of painting. The experience described is primarily aesthetic. Abhi makes no attempt to enter into world of the poem itself, to unravel the drama that he identifies. What is potentially a parable of time, has become an enigma of space. The structural analysis he initiated provides the potential for appreciating and for deciphering the poem. Caught up in the kinesis of his own response, Abhi fails to feel the chill, the slowing down (of time) beneath the piling up (of words) that stands momentarily still with the climactic word 'freezing." Where words do not mean, but simply function as aesthetic impulses, the poem hangs as a perpetuum mobile in an idealist's sky.

4. The Aesthetic Idealism of Manju Kanchuli and Abhi Subedi

Abhi finds motion essential, yet he fails to see that motion itself is at stake within the poem. Manju Kanchuli sees the poet as embodying himself and giving meaning to time through words, yet she fails to register the poet's attitude toward the process of writing itself.

snow rises from the floor
piles up

at the feet of the workers
piles up like a mountain that cannot be seen
till too late

till snowballing
like these words I seem so fond of
till freezing

unless

The poet is the fourth force within THE HOURGLASS, as his language is its unspoken motif, but the liberating acts (hoped for/anticipated) are embodied acts, physical not verbal, and their embodiment lies outside the poem as acts not words. For both Abhi and Manju Kanchuli the words of the poem do not point towards the world and action in the world, but towards the poem and the creative act. Both Abhi and Manju Kanchuli fail to register the judgment the poet renders against the blinding and inhibiting force of the language he uses and against the constraint of time marked by that language because they have idealized the creative process and its expression. Abhi experiences the poem as an object of art; Manju, the poet as artist. That idealization is a turning away from meaning, a blind spot in their reading.

5. Word and Symbol - Manjul's Reading

Only Manjul clearly recognizes what is at stake in the poem, and he does this by simply following and clarifying the narrative line to himself, and by rendering a personal judgment as to the meaning of the word "snow." For Manjul snow represents death. "If the workers will not stamp their feet, if the lovers will not copulate, if the hourglass will not shatter, or if it is not turned again and again, if there is no action there will be the reign of snow and that means there will be death everywhere." In THE HOURGLASS snow reigns, it becomes the given, and unless action is taken, time will stop for the protagonists, or it will repeat itself, always and forever offering the same choices for breaking free. His finger on the pulse of the poem, the prescription Manjul offers is consciousness. Consciousness, not overwhelming drives or sudden decisive action, stands against death. Moreover, he says "if there is consciousness even the painting will change shape." The form of the painting on the wall depends on consciousness. What the poem offers Manjul is a bipolarization of death-in-life, or fate, and consciousness capable of any possible transformation. Manjul's faith in the power of consciousness seems far greater than that of the author of THE HOURGLASS. Although the poem changed shape as I wrote it, the world remained as it was. As it is. Doesn't it?

6. The Author's Reading

Let's look at THE HOURGLASS as Manjul did, at the separate scenes depicted within, at the protagonists, at the writer, and the words he uses, to answer this question.

The title tells us that a device for telling time bears some relationship to the poem. The first sentence, the first stanza:

The painting on the wall
above the man and woman entwined
changes shape

within their consciousness

tells us that a man and woman lie together in a room; and though they are not looking at the painting on the wall above them (perhaps they are asleep or otherwise involved), the painting is tangential to them, it's fixed in their minds, it's changing shape there.

The workers slumped
against the statue of the fourfaced buddha
lean on each other

Shirts torn at the elbow,
streaked with dirt The buddha's forehead
on all four sides

smeared with vermilion

Although no apparent relationship exists between the man and woman in the room and the workers on the street, the scenes are depicted in a similar way. The man and woman and the workers among themselves are in physical contact. The painting and the fourfaced buddha stand in counterpoint to them.

Rain falls on the street striking
the window striking the lovers deep within
In the hourglass it's day or night

depending on the hands that hold it
Hands of the workers Hands of the lovers
From the ceiling of the hourglass

Against the muted action of a painting impressing itself on the man and woman, and that of the workers leaning on each other, rain falls. The workers feel this rain directly; the lovers deep within themselves. The street scene and the room now linked by the rain, are linked as well by the hourglass. The time and place depicted or experienced depends upon who holds the hourglass, and thus, by implication, the lovers and workers may have some say in the working out of their fate.

The closing lines of each three line stanza are incomplete sentences, leading to the next stanza for a resolution of meaning. If the hourglass were in our hands we would need turn it to see...

snow falls. Inhaling warmth
as they draw closer
to each other, inhaling exhaust...

In the way that the gestures of the man in the painting change shape within the consciousness of the lovers, the rain that falls outside falls as snow within the hourglass. In the room and the street that can now be seen as separate compartments of the hourglass, our protagonists draw closer to each other. The lovers are comforted, the workers suffering increases.

the man in the painting
a buddha himself, raises his hands in gestures
clear to one who wakes

The painting is for the first time described; it is of a buddha. In both scenes, in each compartment of the hourglass, there is a figure of a buddha. Enlivened he raises his hands in gestures that can be seen by one who is awake.

But the lovers turn in their sleep
Snow rises from the floor
piles up

at the feet of the workers
piles up like a mountain that cannot be seen
till too late

The buddha's gestures are not seen by the lovers. Snow piles up on the floor and on the street. Piles up as sand would in an hourglass, till too late, for without being noticed time has run out.

till snowballing
like these words I seem so fond of
till freezing

Here the poet explicitly enters the poem. The already written words that he seems so fond of have piled up unnoticed like sand in an hourglass, like a ball of snow gathering momentum, and freezing as they fall, the snow freezing, the words that overran the writer running out. The cold clarity of the words freezing these images in place. The contradiction within language as it is used, within life as it is lived, of movement and stasis, stated but left unresolved till the next stanzas turnings.

unless the workers
stamp their feet
or the lovers copulate

or the hourglass
shatters, or simply held
in the hand of the man in the painting

turns and turns and turns

The action of the poem has come to a standstill. In an hourglass sand falls marking time. In the poem rain falls initiating action. The lovers and the workers drew closer to each other. Inhaling the warmth of their concern and the exhaust of the world's unconcern, inhaling with them, the man in the painting speaks with his hands. These gestures are futile. The lovers sleep, the workers cannot see till too late what confronts them. The writer too fond of his words is carried away, or struck dumb.

There are three ways to break through this stasis depending upon who holds the hourglass, and a fourth moving with the flow of the poem that overrides it. Sudden forceful action, sudden wakening, the uniting of the workers, or the lovers, in the action that would redefine them. Or the shattering of the hourglass -- language itself frozen, shattering, the poet breaking free of the poem. Each of these choices overcoming inertia, reordering time. And the fourth, a different kind of awakening, as the buddha turns, in his hands, the hourglass, the vajra, time itself. Time running out, changing from night to day, from winter to spring, inside to outside, to inside, repeating itself in endless turnings.

7. The Hourglass Itself

The last line of the poem asserts that movement in time is cyclical and reoccurring. Read that way the poem was already in motion when it began, the lovers themselves dimly aware of it. Although the images used, including the conceit of the hourglass, were already in my consciousness and there in the world to be taken up at any time, the poem, in fact, began with a dream and evolved in the course of its writing with the fortuitous discovery of snow, of snow falling. No snow fell in the dream, and how ever often the lovers entwined and the workers leaned on the fourfaced statue, no snow feel there. Perhaps, as Manju Kanchuli suggested, the snow is a recollection, a memory wakened by the rain falling in the street, the slight shudder as we feel the rain, by the rain striking the window drawing the lovers towards each other, into dream. From the dream which I cannot recall I woke to write:

The painting on the wall
above the man and woman entwined
changes shape

within their consciousness

Or the snow is the pristine form of the rain that falls in the street. Whether it precedes, follows from, or parallels the falling of the rain I cannot say. Images passing through the hourglass change shape. Time passes in two ways -- inside the hourglass, outside in the world. In this way the hourglass can be read as consciousness.

The conceit of the hourglass emerged from a poem I had previously written entitled THE SUITCASE. There I had drawn two separate images together, two separate experiences, mirroring each in their portrayal. It seemed to me the images were telescoped onto each other as if through the funnel of an hourglass, and so I called it an hourglass poem, and began thinking to write another such hourglass poem.

The hourglass, however, is not simply a device for transposing of images; it's a device for marking time. And whoever has that device in hand influences the passage of time, the turn of events, the shape of the world they find themselves in. Or the hourglass is the poem itself, the mirrored stanzas the record of its turnings.

Why does snow fall in the hourglass and not sand? Sand falls and buries. I cannot breathe beneath sand, beneath the weight of the final falling grain that covers my eyes...

When rain falls in Manjul's poems, pain is felt, pain closes the poet down, it stills him, till consciousness makes its move

Rain wakens here, it's what draws the lovers and the workers closer together, it strikes the lovers deep within

Time is inexorable, within the hourglass, not sand, but snow, we are not covered by time, we are stilled by its passage

No Manju the hourglass is not phallic, it is not a plaything for the hand, it's more likely the union of the two. See how the sand -the snow- funnels through and fills, how they rock back and forth

The hourglass is the Tao. The seed of day within night, night within day, turning, the world without, the world within

It is two triangles touching at their apex, slipping into each other's realm, a six pointed star, worlds merging, an emblem of love

Hourglass. Our glass. Do we look into it or drink out of it? At a Jewish Wedding we drain the glass and then smash it beneath our feet. Feet of the workers, feast of the workers, wedding of the world

The Hourglass is now an artifact, these fallen words a semblance of time

8. Postscript

Abhi, of course, is right: the poem is in motion, motility is its defining characteristic, The words follow and fall one from the other, they spill down the page, the word "freezing" merely one word passed over by others, without stopping the flow, till the poem comes to full closure, as Manju Kanchuli has emphasized, containing its destructive urges, its contradictions within its form. Were the poet truly interested in breaking open the form, were he unable to contain himself within the poem, with the word "shattered," hourglass in hand, blood pouring down his palm, he would have smeared that canvas Abhi speaks of, trailing his fingerprints across its snow white surface, pitting the canvas with glass fragments, with unspoken pain.

THE HOURGLASS, however, is a merely a poem; its images contained within; its outer form, an idea, and like all ideas, at best transparent, but in the right hands, not those of the poet, incendiary. It would be, not an hourglass, then, a Molotov cocktail -- stopped with a poem. The image of a Molotov cocktail stopped with a poem joins the judgment against language with that against the constraints of time -- language stonewalls and ignites. If we could compress this contradiction into a single moment, if saying and meaning were one, we would no longer be taken in by eloquence. THE HOURGLASS, shattered and whole, identifying the poet by his stutter, by his dependence on words, as he who stammers, he who lisps.

When saying outpaces meaning, when words like high speed boats race ever faster till they seem not to move, the painting on the wall, a mass of whirling color and line becomes no more than a flat expanse. Were meaning not so easily overlooked, the poet's words might clue us in to the reading of the poem, key images and phrases would ground us, and the bridging of contradictions would take us that much closer to having discovered what is at stake within the drama being played out on the page.

The configuration of the lovers and the man in the painting parallels that of the workers and the fourfaced buddha. The configuration is stationary within the movement of the hourglass -- time moves, the protagonists stay put. There is also a parallel between the lovers turning in their sleep (turning perhaps from each other) and the hourglass turning in the buddha's hand. The gestures are unclear to the lovers. Can we say that the gestures of the buddha spoken of in this poem are unclear to him? That they are empty gestures, rituals without meaning, shall we speak of the sleep of the buddha, the empty passage of time?

The most assertive act in the poem is that natural but unforeseeable act of rain striking against the street and window and the lovers deep within. Manjul suggests that this prevents the workers from working, and thus in effect initiates a withdrawal from action that brings on the reign of death. But what if the action were imitated? What if the forgotten protagonists of the poem struck back, went on strike? If the hourglass were in the hands of those who would take their lives "in hand," if it were truly "our glass," would we shatter it, would we break through the constraint of a time and a history that are not ours? Would it be that the reign of death were overthrown? Would it be.

DOCUMENT #1

THE HOURGLASS
by Wayne Amtzis

The painting on the wall
above the man and woman entwined
changes shape

within their consciousness

The workers slumped
against the statue of the fourfaced buddha
lean on each other

Shirts torn at the elbow,
streaked with dirt The buddha's forehead
on all four sides

smeared with vermilion

Rain falls on the street striking
the window striking the lovers deep within
In the hourglass it's day or night

depending on the hands that hold it
Hands of the workers Hands of the lovers
From the ceiling of the hourglass

snow falls. Inhaling warmth
as they draw closer
to each other, inhaling exhaust...

the man in the painting
a buddha himself, raises his hands in gestures
clear to one who wakes

But the lovers turn in their sleep
Snow rises from the floor
piles up

at the feet of the workers
piles up like a mountain that cannot be seen
till too late

till snowballing
like these words I seem so fond of
till freezing

unless the workers
stamp their feet
or the lovers copulate

or the hourglass
shatters, or simply held
in the hand of the man in the painting

turns and turns and turns

DOCUMENTS:

“The Hourglass” by Wayne Amtzis
"A Reader's Appraisal" by Manju Kanchuli
"Impressions of the Hourglass" by Abhi Subedi
"Reading The Hourglass" by Manjul

Nepalese Linguistics
Vol. 13. November 1996

 

 

Rising Nepal May 13, 1994 and New Nepal New Voices 2008

SCORPION'S STING
by Wayne Amtzis

Up


The lean ash covered yogi rose from the floor. Once up, it was just as easy to stand as to lie down. He could see the river limp past weary with age, dry bones and nothing more, though the devout still drew blessings from its toils, and washed in its waters -- clothes dried clean spread out on the stone steps of the ghats. Leaning from an alcove, Nag could catch the sun staring him down. An uncommon spring shrouded the valley. Dust and smoke mingled in the air. The dust rose from the roads, the smoke incessantly from the river, from the bodies of the dead.

Most sadhus had moved on. Some further along the river where discarded machinery and piles of bottles and tins gave the temples
and pilgrim's quarters an embattled air. There the most dissolute stayed. Young men with long shiny black hair, tight jeans and leather boots could be seen with them sharing chillums and drinking. Boys from Kalimati, barefoot and unwashed spent the night each with his favorite. Sometimes, disheveled and distraught, a lone woman emerged before morning.

Among this horde of vagabonds one stood apart. He took his pleasure like the rest, but at night sat by the fire, bloodshot eyes unblinking as he practiced inner yoga. His tantric powers and a cold stare that stilled conversation brought him the name "Scorpion". His fingers were long, delicate and bejeweled with rings.

Of the sadhus who had gathered for Shiva Ratri the true devotees went north to Shiva's Mountains. But Nag stayed on at Pashupati. He took to tending the idols niched above the river, smearing Durga and Bhairav with ash from the fire kept continually burning. At night Scorpion and one or another of his tribe would come by. Scorpion took to Nag and spoke to him as a teacher to a disciple. The idols Nag tended were many years ago in Scorpion's care. By morning he would be gone. Like Shiva himself who roamed as a deer he vanished unnoticed.

Some mornings a Yogini came round with tea, but today no one appeared. Nag could walk out with his begging bowl if he felt hungry enough. If he went without what did it matter? His alcove was just above the burning ghats. Wealthy mourners would reward him for his prayers if he cared to pray. Besides, meat could always be found on the cremation grounds. Having spurned convention and overcome revulsion as Scorpion taught, supreme merit could be gained by feasting on the dead. But these disease-ridden corpses? Was he strong enough for that?

Cries from the mourners below broke through his reverie. Shrouded body undressed by flames. "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond" he murmured as he bent to his own dying fire to smear himself with ash. Withdrawing, wrapped in the cocoon of his body he lost track of the burning. Scorpion's words "the flesh of the dead sustains, the blood of the living releases" rose like pinpricks at the base of his spine, like the brush of an insect climbing his back, a pool of black water simmering in his heart, a single flame hissing at his brow. All day and into the evening, an uncommon spring, and it was only the beginning.

***
Never having married, Didi felt no need to leave her ancestral home. That low lying land was the choicest of valley plots. That was why her younger brother Vishnu saw no reason to remarry after his first wife's untimely death and his second's running off with that no account from the army. Brother and sister lived together as householders. Didi worked the fields and raised the daughter of the first marriage the son of the second. Laksman, his face as vibrant as his mother's, was the village favorite, his laughter and cries resounding everywhere. Didi resented him as she did the mother who ran off. The daughter she worked, but the son got his way.

It was already midsummer, and the long dry riverbeds were sand, stone and dust. Only foul pools and torpid streams were to be seen –run off from the carpet factories that sucked up thousands of gallons of water for the ever-growing city. Hill top reservoirs holding last year's rain offered barely enough drinking water for the ever growing city. A few farmers had broken the pipes that skirted their lands, but it wasn't enough. Fields needed to be flooded before the rice could be planted. The only recourse was to propitiate the gods.

On the eleventh day of the new moon, the men of each village visited local shrines to sacrifice and to appease the deities. Then they went to the rivers to beg of the god who once dwelt there in the form of a fish. To no avail; a cloud of dust rose as high as the hills. Snakes of beaten silver dropped into the wells in hope that the valley's ancient rulers, the Nagas, would return bringing water, sunk into the mud.

On the full moon, with Laksman in hand, Didi slipped out and walked across the fields and then along the dying river past an overturned car and piles of rusted machinery just beyond the road past the bridge on a rise where a band of sadhus had camped all summer. A bargain was struck. Slipping an amethyst ring from his hand onto a string and tying it around the boy's throat, Scorpion whispered something in Laksman's ear that made him shiver. That night it seemed frogs could be heard croaking, but it was merely the sound of the river shrinking into itself
The rains bargained for did not come. Nor did the valley become a lake once again. Laksman like the Sadhus disappeared with the dawn.

***
By the fire sat Gauri, a Shivite from Bengal, and Dhan, an apprentice faith healer, more like Gauri’s dog. With the babas the faith healer was a drunk among the stoned, a talker among the speechless. The Shivite's eyes steadied to a single point as deadly as a scorpion's sting and the faith healer ceased muttering about the boy. Nag stoked the fire, the first of many rings, one with a purple stone, on his finger. And though he had long ago stopped listening he heard once again the boy's shrill cry, followed this time not by the whip of the scorpion's tail, but by the frog's unmistakable croaking.

Kathmandu, 1978/81

Published in Rising Nepal May 13, 1994 and New Nepal New Voices 2008

 
 

RISING NEPAL 3/ 25/ 94

THE COMING OF RAM

Up


Belongings tied to his back, rupees tucked into his waist, the blue rose of sunset behind him, if he hurried he could reach Kathmandu before dark, but what would hurrying bring? Tomorrow was time enough to find his way. Besides, hungry and cold, wrapped in an army blanket, he didn't sense how warm the valley was in October. In the plains forewarned -- so near to Shiva's mountains, of the cold.

His nose brought him to a tea stall, smoky and full of broad-faced peasants drinking chang, beer made from fermented barley. Sweet tea was what he wanted. He held the glass in his hand a long time before drinking, gazing at the coals of the sunken fire. He tried not to listen. Their jangling words and whine confused and irritated him. Were they laughing at that woman buying three eggs? Each transaction was mimicked by these bold drinkers bringing ever more laughter and shouts.

He didn't want to remain, but darkness had settled in. He asked the woman, hauling a fresh bucket of chang through the open doorway, about a room for the night. The barely-clad peasants, short, muscular men with filthy bodies teeth missing from open grins, joked among themselves, or so Ram thought, as he came to terms -yes, the floor in the back would do.

Down from the hills, day laborers with only tenuous ties to family or village, working for a pittance bearing other men's loads, they drank, gambled and joked. Since Ram was staying, they offered him their beer. With gestures he refused, more interested in the mound of rice and the tiny plates of dal and vegetables set before him. He ate, eyes cast down, listening to the men as they talked and gambled.

The meal, the lantern's dull glow and the fire made the small room, the dirt floor and wooden benches comfortable and comforting. On the wall a framed picture of Durga killing the buffalo demon, though dusty and caked with forgotten offerings and flowers garlanding the goddess, drew from Ram a mumbled prayer.

The men spoke now in a dialect that Ram understood. Their playfulness and camaraderie drew him in .He wanted, on this the last day of his wandering, to be a part, and not apart from what happens. When he picked up the dice he was theirs. Not used to the warm brew that tasted so good, he fell asleep after a few rounds thinking he had won as many rupees as he had wagered.

When he woke it was late morning, the street thronged with people, laundry hung on the bushes and fences. In the shops women haggled over prices, his new found friends nowhere to be seen. The innkeeper asked for paisa to pay for morning tea and Ram reached for his treasure. His purse was gone; only his blanket and a few possessions, his clothes and utensils remained.

These he set out before him in an open square in Kathmandu. They brought a good price. Soon clothes and utensils were replaced by combs, powders and unnamable odds and ends all laid out on a thin piece of plastic. The first winter wasn't as harsh as he expected. He grew used to the cold as one grows used to anything. The distant mountains meant less to him than the god Shiva to the passing tourist.

Kathmandu, 1979/81

 
 

HABITS OF MIND, or art inside out

Up


When we look at and write about art
what are the interpretive frames of mind that shape our experience?
Do they resemble those the artist uses in the creation of her work?
Is there a common core of awareness
that underlies expression and appreciation?
Is there a common capacity for shaping and seeing,
an underlying awareness that is at play, as well, in our everyday life?
In this talk we will consider the unspoken habits of mind
that shape what we see and what we say
and at the same time we will emphasize embodied awareness
as a means for artistic expression and criticism.

 
 

1. EMBODIED AWARENESS

Up


We approach a work of art by looking, by seeing
Listening to me now, the primary sense is hearing. In both instances
I suggest that we step back from seeing,
that we step back from listening. I like to work with limits:
to not listen too intently/ to not look too closely.
My preference is not to zoom in,
but to wide angle. To take in circumstance,
to listen inwardly. Thus I separate my ongoing experience
into body, grounded in body, into mind, aware in mind
And into circumstance, open to circumstance
So as I speak please give me 60% of your attention
And reserve much of the rest to being here, to recognizing
when your mind follows its own patterns,
And when it judges what I say.
This awareness of one’s inner thought processes
is not something that can happen all at once.
It takes habituation to a particular mode of being
which I prefer to call Embodied awareness
So please be at ease, as you listen to what I have to say
Sense your own physical being.
Seriously, sense your arms, your legs and torso
and your body breathing. Even as I speak,
even as you look towards me. I hope you can listen
with embodied awareness

 
 

2. THE MIND’S EYE

Up


Let’s start with the gallery. With place, with circumstance
Being here in this place, you are grounded
And not apt to let your mind wander as you listen
Within this grounded-ness I ask that you use your mind’s eye
To envision another place that you are familiar with:
the Siddhartha gallery. Take a moment, see if you can see it.
As you turn from the street where the tall trees
have been stumped to the roots
through the narrow wind of the gentrified stable
at the end of the open air tunnel
envision Siddhartha Gallery in your mind
Beneath the barren walls
at the center of the mandala of the lower floor
looped in swirls of red, black
and lightning flash silver
stands a motorcycle, its pristine exhaust pipe
slung low

Is this a gallery? or a motorcycle showroom?
(Or say it is the future, and in a world where art has reverted
to its intrinsic value, the shut-down gallery houses
a motorcycle). If this doesn’t do it for you
in place of the motorcycle envision a horse. Is this a gallery?
or a stable? (and the horse a lingering ghost
of its past). Imagine what you see, either as a horse or motorcycle,
is now seamlessly joined as horse and cycle
head and mane to gas tank and tires, or hooves and thighs
to metal… however you envision it

Will this satisfy you? Is this now a gallery?
This horse-cycle or cycle-horse, with the faux-diamond
encrusted exhaust, not just an advertisement for motorcycles
but a work of art) What makes this a gallery?
and not a showroom? How will you write about what you see?
Will you talk of Magritte and his bottle
morphing into a carrot? Will you look to the artist’s
concept-driven take on the environment?
Is the horse an avatar or a slave; the motor,
our master? Are you blinded by the play of color?
Reassured by her mastery of form?

Let’s step back. We’ve talked about circumstance
invoked the mind’s eye,
and are ready to consider the vantage we will take
As we do that, let’s look behind the curtain
and see what the wizard, the mind is doing here

 
 

3. MY PERSPECTIVE

Up


and the perspective of whatever creative
or interpretive enterprise I undertake
is to assume that 1. experience is illusion
2. reality is suffering
and 3. meaning as rendered through language
is in flux. Not fixed. That the play between the two
Illusion and reality, experience and suffering
allows the artist to create in her own language
her own idiom
.

For me: Art is an open question.
Before I can honestly talk about art
whether I am approaching it from the outside
as sense-based objects of awareness,
or from within as a creative endeavor
I need to consider how my own mind works.
I need to answer again and again
the question: am I open or closed minded?
to what degree? in what context?
In what way am I seeing or not seeing what is before me
Is that object on the gallery floor: a horse?
a motorcycle? a hybrid? a ghost? a dream horse?
A portent of what will come?
Do I see what’s there? Do I see only what I want to see?

 
 

4. RETURN TO EMBODIED AWARENESS

Up


Let’s return to embodied awareness. And the returning
is important. We are embodied here in a place,
a particular circumstance, a talk, where you are listening
and I am speaking. And where I have asked you
to engage in a creative enterprise: to envision something
in your mind’s eye. You are looking at me
listening to what I have to say. Yet I ask you to step back
to sense your own presence here even as you listen
Why? to be grounded and self-aware. Zooming in, listening too intently,
the mind appropriates what it hears on its own terms
Wide angling, the mind has enough space to recognize
when it appropriates and judges. And being physically grounded
one can listen and see not just through thought
but with the whole body. If the one who engages in creative enterprise
engages with her entire being, shouldn’t the one who responds
bring his entire being to bear as well? Look and listen
with the body in mind. The mind is already in the body
Take your left hand and close and open your fist
Take your right hand and simply sense your mind’s presence there
The sensations are the same. The mind is in the body
in potential. When we engage a work of art
do we feel its presence? Do we feel from the heart
or the gut? The body can mirror what it sees
the primal organ for the mind’s awareness is the body entire
the living breathing body

 
 

5. UNSPOKEN FRAMING

Up


Let me be clear, for me, art is not just an open question
An interrogation/ a confrontation,
a seduction, but a path of discovery. And whatever I may say about it
is a working hypotheses
My intention here is to introduce two methods
for encountering (and creating) art.
One based on everyday embodied awareness
and the other based on unspoken framing of discourse
For me these are mutually dependent methods
based on a common assumption: that all experience
can be seen as divided into experiences
of the mind, of the body and of circumstance
In fact, that everything there is can be considered
as mind, body or circumstance
A threefold division, an unspoken framing
lies behind all I say and do. Body, Mind, Circumstance
I cannot speak of any one of them without speaking of the others
They are not fixed and separate. When speaking of the body
I am also speaking of the mind’s body, and the body
in circumstance. They constitute the form of my experience,
not its content. They are not my personality or actions,
but a way of considering my personality and actions.
They are not me, but a way of looking at
and changing who I am. To look at art and see it for what it is
we need to look at ourselves. To look through
our selves. To let our filters and censors go

As a complex whole, Body/ Mind/ and Circumstance
underlies my understanding of experience
And when speaking of experience, they can be used to shape
what we say, without being explicitly a part of what we say
I refer to this attitude as unspoken framing
Whether we are looking at art from the outside
or from within. Re your critical writing,
I am speaking to the form of experience,
How we access experience and how we shape it
The story line, the content is up to you.
In this way, form is implicitly rendered
and unspoken; content is explicit in its rendering
and implicit in its meaning.
Form refers to the shaping of sensate awareness
Content to the meaning afforded by it
Form and content being one of many unspoken categories
that lie behind our experience
Categories that you can use to simplify your engagement with art
Either through creative or interpretive acts

Other categories to consider, in addition to Illusion/ Reality,
Body/ Mind/ Circumstance and Form/ Content/ Circumstance
are: Artifact/ Process/ Circumstance
Artifact/ Artist/ Source; Observation/ Experience/ Circumstance
And my personal favorite: Wide angle/ Zoom
Or Stepping back/ Returning
Remember meaning is not fixed, the world is illusion
and suffering is real.
These categories can be used to simplify
and process experience. Especially when experience
is complex, confusing or overwhelming.
And they can be used to shape your understanding and response.
These abstractions are best left unspoken, implicit
in what you experience or say. For a writer, they are meant to shape
but not enter into his ongoing experience
and the rendering of it, and the way you use these categories
in parsing content and shaping narrative
will lead to your own personal idiom
And in a practical sense will allow you to step back
and return to analysis from another angle,
a different perspective. So the unspoken frame
common to all frames is: to step back
and to return, which in a practical sense I refer to
as wide angle and zoom

 
 

6. THE AWARENESS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

Up


I believe that over time it is possible to change
the basis for how one experiences
and to change one’s approach to creative enterprise.
To move from thought driven and self-referential judgments
to sense based open minded experience.
The task is threefold.
1. Becoming aware through the body in circumstance
2. Recognizing the unspoken formations that underlie
and determine experience.
3. Becoming open minded open hearted

For me, the movements of everyday life
provide the basis for developing the awareness
that underlies creative enterprise. There is a natural rhythm to life
We wake. We sleep. We lie down, sit up, stand and walk
It is easy over time to notice these familiar movements
And the state of mind that accompanies them
We can learn to notice, and in noticing we can deepen
our embodiment. This is a question of observation
and of experience. Stepping back we notice
thought and self are in charge. Stepping back,
we notice we are sitting here/
We can Sense the physicality of sitting here
Our thoughts will return. But now we can await them
in and through the body, the body
that we let go of… To be a part of this wider circumstance
Being here! Not just being me,
being here, open to whatever happens.

 
 

7. COMING TO TERMS WITH WRITING

Up


Stepping back is not an assignment
It is a project whose benefits accrue over time
When first looking, our habit is to zoom in
We see what we want to see, what we have been
habituated to see. When we wide angle
the object does not disappear, instead it emerges
more clearly defined in context.
When we step inward, recognizing how we name
and characterize what we see, and how we prefer this
or dislike that, in short how our point of view
determines what we see, then, with that in mind
we can return to the object more open to seeing it
on its own terms. When we approach a work of art
or an exhibit with any of the unspoken frames
whether it be form and content, or work, process, context
we have a way to gather our impressions
When it comes time to write
we can move from wide angle to zoom
The details of the work more vivid, the process
that shaped it more clearly defined
From stepping back we return
to the task at hand. We turn from the battle to the skirmish
Perhaps from a vantage we would not have
conceived before.

 
 

8. A POET’S FINALE

Up


Let’s return one last time to the gallery
Zooming in we see the lightning flash motorcycle
Stepping back we see the horse,
zooming in, stepping back, we see the cycle-horse
Stepping back again…the hybrid
wants to be horse, and something more
Not slave, but avatar. That something more
shapes the artist’s vision
The hobby horse from her childhood,
the phantom horse from her dreams
raises long held back wings
we did not see before. It’s not the wind
that lifts it, it’s the breath,
our embodied awareness lifts it
into the air, the walls fall away, the air
so much cleaner now
we’ve rid ourselves of the bike’s
motor and exhaust. Was that her intent?
Or was it the something more?
What we see challenges us
Be enthralled. That’s what the artist says
What we shape, uplift us
Be enthralled!

 
 

9. A PRACTICAL SUGGESTION

Up


For me the key to writing, is to step back from writing.
If you cannot clear your mind before writing
If you cannot listen before you speak
go for a walk. When walking pay attention to the body
and to space you are passing through
Walking demands stepping back from the visual
Whatever you see passes you by
Your view is wide. Whenever thoughts arise
Look outward with a wide view
And tend inwardly the physical sense of walking
The embodied sense of walking
Walking with a wide view and a willingness to let go of thoughts
will deepen your visual sense. Widen your view, deepen your sense
Return to the writing. Learn to see by letting go of seeing
Learn to write by letting go of writing

 
 

SAFEI Lecture in Aesthetics of Nepali Arts
Sept 19, 2015 Yalamaya Kendra, Patandhoka

Up

 


Copyright @ 2001, 2002 by Wayne Amtzis. All Rights Reserved.