About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Friday, August 29, 2008

Of Identity and Living in Imagined Communities

It's an interesting thought how identity works or doesn't work at all. The topic has been on my mind for a very long time, in different forms. While I write, read news and fiction, recite a poem or converse with a person, the issue comes up again and again. These are Proustian moments, in a redefined way. The triggers don't just evoke sensations from a bygone era like childhood, rather from phases in my formative years as well as my not-so-ancient adult life. I live in "imagined communities" or "imagined cultures", if I am to shamelessly borrow an academic term. Only, for me nothing is imaginary. All stand good and true.

Some time ago, when I created this blog, calling the URL "fleuve-souterrain", a few folks pouted saying, "French! But why?" Yeah, I'm not French, never aspiring to be. The reason that "fleuve-souterrain" or "the river underground" appeals to me as a nice concept has got nothing to do with French culture, language or food. True, Mo (see ABOUT ME above left) is getting his PhD in French Literature (his work is actually a mélange of literature, post-colonial geopolitics, architecture and identity issues among French, Francophone and Subcontinental milieu). Did I use mélange and milieu? Nah! But of course we know the English language has several cognates that are French? So, is his (pre)occupation influencing me? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Anyway, just because I am not French, or don't speak French like a parrot, or don't drink a daily glass of red wine and devour Camembert for breakfast-lunch-dinner everyday, does not mean I cannot have "fleuve-souterrain" as my blog URL. It's my choice. Period.

Contrarily, should I have named my URL 'bangali-naari' 'rojonigondha' or 'aabar-dekha-hobey' just because my forefathers (why don't they talk about foremothers?) happened to be Bengalis? Wait, not only Bengalis, but from the present Bangladesh, so maybe the URL should've been 'Surma-nodir-paar' or 'sylhet-shohagini' or 'bhatiali-gaan'... How absurd. But then how could I ignore my Assamese heritage and not name my blog 'nimaati-koinaa' or 'xeuji-dhoroni' or 'oxomi'? For me, the Assamese identity is as important as my Bengali identity. Maccher jhol is as tempting as tenga-anja.

And I'm not even talking about my pan-Northeastern identity (born and brought up in Assam, with relatives strewn all over Northeast India). We northeasterners love Beatles, eat akhuni or dry fish, dress Western, drink too much and women unhesitatingly sit on men's lap. Can anything be weirder? Oh, wait again, what about my 'English-speaking'/'Western-educated'/'bourgeoise brown sahib' identity? Or my '10 + years in Delhi' identity. My 'Punjabi-by-marriage' identity (there's a problem here though -- Mo's father's side is Multani from Pakistan and probably they have Jhangi connections too)? Good lord! So how far can stereotyping work?

These things don't matter really, but sometimes they put you off. For example, every time I meet people from Assam, my birthplace, and start conversing in Assamese with great delight in my heart, shoots out the inevitable question: "Ghor kot (where's your home)?" Now that's not a good translation. Ghor here means one's original village/town, either in the very urbane yet idyllic Brahmaputra Valley, or distinctly in upper or lower Assam (determining the degree of nobility in one's Assamese-hood). Without batting an eyelid I explain that my ghor is in Guwahati city (that's considered unnatural because the city is supposed to be full of aspirants, vagrants and migrants from villages and small towns of Assam) while my parents were born in what was then "East Bengal" and a very tickling family tree story (my dad has the ancient scroll) said that my ancestors were from northern India, migrated eastwards from a village by the banks of the Ganga during the golden reign of King Harshavardhana the great! Alas, no one sees the creative angle in this ethnogenetic fiction. Pat comes the remark: "Oh, but then your Assamese is very good!" Of course it is. Because I'm Assamese, from Assam and derived of all its joys and pangs. And somehow, I wonder why and how, most of these remarks come from folks sitting at elite seminar tables discussing and debating topics like identity, nationalism and integration. Jesus (I have a 'cultural' right to say that, I went to a catholic school)!

So how should I introduce myself? I drink red wine, savor Camembert, cook Thai and Lebanese, eat out Indian, love my tenga and fish, wear whatever I feel like, read in four-five languages, cherish Rabindranath and Lakshminath Bezbaruah as much as Dostoevsky and Mahmoud Darwish, spend energy on haranguing about Kashmir plebiscite and ULFA, want to strip and flog fanatics of all hue, name my blog URL a silly French nomenclature and find peace in the fact that Pakistani-Bangladeshi-Indian businesspeople outside the South Asian Subcontinent rarely fight a bitter fight. At a recent vacation in Ottawa when a family from Bangladesh figured out my still-existing ties to that country (some of my cousins live there) and the man said: "As Bengalis, it is then okay to ask you a favor," I smiled. Of course. Also, as humans, civilized folks and as people in need it is okay.

It actually felt better when while having dinner with Mo's film-maker friends Claudine and Patrice in Paris -- in the snooty St. Michel neighborhood -- Patrice very casually commented how easily I can pass of as a Mexican or Puerto Rican whereas Mo looked very "Indian"! I was tempted to quip, "Now I can tell people I just came across the fence the other day!"

So next time I hear people wondering whether I am a sworn Communist, a die-hard fish-lover, a madcap with enough 'bangali' brains, an Assam-born person with "very good Assamese", a northeasterner with "acceptable" Indian looks, a faux-Punjabi with good Hindi skills (some choice abuses I relish on occasions), an imagined-French, an always-subcontinental with stratified links all around, I'll let them have fun unless they are too eager to prove things to be such or otherwise. I dare not invoke Benedict Anderson because I'm told he is already passé and I'm still adding tags to myself. My identity.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reading Robert Hass and Kay Ryan

Two different names, two different expressions. Robert Hass (above, left) and Kay Ryan. Hass won the Pulitzer this year in poetry (shared it with Philip Schultz's "Failure") for his collection "Time and Materials". I started reading Hass even before the Pulitzer was announced, from a review of his aforementioned book in Boston Review. It serves little to say that Hass' work enthused my own imagination a lot. It also put me to think about the way poets in the Indian subcontinent have been writing since ages, combining their respective contemporaneity with epical, classical, mythological allusions. That Hass was doing precisely that all throughout his work has been pointed out by some (American) critics as an "educated" approach to writing verse. I think educated is a snobbish word, at least for our own "Western-educated" sensibilities and there's no denying that we tend to use it as a tool for either conscious rejection of others or a vague alignment with other 'educated' milieu about which we have little or no idea. Therefore to me, reading Hass seemed less of an educated act, more of a reconciliation with the motions of history. The way it does reading any poet from the classical ages to the present times in the Indian subcontinent. Is it because Hass was influenced early on by Hinduism and Buddhism? Not sure yet, I've just discovered him!
Before I pen my thoughts further, I must say this is no scholarly article. Really, these are just my inner ramblings, my vagrant thoughts. So read it that way!

I reproduce one of my favorite Hass poems:


The creek's silver in the sun of almost August,
And bright dry air, and last runnels of snowmelt,
Percolating through the roots of mountain grasses
Vinegar weed, golden smoke, or meadow rust,
Do they confer, do the lovers' bodies
In the summer dusk, his breath, her sleeping face,
Confer --, does the slow breeze in the pines?
If you were the interpreter, if that were your task.

So this is where Robert Hass is a poet of interaction, in the last line. And this is where my interest gets aroused and I read the poem backwards again and again. He leaves it to the reader, the 'interpreter' to say and see what the poem and its idea does. Here I remember that Hass is a naturalist with passion for environmental concerns and hence, the topography is alive with descriptions of the sky, creek, air, grasses, trees, "almost August" being the hallmark of his nature iconography. But wait, you may say, every poet evokes descriptions of nature. I do too! But this is Hass' California/West Coast nature and like it or not, last runnels of snowmelt, vinegar weed etc. (real or not), are pretty much his poetic decoration of that nature.

Now that as readers we already know the poem is about "that music", the notational relationship between the items of nature, the lovers ("his breath, her sleeping face"), the slow breeze etc. is highlighted by his leitmotif of interrogation (sounds really bad, this word): "Do they confer". The verb conferring immediately determines the indeterminate act of hearing, playing, feeling 'that music'. I cannot analyse this any more, because as the 'interpreter', my task was only to say how much I am in tune (pun intended!) with this little poem.

Another poem that I will not reproduce here in its entirety is FUTURES IN LILACS. Just consider the opening lines:

"Tender little Buddha," she said
Of my least Buddha-like member.
She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg,
Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman.

Here, I was ready to notice some mock-scornful tone about the lady -- she -- in question, who would, with all seriousness, quote an erudite source, to the extent of risking bathos! And even when in the heat of seduction

She was taking off a blouse,
Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine.

the sound of the syllables here and the tangerine texture evokes the tenderness that 'she' refers to in the beginning, but I thought by this time Hass' tone was far gone meandering into the parables of American history (not so much in the lady who is romantically engaged with the poet), where Walt Whitman's romance with a "trolley conductor" is recalled almost casually and dismissively:

He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of -- what was it? -- 1867? 1868?

I'm still pondering about the title. Hence, no comment on that.

Now the last poem by Hass I'll refer to here is ENVY OF OTHER PEOPLE'S POEMS. The very first line tells of a story displaced temporally and historically:

In one version of the legend the sirens couldn't sing.

Okay, I am game for the other version! And Hass doesn't disappoint.

It was only a sailor's story that they could.

The layering of the 'non-story' on the 'story' itself is the marvellous craft of this poem. It's worth reading this poem again and again to see language create a quasi-logic of reasoning. So, yes, read it on your own. As for envy? Yes, I have so much of that for Hass' work!
My other favorites are HEROIC SIMILE (more about this superb poem later), BETWEEN THE WARS and AFTER GOETHE.

You may find his poems online at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/.

Reading Kay Ryan (above, right), the current US poet laureate, was like looking into a mirror where an infinitely magnificent me stared back at this pathetic 'me'. Uh, oh, it sounds narcissistic again, my "mood favori"! No, but really yes, Kay Ryan's poems are something that should have been written by me, not her. The very 'tongue-in-cheek' and angular quality of her poems I find is amazing and strangely 'alter-egoistic'. But to say that, is to make a pedestrian comment about Ryan's work. Her poems open up to me amazing sounds in their twists and turns, indignantly flavorsome phrases and a fable-like prophetic capability, a cool recollection of quaintly impressionistic images presented in compact little forms glittering like fine Persian jewelry! I read this poem (bold mine) and was stoned, literally:


Among English verbs
to die is oddest in its
eagerness to be dead,
immodest in its
haste to be told --
a verb alchemical
in the head:
one speck of its gold
and a whole life's lead.

Tell me what is unpredictable here...

For me, Ryan's etching of just one "verb" sums up her prophecy about all other verbs -- "to die is oddest in its/eagerness to be dead". This is a spectrum within which she speaks of all other actionable acts that life may hold. And yes, that verb is alchemical. It literally and physically is in a haste to be dead, to be over with, to be told. at the same time it sums up a life and the material and moral quests that accompany it.


Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the langour of their
rolling over.

The reader can see how Ryan's topography, as compared to Hass' topography, is a continuous changing, rolling, engulfing entity quite akin to the anatomical flexing of human or rather, animate forms. For Hass, the icons of nature are signposts of a mood, time (history) and things that constitute the specific moment for his poetry (is this why the title Time and Materials?). Ryan nature, as well as any other topography she considers, is a thoughtful, even erratic, actionable entity that competes with her own declared sense of compactness and prophetic conclusions (fable). In THE LIGHT OF INTERIORS, this relationality comes alive when she writes:

... But, in
any case, the light,
once in, bounces
toward the interior,
glancing off glassy
enamels and polishes,
softened by the scuffed
and often-handled, muffled
in carpet and toweling,
buffeted down hallways,
baffled in equally
by the scatter and order
of love and failure
to an ideal and now
sourceless texture which,
when mixed with silence,
makes of a simple
table with flowers
an island.

I'll not point to the lovely and obvious alliterative craft at work in this part of the poem. What strikes me is the kinetic force of her words embodied by the description of 'light' that lights up her topography almost meandering and running through a clutter of objects, finally to rest upon the final poetic imagery of a "table with flowers/an island", so Vermeer-like, a static image throbbing with calm energy. Again you may find Ryan's poems listed on http://www.poetryfoundation.org/. Do let me know how you find these two poets if you read them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

NFI Northeast Media Exchange Programme Fellows

2000; Shillong, Meghalaya; NFI Northeast Media Exchange Programme Fellows.
Its amazing how a photograph can make you feel good. This one above is taken years ago. At the Northeast Media Fellowship's grand conference held in Shillong by National Foundation for India, one my former employers. Their flagship project used to be advised by Sanjoy Hazarika, the noted journalist and writer from Assam (Fellow, C-NES, New Delhi; he blogs at http://hazarika.c-nes.org/) and at that time was just handed down to me as the media coordinator, from Sunita Bhadauria, my former colleague and a very good friend.
We are standing outside on the front lawn of the famous Pinewood lodge in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. It's sunny and pleasantly warm because of Shillong's calm hilly weather. The only women in the photo are Sunita and I. She is far taller than I am, so you know who's who!
Apart from Sanjoy Hazarika, there are our prominent Media Consultants in this picture -- D N Bezbaruah, former Editor of The Sentinel newspaper in Guwahati, Assam, where I began my journalistic sojourn as a fledgling reporter and subeditor in 1988 (ahem, I'm really that old!); Dileep Chandan, Editor, Asom Bani (affiliated to The Assam Tribune newspaper) in Guwahati, and A J Phillips, another media stalwart.
Of the Fellows from the "Northeast", the one standing next to Sunita (in dark shawl) was from Nagaland. A fine man with a great sense of humor. He told me about his recovery from substance abuse and his experience of violence from insurgency in Nagaland. He had to leave the conference early and I kind of missed him. Also, the Fellow from Manipur, don't remember his name, was apparently an active member of an underground outfit. I used to notice him a lot during our sessions. A very quiet and surly man, he barely spoke or replied to questions. When I tried making a conversation, he told me very briefly how aghast he was at the "incorrect reportings" by the mainstream media in Manipur. I felt I had to apologize on behalf of the "mainstream media". But I was a northeasterner too, I understood his points.
I thought this man will never open up, never really participate in our fantastic sessions because he was such an angry man. Well, at the after-party, I was proven wrong! At that informal gathering at the lovely guesthouse at the majestic Barapani reservoir of the Umiam river, when we began to read poems and sing songs, one of us strumming a guitar, he began humming too. Then clapping. And singing loudly. He even requested me for a particular song (when I told my colleagues with sufficient embarrassment that I tried singing for the radio and TV a couple of times) -- I think, Old Man River. I think I saw his eyes get moist and he quickly turned his face away from my curious gaze.
Subir Ghosh, a fine reporter and writer (married to my former schoolmate Richa Bansal, a journalist too), is standing fourth from the right in the picture. He is the one who posted this memorable photo on his facebook page! Thank you Subir (he blogs at http://www.write2kill.in/ about politics, media and art)!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Of cyber-writers, my slowness and Nirmalprabha Bordoloi

Since I have been writing quite a bit these days (nonjournalistic), and reading people's blogs and websites, suddenly I am overwhelmed. When I worked as a fulltime journalist in India and the US, very few of us blogged (The Ithaca Journal launched blogging on their site just the other day). I mean even writers and poets I met up in the last five years, always made it a point to express their low-level preference for blogging or similar such cyber-presentation of their writing activities. Now, most creative writers I have been meeting in the last two years all have facebook pages, blogs or websites. Even journalists. What they publish or plan to publish, gets posted on their personal blogs. This reminds me of the huge stack of print-out sheets I accumulated in our Delhi and Guwahati homes, trying to stuff them inside cardboard boxes for posterity. My articles, reports, commentaries. Even some poetry. Was there fiction? Can't remember. But poetry in Assamese, Bengali and English. If I wrote all that today, I'd have a humongous blog! And everything at the click of a mouse. No cardboard boxes needed and no worries about mice (the real ones) making a mincemeat of my published work. But then, I have to do what I do now. Maybe if time permits, transcribe each of those printed works to file in my blog (maybe have a blanket headline like 'words from the past' or whatever). Well, that'll be an adventure of sorts. Especially because my Tehelka.com writings have most of their web links now inactivated (that was the old Tehelka, not the new one). Right now my slowness taunts me.
And now that I'm talking about the past, and my writing, somehow my mind (always a spinning wheel) is bringing up a quaint memory. Then I wrote poems everyday, like a mad person. and I had sent out some poems to be published, recommended by my father's colleague and poet Shibaprasad Barua, for an Assamese journal that's probably defunct now. Barua uncle loved my work and he insisted I send stuff out. He returned a few weeks later with the journal containing my poems in print.
"Do you know who edited your poems?" He asked me.
"No." I was a little apprehensive.
"It's Nirmalprabha Bordoloi, our baideu!"
Wow! Nirmalprabha was the prima donna of Assamese poetry. That was an honor. Barua uncle told me how baideu (older sister) praised my work saying "for her age, she has handled very complex imageries..." or something like that. I wasn't too young, perhaps sixteen, seventeen. Still!
Now that I remember this, I feel how badly I have ignored my work. Perhaps that journal is not to be found anymore, I don't even remember its name. Perhaps I never kept a copy/photocopy of my work, that work and several other work. Moreover, it's sad how I never took this opportunity of working more, writing better and seeking the guidance of the likes of Nirmalprabha Bordoloi, who, despite her excellence, was a down-to-earth and approachable person.
Well, one thing for sure, if I find that journal and my poems that bear the editing of baideu, I'll certainly have them up on my blog.
Meanwhile, the memory of baideu's kind words (she is no more) should propel me to do some real work, now!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My poems in KRITYA

Dr. Rati Saxena, the multi-lingual writer-editor of the Indian poetry journal KRITYA (http://www.kritya.in/0203/En/index.html), has written back saying my poems will come out in their September issue. I am delighted. They have a terrific International Poetry Festival coming up in November. Apart from the giants of Indian poetry, the festival will feature poets from Uzbekistan, Mexico, Israel, Estonia, Vietnam, USA, and several European countries -- it's truly fascinating(http://www.kritya.in/Kritya2008/Participation.html)! Rati definitely thinks I must attend the festival in case I am in India. It's being held in Chandigarh this year, not very far from New Delhi. She also suggested I could share my work in the Open Forum. Well, I do have plans to be in India in November, will have to see if the timing matches.
The three poems that KRITYA will publish are titled "Buddha's Children; Lost Landscapes, and Dialogues With Dilli".
More later. Ciao.

Mary Gilliland's Workshop under Saltonstall Foundation, Ithaca

I attended a writing workshop on Aug. 1, held under the aegis of Saltonstall Foundation, Ithaca, and conducted by the poet-writer Mary Gilliland. Dear friend Judy Barringer from Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts (http://www.saltonstall.org/) was the chief coordinator, being the program director at the foundation, and she did a fantastic job of bringing together a diverse group. Indeed, the group was diverse not only in terms of work and occupation but also in terms of age. Some very young participants made the setting lively.
In future I hope to list the names of everyone who participated and have them contribute to this note of mine as well. Right now I'll summarize in a nutshell all that we did at the workshop and what those meant for us. I have attended literary workshops and conferences in Wesleyan University, Lesley College, Boston-Grubstreet, New York-Backspace Writers, and in our own Saltonstall with writer-critic Laurie Stone. Although the idea of this workshop was very general, it gave me (and hopefully others too) a headstart on some interesting writing projects through its sheer open-endedness and reflective quality.
We started out with a 'free-writing' exercise that I immensely enjoyed. Free-writing (which I do very often and marvel at because of the wonderful ideas flowing from it) is essentially where you write freely, without editing your writing, without guiding, preconceiving your topic or taking the aid of computers and dictionaries. I paste here the monologue that I wrote, a kind of a reflection from the night before and all that imbibed in the beginning when Mary spoke:
"The atavistic life of ancient Turks or for that matter, Romans, before that Scythians and who knows who else, is a testimony to the fact that human beings have, time and again, perfected the art of lying, deception and inflicting misery on others who they (or is it we) saw as 'others'.
This is so much like a road taken again and again and very much like what I read in Kay Ryan's poem last night, that a road NOT taken is a road closed to all, to paraphrase Ryan.
The road is here, there, everywhere. To me it looms like blue elephants, slow and majestic. Or it also becomes dry flowers that usually fall in concentric rings from trees that hardly care.
My pets, my books, my dear ones, are all strewn along this road dusted with my little deceptions, obsessions and disharmony.
What is atavistic? What does it mean? I can't even remember now because I don't have my dictionary or my thesaurus with me. See, how I deceive myself too? I'm always taking the aid of these tools, and to a large extent, my computer -- the Internet. I war on my senses, my own memory. I keep them gagged. And we as humans have been doing this over and over again until some roads -- especially those that are NOT taken and those that WANT to be taken by so many -- are forever closed.
War, deception, memory linger on like sticky cheese on fingers, making me sad. Sad because I wish it were different. But to tell a secret, it also makes me happy, immensely, to note that rigor is a name applied to anything and everything. So, there's a chance!"
Next, all of us made a list of 10-15 "favored" words. My list included some that were actually unfavored, words that warred with my senses, expressions that nevertheless made me ponder about them:

We were to use these words later, by using cards to write on. The cards were passed on as we wrote one word after another until we all possessed one card with a mixed list. My card read:
gurgle (added by me)
Interesting, isn't it? If my list told a story in adverb, slang adjectives and onomatopoetic words (apart from the usual nouns and verbs and ordinary adjectives ), this list tells a story in a very strong 'kinetic' manner, most words there being a defined action. 'Lullaby' does break the sternness, as does 'gurgle'. 'Deserter' was added as we joked about how we were missing one participant who came back a little later! Anyway, this latter list was meant to be used in the very last leg of our workshopping. But I had to leave by 3 p.m., an hour earlier.
Our next exercise was to take two dissimilar objects or entities and write in turns from their respective points of view. Ah, how handy it is when I am writing my fiction or poetry, pretending to be a thief or a saint, an earthworm or a crow...! So my attempt was to write this "Cat-Dog" voices! Here we go (don't laugh, though you may find it silly):
"DOG-- 'A dog's life...' Haven't people said that often enough? How ignorant! I am a dog, a proud greyhound, and I definitely think my life is better than a cat's whimpering life. I'm loyal and watchful and although I may get ticks in my coat, that's nothing compared to the sneaky cats that my mistress keeps. Always they are wanting to steal the bacon and not worry about keeping bad people away from our lawns. But my mistress knows that difference between a fickle feline and a robust guard dog like me. Wait, let me get my paw on that cat one of these days.
CAT-- Oh, I know I'm far too cuddly and lovable that that monster growling in the corner there. Although both of us are four-legged, there is little else to match us. I'm calm, calculating, and always out-maneuvering that rat of a dog. Hey, didn't they make a movie on a cat recently, from a famous comic strip called 'Garfield'? I'm the hero there, right, a good cat? For this reason alone, I polish my whiskers and set my next moves. The dog may know how to obey commands, but a cat knows how to read minds! If things get too hot, a cat has no scruples about slipping away. Survival it is. Oh yes, if cats didn't have that skill, my ancestors wouldn't have emerged from the dark tombs of dead Egyptian kings. Did you know they took live cats with them to their tombs when they died? A little too obsessive, huh? I wish they took dogs instead and I bet the dog wouldn't ever figure out how to escape from a tomb. Because, a dog can't plan or foresee. Oh, goody, it would have been a dog-free world then!"
So these are the two voices I attempted without much flourish. One of the participants, Amelia Sauter, owner of the fantastic bar Felicia's ATOMIC Lounge (http://www.atomicloungeithaca.com/), had a much better presentation here. She wrote a riveting account about an angsty, anxious, about-to-die beer (in the hands -- or the tummy -- of a rude customer) and a happy-go-lucky bar-stool. Amelia read it out and I truly liked it. I wish I had it on tape so I could transcribe it here. But I am hoping she'll visit this blog and put her comments.
Mary then put us on a unique exercise. Labyrinth tracing. She is involved with the Foundation of Light near Ithaca where a large outdoor grass labyrinth -- based on the model laid in the cathedral of Chartres in France (see picture above)-- has been created for all to walk and see. For more details see
Incidentally, labyrinths and mazes are not just archaic meditation devices, current business models also consider them a great help in explaining paradoxes and conundrums.

We all had a picture of the labyrinth on a sheet. While Mary explained a little bit of the history associated with labyrinths, I constructed this list of words/expressions:
that peepy bird
bus stations
gasoline fumes
split the day like eggshells
dead-end routes
mind twine
walking in turns
space of always, ever
mother goddess
aqua pura
primary nature
meadow rust
creased up"

This list was created as Mary spoke on. I consider it as an impressionistic string generated from my looking at the labyrinth picture as well as listening about it.
Labyrinth tracing, basically to enter the labyrinth through the opening outwards and then move along the loops inside to finally arrive at the "flower-center" (see why I write that in the list above?), was less easy than it sounds. The return, from the core back to the entrance was even tougher. I almost got the sensation of being lost or stuck inside the Cretan labyrinth and as if a Minotaur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minotaur) was coming to devour me! I in fact told this to Mary! A literary Minotaur, who I had to subdue and cast off to find my inner rhythm. That is the exercise.
Several moments of silence and attention followed as we all traced the labyrinth with a finger or pen. Next, on the back of the same sheet, Mary urged us to write anything that flowed from our experience, based on the expression we created right before that. My nugget formed as:

"This is a chakra with a wood-scented flower-center
Bright like that peepy bird's eyes
Also watery from floating gas fumes of the bus station
Invading a space of always, ever
Where like aqua pura
The mother goddess
Stares with meadow rust gaze
And splits the day like egg-shells --
A grass-bride giving off stillness to my
Moldy brown hands
That keep tracing a path, again and again
Stuck like a Greek mythical hero
Gone to slay the Minotaur..."
So, this being my last exercise of the day, I went away very happy. Mary is a lovely person. I have read some of her poems online and I hope to read some from her book. You may see her webpage at
And she reads her work at: