ENGL239 Transnational Canadian Poetry

a UCalgaryBlogs.ca site

ENGL239 Transnational Canadian Poetry header image 2

Week 13 Atwood, Raj Pal, and the end of term

December 3rd, 2012 by Colin Martin

So be sure to have finished the material in the course pack as we’ll be looking at that this term and get those blog comments in! For those who weren’t in class on Thursday, take the time to review the submission guidelines and remember that only material that has been posted to this blog can be included in the submission for Thursday. If you have questions, come see me during office hours or send me an email.

Tags:   · · · 18 Comments

Leave a Comment

18 responses so far ↓

  • Hey everyone,

    The lyrics (on page 29) in the poem by Rajinder S. Pal are from the song “Mera Joota Hai Japani” featured in the film Shree 420. The movie is a classic Bollywood film from 1955 and it stars Raj Kapoor who is a very famous Indian actor.

    Here is a link to the scene in the film:


    • ‘my shoes are japanese,
      pants from england
      my hat is russian
      but my heart is Indian’

      Of course!! Thank you so much for posting this, it helps a great deal – imagining an “Indian Identity” without Raj Kapoor would be tough indeed. :0)

  • Dec,04,2012

    Reading Pal’s poetry, i discovered that there are some similarity between Pal’s poetry and Wah’s Poetry. They both have a Phallus that is miising in their life that is a father figure. Pal is constantly looking for his father through many imagery;especially, through memory. He says “Memory…. i ran to grab your legs.
    i’ d never seen you before
    and you pretend not to notice me”.
    This is when his father passed away. Furthermore, Pal was constantly looking at his uncle as a father figure because he did not grow up with his father. Raj also show us that translation can not be exact. Raj explain explicitly:
    “that words collapse in translation,
    whole sentences change form.
    can’t replace “o” s with “oora” s,
    “oora”s, with “o”s,
    reduce thirty-five letter to a mere
    twenty-six, say sungundhian means
    the scents of flowers when it really
    means the years apart”
    All the transnational writters that we went through in this course absolutely change my views on immigrant poetry because they all silently speaks for the subaltern through imagery, metaphor and their biography.

    Josiah Ajibike

  • I’ve found it interesting that fathers have been the focus of much of the poetry in the past few weeks. Di Brandt depicted her father as an overbearing and demanding parent in Questions I Asked My Mother. Fred Wah reminisced about his father in more than half of the poems and spent much of his time “searching” for him in Waiting for Saskatchewan. Mary Di Michele writes about tensions with her father in How to kill your Father. Rajinder S. Pal seems to be in a dialogue with his “pappaji” in sugundhian. Pal attempts to communicate with his father but they are unable too, so they “settle for silence”. Pal is constantly comparing himself to his father and explains the ways that he feels he doesn’t measure up to the standard his father had set and can’t escape his shadow. The silence between father and child seems to be a common theme with the others authors as well. Fred Wah is unable to speak with his father due to his father’s untimely death, Brandt’s father wishes her to be silent and not ask questions and Michele “will not speak to him[father] all through / the drive”. I’m not sure what is behind this inability for families to communicate, but it seems that the authors feel the need to give voice to their struggles by expressing them in poetry if they cannot do it in person. If it’s true that poets are the greatest insight into a culture, then we have a fairly common issue with father-child relations. I’m uncertain if it is a disagreement on the child’s right to freedom to follow a path of their own (distinctively not their parents) or one based on the moral influences of two different societies that transnational people (especially children) are forced to navigate. Either way, I found it curious that most often there is a fair amount of tension between poet and father and that their mother is rarely/never spoken of critically of.

  • Of the poems we are looking at in this last week of class, my favourite has to be “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Michael Ondaatje. This poem is a sort role-playing sexual fantasy between the narrator and his wife. With this being a class on transnational poetry, I also really liked Ondaatje subtle references to his birth country, Sri Lanka.
    I loved the way Ondaatje used the strong scent of cinnamon as a “scar” that he leaves on his woman after they make love. When she goes to the market (a possible Sri Lankan reference), everyone, including the blind, would know she is the cinnamon peeler’s wife because of her scent. Before they got married he couldn’t touch her because she would smell of cinnamon, but then he recalls a time they went swimming and he was able to touch her in the water. I loved how the wife hated this – she was searching her arms his scent and claims “[it was] as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.”
    I really enjoyed the way the poem balanced beauty and eroticism.

  • ” The poets son sits
    computer terminal on line,
    drinks Canadian club on ice.
    holds two wooden blocks
    book ends…”
    from the poem sugundhian; the scents of flowers? by Rajinderpal S. Pal.
    I wanted to focus on one shot little line that sort of wraps up my ideas on what I have learnt in this course. In this blurb Rajinderpal S. Pal the son who holds two wooden blocks, book ends. I believe that this is the perfect metaphor for what immigrants in Canada do on a daily basis. On one end they are holding their past, what shaped them into who they are today. On the other end they are holding who they are now and what they see their lives becoming. Both holding together the important details of who they are as an individual. When I see this from the perspective of an immigrant I see this as the ideas, values, and traditions they hold from their “original” culture, whether that be because they were born in another country or because their family and community is from another part of the world, that turned them into who they are. Then I see the other book end as who they are now and what Canada has shaped them into. Both key parts in keeping this individual’s life and identity together as one. I just thought that that was the perfect way to sum up this coarse.

  • December 5, 2012

    For our last post, I will be focussing on Rajinder S Pal’s poem “sugundhian; the scents of flowers?” Raj Pal is trying to recollect memories of his father but at the same time he is trying to get his father to remember him. The English in the poem is italicized to show that it is the foreign language while the Hindi is written in regular font. The use of Hindi in the poem makes it more real since he is discussing his life in India in the poem. He talks about his father’s poetry and what he can remember about his dad being a poet. In the beginning he talks about a picture, which is a memory he would always look back on since it signified both his father and poetry. He also talks about saqi who is the “wine server” throughout the poem. His father would drink and then his poetry would come to him. Pal describes that the language would come naturally and would form into ghazals, geets, or kavitas which are beautiful forms of poetry that are often recited in song form.

    He also talks about his chachaji (meaning uncle – father’s younger brother). He is looking for his father in his uncle. He says “looking for your varicose veins in chachaji’s ankes”. Throughout the rest of the poem he talks remembers different memories of his father and many specifically have to do with poetry. The memories he has of saqi show how important he was in Pal’s life. On page 29, Pal talks about what sugundhian really means to him. In the last line of the stanza, he says it means “a child’s hands pressing adult feet”. This is an important Indian tradition and he saying that he missed being able to show the respect he has for his father. The poem has several important aspects including the relationship/longing he has for his father, poetry, and the idea of being true to his Indian identity.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • In the poem Sugundhian; the scents of flowers? by Rajinderpal S. Pal I found the use of another language to be quite confusing. It didnt make sense to me why you would purposely make a poem only to have half of it in a different language, unreadable. after class I understood why, childhood can only be remembered in our mother tongue. After re-reading the poem with my new understanding of it I feel like without the other language it would lose a ton of its meaning. When the father calls his son \saqi\ (drink bearer) the use of the other language connects it to childhood. Perhaps the son, even as a child, was always his fathers drink bearer.

  • December 5, 2012

    Global sharing was the concept that came to my mind when I read the first stanza of Margaret Atwood’s poem “Immigrants”. To me, it imagines the ease and peace that is possible if and when the global community strives to be inclusive. We “inherit” many identities in our development – through music, external aesthetics, jobs, peer groups, hobbies etc. – most of which we come upon with relative ease and welcome. A common exception, however, is being able to integrate and adopt a sense of belonging in a foreign country without fulfilling genealogical prerequisites or cultural dues. I just appreciated the image I got from it of a land and its people extending availability and even embracing whomever finds themselves drawn to it.

    The poem goes on, however, to illustrate how the social disconnect can be emphasized (potentially equally) by the immigrated peoples. It gives the impression that there can be a rigidity against acknowledging or adopting elements of their new surroundings. Describing a glorification of their origins as “[preserving them] like gallstones in a bottle,” it reveals an intent to simply “make an order/ like the old one.”

    What lends the poem an antagonistic atmosphere is that the focus of both parties (the country’s natives and immigrants) resides exclusively in their own cultural heritage. While cultural practice and maintenance is often fundamental in developing a sense of identity and individuality, it should not overrule a universal human empathy. The taste I was left with at the end of the poem was that the disassociation remains: the original population may feel intruded upon, and the new come populace continue searching “unknown land to unknown land” for the comfort and peace of a recognizable community.

    I do like that, from what I can see, the only part of the poem she takes on an active voice as opposed to a solely descriptive one is in the lines “I wish I could forget them/ and so forget myself”. I saw it as her expressing a desire for an ideal environment where these differences were so innocuous to everyone, that they were almost unmemorable.

  • I had a hard time understanding Rajinder S Pal’s “Sugundhian; The Scents of Flowers?\, but from what i could understand he is trying to remember his childhood memories. Like it was said in class, the closest way to remember a childhood memory is from a child’s words in their own language. Although I got more confused with the other language being present, I feel that it was an important part of the poem to add more meaning and attachment to the writers younger years.

    Aingela Carlos

  • At first glance, Raj Pal’s poem, “sungundhuan; the scents of flowers” looked very complicated to read because half of it was in hindu. After reading the poem, I was still lost. I could not grasp the meaning of the poem other than the fact that his father could no longer remember his son. I feel as though to fully grasp the meaning of this poem, you must know both english and hindu. It was a slightly disappointing poem to read, just because I could not understand where it was going and what was being said. I found myself just glancing over the hindu and looking for the english words that I could read. What I did like about the poem was even though there was quite a bit of hindu, he made it so that english was the secondary language by italizing the english. He is showing us that English is not his first language yet he is making the effort to write in it. He is fluent in English, but he is more connected to his heritage in India, rather than his Canadian home.

    He referred to the language differences quite often in his poem, and the structure “can’t replace o’s with oora’s and oora’s with o’s” and how hindu has 35 letters where English only has 26. He explains this to his father who was also a poet who wrote in hindu. His father seemed to be his inspiration for his work and he even used some of his father’s work in his poems.

  • The Immigrants.

    This poem rings to me of stories told by my father and grandparents. Traveling by boat, crammed in like sardines. The ship that provided passage from Europe to Canada for my family was called the S.S. Carolina. The Canadian government sent this ship to ferry the Hungarian refugees away from Europe. 800 families crammed int a ship build for only 200. My Grandmother and Father were sea-sick for the entire journey. When they finally arrived in New Brunswick they had both lost a good deal of weight. These Refugees, now immigrants, were herded into a “processing center”, which was really more of a prison, where they were interviewed repeatedly. After all the medical tests and a period of internment, to prevent the spread of infectious disease, they were released. The haggard and exhausted Hungarians were then released to fend for themselves in their new country. A country where none of them could speak the language. Many years later, my grandmother expressed to me that she felt like she had no country. I asked her what she meant by this and she replied that she could not speak English very well, and sadly, her Hungarian was in just as bad of shape. She felt homesick for a place that she felt that she no longer belonged in. i did not totally understand this until I was 27 years old. I was living in Toronto for only a couple of years by then, and I had been living in Vancouver for a few years before that, and before that I was in Calgary. I felt homeless. Toronto was not yet my home, Vancouver had never felt like home, and when I visited Calgary I was just that, a visitor. After a decade away from Calgary I return to find a totally different city, a city where I am an immigrant. Not understood by the locals, sometimes I even feel like I speak a different language. Margret Atwood captures this, and other, feelings in the poem “The Immigrants”. We belong, and yet we do not belong. We are homeless.

  • Following a quick skim of the poem, I knew ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ appealed to me. To put this poem into context, it’s important to note where the author is from. Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lankan and later settled in Canada. From the second stanza we can locate where the setting is with references to markets and monsoons (not found in Canada). Also when reading this poem we have to keep in mind the differences between Sri Lankan and Canadian culture, with the differences of gender at the forefront since this poem is mostly about the relationship of two lovers. The poem entices our sense of smell, touch, sight and taste. The first three stanzas describe the ‘cinnamon peeler’s’ more explicit sensual love for his wife. She is the cinnamon that gets stripped down and exposed to spread her aroma on the bed and in the markets, privately and publically. Like many smells, the strongest odour comes after being physically scratched by something else or peeled away to reveal the fresh scent, like onions, scratch n’ sniff’s, bark, etc.

    What happens to smells under water? They become diluted and concealed. The “dry air” lends itself to spread the scent more freely in the less dense medium. Cinnamon does not dissolve very well in water and I believe the poet had this in mind as well because the speaker states she could hold him and be “blind of smell.” She wants to be smelled. He wants to smell her. She wants to linger in the air and to be touched because that’s what cinnamon needs to remain exciting and powerful.

  • Margaret Atwood’s (The Immigrants” reminds me of F. R. Scott’s poem “All the spikes but the Last” which highlights Canada’s failure to fully appreciate the massive effort the coolies put into building the CPR. My intuition tells me that Margaret Atwood was educated in the affairs of Canada’s immigrants, including herself, and she witnessed the destruction of the aspirations of the families who have seeked to build a home here. I get a tone of racism in her poem in”… or someone\ has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns\ pass laws which declare them obsolete.” I also get the sense that Atwood sees these immigrants as having lost their identities when she says “the old coutries recede, become\ perfect, thumbnails castles preserved.” Thumbnails aren’t home, if anything they’re foreign exotic places we would like to visit. I have never see this side of the idea of immigration before. I’m beginning to see how good my family has had it.
    My mom told me about how her brother died from a brain tumour after he was assaulted. I can’t imagine the feeling of tragedy after leaving what you thought was the shambles you used to call home.
    This poem has inspired me to look into the treatment of immigrants from Atwood’s time and I want to draw links to what Margaret Atwood writes about.

  • “The Immigrants” by Margaret Atwood reminds me of the thousands of people who were crammed into a boat that travelled for several weeks to North America. The people on the boat were infested with diseases, as they “smell like vomit.” Atwood mentions, “They step on shore” meaning they traveled a long way to start a new life within “the new world.” In the fifth stanza, I imagine the thought of a 18th century family that just starts settling into their new home and how blessed they are by moving out of Europe and into North America. Though the family seems happy they do not have enough money to financially support themselves. In the final two stanzas, I think the thought of the world growing and growing yet the people still have troubles financially.

    Daniel Feng

  • “Only a childhood language is able to describe childhood memories” –Rajinder S. Pal

    Does this explain why Di Brandt reverts to childish descriptions in some of her poems? Is childhood very much like Wah’s father; it remains frozen in time and cannot be accessed with an adult mind-set that tries to rationalize everything? Maybe there is restricted access into this part of our lives because these memories are so distant that only a childlike imagination could conjure up/ re-imagine something similar to what we once knew.

    Jillian Clarke, a Welsh poet, likens the things she remembers most vividly as childhood memories to shadows under closing water, and says that it is impossible to know whether or not they are true recollections of events that actually took place or if they all are false. After describing in detail a ‘memory’ of the rescue of a drowning girl, she writes:

    Was I there?
    Or is that troubled surface something else
    shadowy under the dipped fingers of willows
    where satiny mud blooms in cloudiness
    after the treading, heavy webs of swans
    as their wings beat and whistle on the air?

    All lost things lie under closing water
    in that lake with the poor man’s daughter.

    Even here, Clarke uses imagery from her childhood to describe how she feels, but unless the reader has the same knowledge of nature and what it means to her, there would be a limit in how much they can understand. So maybe childhood isn’t supposed to be spoken about or “described” but simply remembered in the privacy of the mind because attempting to find the right words for it would be like translating into another language. And this way, it is at risk of being altered.

  • In this week’s blog entry I’ll be discussing Rajinderpal S. Pal’s “Sugundhian; the scents of flowers?

    The main thing I noticed from this poem was the use of two different languages. At first I assumed it was just the english text translated or vice versa, but then after class discussion, I learned it meant a whole lot more. Childhood is a major part of everyone’s life. Childhood cannot be replicated or reproduced. Thus, it’s memories cannot be replicated either. The memories can only stay in our minds and be explained the way we first experienced them, in our mother tongue. All languages communicate things differently and thus information cannot be translated 100% correctly. Speaking in our mother tongue allows us to communicate exactly what we feel to the best of our ability.

    Graeme Howard

  • Raj Pal’s poem \sugundhian: the scents of flowers?\ took me to Pal’s childhood. Though I have not been there physically, his incorporation of his own language in the poem was enough for me to imagine the kind of place it is.
    For me, describing my own childhood would not be easy without the language. I still speak, write, and read in my language and I think it really is an important aspect of who I am as a person.
    What I have noticed and is somewhat similar to what someone had mentioned already on their posts, is that there is always that tension between the poets and their fathers. Pal, in his poem, is nostalgic and is constantly looking for his father. Wah sees his father in many of the things he encounters and Brandt’s father seemed to impose a life that she did not agree with.