Turbans in Connecticut (and New York)

Sikh Parade P4273472_edited-1The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

—Wallace Stevens (The Plain Sense of Things)

Turbans, along with sombreros, appear early on in the poems of Wallace Stevens. At least three poems in Harmonium sport turbans. Here’s The Load of Sugar-Cane:

The going of the glade-boat
Is like water flowing;

Like water flowing
Through the green saw-grass
Under the rainbows;

Under the rainbows
That are like birds,
Turning, bedizened,

While the wind still whistles
As kildeer do,

When they rise
At the red turban
Of the boatman.

By his last book of poems, The Rock, turbans disappear, replaced with The Plain Sense of Thingsor so it seems. In a live webcast discussion of The Plain Sense of Things, ModPo Professor Al Filreis and a redoubtable panel of TAs and guests popped the question: What was that turban about, and where did it go? After all, though Stevens lived in Hartford, Connecticut, he was, as Filreis put it, “a turban kind of guy.”

(To see and hear the excellent discussion by TAs Dave Poplar and Emily Harnett on “turban,” go to~16:54-20:00; for the “turban kind of guy” discussion, go to ~26:00.)

Not long after the webcast, with visions of turbans still dancing in my head, I walked out of an exhibit of Proust manuscripts right into a Sikh Day Parade.

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ModPo is short for Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, an extraordinary online course that will be offered again September 7, 2013. To view an introductory video, to read about the course, and to enroll, which I highly recommend, click here.

Listening List

Prof. Surinder Singh~Partaal~Raag Dhanasri Shaan


Credits: All the photographs are mine. The quotations from Stevens’s poems may be found at the links indicated. The quotation from Al Filreis may be found in the live webcast discussion at ~26:15. More information on the live webcast may be found here. For a “one minute of fame” moment for Prufrock’s, go to 1:08:42 in the live webcast.

Sikh Parade P4273139_edited-1

18 thoughts on “Turbans in Connecticut (and New York)

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Solitary Walker: Thanks so much for stopping by! Particularly on the heels of the “turbans” discussion, I just couldn’t believe my good luck happening on this gorgeous parade. It pleases me even more that you enjoyed it, too.

  1. friko

    I tried to understand, honest I did. There were far too many words, all of them a great mash of confusion to me. Did anybody ever get to the point? I am still listening as I am writing this.

    I also looked for you and couldn’t find your moment of fame.

    (So Stevens is not a good reader of his own poetry?)

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: I’m sorry you weren’t able to engage with that great discussion, but so gehts im leben, eh? There is no “the point” to close readings, or rather, “the point” is that they open out poems to interpretation, rather than close them down. And what’s perhaps best of all about the video discussions is that they spawn yet more conversations, among people from all walks of life, worldwide. For example, I participated in a truly fun, not to mention funny, conversation, started by a really smart, agile-minded person in Ireland. The discussion concerned Stevens’s early poem, “Invective Against Swans,” and the topics covered ranged from Mallarme to bird-poop and everything in between.

  2. angela

    Oh, yay, Susan! I had meant to tune in for this one, but it fell off my radar…hope to watch this week. How curious, though, for the moment I read the above poem – I thought, surely this sounds like “The Snowman”. (just returned from Google and it is indeed in the same collection). Was this discussed at all?

    As an aside, boo! you are so lucky – I wondered if you would go to see the Proust.
    Another aside – have you ever stumbled upon Barry Guy or Valentin Silvestrov (composers) – you might find interesting, especially Guy for his unique Cage-like comps and his creative scores http://www.pointofdeparture.org/archives/PoD-38/PoD38Guy.html ~ angela

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Angela: Snowman wasn’t discussed, but Al conducts a discussion of that poem every winter. There’s a link to it in the listening list here: https://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/a-mind-of-winter/. (FYI, The Snowman is from Stevens’s first book, Harmonium.) The recent discussion of the two late Stevens poems sent me racing back to read through all the poems in The Rock. I then went back to Harmonium, and read those (of course now I’ve veered off to something else, but I’ll be back). It was really interesting to read the two volumes together, as one strand among so many, for the change in perspective from that of a young poet starting out to one looking back over his life’s work. The questions he seems to pose in poems in The Rock reminded me often of Chou En-Lai’s aria from Nixon in China, and particularly the lines:

      How much of what we did was good?
      Everything seems to move beyond our remedy.

      (The whole text of the aria is in the Adams post here: https://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-gospel-according-to-john-adams/

      Yes, it was quite a sojourn in New York, and the Proust exhibit was fascinating. I took a lot of notes, which I hope will end up in a post at some point, and, natch, I had to pick up a copy of Swann’s Way (I have a hardback, but I wanted one that travels) to read a second time. (Believe me, I do all this as the rankest amateur/dilettante–but it’s fun!)

      I know some of Silvestrov’s work, but not Guy’s. That score in the link is a beauty. I’ve bookmarked him for a listen. Yet more in the ever-growing list!

  3. Britta

    Dear Sue,
    wasn’t that a colourful coincidence that you walked into a turban-parade? Bright colours, so vibrant. (Superficial woman-of-the-world that I am I thought you write about – humpf – hats :-), I mean: turbans as the newest fad. Of course I should have known better.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: I LOVE that you thought I was finally writing about fashionable hats. (Of course, being me, I didn’t even know they were a current fad!) It was indeed a colorful coincidence to walk into that parade.

      1. Britta

        Dear Sue,
        I have to apologize that I sometimes mix ‘Sue’ and ‘Suze’, sorry! For London I have a big white hat, together with a LBD and big sunglasses I might try to give the impression that I quote Breakfast at Tiffany’s :-) (fausse pearls of course).

  4. David N

    Yes – so much more vibrant than the extreme Shiite self-harmers whipping themselves outside Cologne Cathedral (remember our exchange Over There about unexpected parades?) When I was stuck in the car with the UKIP racist driver taking me and my mum to Wimbledon Theatre for her birthday treat the other week, and she opened her mouth to point out what she thought was a mosque (and I thought, please, no, don’t mention the mosque), his response was – they’re Sikhs, not quite so bad…and then of course we got the tirade about ‘disgusting minarets’.

    Even so, what do the rest of us know about Sikhism? For my part, shamefully litte, I have to say.

    Splendid photos, as ever.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David N: I do indeed remember the exchange Over There. And oh dear, oh dear about the exchange in the car . . . I’ve run into that sort of thing, too, more than I’d like. As for the Sikhs, I know little, but the Edu-Mate and a friend who has traveled a good bit in that part of the world both educated me a bit, all very positive. (I do also feel ashamed to know so little about them, as about so much else.) The Sikhs were very welcoming and tolerant of our picture-taking. They handed out useful informational pamphlets, as well as candies, raisins, and nuts (customary, if I have it rightly, for such events). Their pamphlet, among other things, says “Every human being is equal in the eyes of God. All positions of authority in Sikh religious and political life are open to both women and men.” (Our friend pointed this out as a Sikh tenet, too.)

  5. shoreacres

    Listening to the sections of the video you pointed out, I wondered if any of the folks involved in the discussion of turbans ever watched someone tying a turban? In my own reading of the poem, the “turban” is less a thing than a representation of an action, less an exotic and colorful oddity than a way of expressing how “A fantastic effort has failed..”

    Learning to tie a turban does take effort. While many simpler turbans are tied in short order by the individual wearing them, some of the more intricate often have two people involved in the tying. I’ve watched the process, and one person, holding the end of the very long strip of cloth, walks around the person tying the turban to keep things from getting tangled up. It’s the first thing I thought of when I read “No turban walks across the lessened floors…” – the effort involved in doing something properly. I thought the line was directly connected to the following images of the neglected greenhouse and chimney, and a clear indication that imagination itself requires effort.

    I love that you bumped into the Sikh parade! We have a Temple here in Houston. I know more about Sikhs than most groups in India because of a friend who served in the Punjab in the Peace Corps. I still make his recipe for Dopiaza beef curry from time to time, complete with roasting and grinding the spices. Now I have a taste for it again!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: What a wonderful insight into the poem you bring with your eyewitness knowledge of turbans! It bears repeating, and I shall do so here: “It’s the first thing I thought of when I read “No turban walks across the lessened floors…” – the effort involved in doing something properly. I thought the line was directly connected to the following images of the neglected greenhouse and chimney, and a clear indication that imagination itself requires effort.”

      Your personal knowledge of so many places and the rich perspective you’ve gained from that is one of the many gifts you give to all of us on your blog. A good example, one of many, is your recent post, Zero’s Chances, which I commend to everyone. It can be found here: http://shoreacres.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/zeros-chances/.

      (I suspect you’ve got too much else going on, but it sure would be fun if you were able to participate in ModPo this fall (the link to enroll is here: https://www.coursera.org/course/modernpoetry). The first two poets discussed are Dickinson and Whitman, BTW.)

      1. shoreacres

        Now, here is something humorous. I came home tonight to find an email from Coursera with the courses they recommend for me: (1) Internet History, Technology and Security, (2) Calculus: Single Variable, (3) Introduction to Finance, and (4) Introduction to Systematic Program Design.

        You did much better in suggesting a course. When I looked at the syllabus for the calc course, I did recognize the terms sin, cos and tan, but I don’t think that’s quite enough of a basis!

        Truth to tell, my goal isn’t a course of any kind, but the entire month of August for just reading and writing, with perhaps a little Texas travel thrown in. Engagement’s a wonderful thing, but a little dis-engagement has its place, too.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          shoreacres: Amen to a little dis-engagement from time to time–your version sounds like bliss! I have a hankering to do something similar in the summer months. I certainly have a stack of books and projects at the ready. We’ll see whether I have the attention span to match (always a question, but I do seem to make my way over time). As for coursera’s picks–oy! Finally, I know what you mean about a course not being a goal–it wasn’t in my game-plan, either, but in the end turned out to be exactly the right thing at the right time. If you do end up putting a toe in the water come September, do let me know. I’ve re-upped, this time with the plan to participate more selectively, dig deeper into a selection of the poets that intrigue me most, and spend more quality time in discussion forums. It would be fun to “meet up” with you there.

  6. Steve Schwartzman

    Speaking of spring, which you weren’t, and turbans, which you were, did you know that tulip and turban are historically the same word? ‘Tis true:


    Your mention of Proust reminds me that in another life, as a French major, I slogged through Du Côté de chez Swann in the original. I say slogged because Proust often has sentences that are so long and complicated that I had to plow in on faith, as if holding my comprehension’s breath, believing that I’d make sense of each of those sentences by the time I’d eventually came to a period and could breathe again.

    Out of curiosity or nostalgia for that lost world of mine and his, I just looked up Du Côté de chez Swann online and found this ending:

    “Les lieux que nous avons connus n’appartiennent pas qu’au monde de l’espace où nous les situons pour plus de facilité. Ils n’étaient qu’une mince tranche au milieu d’impressions contiguës qui formaient notre vie d’alors; le souvenir d’une certaine image n’est que le regret d’un certain instant; et les maisons, les routes, les avenues, sont fugitives, hélas, comme les années.”

    “The places that we’ve known don’t belong only to the spatial world where we put them for convenience. They were only a narrow slice in the midst of adjacent impressions that made up our life at the time; the memory of a certain image is only the longing for a certain moment; and the houses, the highways, the streets, are as fleeting, alas, as the years.”

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: Isn’t word etymology the best? This one is particularly rich, and, needless to say, never occurred to me. As for Proust: I love your turn of phrase here: “holding my comprehension’s breath, believing that I’d make sense of each of those sentences by the time I eventually came to a period and could breathe again.” As you’re still breathing, I’m suspecting you succeeded, in the end. (As an aside, I “tested” into a level of French that indicated I should be able to read Swann’s Way et al in French. Lawdy, lawdy, that test result was so far off the mark.) I have read the entirety of In Search of Lost Time in English; I know what you mean about “comprehension’s breath” and those long sentences just from that. Now, let me hasten to add, that “read” as used in the previous sentence should not be taken too literally. I did get through from end to end, and I got a good bit out of it, I think, but this mind does wander . . . Still, I’ve picked up, as I noted elsewhere here, a paperback of Lydia Davis’s translation of Swann’s Way and do intend to start in again. The sentence you quote is further inspiration to get going. What he understood of life and memory and the elegance of his expression are magnificent–and all that from a cork-lined room. Puts me in mind of Emily Dickinson–though of course she was a bit more spare, shall we say, in her poetry than he in his prose.

  7. hilarymb

    HI Susan .. wonderful post and comments .. I loved the photos, the music – beautiful to listen to – but I did know the tulip and the turban had similar etymological origins … but I hadn’t realised that Emily Dickinson was known more as a gardener, botanist in her lifetime than as a writer ..

    I pick up snippets .. better than nowt! Happy weekend .. Hilary

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