Wanda Coleman. African Sleeping Sickness: Stories & Poems. 1990.
Wanda Coleman died on the twenty-second of November. I’d been introduced to her work roughly a year ago and hadn’t been able to let go of her long poem, “African Sleeping Sickness.” Some months ago I found her email address and contacted her. She gave me this stunning poem, which Asymptote published in its annual English Poetry Feature.
I knew Ms. Coleman had been ill, and you can find many instances of her thinking on her mortality in this poem:
My urine keeps getting darker, I must be passing.
But that very brief, personal admission is followed by a response—the poem is structured as a dialog—written in an entirely different register: a less inward-looking voice, a voice that opens out to a world of small, happy objects: a voice seeking, offering a sad pleasure, one could say.
Twenty-two cents, and a pack of mints
a rubber band and a paper clip.
Pass the bourbon and give it a kiss.
The title of the poem is “Tremors & Tempests: A Poetic Dialog.” The shaking, the sign of future destruction or pleasure, the barely perceptible movement, and the storm—that’s how I read it. And it’s a useful way to characterize the various natures of speech as well, or what are privately known quantities and what is gathered from public witnessing. Then, how these speak to each other.
I’ve also been thinking, via this poem, on the tension between the local and the international. Read More
Off late I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how the act of watching movies has changed for me.
The movies I watched as a child were usually on TV (HBO or Star Movies), awkwardly censored by awkward people, interrupted by commercials and by my dad taking the remote away to check cricket scores. We hardly went out to the theatre. If I did, it was with friends. Once I remember the entire family going to the army movie theatre because they were playing a Bollywood movie called Border. My dad’s entire interest in the film lay in the fact that the protagonists were army officers; my father was at the time colonel of his own regiment. He wouldn’t be caught dead watching a Bollywood movie for any other reason, and after we watched Border I think we all wanted to die.
In college I started taking cinema more seriously, in part because film-making was a significant aspect of my vocational media studies cluster but mainly because a friend of mine and I got invited to a film club that met every Saturday. I still go to these club screenings when I’m in Bangalore. The person who curates the films has been a huge influence on the way I watch and think about cinema. Also, I love that there is a place (to which I belong) in which people yell at each other for bad taste and general lack of intelligence. Hey, I’ve had words with people . . . about movies.
The point is, I went from point A (TV and the occasional big screen) to point B (a biggish screen and my computer screen at home—there was no way I’d find the movies I wanted on TV anymore).
Point C is now simply my laptop. I’ve watched a total of four movies in a movie theatre since I moved to the States and three of them were rubbish. That’s little over a movie a year. Now I just torrent things (if I’m lucky I’ll find a DVD in a library) or watch what I can find on Netflix.
Something serious needs to be written about this shift in movie-watching, which I am sure I am not the only one to have experienced. More likely, something already has.
From a somewhat older time than our current Netflix-era is an essay that Susan Sontag wrote for the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of cinema in which she elegizes what once was “the art of the twentieth century” and which is now merely “decadent.” It’s a fascinating piece and one with which I agree on many points. Read More