Do You See?

“the city is peopled/with spirits, not ghosts…”: H.D.; Poetry News Good and Bad

Yeah, right. Most of you — a tiny figure I can count on my little finger — must have left me by now thinking, what’s the point; she has stopped posting blogs. I don’t know how to explain it all. I’m not your typical blogger. I’m a scribbler rather. It so happens that I scribble a lot at some stage and in another I just go slow. Someone told me only hormonal people blog a lot. Really? Because these days, I’m at my late-stage high hormonal phase. No, no; not what you’re thinking of. No flushes or rashes yet! What I’m going through is almost infantile. New words should be employed to express that feeling but those words aren’t yet there with me.


Also, when you have seen and heard things you won’t see or hear perhaps for a long long time, or even never, all you can do is remember and imagine. The sensations turn surreal, imagistic, and longingly forsaken.

I quote from what I paste later on in this post:

The city is peopled
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:


Though they crowded between
and usurped the kiss of my mouth
their breath was your gift,
their beauty, your life.


Enough premising. If you can’t write, don’t write, you’d say. Wait, oh wait!

The plus point of being hormonal is that I can start with ‘bad’ news.

KILMOG PRESS from Australia/New Zealand was to publish my poetry book “Into the Migrant City” in the beginning of this year. They are an indie press and have done good books, some of my friends’ too. The cover prototype was made and publicized widely. I wish I’d saved that image. Suddenly, the editor wrote back six months ago that the press is going under. Now who can argue about financial loss and the inability to print new books. That too poetry. As you rightly guessed, my manuscript also sunk with them. I was sad, hurt, hapless. The poetry book was not a book for me, rather a love affair I wanted to announce to the world. Well, what could one do. This set back quite a few things for me. I felt stranded and tired in the face of looking for other publishers. Meanwhile, everyone kept asking me when my book would be out for they’d seen the cover image and read a bit about the book.

Bad news. You know it now.

Now I write the relatively better news.

Writers Workshop, the famed old publishers from Kolkata, showed interest in the manuscript. Prof. Ananda Lal, who now runs the publishing business after his father P Lal expired, wrote me saying he agreed with the foreword that veteran poet Keki Daruwalla (so kind of him) wrote to my poetry collection. He saw these poems as a voice of someone spatio-temporally engaged with identity and nomenclature. Good for me, right!

Jacket blurbs are by two American poets (names later!) and our own Tabish Khair and Sudeep Sen. I should celebrate that.

I have signed the agreement and sent off my final MS to Prof. Lal’s WW. It’d be six months around till the book is out. Let’s hope this happens smoothly. A few well wishers tell me WW no longer retains the big brand name. Who does in poetry, is my question. I believe renowned veteran poet Hoshang Merchant has been having his book published by HarperCollins for the last three years. But that’s Hoshang. He deserves all that limelight. Mid-career (how I hate to use the word ‘career’ for poets) poets like me know WW is still a damn good place to get your first collection out. And Hoshang has a beautiful book from WW too. He gave a copy to me when Sridala and I had read poetry in EFLU just a month ago.

And if I may brag, Hoshang is very very supportive of my writing. Whenever I’ve read poetry with him on stage or in the audience — Prakriti poetry festival in Chennai, Hyderabad Literary Festival this January, Hyderabad Central University, the recent reading at EFLU — he has candidly told me what he likes in my poetry and how much he wants me to get out as much as possible. I do feel it’s a privilege for me to know Hoshang as a friend and mentor.


My own book title Into the Migrant City led me to read this poem by H.D from where I quoted above:

“Cities” by H. D.

Can we believe—by an effort
comfort our hearts:
it is not waste all this,
not placed here in disgust,
street after street,
each patterned alike,
no grace to lighten
a single house of the hundred
crowded into one garden-space.


Crowded—can we believe,
not in utter disgust,
in ironical play—
but the maker of cities grew faint
with the beauty of temple
and space before temple,
arch upon perfect arch,
of pillars and corridors that led out
to strange court-yards and porches
where sun-light stamped
black on the pavement.


That the maker of cities grew faint
with the splendour of palaces,
paused while the incense-flowers
from the incense-trees
dropped on the marble-walk,
thought anew, fashioned this—
street after street alike.


For alas,
he had crowded the city so full
that men could not grasp beauty,
beauty was over them,
through them, about them,
no crevice unpacked with the honey,
rare, measureless.


So he built a new city,
ah can we believe, not ironically
but for new splendour
constructed new people
to lift through slow growth
to a beauty unrivalled yet—
and created new cells,
hideous first, hideous now—
spread larve across them,
not honey but seething life.


And in these dark cells,
packed street after street,
souls live, hideous yet—
O disfigured, defaced,
with no trace of the beauty
men once held so light.


Can we think a few old cells
were left—we are left—
grains of honey,
old dust of stray pollen
dull on our torn wings,
we are left to recall the old streets?


Is our task the less sweet
that the larvae still sleep in their cells?
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength:
You are useless. We live.
We await great events.
We are spread through this earth.
We protect our strong race.
You are useless.
Your cell takes the place
of our young future strength.


Though they sleep or wake to torment
and wish to displace our old cells—
thin rare gold—
that their larve grow fat—
is our task the less sweet?


Though we wander about,
find no honey of flowers in this waste,
is our task the less sweet—
who recall the old splendour,
await the new beauty of cities?


The city is peopled
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:


Though they crowded between
and usurped the kiss of my mouth
their breath was your gift,
their beauty, your life.
That’s a billboard from my current city imprisoned by the up and coming mega malls. Courtesy my mobile phone camera (I swear I never used a mobile phone outside of India for many many years)

11 comments on ““the city is peopled/with spirits, not ghosts…”: H.D.; Poetry News Good and Bad

  1. Mihir Vatsa
    August 24, 2012

    Very cool! 🙂

    • Do You See
      August 24, 2012

      Ca c’est quoi, petit Vatsa? The poem or the poetry news?

  2. Do You See
    August 25, 2012

    The French is not the best perhaps, Vatsa. But I’d like to know what you said elsewhere about this forthcoming book 🙂 Copy paste!

  3. Kush
    August 25, 2012

    Hey Nabina, first of all, congratulations for the impending publication. Here’s hoping you fall in the foot steps of the greats. Keki N Daruwalla has read and recommended you – wow! Second, i can very well understand your predicament vis-a-vis the lack of writing because i am going through something similar. That said, here’s hoping that all our pens can gather new life again. I did not fully understand the poem…but i think its about the old still having value in the face of the up-and-coming?…do drop a hint so i can understand the poem…

    • Do You See
      August 26, 2012

      Hi Kush! So glad to hear from you, one of my earliest poetry partners! I am writing sparingly due to some compelling “domestic” reasons. But I have a lot to shape up and revise. Penned a lot in Scotland and before that, in Sangam.House. It was awesome to meet you in Bangalore. Keep writing and sharing although I understand your job consumes a lot of time.
      The H.D. poem is pretty much what she says in the title — Cities. But more about the life and times of her people and her loves in these spaces. I’ll return to it again.
      Keki and I had interesting exchanges over this ms. Al last he wrote this foreword. Thanks!

      • Kush
        August 26, 2012

        “…interesting exchanges over this ms…” wow, elite company! enjoy! 🙂

  4. Kush
    August 25, 2012

    I am so sorry, there seems to be a pun on the expression “fall in the foot steps of the greats” – not intended at all – see, how a dulled out pen slips like a drunken idiot!

    • Do You See
      August 26, 2012

      Hey Kushie! Worry not, Pen slips only in search of the right word. Drunken idiots are at times the soberest observers! Keep coming back, young friend!

  5. Shruti Sareen
    August 26, 2012

    Nabina… I have to write in! Into the Migrant City is big for me, I have been waiting for it so long!!
    it’s bad about Kilmog Press, I remember the lovely colourful cover you had put up on fb.
    well, my initial response to this was that WW is not the brand name it used to be, but if you trust it, I guess it is good enough. And it’s amazing about keki daruwalla’s introduction and Hoshang merchant’s comments! 😀
    Looking very very forward to the book! I think I have some good news of my own to tell you but… I’ll wait another 3-4 days until it’s absolutely confirmed? 🙂

  6. Shruti Sareen
    August 26, 2012

    and I forgot to say that Tabish and Sudeep are such awesome people to design the cover! Good! I would love to see the new one, and I’m sure it will be every bit as good as the last. all the bestest! 🙂

  7. Do You See
    August 29, 2012

    I want to clarify that Sudeep Sen and Tabish Khair are poets/writers, not designers. The cover design will be by WW. SS and TK have provided jacket blurbs as have Robert Bohm and Elaine Terranova, two very endearing American poets. Also, Hoshang wrote no comment on this particular collection. He as a poet and friend, generally comments on my poetry and reading whenever we gather together, Keki Daruwalla made it a point to tell me why he liked my poetry so much yet what bothered him in minor places. That’s the best critique I had so far.

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This entry was posted on August 24, 2012 by in cities, H.D., Hoshang Merchant, Into the Migrant City, Nabina Das, poetry.
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