Monday, January 09, 2017

Mumbai? Kissmiss?

Here's a poem I wish I had read before Christmas last month, but a good poem is a good poem anytime. It's from Imtiaz Dharker's 2014 collection Over the Moon (Bloodaxe).

Mumbai? Kissmiss?

Of course! Who is not knowing this,
that after Happy Diwali comes Merry Kissmiss!
Impossible to miss, when allovermumbai,
Matharpacady to A to Z Market, rooftops
are dancing in chorus

and alloversky
is fully full with paper stars.

Hear! Horns are telling at midnight on every street,
Happy Happy Happy! We know very well
to make good festival, and Saint Santa is
our honoured guest in Taj Hotel.
We are not forgetting.

And allovermumbai alloversky
is fully full with paper stars.

See! Tree is shining and snow (cotton-
wool but looks good, no?) Small child also
face is shining, licking icing, this
must be what snow tastes like
under the paper stars.

And allovermumbai alloversky
is fully full with paper stars.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

A Note about Philip Levine

In Philip Levine's poetry collections up to A Walk with Tom Jefferson (1998), the "Note About the Author" included the phrase "a succession of stupid jobs" to refer to what he spent his time doing in Detroit before he "left the city for good."

But starting with What Work Is (1991), that part of his biography had been rephrased as "a succession of industrial jobs."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Raul Fixing A Cosmopolitan

A poem from Glyn Maxwell's The Sugar Mile (2005).


See old Joey's sat back in his window.
I'm telling you in all of New York City
how many joints is that? Just yesterday,
Clint, you walk in here. You got the world
to choose from, and you didn't want nobody
taking all your time! Now it's tomorrow

and you look like shit. Stay at home tomorrow,
see your family, sit in your own window.
I'm kidding, hey. Don't like nobody
can't take my kidding. It's the New York City
style, you know it is, you seen the world
you like it here. It's another awesome day.

It's another peach it's just like yesterday.
I was kidding with you. Come back tomorrow,
Clint, the old guy will. Where else in the world
is he expected? Ain't no other window
waiting for the guy, no other city
left to move to. I never heard nobody

want to move from this. I mean nobody
left alone. Man I can't take Sunday.
It's slow, it crawls, Sunday in this city.
Hello? Yeah this is him. Not tomorrow?
Lemme write that down. Sun in the freakin' window
blinding me. I got it. Stop the world

 for breaking news ... What? Yeah 'on the world'
I know, I got it. Ciao. Okay. Nobody
gets to know. Hey, Joe, what's in the window?
See some babes? Can't be your lucky day
it's mine. Clint says he's stopping by tomorrow.
He wants to hear you bombed that Nazi city

back to the stone age. I said 'Nazi city'
Joey, I was kidding. What in the world
do I care, kill a Nazi guy tomorrow,
lighten up. – I haven't told nobody,
Clint, remember I told you this – that day
was it yesterday when Joey was in his window?

That there ain't nobody else in New York City
paid so high? Windows on the World.
Tuesday I start. Tomorrow's my last day.

Sunday, November 20, 2016



They force fed protein-rich liquids through tubes inserted in their noses.
He forced his tongue down her throat.
They forced him down into the seat and buckled straps around him.
He forced her to the ground and made her perform oral sex.
They were forced from a bus and shot dead.
They forced a black man into the giant's gaping mouth.
They forced civil rights down the throats of people.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

"Our wives and daughters": objecting but still objectifying

Mitt Romney’s response on Twitter to that Donald Trump video is welcome, but it’s also limited – and telling – in a way that many responses are (so it’s far from being just Romney here):

Even as he criticizes Trump for misogynistic sexual objectification of women, Romney still presents women as “wives and daughters”. That is, women are still objects of others (husbands and parents) rather than individual human beings in their own right. Even as Romney and others who put it this way object to one kind of objectification, they still objectify women.

(Thanks to Kei Miller whose post on Facebook helped me formulate this.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Without a doubt

A student (a native speaker of German) used the expression "without doubts" to start a sentence. That sounds wrong to me; I would prefer "without a doubt". But instead of just marking it as wrong, I did a quick bit of research.

I searched the NOW Corpus at the Brigham Young University site with linguistic corpora. The NOW Corpus contains 3.3. billion words of data from web-based newspapers and magazines from 2010 to the present. And by the present, they mean the present: it's updated with 4-5 million new words every day.

There were 27 hits for "without doubts" and 7752 hits for "without a doubt." So I can correct the student's usage in good conscience.

And that is how a usage point can be resolved: check actual usage using a linguistic corpus like the NOW Corpus (or any of the other corpora at the BYU site).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Riddle", by Ian Duhig


Who I am’s child’s play,
a cry in a kindergarten;
though I pun on Latin,
my Yorkshire kin’s laik,

a whole lexical rainbow
unweaving in no code,
no masonic Mahabone

but I’m caltrops at night
to the bare feet of adults
inspiring their language
to such colours as I am,

Kulla, Mondrian plastic
pixellating Mies blocks;
in each cubist bust;

the Song of Amergin
name me or you’ll be
thicker than any brick.


"Riddle" begins and ends with the figure mentioned in its third line: the pun. In the first line, "child's play" is an idiom for "very easy", but the literal "play of a child" is also present. The final line varies the idiom "thick as a brick", meaning "very stupid", but also puns on "brick", as the answer to the riddle involves "bricks."
            As a student pointed out yesterday, "Riddle" ends by insulting readers who have not figured out its answer: if you can't "name me", you're stupid. This is a common understanding of poems: they are all riddles waiting to be answered. From this perspective, the poem ends with the idea of poems as puzzles rewarding those clever enough to "solve" them and punishing those who are not.
            Yet the poem's opening pun offers an alternative way of thinking about poems. If the poem is "child's play", it is easy, and the way to make reading a poem easy is precisely to play with it. A riddle is itself a kind of game, and this poem makes poetry in general a game as well, a game played with words, a game that plays on words, a game of word play, of "cries" and "puns", of "lexical rainbows", of "colourful language", of "songs" (and not, as the second stanza makes clear, a "code" to be deciphered). Ultimately, "Riddle" encourages readers of poetry to let go of the idea of poetry as a set of "riddles" to be solved.