Wednesday, December 01, 5666

Almost Island: Issue 4

Issue 4 of Almost Island feels like such an embarrassment of riches to me, I’m not exactly sure where to start.

For one, we’re thrilled to present a generous selection of poems from Shrikant Verma’s Magadh, one of the most highly regarded books of Hindi poetry from the 1980s, in Rahul Soni’s sharp and invisibly dexterous translations. I have to say that this ranks among the best books of poetry I have ever read. Verma’s ambiguous invocations of half-mythical South Asian cities bring Borges and Cavafy automatically to mind, but there is also a canny and even bitter political outrage here that sets him apart. Bizarrely, Verma was a senior Congress Party functionary under Indira Gandhi in the late 70s and early 80s—it’s hard, for me at least, to resist reading Magadh as his way of speaking about some aspects of that close-up experience in the only way he could.

We’re also equally thrilled to present a set of unpublished poems by Adil Jussawalla. He has long been, for many of us, a real and original hero of the Indian English poetry scene; his distinct approach to tone, sound and form has been a crucial influence. Moreover, I feel the new poems in this selection, like “An American Professor from the 1970s” or “Government Country”, could easily be included among Adil’s best poems.

Then we have some younger writers.

We have a goodly excerpt from Bhanu Kapil’s latest book of experimental fiction, Humanimal [ A Project for Future Children] (Kelsey Street Press, 2009). It’s an account—in more ways than one—of the “wolf girls of Midnapore”: two young girls found living with wolves in the 1920s who were brutally broken into civilized life. Searing, sinous, sometimes painful, it is itself a brave enactment of the body.

We have selections from two manuscripts of poems by Mani Rao: the tough, intense and elliptical lyrics of Ghostmasters and the very different, lovely and erotic mytho-contemporary sketches of Gods 'R Us.

We have two sets of poems from Zimbabwe-based Togara Muzanenhamo, one a selection from Spirit Brides, his luminous first collection (Carcanet, 2006) and, another, new, unpublished poems from a new manuscript. I’ve been struck by the subtle way in which Togara’s poems are arranged, but also—subjectively—how time and time again, through the unsaid, they create a sense of a doubled voice, a ghostly aftershadow. I’ve also been moved—in the poems that are set in Zimbabwe, for example—by how intently he draws us into inner and outer worlds beyond the simplistic trappings of “culture” or “place” on one hand, and, on the other, a country we think we know from the news.

Then, we have texts from the Chinese writers who were in Delhi last March for the Almost Island Dialogues.

We're excited to have new poems from Bei Dao, including some that he read at the Dialogues, in Eliot Weinberger’s characteristically distinctive translations.

We also have work from two other leading (and very different) Chinese poets also associated with the journal Jintian —Ouyang Jianghe and Yongming Zhai— as well as a startling short story by Ge Fei, “Remembering Mr. Wu You”.

Then, we reprint an amazing narrative essay, “1985”—required reading, I would say—by the influential critic Li Tuo, which addresses the spirit of the mid-1980s in Chinese art and literature in a remarkably direct way.

Finally, we round out the issue with an essay by Ashis Nandy (a transcript of the talk he gave at the conference) and, “editorial sutras” by Sharmistha Mohanty, initiator and editor of Almost Island, which partly collage fragments of speech from the conference.

I hope you find some or all of this valuable. Tell us what you think.

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