Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Top Ten Chicago Poets: Srikanth Reddy

The poems that Srikanth Reddy (Chicu to his friends) writes will hold up longer than most. That's because they create a language with a logic all their own--one that is not antithetical to the rational mind, but rather is reason's clone that went its own way, without any presuppositions of what constitutes categories, definitions, emotions, will, choice. These are authentic quest poems examining everything, including the process of examination. In their wake: beauty. Notice the unobtrusiveness of the poet in the following peek into the world of Facts for Visitors, Reddy's first book, through a poem entitled "Everything":


She was watching the solar eclipse
through a piece of broken bottle

when he left home.
He found a blue kite in the forest

on the day she lay down
with a sailor. When his name changed,

she stitched a cloud to a quilt
made of rags. They did not meet

so they could never be parted.
So he finished her prayer,

& he folded his map of the sea.

Reddy's most ambitious project to date resulted in his second book, Voyager. With its completion, something remarkable is achieved whereby method and content and form have coalesced into art in its fullest sense. Let me explain.

Many of you will remember the name, Kurt Waldheim, the noted Secretary-General of the UN who, after a decade in office, was exposed as having been a Nazi SS officer. Most of you will not remember that his recorded voice of greetings in dozens of languages, along with that of Carl Sagan's, was placed on the Voyager spacecraft, representing the human race to anyone who might find the golden record attached to it that is currently 40 billion miles from earth. Reddy composed the poems in this volume by using the cross-out method, mining Waldheim's memoirs to find his own vocabulary, syntax, lines. He performed this excruciatingly careful and lengthy task in three cycles, resulting in three sets of poems. I had the privilege of hearing Chicu read some of the poems in their early forms as they were being written in 2004-2005. His comments included the observation that the first set of poems seemed to be about the voyage itself, but as the cycles repeated, the poems became more and more about the poet, about himself. Here is the opening poem to this amazing collection:

The world is the world.

To deny it is to break with reason.

Nevertheless it would be reasonable to question the affair.

The speaker studies the world to determine the extent of his troubles.

He studies the night overhead.

He says therefore.

He says venerable art.

To believe in the world, a person has to quiet thinking.

The dead do not cease in the grave.

The world is water falling on stone.

The epilogue to Voyager contains a few pages from Waldheim's memoirs, superimposed with Reddy's cross-out technique. This capstone to the book brings the work full-circle and, like the spacecraft itself, launches out into the next new discovery of our own creation.

Of course, Reddy's educational background and achievements are in keeping with his extraordinary work: BA from Harvard, MFA from Iowa, PhD from Harvard. Fellowships from the Whiting and the Mellon Foundations. Literacy Director for the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial Trust. Professor at the University of Chicago. Husband. Father. Chicago Poet. One of my favorite.

Read him.

No comments: