Featured Poet: Sandeep Parmar

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the American-British poet Sandeep Parmar (pictured) to these pages this august (and August) Friday, the 13th, with a superb longer poem.  Parmar, who to my mind is one of the best young poets now writing, is especially important for her attention to modernist woman precursors deserving of a wider readership.  She was born in England in 1979 and raised in Southern California. She received her PhD in English Literature from University College London in 2008. The subject of her research was the unpublished autobiographies of the modernist poet Mina Loy.

Parmar received an MA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of East Anglia in 2003 and studied for her BA at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the Reviews Editor for The Wolf magazine and researched at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she was co-editing the writings of the modernist poet Hope Mirrlees. Mirrlees' selected poems will be published by Fyfield Books (Carcanet Press) in 2011. She has published articles on Loy's archived prose: one in Jacket magazine and a chapter in the Salt Companion to Mina Loy (2010).

Her monograph on Mina Loy's autobiographies, Myth of the Modern Woman, is forthcoming from Rodopi Press. A selection of her poetry appears in the anthology of emerging British poets, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard). Her poetry has been published in various journals in the UK and the US, such as The Wolf, Cimarron Review, The Manhattan Review, Stand and Magma and is forthcoming in the HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians.

She has taught at the University of Hertfordshire and University of Cambridge.  Currently, she is at New York University, where she is a Visiting Scholar at NYU's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and is also writing her biography of Hope Mirrlees. She is completing a first collection of poems, The Marble Orchard.

for Parveen

Old woman, old mother—white nucleus
                                                            incerebrate in your chair—
            the price of cruelty is sacrifice. Repent. Or put away your pearls and scarves.

                        Toothless grand-mère—we capsize at your tidal axis.

Your son, a sort of Paris,
            contemplates an apple, split open, hotwires each slumberous lobe.
Its cranial juices electrify. He feeds memory—that grievous syrup—
to his wide-eyed Helen in teaspoons. Tempts her from death with its mortal pabulum.

Prima-mater                 Great-matter                 your narratives enslave—
                        Epic vanity—at such a premium!

At birth your name meaning the ‘absolute best’ was made ordinary by marriage.
                        (What husband could outwit such prospects?)
            Your daughters run to the temple, to pour an impossible bath into a leaking vessel.


G1P1               (elderly gravida)
Cleopatra eloping through a three-storey window        rots on the vine
            in the nurses’ housing. Struck off the family register

she peddles her blush pigmata (in a fuss of black leather)
            half-wisdoms paling at her mother’s locked stare.

Do you remember us all running up the stairs and never saying why?

She husbands a bumbling anglo-bolus whom her father can all but swallow.

Having mastered the rhetorical compliment at a young age
                        she vivisects her ego hourly before the mirror—        

forgetting her forced cure for pre-martial morning sickness
            or that pell-mell in Las Vegas, jellying in the Mojave sun.

Her twin Samsons raise their jeweled kirpans to proud ovations
            from bearded uncles: Raj Karega Khalsa
                                                (the rest of you can go to Hell).
Am I ugly?

Daemon Beauty whines at her bedside in long gray plaits—
            a ghost of an ancestor steps easily into her, reeks of dry burial
            of fingers around neck sores of unscattered bones.

The martyr-mystic       with holy-water cosmetology
wrinkles sincerely over Bollywood soap operas
            believes they are true stories
                        that every tree trunk on every Indian plain secrets a hoard
                                    of costume changes.

Complexion monastic
Intellect simple

She adulterates with a radio DJ                        falls hard for ad breaks
stirring her tea with a long-distance arranged marriage.

Romeo FM impales himself on her pure white promise
            alone in the sepulcher.

            Dusting for prints         her husband tears open her homespun
                        inflicts her with children.

She dons her new habit with conviction.
            Her house is spotless               she garlands each of the ten gurus on her knees.


God in her own image             grandmother
            meets Lord Krishna.
He presses a diamond into her forehead                      they levitate.

            At the door      a half-light of her husband
                        death’s hallucinogen
                                    will not enter the house. She waves.

Grand misery               grand hope                    grandeur
            she insists on childhood castles of a hundred doors
                         and the ownership of one giant cannon.


Something has left this house. The bill has been paid.


It took grandfather’s death to bring us to the source, or so they say, of it.

An animal skin                        curdling black in an attic room
            a gift from a wandering sage    the gift of pure vision.

Alone on the tiger skin my grandmother quietly rose inches off the floor.
But word spread and the skin was given away by her husband
to another he couldn’t refuse. She raved. The skin returned
via a marauding servant who called her ‘mother’. It had changed in colour,
was maybe a donkey, or something worse, and would not rise again.

Decades later my grandfather called out in someone’s dream to get rid of it—
an agitated soul without rest. When he died his daughters were warned against
clothing their father in anything they had bought, lest he be kept from heaven.
Get it out of the house! He cried. My grandmother could not remember the skin.


G0P0               (nullipara)

Hanging in the air with such enmity are the words you will never speak.
            They are the element that knows me best                    the wind
                                                            addressing me with blackened voice
from expirations only the past can answer.

Why have you come here now                        with your light, unwieldy throat?

Even though I know your skin is the terrible sound of evening
                        its terrible music          cutting from a kitchen window
            where knives slip through hot water like eaves of sea water
glowering between angles of dusk

            there is no measure by which I can take your hand
push out of this nightfall          through a garden gate that turns on a spit.


Tragedy needs no master—it is the grandmother of invention.
            Vanity              slight as a girl’s wrist
weaves it from cruelty             is hewn from a single slight
            so minor that it bears forth its epic image in stone
                        from which there is no god or woman to flatter it to sleep.

poem by Sandeep Parmar


Anonymous said…
When was this written? 1933? So full of artifice one feels the poets ego looms large in every line. The lines read to me like:
I'm a poet, I'm so intelligent, I'm a poet, I'm so intelligent. Where is the language that will help us live the experience. There's a wall round this poem.

"old mother—white nucleus
incerebrate in your chair—
the price of cruelty is sacrifice. Repent. Or put away your pearls and scarves.

Toothless grand-mère—we capsize at your tidal axis. "

Repent? Cruelty is sacrafice?--Rhetoric without supporting evidence.

"The martyr-mystic with holy-water cosmetology
wrinkles sincerely over Bollywood soap operas"

What a mouthful. This overblown language. A mouthful of words...like trying to swallow 300 peanuts in one go.

"where knives slip through hot water like eaves of sea water
glowering between angles of dusk"

--that's bad....

I could go on. Enough to say--ego.artifice.
It got nowhere near passing my so-what?-test.

It is however, quite a fashionable poem from a British perspective. Sorry.
Steven Waling said…
That's really rather brilliant. Thanks for this. She's one of the highlights of Voice Recognition.
Todd Swift said…
Anonymous, your response is indicative of a certain way of thinking about poems that reveals ignorance of poetry's roots in rhetoric. Further, the idea that poem's should not have an element of artifice, but be authentic primarily - a romantic notion - is actually more old-fashioned than the modernist principles (1933) you cite as if in mockery. The great modern poets - sung and unsung - still have much to teach us.
Sandeep Parmar's style is rather fancy (I would prefer a simple word like 'food' to 'pabulum'), but the poem certainly gives a sense of this old lady who is approaching death but has a rich life behind her.
Anonymous said…
This poems form is fabulous, and really compliments the rhythm of the poem.