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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Interview My Visitors, no. 3 (part 1)

This "I Interview My Visitors" post is the first one made about a person I have met somewhere other than the e-aether--I knew Robbi Kellman when she was a mere sprat, a 4'11' package of spark. She is still in the shorty club, but she married tall poet Richard Nester and changed her name, her side of the continent, and much else. As she turns out to be wonderfully forthcoming, the current exploration will probably have to be a triptych . . .

Today everything (and I mean by that a great many Robbi-things) will relate somehow to the curious matter of yoga. I'm not quite sure why I'm starting with the yoga, but on a day when my laptop died and was resurrected with many pains as a sort of zombie laptop (moves slowly, misbehaves, eats my brain), I think it will be relaxing.

(The illustration above is by Robbi Nester's cousin, Nina Canal.)

Marly: Tell us about your interest in yoga and how it led to a series of poems.

Robbi: I have done yoga for a long time in an informal, occasional way, and much of it has been Iyengar yoga, developed by the yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar, in Pune, India, and his daughter, Geeta Iyengar.

[Yoga and neurology]

However, until I decided for a number of reasons to get serious about yoga, doing it at least 5 times a week for at least an hour a day, I didn't really get the benefits or begin to understand what it had to offer me.

I inherited a neurological surprise package from my Eastern European Jewish forebears, who lived for centuries sequestered in shtetls, where there was much intermarriage within the tiny Jewish communities of local villages. This meant that the disorders as well as the gifts of these people were handed down.

I got my maternal great-uncle Isaac Rosenberg's ability to write poems, but I also got a bit of my paternal great-grandfather's bum wiring, manifested by a fairly severe case of G.A.D., generalized anxiety disorder. In order to live a healthy life, unimpeded by this disorder, I need to do yoga regularly. Anyone who has known me before and after yoga can attest to how much difference yoga has made for me.

[Yoga and poetry]

On one particular occasion last year, I attended my teacher Denise Thibault's yoga workshop on Iyengar's Emotional Stability Sequence of yoga asanas (postures). I was immediately suffused with a sense of well-being and relaxation, body and mind, and was so grateful for this that I began writing the series of poems, with the thought that I might give them to Mr. Iyengar for his 91st birthday.

I finished the poems themselves in time for this occasion, though the illustrations meant to go with them have not been completed as of this moment. My cousin Nina Canal, who lives in Marsailles, France, has been working on those in her spare time, between gigs as a musician (she has recorded 7 albums) and a designer (she has a boutique in Paris).

It has been impossible for me to send the poems to their intended recipient, since getting to Mr. Iyengar is not easy. He has an enormous following, and is surrounded by a huge and very possessive hierarchy of people who protect his time and energy. I just don't have enough pull to get my poems sent to him. It is possible that poetry is not something he or those around him have that much interest in, or perhaps the people around him don't recognize a poem when they see it. I guess it is a small, specialized sort of thing, and perhaps not all that compelling to some.

Salamba Sirsasana 1 — Headstand

The moon swells like a seedpod.
Inside the quiet studio, I take
my aching head into my hands,
fingers web to web. A breath,
and then this awkward frame
ascends, becomes an aspen
flexing in a nonexistent breeze.
Grounded in air, movement merges
with stillness, my ear a vehicle
for surging tides, the galaxies’
faint hum. Everywhere
and nowhere, the worlds
fall away, balanced
on these two arms.

Prior online publication: qarrtsiluni, March 26, 2010

Part two
Part three

Robbi's website


  1. wow! very interesting. Do you do yoga in your home with a tape? or do you go to a yoga studio?

    I hope your yogi gets to read the poems. That would be cool. Keep up the good work! I cant wait to see the illustrations!

  2. Susanna,

    I'll send Robbi a note--she does not know this is up! I wrote her about the expiring laptop and said that I didn't think that I could start the series today. But now my laptop is staggering around and may live a few days, turning off at will but occasionally coming back on!

    I'm sure she'll write you back when she hears.

  3. I am so glad your laptop staggered to attention this morning, Marly.
    I so enjoyed this blog entry. The poem is completely and serenely delicious!

  4. Paul,

    Yes, it is still lurching. Well, you do get what you pay for, and I imagine the smallish amount I spent covered lurching and staggering and cutting off and playing dead for long periods of time.

    I shall do at least one poem by Robbi in each of the three parts.

  5. Susanna,
    I do yoga both at home and at a studio, but never with a tape. Yoga is meant to be imparted by a yogi, one to one. Since it is in truth a powerful spiritual discipline, not a course of exercise like aerobics, one could hurt herself without the aid of an experienced guide, well-acquainted with anatomy and other assorted things.
    I fear that Mr. Iyengar will never see the poems. He is 92 or 93 now (lost count), and though he still practices yoga several hours per day, is so surrounded by people eager to protect him and preserve his energy that the likes of me will never reach him unless someone kindly drops the manuscript into his lap.

  6. Susanna,
    Re: illustrations--one is already up on this blog! They are, by my request, ink sketches. I didn't want anything too detailed or realistic.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.