Elephant Raga by Prartho

Book Reviews

Madhuri reviews Prartho’s new, award-winning poetry book.

Elephant Raga by PrarthoI carried this book with me during three rather difficult weeks of travel (when I say that much of it was a family visit, you will know what I mean.) I am so glad I took it along; it reminded me again and again my own place in the scheme of things. …A poet, whatever else she may be, is never a cog in a wheel; her place is a carved-out loneliness, of the blessed variety. She sees, she sings, she weaves beauty out of what has been given her. She drinks mystery in daily life and gives mystery back; all quite helplessly, and yet with, it often happens, increasing skill and deftness.

For many years I toted Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on all my roamings. It had that wonderful oracular quality whereby I could open it anywhere and find just the thing I needed to hear right then. A book of poetry is so handy for travelling: there are so many moments when the soul feels challenged by a particular dullness about one; or, one’s usual work is absent and the soul would like a bit of chewing to hone its teeth on, and poetry is just the thing. There are idle moments in airports or at breakfasts in strange hotels; displaced times in other people’s houses, when a poem gives one the feeling of being home even when one is a sort of refugee, or even just a tourist – a lost thing, well enough. Poetry books are usually slim – Walt Whitman being a noble exception – and easily carried. I recommend the practice.

Elephant Raga is slim all right – 79 pages – but it packs the punch (to use a regrettable Americanism) of a chewy and beloved volume of Whitman. I don’t say this lightly…Walt made me cry, in a good way, every time, like a reliable lover. Elephant Raga was inspiration, reference, guide; I could open it anywhere and feel amazed; it has the pearl-like lustre of something rubbed and held and simmered gently till it is true, then cooled…and that is weightless in the hand.

This is high compliment for high art; her book has heart and jewel and space in it, and innocence…a thing the world needs now as much as ever it did.

I began my first read sitting on a long new couch in a wide new room in Greece. A wall of windows looked out over a landscape of calm flatness, a distant lake gleaming with sky. Clouds hung in majestic silence, moving gently; watchable by the hour. The floor was marble and clean. A rhinestoned Buddha the size of a 6-year-old reclined in the corner. A bookcase stood in another corner, full of highly-evolved books. It was as if I was paddling in a clear sea, one without rubbish, without even an octopus or too much sand.

Then I opened the book and began to munch through the poems like a caterpillar on a rich and tasty leaf, or a crepey flamingo-bright flower. And I was struck again by how there are as many worlds as there are people. Each of us has the inviolable right to be her own, her very own, being; and yet there is so much we have in common.

Against the near-stark background of this clear house and airy land, I can see what I am looking at better: I’m seeing a garden, here in these pages; and the gardener is proficient in pruning. She knows topiary, how to discipline a patch of sweet-peas and a thriving mass of runner-beans. But these refinements would not be needed were not the garden profuse by nature. A garden is a place where things grow willy-nilly, and take their own turns and spirals, and jump beyond their borders. No amount of restraint can hide the fact that here lies profusion. A thing our mother Earth loves. As she loves deserts, and seas, and volcanoes, and all of it, all the miracle we wake to each day.

And so, in a restrained line, a tamed and distilled one, the full rampant power of the jungle with its zillion species still tugs and writhes and howls. This can’t be prevented – and why would one want to? – for that unique individual who wrote it is singing about what is the same and yet so different for us all.

Each poem has another job too: it is a spade, sent to dig with. For that is why the poet needs the poem: to dig into her own heart, her own consciousness, deep and deep – for why else be alive?

…So that when I look back on that bland and celestial landscape I’m still imprinted with

What the Dark Does

The word shimmer
did not originate
with light.
It was brought over
from the blackbirds
as they quivered up
from the fields. They
themselves stole it
from the shadows
of wind-struck trees.
Shimmer leaked up
from the underworld –
coalmines and limestone
caves. Up from hidden fault
and shatter, the quake
of breakage and baritone
rattles in the hills.
Shimmer is what the dark
does when light
saunters up, all brightness
and warmth.
Shimmer is the ragged
breath dark takes
when light draws near.

Into this large light room where I sit the family comes again, and I’m drawn back into cooking and serving and tending, for a day and a night; and I can’t look at the book again, for my spread-out attention does not belong to me in the bustle of folks; only when they are all out of the room can I pick it up, and my heart begins to kindle gently with anticipation and happiness – for I know now I can re-enter the particular, the mysterious, the surprising. And it is going to demand something of me, something different than the Tribe wants from me; the Tribe and the Collective really just want that I don’t shirk my duties. In a book of poetry I am going to get to be selfish, and deep, and introverted; and I’m going to search out my own empathy, imagination, flexibility. I’m going to go for a ride in magic and color and deeper meaning – meaning I must tease out, discover by repeated reading. Something about this particular poet; and, maybe, about me; and, maybe, about all of us – but ‘all of us’ delivered sideways, and gracefully, and with freedom to dissent, and enough of autumn moodiness to float anything that doesn’t stick to its truth, off and away.

Morning Raga

Birds still folded
in their branches,
trucks asleep
in their blacktopped yards.

Storm’s unwound.

The music steps toward us
through the dark:
tabla, ektara, bamboo flute.

The strings and skins,
the woodwinds know,
in their blind love,
where to dig the well.

This simple poem tells me a story: a couple rising from bed in the morning, putting music on; and in the dig-deep nature of mornings, of quiets, the music goes so far into the night-quieted soul that it must be lauded in verse. That’s a poet: she hears music someone has made, and must make her own music out of it. Creation is a chain of bliss, opening from one of us to the next.

Some favorite moments:

And what if your mom sat so still with her
fears they flew away – a freewheeling
muster of terns that brought her to the shore?

(This bit is from ‘Theories of an Alternate Universe’.)

For my Mom also had, and has (she is also here in this fine and golden house in Greece) so many fears she could not and can not sit still with; and sitting still is a magic Osho gave us that we are all yet exploring in hesitating wonder.

It’s as if something beyond the body
loves everything more than we possibly can
and so keeps taking it back into itself,
turning it into pixels, beaming it up.

That’s from ‘Dissolve’. It cried out to me joyously too, because one of my professions is Angel Whisperer, and as far as I can tell, there is “something beyond the body that / loves us more than we possibly can.”

‘Christmas Eve at Rite Aid’ is an enchanting story of buying last-minute gifts and being guided by her grandchildren to the aisle where the art supplies are. The poem sits happily in the hand, a good and weighty morsel one can come back to again and again. The daily and the joyous as one. Creativity as seed and promise.

I think everyone who reads the book will find a piece of their passion there.

Prartho: sister poet and palm-reader, Human Design Projector, Channels of Beauty and Genius-Freak. Who took courage and left her man and home in California to go back East and get an advanced degree in her great love, poetry. (She also sings like a blues angel, and paints up a gorgeously delicate storm.) And then came back again. And has been named Poet Laureate of Marin County. And won a prize for this new book. And sat with me when I emerged from that serious anaesthesia in Poona in 2003, and we said poems to each other for days, and it was what life was for, and we wept with joy.

In Greece, just now, the group of us also went to Delphi, and it was everything it ought to be. I thought of Prartho then when I read William Butler Yeats:

Where got I that truth?
Out of a medium’s mouth
out of nothing it came,
out of the forest loam….

and he says, of poets:

The notes they waken shall live on
when all this heavy history’s done.

In another reading, I looked at the book from the position of the Still Pond. “Where is the Silence in this? Is it there?” I tasted and tested for it. And yes…very much so. In the wisdom of the pruning; in a gift behind the words that looks like a huge “O” for Osho; for he is everywhere in this. In the grace and economy of movement I see the silence; and somehow vibrating behind all the words, and evoked by many of them. That silence gives the book the resonance of a drum: skin over space, with music made of the interplay.

Poetry is a peculiar taste. An obscure and basically subversive art (for the Individual is subversive in relation to society, and, really, anything you might name; simply because we each safeguard the only possibility for consciousness in all its inherent newness.) Many people fear it; yet in poetry classes find that they can do it too and that it brings them a surprising bliss. The blind mystic and WWII Resistance leader Jacques Lusseyran writes in Beyond the Pollution of the I that when he was imprisoned in Buchenwald, men who knew they were to die next day came to him so that he could recite poetry to them. (A horrible reason to praise an art, but there it is.)

Prartho is a Poetry Activist – doing all she can, year after year, to bring new breath to poetry in her area. She’s been Poet of the Schools in her county for ages, and she works in prisons and other institutions. When the funding was cut for the program she taught at a place for delinquent boys, she went on teaching for free.

And so, instead of saying, “May her tribe increase,” I’ll say, “May her blessed song live long, and start up other songs, little and big, in others everywhere.”

Review by Madhuri, Osho News

The book is available from www.amazon.com

Prartho SerenoIn Pune 2, along with designing Osho’s swan logo, which she envisioned as a lone swan breaking its cosmic egg and making its way, through deep instinct, to Mansarovar, (Ma Prem) Prartho Sereno edited Osho’s books, was a feature writer for Osho Times International, and worked as a painter of items sold in the ashram boutique. Since then, she has authored three prize-winning poetry collections and a book of personal essays. She has been a California Poet in the Schools since 1999 and teaches a sold-out quarterly course at the College of Marin: The Poetic Pilgrimage: Poem-Making as Spiritual Practice. Her latest book Elephant Raga won the national Blue Lynx Prize. On April 7, 2015 she became Marin County’s fourth Poet Laureate. prarthosereno.com 

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