Good morning, and Happy New Year, everyone—the first day of 2018, after a tumultuous 2017.
In times like these, or at any time, it’s refreshing to read poetry, and I’m happy to say that our poet this morning is someone we’re honored to have on our pages, Salman Akhtar, who has contributed so much to our understanding of both poetry and psychoanalysis.
Dr. Akhtar, who comes from a family of renowned poets and writers in India, is himself the author of eleven poetry collections. I first encountered his work in a volume he edited called Between Hours: A Collection of Poems by Psychoanalysts (Karnac Books, 2012) and was struck by his poem in that book, “Summary.” With his permission, I was proud to include it in an anthology I edited, Climate of Opinion: Sigmund Freud in Poetry (IP Books, 2017).
Six of his eleven collections, The Hidden Knot (1985), Conditions (1993), Turned to Light (1998), After Landing (2014), Blood and Ink (2016), and Freshness of the Child (2018) contain his poems in the English language; the other five are in his native Urdu. He is also a prolific contributor to the psychoanalytic literature, having authored or edited eighty-nine books. For his distinguished contributions to psychoanalysis, he received the prestigious Sigourney Award in 2012. A psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and teacher by profession, Dr. Akhtar has been a Visiting Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and currently is Professor of Psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Supervising and Training Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and (probably of the greatest interest to poets) a Scholar-in-Residence at the Inter-Act Theater Company in Philadelphia.
We hope you will enjoy the following three poems by Salman Akhtar: “The Limit of Instruction,” “A Wish,” and, reprinted here from Between Hours, “Summary.” In times like these, the third one is particularly instructive.
THE LIMIT OF INSTRUCTION
The Master said: Write every day even if later you throw it away.
The disciple said: But am I not to wait for the muse to arrive and for inspiration to arise?
The Master said: Writing is not worship. It is building a temple.
The disciple said: But aren’t poets like prophets and isn’t the Holy Quran in verse?
The Master said: You confuse buried treasure with daily wages.
The disciple said: But I want to be respected by all, become famous, and take many lovers.
The Master said: Go away. My wife is listening to all this.
I want to be like my dog.
To speak more with my eyes than with my tongue.
To be happy with a walk around the neighborhood.
To not need clothes.
To never be sleepless and always find it easy to wake up.
To have keen ears and loyal blood.
To own a dictionary of smells.
To grow old with my favorite toys around.
And, when the time comes,
to be put to rest by someone who truly loved me.
Deprivation precedes greed.
Rage follows humiliation.
Vanity masks hollowness.
Glamour seeks solace.
Lust blinds reason.
Logic mutes passion.
Envy spoils admiration.
Pity harbors disgust.
Ambition corrupts talent.
Surprise implies innocence.
Learning acknowledges ignorance.
Guilt accompanies gratitude.
Humility respects history.
Love sustains all.