Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sustained Musicality

on “The Northern Sun” by Sherwin Bitsui. Poet and writer, Bitsui is Navajo of the Bitter Water Clan, born for the Many Goats Clan. He is from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation and currently lives in Tucson, Arizona. His new book Flood Song won the 2010 PEN Open Book Award. The Northern Sun is from Legitimate dangers : American poets of the new century / edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin.

In Bitsui’s “The Northern Sun”, I found a rich sustained musicality throughout the poem. He writes with a voice of a man drunk with words and yet each sentence is controlled with a precision of a maestro violinist.

“Five years ago, my language hit me like saw-toothed birds reaching to pull my tongue from my mouth. I didn’t know what to expect when my grandmother poured gasoline on the leaves and fired it, saying, This is the last time I’ll ever harvest. It was the way the sunset caught her cracked lips, the way her lips folded inward, which made me realize that there were still stories within her that needed to be told, stories of when we still wove daylight into our bones and did not live like way we do now, as night people.” (69-75)

While painting the huge canvas with his bold expansive thoughts, Bitsui tosses in subtle messages/references about the vanishing tradition and way of life of his people. These are woven into the fabric of poem giving it a pattern that is subtly painful. Yet it is not a diatribe but smooth musical narration of his life, search for his self and his identity.

“…the flashlight of a policeman siphons dark waters from the spit can of an old medicine man singing the last four songs of his life.” (83-84)

This passage illustrates musicality of Bitsui’s poem and connects with my inability to sustain and to make words ring with melody. In my writing, ideas always get fragmented and sentences break loose like dry bread. Ideas often get shattered like glass with each shard piercing the veins of the poem, bleeding it to death.

Another thing that I learned from Bitsui is to be bold, to break free from my inherent fear to venture beyond set mental boundaries. In other words, springtime has not reached out to my frozen garden. And hence I often recite Xu Zhimo’s desperate prayer:

“Oh Poet! How can springtime, that already has
reached out to other men,
Still not release your
Fountain of creative energy?”

“The Northern Sun” gives me courage to roam fearless into the world of imagination and at the same time to gather ingredients from my life’s experience, because, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that “there is nothing in this or the next world that is not useful to a writer [poet],”.

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