Sunday, January 14, 2007

notes from a too-enchanted city


'What can I tell you about New York that you don't already know?'
That wanted to be the first line of a poem but couldn't.
No paths in this city are untrodden.

Poems have 'feet'. Walking is poetry.Each step, a syllable, a letter, an ideograph. Each Avenue, running up and down, north and south, a line in a Chinese poem. A million lines overlaid. And the streets - One Way left to right, east to west and occasionally even going both ways boustrophon; in Roman and Cyrillic and Nagari; Nastaliq and Shikasta. If words had weight, the ruts would be deeper than the subway tunnels.

New York as a grid of a million poems; all it contours mapped by words.
All its corners turned to song.
In which language in the world has New York not been written about?

In sonnets and villanelles. In dohas and nazms. In free verse. In (oh so apt) concrete poetry. But I try to write ghazals and I cannot.

For what can I tell you about New York that you don't already know?

XXX

I'm used to being the bard of uncelebrated places.

Delhi is many celebrated cities. First City. Boomtown. Tourist Trap. But also,hundreds of streets and ruins and 'urban villages'. uncelebrated, unrenowned. A city full of people too busy with hustling tourists, petitioning governments, selling goods, doing property deals, making 'Made in China' TVs, making a living; to bother with recording their lives as grand narrative, or celebrating where they lived.

A city with a bard shortage. Swathes of virgin mytho-poetic territory, waiting to be walked, chronicled, mapped, imaged, sung.

The ghazals came easy. As easy as reading them off the backs of autorickshaws.


XXX

I don't know how Agha Shahid Ali managed. Bringing the ghazal to New York. To Brooklyn.

In New York I stutter in all my tongues. For what can I say that hasn't been said before? And better? With more insight? Every place I find exciting here is already on Google. Every corner of this city can be found of Google Maps. There are fifty photo essays on abandoned bikes. Even the abandoned subway stations have been Mapped. Metaphorized. Mythologized.

New York feels like a Greek Tragedy. A self-fulfilling prophecy. The poets
come because it is New York. It is New York because the poets come.

What can I tell you of New York that you don't already know?
(For if you didn't know it, it wouldn't be New York.)

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