Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Voice

In a class I'm taking on postcolonial theory, our professor casually mentioned a former scholar from the University of Chicago who was also a poet, A.K. Ramanujan. I thought it might be interesting for us to read some work by an Indo-American writer who lived in Chicago, so I did a little research. Born in 1929 in Mysore, India, Ramanujan grew up during the last years of English rule in India, exposing him to the various languages that would fuel his work as a poet and translator. He was educated at Mysore University and Indiana University for graduate studies; he remained in the United States to teach at the University of Chicago in 1961. He recieved awards such as the MacArthur Fellowship and also India's Padma Shri for distinguished service to the nation of India. In 1962, he joined the faculty at the University of Chicago and spent most of the remainder of his career there.

I know that Bellow immigrated to the U.S. as a child, but I think Ramanujan's voice is distinctive because of the age at which he immigrated and because of his unique role as translator-- he was always thinking in 2 languages 2 cultures. Anyway-- here's a selection from his poem,
"Chicago Zen:"

Now tidy your house,
dust especially your living room
and do not forget to name
all your children.


Watch your step. Sight may strike you
blind in unexpected places.

The traffic light turns orange
on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,

you fall into a vision of forest fires,
enter a frothing Himalayan river,

rapid, silent.

On the 14th floor,
Lake Michigan crawls and crawls

in the window. Your thumbnail
cracks a lobster louse on the windowpane

from your daughter's hair
and you drown, eyes open,

towards the Indies, the antipodes.
And you, always so perfectly sane.

I love the image of stumbling from 57th and Dorchester into a Himalayan river. I hope the rest of you enjoy him too.

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