Marie Lecrivain reviews Bangalore Blue by Terry Kennedy
published by Split Shift
buy the book
A poet and journalist in living in exile in India (self-instigated), Terry Kennedy's new collection Bangalore Blue (2005 A Split Shift Book) has been professed by publisher Roger Taus as "Verse written at the level at which Sappho wrote." Not so! Sappho and Kennedy wax passionate, but the basic elements that define Sappho's poetry are lacking in Bangalore.
I take exception to the above statement because it's unjustified. Most of Sappho's fragmented poetry seizes the reader with diamond-hard veracity, acutely painful longing, and provocative imagery. By contrast, Kennedy's poetry is contemplative, more sorrowful than sad, and languid in tone. Both poets engage in powerful dialogue, but their styles are worlds, and eons apart. For example, Sappho's poem "Lament for a maidenhead" (#34)*:
on a top branch
a tree top
once noticed by
not unnoticed, not reached
a hyacinth in
a painful stain
remains on the ground.
this recounting, Sappho has thrust the reader right into the heart of that
moment; a rape of innocence, the violent transition from a vessel of
purity to an object of derision. Which, as I said, is not in the same
league when compared to Kennedy's "My Heart is a Sparrow":
are not here again-
my bed is empty
my heart is a sparrow
weak to fly,
dazed to look for food.
the beginning of our love,
walked through storms,
ankles sinking in mud,
faced the tigers and the cruelty
villagers just to see my face.
I gave you my kisses
my body, white as plumeria
said you would never leave me-
can I go away for 30 days,"
once joked, "I can't be parted
more than 30 hours."
you are far away from my arms
my tears cannot sway you,
you are no longer here to dry them.
want to die,
my heart is a sparrow
paralyzed to move.
Kennedy takes her time: lingering thoughts on those early days of love; distant, mounting feelings of anger and self-loathing; and finally as a coupe de grace, leaves the reader mired in apathy as the narrator acknowledges that escape into death is too difficult. This work is certainly not on the same level of that ancient mystical poet and proto-feminist.
However, Bangalore is an enjoyable collection that paints a seductive and colorful portrait of love, life and longing in a region of India that is fast becoming known as the new "Silicon Valley." From "4:40 AM" in where monsoon rains pour down/swallowing me up into/ the belly of despair, to "Tibetan Refugee Café" where a picture of the Dali Lama/is nailed above the cash counter./Flies roam around the rim/of my table- they too search /for the nectar of life, to "Soon the Torrents Will Come" where the poet ponders When will You acknowledge this yearning?/Monsoon winds lift up the feathers of doves/and grains of sand bite my ankles/as I hurry deeper into darkening shadows. Kennedy's observations have revealed, and at the same time preserved a side of Bangalore that is timeless in spirit, and inspiring enough for someone to pack a suitcase and catch the next plane t o India.
It's more charitable to say that Kennedy is writing in the spirit of Sappho; much of her and Sappho's inspiration comes from the same source. I'm not saying "don't buy this book," but I'm saying such comparisons are a shabby and unnecessary way to entice someone to read poetry. So, buy the book, and enjoy Bangalore for what it is: a modern treatise of gentle and attractive melancholy that can stand on its own.
* (Sappho: A New Translation, Mary Barnard, copyright 1958, 1984, University of California Press, 114 pages, ISBN 0-520-01117-1)
- review by Marie Lecrivain, executive editor of poeticdiversity
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