But perhaps most entertaining of all has been an anthology called Confronting Love edited by Jerry Pinto and Arundhathi Subramaniam (Penguin 2005). Confronting Love is entertaining for two reasons. First, because it includes some truly gorgeous and relatively obscure poems - mostly by the usual suspects - the kind of poems you've read before but never fully appreciated because you were always focused on other, better poems in their original collection. Thus you get Shahid from The Half-Inch Himalayas:
your furniture neatly arranged for death,
you sharpened your knife
on the moon's surface,
polished it with lunatic silver.
You were kind,
reciting poetry in a drunk tongue.
I thought: At last!
Now I loiter in and out
of your memory,
speaking to you wherever I go.
I'm reduced to my poverties
and you to a restless dream
from another country
where the sea is the most expensive blue. "
- Agha Shahid Ali, 'Leaving your City'
or Sujata Bhatt from Point No Point:
"Who speaks of the green coconut uterus
the muscles sliding, a deeper undertow
and the green coconut milk that seals
her well, yet flows so she is wet
from his softest touch?"
- Sujata Bhatt 'White Asparagus'
There's also a delicious, if not entirely relevant Kolatkar, a half-brilliant Ramanujan and a Tara Patel poem called 'Request' that I've always been inexplicably fond of.
But the second thing that makes Confronting Love so entertaining (though I fear unintentionally so) is the amount of really bad poetry it contains. In their Introduction, the editors claim they've actively looked for unfamiliar, less-anthologized poems. While I'm all for breaking away from anthologies, I can't help feeling that a lot of what they've ended up with is so trite, so cringe-worthy that it should scarcely have been published in the first place, let alone included in an anthology. Reading much of Confronting Love leaves you stuck between chortling at the puerile absurdity of the writing and wincing in near-horror over how anyone who writes like this can call themselves a poet.
Take, for instance, these lines from Rukmini Bhaya Nair's Usage (one of the worst poems in the anthology):
"Among your secret thoughts, of which such
Quantities exist, some spill, one's about touch.
Because the form's thickened you called 'petite'
And my arms, on the inside, turned to putty
The swan-shape of my neck, once a single span
Now quite escapes this measure of your hand.
Before I did, you noticed new lines cut me up
In the rough contours of an unfamiliar map.
Therefore these minefields are dangerous,
Memory may blow us up like enemies, strangers.
If all we remember, is a firm bend of thigh
And the toss of limbs, we could fight shy.
- Rukmini Bhaya Nair, 'Usage'
Forget the disastrous and childish end-rhymes. Forget the sheer tone-deafness of writing a line like "My arms, on the inside, turned to putty". Forget the gratuitous cliches (what exactly is a 'swan-shape' neck? and why would a lover measure the thickness of his beloved's neck with his hands? What is she, Porphyria?). Would someone care to explain to me the punctuation here? "If all we remember" comma "is a firm bend of thigh / And the toss of limbs" comma "we could fight shy." Huh? And "Before I did, you noticed" ? Groan!
It gets worse. We're then treated to Dinyar Godrej's 'Kiwi Fruit' which reads:
"Our love was like kiwi fruit
you gave me that I in the kitchen
the secret sharer, partook."
Can you imagine anything half-decent coming out of an opening like that? I can't.
The poem goes on to speak of "the same quotidian covering / of plain brownpaper as our lives / were then" and how "Now there is only languor / between assignments and the boredom / of expectancy." I particularly love "quotidian covering of plain brownpaper". As opposed, doubtless, to quotidian coverings of fancy brownpaper. Or extraordinary coverings of plain brownpaper.
Then there's Marilyn Noronha, sounding like Emily Dickinson at the age of three:
"There is one comfort now,Never mind the banality of the idea or the complete absence of originality - whether in thought, image or language. What cracks me up every time is the "God knows" at the end of the second stanza. It's so complete an anticlimax as to be practically bathetic. For Ms. Noronha's sake I hope she wrote this poem as a spoof, because that's what it undeniably is.
I don't fear death.
At worst, it will be
an undisturbed repose
and I am very tired,
At best it will mean happiness
that I have never known.
If I am with you, once more,
it will mean going home."
- Marilyn Noronha, 'There is one comfort'
But the award for the worst poem of the lot goes unequivocally to this howlingly bad piece by Menka Shivdasani, which I reproduce in its entirety:
"'How come your hair is so silky?'
the black musician asked, and she,
half-asleep, said Hong Kong was full of gloss
and sometimes the place got in your hair.
He was a professional, and they were playing
games with each other, fine-tuned notes
on silken skin. 'The trouble,' he said,
'is you're too sensitive,' and drew
music from the guitar strings on her head.
It was when he got to the bass
that something changed.
Later, he asked, anxious: 'Did you,
baby, did you?' for at a crucial moment,
there were silences he didn't expect.
'I always come quietly,' she told him,
not adding, 'I always go quietly too.'"
- Menka Shivdasani, 'Bass Notes'
Can you imagine anything more hideously juvenile? I'm reminded of being back in high school and having to read poems for my school magazine by hormone-crazed adolescents who'd never read poetry, had just discovered sex, and thought their ability to use 'come' in a play of words made them clever . I mean seriously, if someone made that quip about Hong Kong getting in your hair in a random conversation I would break into groans. Reading it in a poem is physically sickening. And "Later he asked, anxious: 'Did you, / baby, did you?' for at a crucial moment / there were silences he didn't expect"? Tchah!
Don't get me wrong - Confronting Love is not a book you should avoid (though you're probably better off skimming it in the bookstore than actually buying it), on the contrary it's a book you must read, if only to remind yourself of just how hilarious truly god-awful poetry can be, as well as to wallow in nostalgia for what passed for poetry among us when we were 15.
 If you were one of the people whose poems I rejected for my school / college magazine, I apologize. Apparently they really were great poems and if only you'd had M/s. Pinto and Subramaniam as your editors instead of me, you could have been one of India's most celebrated poets by now.