Poetry and Essays:
Hassanal Abdullah Roni Adhikari Kayes Ahmed Rassel Ahmed Chak Amitava Pallav Bandyopadhayay Stanley H. Barkan Nicholas Birns Jyotirmoy Datta Jyotiprakash Dutta Caroline Gill Nirmolendu Goon Clinton Van Inman John McLeod Manas Paul Matin Raihan Hasan Sabbir Naznin Seamon Amiyakumar Sengupta
Letters to the Editor:
Maria Bennett Laura Boss Stephen Cipot Joan Digby John Digby Arthur Dobrin Kristine Doll Maria Mazziotti Gillan Adel Gogy Mary Gogy Mike Graves Leigh Harrison Yvette Neisser Moreno Marsha Solomon Tino Villanueva Bill Wolak
Letters to the Editor:
Babette Albin Chandan Anwar Mansur Aziz Laura Boss Rumana Gani David Gershator Caroline Gill Isaac Goldemberg Zahirul Hasan Omar Faruque Jibon Gholam Moyenuddin Hasan Sabbir Subir Sarkar Tabrish Sarker Bikul Hossain Rojario
Shabdaguchha: The 15th Anniversary Issue
Stanley H. Barkan
With a Little Cash II
“If I have a little cash, I will open an artshop
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I will spend my time listening to the bees.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bangladesh, take note of it.”
—From Breath of Bengal
“With just a little cash,” HassanalAbdullah wrote in Breath of Bengal, what he could/would do.
I wrote of this on the 10th anniversary of Shabdaguchha, but it is no less true now at its 15th anniversary, an extended miracle. So I think it’s worth reprinting, with some corrections and a bit of updating.
And what this new immigrant from Bangladesh has done with the “little cash” from his salary as math teacher in the New York City school system for his poet-wife, NazninSeamon, and son, Ekok (now grown with an acknowledgment of his studiousness by being accepted at the prestigious Brooklyn Tech High School), and his and her families in Bangladesh, as well as for the Bengali poets (his extended family) from the home country, other parts of the world, and, especially, in America, is some kind of miracle.
I first met Hassanal 15 years ago, when another Bengali poet/translator, Nazrul Islam Naz, came with a friend and a couple of his children to meet me at my house, Casa Barkan, in Merrick, Long Island. Naz called me up about having a manuscript of poems by Bengali poet (Hassanal), which Naz, had translated into English, with the hope of my publishing it.
I was taken with Naz and the manuscript. And, since it fit in with the central focus of my small non-commercial bilingual poetry-focused publishing house, Cross-Cultural Communications, it was of definite interest. But I first wanted to meet the author. Shortly, that was arranged. I was immediately quite taken with Hassanal Abdullah, this then-young, handsome poet, with his shock of black hair and his warm and excited and serious manner, betokening that he was an authentic poet, one who was truly committed to the value of the word and its connection with Humanity.
It was then that I also became aware of his magazine, Shabdaguchha, a poetry journal, in its second issue, focusing on poets of and from Bangladesh, as well as having the possibility of a wider international component. Upon learning this, I warned Hassanal of the many pitfalls inherent in being an editor and publisher, about how much it would detract from his own poetry, in fact admonishing him that he “would make more enemies than friends.” (Indeed, in one later issue, “Shabdaguchha Under Threat” [#31, 2006], this was brought home to him in quite disturbing sharpness.)
And so, I committed to publishing Breath of Bengal in bilingual format, and brought it out simultaneously in paperback and hardcover editions in 2000. And I also invited Hassanal to be Cross-Cultural’s representative for Bangla culture.
From that time till the present, we have been supportive of each other’s reciprocal aims.
I’ve introduced Hassanal to a number of American and other international poets, like Stanley Kunitz, twice Poet Laureate of America, whose poetry Hassaanal translated into Bengali and published in a special issue of Shabdaguchha, “A Tribute to Stanley Kunitz” (#32/33, 2006). Later, Hassanal also translated one of Dylan Thomas’s most famous poems, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” which he read at a special multilingual event at the Mid-Manhattan Library, in April, as part of the Spring 2008 Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America, featuring Aeronwy Thomas (daughter of Dylan) and another Welsh poet, Peter Thabit Jones, editor of the Swansea-based poetry magazine, The Seventh Quarry (both of whom Hassanal published in Shabdaguchha). Similarly, Hassanal participated in “The Prism Effect” program (a multilingual reading of “The Layers” in 55 different languages), which I organized and directed, at the ALTA Conference in Rochester, New York, in 2011, and, afterwards, at the AWP Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Currently, he has translated Dylan Thomas’s “The Hunchback in the Park” into Bengali to be part of “The Colour of Saying” 100th anniversary international celebration of Dylan Thomas’s birth in 2014.
In addition, I introduced Hassanal to other poet/editors like Laura Boss of Lips magazine, Maria Mazziotti Gillan of Paterson Literary Review, Robert Dunn of Medicinal Purposes and Asbestos, Nat Scammacca of the Sicilian Antigruppo, Yoon-Ho Cho of Korean Expatriate Literature, Lidia Chiarelli Actis of the Torino, Italy-based international ekphrastic online magazine, Immagine & Poesia, and Peter Thabit Jones of the Swansea, Wales-based international poetry magazine, The Seventh Quarry, with the object of there being a sharing of their pages for Bengali poets in translation. Thus far, this has worked out very well.
Many CCC authors of various fame—Pablo Neruda (Nobel Prize-winning poet), Gregory Rabassa (foremost translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature), Aeronwy Thomas (daughter of Dylan Thomas), and Leo Vroman (foremost Dutch poet)—and ethno-linguist origin range have been published in Shabdaguchha, in English and as well as in bilingual format. The latter include, individually and in special issues—Cajun (Darrell Borque, Charles deGravelles, Clarisse Dugas, Joe LeCoeur, Beverly Matherne, Sheryl St. Germain), Latin American (Luis Alberto Ambroggio [Argentine], Franciso Arriví [Puerto Rican], Juan Cameron [Chile]. Carlos Ernesto García [El Salvador], Isaac Goldemberg [Peruvian], Carilda Oliver Labra [Cuba], Vincíius de Moraes [Brazil], Julio Ortega [Peru]), Welsh (David Gill, Lynn Hopkins, Jean Salkilld, Peter Thabit Jones, Aeronwy Thomas)—FuadAttal, (Palestinian), August Bover (Catalan), Sultan Catto (Turkish), Vince Clemente (Italian), Aleksey Dayen (Russian), D. H. Melhem(Lebanese), Biljana D. Obradović (Serbian), OrnaRav-Hon (Israeli), Georgine Sanders (Indonesian), Adam Szyper (Polish), Tino Villanueva (Chicano), Maria Bennett, John Dotson, Charles Fishman, John Gery, Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, A. D. Winans, and Bill Wolak (American). Thus, this relationship resulted in the magazine’s international component being greatly extended and enhanced, beyond the borders of Bangladesh and the USA.
Similarly, the poems of Hassanal and Naz and other Bengali poets were introduced to poet-editors from many different parts of the world, where many have found an outlet for publication in English translation.
I also engaged in co-translating with Hassanal some Bengali poets whose poetry Hassanal Introduced me to. These include Joy Goswami (“Ashes”) and Shamsur Rahman (1929-2006, “The Eternal Sunlight”).
The scrape of their hooves will spark
Diamonds every where . . .
(From: “Ashes” by Joy Goswami)
A lone man sits quietly penning poems
With the ink of sunlight.
But the gamblers gather around him
Suddenly excited, shouting,
Thinking the poems are banknotes.
Then, amazed, realizing the fact of poetry,
They tear the manuscript from the man
And toss it in the air.
In the end those outraged gambles
Snatch away the sunlight.
But the poet remains calm as they depart
Fading away in the air.
(From: “The Eternal Sunlight” by Shamsur Rahman)
It is this “fact of poetry” in contrast with what the “gamblers” (who symbolize the Philistines) value that is emblematic of the purpose of Shabdaguchha, if not Bengali people in general, these new immigrants who demonstrate a passion for things non-material, and whose language, is the language of poetry as Italian is the language of music.
In addition to producing a magazine that has reached out across the world to all manner of ethno-linguistic diversity, as well introducing contemporary Bengali poets to the world at large, the magazine has been in the forefront of serious human rights causes.
Shabdaguchha has also been published quite regularly, several times a year, something extraordinary for a little magazine with typically limited resources.
In addition, Hassanal, as editor/publisher, has hosted numerous poetry festivals, as well as initiating the Shabdaguchha biennial award: a certificate a significant monetary prize. Thrice, I’ve been honored to present the award at a special celebration at the home office of the magazine now in Woodhaven, Queens.
Hassanal has also invited poet and writer-critic activists, who have been the object of attacks by fundamentalists in Bangladesh to come to America and try to seek some assistance in this deadly war that threatens not only the well-being and security of the people of Bangladesh but of all democratic nations.
One of these, Dr. Humayan Azad, was several times injured by attempts on his life. And though at great risk, he persisted in his critical writing. Forced to leave his home country under further deadly threat, he was found dead shortly afterwards under “suspicious circumstances” in Germany.
In addition to its literary activities, Shabdaguchha has been in the forefront of protesting the terror that holds sway in Bangladesh. In May 2003, a demonstration which was organized by Shabdaguchha was held in front of the UN.
So “with just a little cash,” Hassanal Abdullah, poet/translator/editor/publisher and activist has managed to create a vehicle and a repository, not only for Bengali and international poetry, but a place from which poets can speak out and, against terrific odds, try to bring about some kind of peaceful resolution and harmony.
This fifteenth anniversary issue of Shabdaguchha is truly another milestone in the history of poetry. Shabdaguchha is a bridge across the wide waters, from Barisal to Briarwood and beyond, from Woodhaven to the world, as well as across the large divide between man’s basest instincts and his higher civilizing vision.
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