First Books

By Akhil Katyal

I sat my cousin down and

vented my spleen, ‘I am 27,

Neruda’s first book was at 19

and within a year, all Chilean air

was full of his love and despair

but when I look at my Delhi,

it seems to be doing just fine,

without the gift of my rhyme.’

My cousin said, ‘don’t start,
take heart in the fact that
there were great poets still

who published their first books
down the hill, Neruda’s an exception,
don’t you see, Philip Larkin published
when he was 23 and so did your
Shahid Ali, whose first book

‘reached for the star,’ so
get this right, to be published,
age is no bar.’ ‘But,’ I said,
being surly, ‘compared to me,
that’s still 4 years early.’

My cousin, all patience,
did not frown, he sat me down
to give me hope, said ‘wait, err,
there’s she who came later,
Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope,
her first, was when she was 33,
so it is only likely, Akhil, that
greater work awaits you still,

and that some publisher, sometime
will not be ill-disposed to your stuff,
so no more ranting, that’s enough,

there’ll always be time to reach the sun,
when her first was out, Kyla Pasha was 31,
and then with excitement, he roared,
it was 34 for Audre Lorde, but when he saw
that I was down still, he did not say ‘don’t
be sore, Wallace Stevens was 44,’ instead
my cousin dared an example out of cordiality,
he took to tempting an unpublished poet with
posthumous immortality, ‘Forget early books,’
he said, ‘all does not go well in life, there was
that quiet one who poured out all her strife
into 1800 poems but cousin, look,
Emily Dickinson barely published a dozen

and never got around to a book.’

(thanks to Bhochka)


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