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The Beat: Monica Mody and Michael Madhusudan Dutt
30th January 2023 • Knox Pods • Knox County Public Library
00:00:00 00:12:46

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Monica Mody was born in Ranchi, India. She holds a PhD in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including Ordinary Annals, and two full-length books, Kala Pani, a cross-genre work, and Bright Parallel, which is forthcoming from Copper Coin. Her writing has won awards including the Sparks Prize Fellowship, the Zora Neale Hurston Award, and a Toto Award for Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Poetry International, Indian Quarterly, Almost Island, Dusie, The Fabulist, and anthologies including Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing and The Penguin Book of Indian Poets.

Poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt was born in Bengal, India. He studied several languages and was well-versed in English and European literature. In 1861, Dutt published the epic poem Meghnadbadh Kabya, which is, perhaps, his most famous work. Between 1858 and 1874, Dutt penned at least nine plays, including three translations. He is known for his experimentation with verse forms, introducing blank verse in Bengali literature and the sonnet in Bengali—through a reconstruction of both Petrarchan and Shakespearean forms.

Links:

Read "Glass House--Anthropocene" and "That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat"

Read "Sonnets" by Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Monica Mody's website

"What Was Alive" at Yes Poetry

Interview with Mody at Poetry Mini Interviews

Mody reads from Ordinary Annals at Periodicities' Virtual Reading Series (Video)

"Homing Instinct" at The Other Side of Hope

Mentioned in this episode:

KnoxCountyLibrary.org

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Transcripts

Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear four poems read by the poet Monica Mody. The first poem, “Glass House—Anthropocene” is from Mody’s chapbook called Ordinary Annals. The second poem “That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat” is from Mody’s forthcoming book Bright Parallel. Mody follows by reading two sonnets by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a writer from Bengal who lived from eighteen twenty-five to eighteen seventy-three.

Monica Mody:

"Glass House—Anthropocene"

I want to rise above my limitations

I want to let bird shapes of words flock together into language that will change skies

I want courage to let the cross burn

Swoop of crow on branch outside fills me with referred pain

Why am I inside this glass enclosure

To land gently on a branch

to coruscate

I need supple wisdom of a nature being

but nature is burning

I find body itself tremors running deep every time

patina of noise on ears

I came in search of home

There is no shape after which I will not dive if on the other side I may find nature intact

I am like the blind woman who rubs darkness over her face wears a face of wail

It is a long way home

I am walking on my hands

if not in body in word

grief entangled in hair

trickle inhibited by sewage and noise

Sounding sonar hymns inside glass enclosure

rocking back and forth

Others inside look at me with feral eyes

Only eyes betray their remembering

Who are we when collapsed with earth grief

In panic, I step away from poem to regular

consternation effability of situation

written in body

Deep nature in retreat I long to bury my face in

I leaf through selves old

plans I had made lists

topics of sanity

Apathy stares back with white eyes

Death procession approaching I’d joined death’s procession

Do I dare exit this glass house

What will I find there

This is comfortable see machine cooling air

I weep cannot deny

body

needs embrace of Earth

It is soundless

You cannot even tell I am crying

But animal in me is pacing

up and down

up and down

This pacing it is not someone else’s responsibility

It is mine

"That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat"

Ancestors! When I see the least, I am closest to you.

That I have forgotten to praise you, but without this praise & this knowing I am nothing.

That sleep runs like sweat off my face & awake I am inviting you to come visit me. Come visit me & make my heart hospitable—make my heart soft & fierce, make it so alive that any animal that wanders in would know its home.

The poems I've chosen to share with you are by the Bengal Renaissance poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. In the nineteenth century, literature in English was being written not only by Europeans, but also by non-European peoples because the English language was an enabler of the colonial project. But when non-European artists and writers wrote in English, they often brought in embedded anti-colonial critiques, even as they hedged admiration for European forms and aesthetics.

"Sonnets"

I.

I am not rich, nay, nor the future heir

To sparkling gold or silver heaped on store;

There is no marble blushing on my floor

With thousand varied dies:—no gilded chair,

No cushions, carpets that by riches are

Brought from the Persian land, or Turkish shore;

There is no menial waiting at my door

Attentive to the knell: and all things rare,

Born in remotest regions, that shine in

And grace the rich-man's hall, are wanting here.

These are not things that by blind Fate have been

Allotted ever to the poor man's share:

These are not things, these eyes have ever seen,

Tho' their proud names have sounded in this ear!

II.

But oh! I grieve not;—for the azure sky

With all its host of stars that brightly shine,

The green-robed earth with all her flow'rs divine,

The verdant vales and every mountain high,

Those beauteous meads that now do glittering lie

Clad in bright sun-shine,—all, oh! all are mine!

And much there is on which my ear and eye

Can feast luxurious!—why should I repine?

The furious Gale that howls and fiercely blows,

The gentler Breeze that sings with tranquil glee,

The silver Rill that gayly warbling flows,

And e'en the dark and ever-lasting Sea,

All, all these bring oblivion for my woes,

And all these have transcendent charms for me!

Alan May:

You just heard Monica Mody read her poems “Glass House—Anthropocene” and “That I exist only as a speck on your bloodshot eyes but I am willing to sweat.” She followed by reading two sonnets by Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Mody was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home on the Ohlone territory of Northern California. Monica Mody was born in Ranchi, India. She holds a PhD in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including Ordinary Annals, and two full-length books, Kala Pani, a cross-genre work, and Bright Parallel, which is forthcoming from Copper Coin. Her writing has won awards including the Sparks Prize Fellowship, the Zora Neale Hurston Award, and a Toto Award for Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Poetry International, Indian Quarterly, Almost Island, Dusie, and The Fabulist; as well as anthologies including Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing and The Penguin Book of Indian Poets.

Poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt was born in Bengal, India. He studied several languages and was well-versed in English and European literature. His literary practice started in English, and he returned later to Bengali. In eighteen sixty-one, Dutt published Meghnadbadh-Kabya, an epic poem that is perhaps his most famous work. Between eighteen fifty-eight and eighteen seventy-four, Dutt penned at least nine plays, including three translations. He is known for his experimentation with verse forms, introducing blank verse in Bengali literature and the sonnet in Bengali—through a reconstruction of both Petrarchan and Shakespearean forms. You can find Monica Mody’s book Kala Pani in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.