August 14, 2012

Dom Moraes (India / writes in English) 1938-2004

Dom Moraes (India/writes in English)

Dominic Francis Moraes was born in Bombay on July 19, 1938. His father was the famous journalist and writer Francis Robert Moraes, an Oxford graduate and a barrister who became the first editor of the noted Times of India after independence from the British Empire. As a child, the young boy traveled with his father on his assignments through the South-East Asia, the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka between 1947 and 1950, highly influencing Moraes’ later essays regarding his father (My Father’s Son: An Autobiography) and his many writings on travel.
     Moraes’ mother, Beryl D’Amonte, was a highly respected pathologist and clinical researcher at the Cana Hospital. Although both parents belonged to India’s Roman Catholic minority, they were, as editor/poet Ranjit Hoskote describes them, members of different ethnic groups,  being of East India descent from his mother’s side and Goan from his father. Accordingly, the poet’s childhood was “shadowed by the dissensions between his parents along with his mother’s terrifying fits of violence,” which ultimately led her to be confined to a series of mental institutions.
     Moraes began writing poetry as early as the age of twelve, encouraged by the visitors to his parents’ home, among them the novelists Mulk Raj Anand and G. V. Desani, the poet Stephen Spender, and others. Even the poems of his early teens were published by Karl Shapiro in Poetry Chicago and James Laughlin in his New Directions anthology. By the time Moraes attended Jesus College, Oxford, in 1956 he had already established himself as a poet. His first book, Green Is the Grass was published in 1951. At Oxford W. H. Auden's house would be his home for a decade or more, while Stephen Spender published his poems in Encounter.
      Involved in the Soho Bohemian scene, Moraes became involved with a circle of friends including Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, poets George Barker, W. S. Graham, David Gascoyne, and publisher David Archer, including Henrietta, the witty foul-mouthed, drug-taking queen of Soho.
      As Hoskote summarizes, already playing the role of “prodigy and Romantic genius,” Moraes traversed India to write his first autobiography, Gone Away: An Indian Journal, soon after traveling with his new wife, Henrietta Bowler, to Athens and Peloponneus, picking up, along the way, Gregory Corso, the latter and Ginsberg reading with him in London and Oxford, scandalizing some members of the establishment.
      The intense world of drugs and exhibitionism ended with Moraes walking away from his marriage:

                            One fine morning Dom said, ‘Look, darling, I’m off
                            to the pub,  just going to get some cigarettes. See you
                            in about ten minutes.’ He didn’t come back and I
                            couldn’t find him anywhere. For the next few months
                            I heard his voice everywhere, I heard him talking to
                            Nanny in the kitchen, I heard his footfall in the studio
                            stairs and the sound of him crossing the room but he
                            was never there…. Dom had vanished, completely.
                            He closed the front door behind him and disappeared.

      What followed was a transformation of the young Romantically-inspired poet, as he sought out formal choices for his poetry, including poets such as Robert Conquest, Kinsley Amis and others of what came to be called “The Group.” Much of that poetry came to be described by both the poet and others as a kind of poetry which many Indian critics described as that of a “nostalgist, a dreamer, and alien.” Moraes himself characterized his emotions of the period as he moved back from India to London in 1968:

                            My attempts to write poetry were completely futile.
                            The old excitement, the thrill in the blood that
                            produced a poem, the rhythms that had sung them-
                            selves in my head, the complete lines that came out
                            of nowhere, none of these visited me anymore, nor
                            could they be compelled to do so. I could not put
                            their absence out of my mind. A recurring dream was
                            of my writing a new poem; I could see the page, and
                            the lines written on it. When I awoke, I sometimes
                            thought this had actually happened, that during the
                            night I had written a poem which would be lying amidst
                            the debris of my desk. But it was never so. Altogether,
                            these were very bad days for me.

    Over the next several years, however, Moraes gradually transformed his political stances, living in Hong Kong, visiting Viet Nam, and encountering the new radical policies as a journalist, gradually moving back into contemporary Indian culture, now feeling, more than previously, the cultural and the social issues into which he had been born. Ranjit Hoskote, in his edition of Moraes'Selected Poems, published in 2012 by Penguin Press, particularly focuses on Moraes’ social and ideological changes, pointing to poems that, despite the poet's early British influences, reveal a deeper and more profound poetic impetus in the poet’s work, revealing a more complexly conflicted figure than has previously been perceived, and a poet that eventually recounted some of the important issues of Indian culture, including “the twentieth century’s dramas of betrayal, slaughter and heroism.”


A Beginning (London: The Parton Press, 1957); Poems (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1960); John Nobody (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1965); Poems 1955-1965 (New York: Macmillan, 1966); Bedlam Etcetera (London: Turret Press, 1966); Absences (Bombay: Selprint, 1983); Collected Poems 1957-1987 (New Delhi: Penguin, 1987); Serendip (New Delhi: Penguin, 1990); In Cinnamon Shade (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2001); Typed with One Finger (Calicut: Yeti Books, 2003); Collected Poems 1954-2004 (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004); Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (ed. with an Introduction by Ranjit Hoskote) (New Delhi: Penguin, 2012)


The audience may be dead; programmes
Flutter down the aisles, function ended.
Conclude in tedium, for applause is
Disallowed here, perhaps for always.

If the furies conflict, let the cu pass.
Where confrontations are, because your lids
May nicitate at suns they do not use,
Caress, as it leaves, the compromise.

The loyalties recalled, even those failed,
include some petulance at by bygone ships.
Analysed by tears, dry lenses stare
Into a false despair, adieux unuttered.

Corrections of shape, the scraped lips
Falter at necessary commonplaces:
Dehydrate words, helpless silences.
Never such tenderness as in these.

The sad collaboration of friends,
Unfinished theatre of patchwork lives
That fall apart, not heard of after.
Such long preambles to absurd ends.

Brandeth Ended

Say his foot slipped on stone,
but you knew him: it's likely
he only threw himself away
as of no further use.

He spun like a sun in his fall.
He became next day's news.
he fell till he ceased to fee
dignified, any more.

He exploded on rock, lightly.
The broken shell lay on shore
as the red yolk from the skull
slithered into the sand.

When Brandeth wrote poetry,
he cupped sounds in his hand.
He never called, words came
tamely as birds to him.

In this stark theatre of stones
they wail, wheel from a death,
as they hear Brandeth's bones
crack in God's black teeth.

"Theatre" and "Brandeth Ended" reprinted from Dom Moraes Selected Poems (edited with an Introduction by Ranjit Hoskote) (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2012). Copyright ©2004, 2012 by Dom Moraes. Permission to reprint granted by Penguin Books.

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