A conversation of poets by e-mail, The Banyan & The Alder, Martina Newberry and Bam Dev Sharma, by Djelloul Marbrook

Literary and technical blogs buzz and blather these days with speculation about the nature of the book. Can the book as we know it survive the advent of such technologies as the Internet? Can the continued killing of trees to make books and newspapers and magazines be justified?

At the same time, the radical commercialization of almost everything, including human life, raises the question of whether literature itself can survive. Will there be any more great novels? Will there be any
more great, extended poems like The Wasteland and The Bridge?

Back and forth the speculative blog posts flash before our eyes. It would have sickened Gustave Flaubert who complained bitterly that instead of examining the facts people preferred to pontificate. He might have been talking about our time. Well, he was a visionary, so he was talking about our time.

Yet few people seem to focus on the relationship between poetry and the Internet. How odd this is, because in so many ways the poem is ideally suited to be transmitted to the remotest crannies and aeries of the world with breathless speed.

A case in point. Bam Dev Sharma is a poet and department head at The Campus of International Languages in Katmandu. He had seen a poem by
the California poet, Martina Newberry, in an anthology. So he wrote to her by e-mail. A correspondence ensued, and from this Internet
correspondence The Banyan & The Alder emerged. It’s a conversation in poetry between two poets from across the world. One wonders if any Shia and Sunni poets are e-mailing each other in Iraq.

Like everything about the Internet, any consideration of its role in poetry must be tempered by the knowledge that the technology is evolving and remains in a somewhat primitive, if rapidly improving,
state.

For example, the structural characteristics of these poets’ work lend themselves to the Internet. E-mail will readily hold left-handed margins and simple stanzaic patterning, for instance. But if the poems
were as sculptural as, say, Daniel Pendergrass’s 23 Karabitsi Istanbul, it would be an entirely different and less rewarding matter, because e-mail would almost certainly manhandle
the shape of the poems.
But the vehicle of their correspondence isn’t all that commends these poets to readers.

Newberry is not unlike John Clare in her directitude. I read a book about a man who killed women/then took their skins to wear like a costume, she begins a poem called Consolations. She observes a world familiar to us, not a strangeling world sprung from someone’s head.

Sharma, on the other hand, seems to share his correspondent’s celebration of the ordinary, but he’s at once comfortable with abstraction and reminiscent of Sufi poets searching for an elixir among ordinary things.

In The Spinning Wheel Song Newberry writes, If you are being kissed, stay still. So, being kissed by the poetry, you take her advice. And then midway in the poem, she says, If you feel yourself drowning, it’s
too bad. So, you say to yourself, I have to get into the spirit of this poet’s humors. No need to worry, you already have. She’s high-spirited.


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