Poetry: Ravi Shankar

Revivals to Schopenhauer


Play that Romulus like a ring-billed gull sculls
for fish, focused, plucking those she-wolf teats
like saxophone keys until the Sabine women,
seized, bleat & drag their bare feet for pleasure
that resembles terror the closer they come,
the closer they come. Resignation, roundheads,
is Schopenhauer’s supreme wisdom, all impulse,
pulse & palsy, rouge et noir played until refait,
until Saturn’s rings are rung with Ramses’ ring
& the finger candy of a Frankish king a beaver
will pilfer to weave his dream dam like a prayer
rug trimmed with tread like a block of rubber
sliced for tire stock, another polymer vulcanized
for profit. Cut & paste to accrue & negate context.
Channel the indefinite multiplicity of the material
& immaterial world for to stand still is to petrify.
Even words veer across the page trailing a dust
tail of histories that hide in interstices between
letters. From Rochester to Saratov, Saarbrücken
to Santiago, Rome to Ruanda-Urundi or Saipan
to Rhodesia, the great books necessarily dissemble.
Rather present a partial perspective that torn out
& reimagined can be seen again, gathered in form,
modulated to order, placed & reconfigured, shaped
to less provincial taxonomy through the processes
of sanitary engineering, fused into hybrids of life.
Juxtapose, then, flow of space over time until new
performances, which while familiar resemble nothing
ever before experienced, can occur: a collective self-
portrait with flags & machines; a miscegenation
of bird & insect fashioning an illegible glyph;
a rabbit with ribcage antlers for ears; a garland
of icons of unknown origin; cracked, androgynous
busts basted back together so gender is rendered
archaic; renowned mouths of mouthpieces muted
into a frozen wave a single sailboat like a rock
sits silently upon; a bridge traversing dimensions
of wealth from arid tableland to azure coast;
natives at the well & man as the root of the tree.
Cue up the zany vidushakas to slapstick & parody
the royal court with thick makeup, simian beards
& Sanskrit barbs. Sprinkle in a few schnausers
snacking on shit-dwelling scarab beetles & shade
the silky salukis with sails so they can’t see or smell
the noxious cloverleaves exploding the sacred
into a storm of shrapnel that once fragmented
will forever remain in fragments: continents adrift
in rising water, shards of phenomenon arising
from the universal will’s irrational, embryological
energy where the body is an idea & the punchline
of the cosmic joke is simply that God is a gun.
= play
= fish
= like
= pleasure
= terror
= resignation
= wisdom
= until
= rings
= Finger
= prayer
= tread
= another
= negate
= indefinite
= still
= words
= hide
= letters
= to
= books
= perspective
= form
= to
= through
= fused
= new
= nothing
= self
= portrait
= illegible
= with
= unknown
= rendered
= muted
= wave
= dimensions
= arid
= the
= cue
= the
= barbs
= shade
= the
= exploding
= shrapnel
= forever
= shards
= irrational
= body
= the
The body, irrational, shards forever.
Shrapnel exploding the shade barbs
the cue. The arid dimensions wave,
muted, rendered unknown with illegible
portrait. Self nothing new, fused through
to form perspective. Books to letters hide
words still indefinite, negate another tread
prayer. Finger rings until wisdom,
resignation, terror, pleasure, like fish play.
= forever
= exploding
= dimensions
= unknown
= new
= form
= words
= until
= play
Play until words form new unknown dimensions exploding forever.


Mel Chin’s installation artwork “The Funk & Wag from A to Z” extracts and reconfigures images from all 25 volumes of the Funk & Wagnall’s Universal Standard Encyclopedia from the years of 1953-1956 to create new historical and social contexts in a Surrealist series of black-and-white collages that constitute a large-scale, temporally disorienting panoramic assemblage taken from the photogravure illustrations that accompanied the entries in the encyclopedia. Poet and memoirist Nick Flynn, along with Chin, commissioned a number of contemporary poets to respond to this artwork for a forthcoming oversize art book from Yale University Press. I was given Volume #20 to work from which ran from the subject of “Revivals” to “Schopenhauer.” Intrigued by Chin’s process of photomontage, I decided to take the images from this selection as a starting point, threading connections between the various subjects explored in this particular stratum of the encyclopedia with a meta-awareness of the process of collage as part of my compositional strategy. Taking a cue from the unexpected juxtapositions from the volume, Saturn and the Sabine women, Ramses, rugs and Rochester all found their way into my poem. Then foregrounding Chin’s own procedure in my poetic practice, I collaged and cannibalized the first section of my own poem, taking one word from each line to create a new poem that is represented in the second section. In the third and final section, I enacted the same procedure once again, taking one word from each line to create a final line, which ultimately—and surprisingly—summed up the entire process I had been undertaking: “play[ing] until words form[ed] new unknown dimensions exploding forever.” While Chin used X-Acto knives to create his Max Ernst-like collages, I used the cutting tool of the mind to free words from their context to create a reimagined reamalgamation that speaks to some of the same concepts of archival meditation and meticulous composition that Chin’s installation does.


Ravi and AdonisRavi Shankar is the founding editor of Drunken Boat and author/editor/publisher of eight books & chapbooks of poetry, including Deepening Groove, winner of the 2010 National Poetry Review Prize, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond and The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry. He teaches at CCSU and in the MFA program at City University of Hong Kong and he’s working on a series of collaborative poems due out with Carolina Wren press in 2015. He looks forward with some ambivalent trepidation to someday ingesting a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper, which recently displaced the Naga Viper chili as the world’s hottest pepper.

Ravi Shankar and Adonis photographed by Hedy Habra