Sandhya bhasa / Ulatbamsi / "Dakini script"

David R. Israel davidi at
Sat Apr 19 09:10:10 UTC 1997

Scholiasts et alia --

you'll recall, some few weeks ago, the sandhyabhasa thread -- which 
originated from my forwarding to you'all a question posed by a 
participant in the Poetics (Univ. of Bufallo's) listserv.  By way of 
refresher here -- the original writer, Gwen McVay, had noted:

> In her introduction to the City Lights edition of Kerouac's /Scripture
> of the Golden Sutra/, Anne Waldman sez,
>        Sanskrit poetics speaks of /Sandhyabasha/ or
>        twilight speech, which is an "upside-down"
>        language harboring contradictions and
>        paradoxes.

This elicited several Indology responses, for which (again) thanks.

Just now, some (perhaps) clarifying notes have surfaced on said 
Poetics listserv, in form of Anne Waldman's -- and also Andrew 
Schelling's -- transcribed comments.  (Earlier, I'd forwarded to 
Poetics some Indology posts arising in this thread -- hence the 
occasion for comment from Waldman/Schilling.)  Herewith, I'm 
forwarding to you these new(er) remarks.

Schilling, btw, is the chap who had done a likeable, recent vol. of 
translations from Mirabai, which little book Shambhala issued in 
handy mini-book form (in their Centaur Editions series).  As you 
might know, Both Schilling and Waldman are involved in the Poetics 
wing of the Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado (The Jack Kerouac 
School of Disembodied Poetics is -- if memory serves -- the proper 
departmental rubric).

So, am forwarding this for any poss. gen. interest in such further 
elucidation of intentions, etc.  If anyone happens to have remarks 
regarding new twists in the discussion -- e.g., the term "Ulatbamsi" 
-- I'd be pleased to hear them.  For that matter, Waldman's passing 
mention of so-called "dakini script" seems of additional interest.

Incidentally, the gentleman who usefully forwarded to Poetics the 
Waldman/Schilling remarks -- namely, a certain Anselm Hollo -- is a 
rather well-known poet in the (if this shd. suffice) contemp. 
experimentalist mode.

With (as always) thanks,

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Sat, 19 Apr 1997 02:05:09 -0400
From:          JDHollo at AOL.COM
Subject:       Sandhyabasha, from a while back

This is Anselm Hollo.  Colleagues Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling
(who promise to acquire e-mail capability *soon*) have asked me to
forward the following in re the Sanskrit Poetics thread:

(Anne:) Yes, the somewhat free use of the term "sandhyabasha" doesn't
come particularly from a reading of Eliade and was never used or
recorded to my knowledge by Kerouac or Ginsberg or other confreres.  I
had Andrew Schelling's expanded sense of the term and my own desire to
present the idea of a secret code--perhaps intuited by other initiates
(see the collaboration "Pull My Daisy".  We are certainly aware of the
literal definitions.
 Apologies for taking poetic liberties.  This only encourages me to more
dialogue with the scholars.  "Ulatbamsi," more literally upsidedown is
probably more accurate term.  And of course there's "dakini script"
which is what some poets think they're onto, not to mention the sense
of poem as "terma," or hidden treasure.  What do you think?  Not on
the Net yet; this intervention is courtesy of Anselm Hollo who alerted
me to the discussion.

(Andrew:)  Confess I'm the source for Waldman's use of the Sanskrit
term sandhyabasha.  It is quite unlikely Kerouac ever encountered the
term, certainly he never used it.  Anne ws employing it as a way to
line up Kerouac "goofiness" (playful duplicity in language) with older
Tantric traditions.
 Her "upside down" skips across to another word, another tradition,
ulatbamshi--which I know best from Charlotte Vaudeville's scholarly
work on Kabir--who of course did not write in Sanskrit.  I've tended
to use the term sandhyabasha without much concern for getting right
its original Sanskrit usage.  This I hope is okay since nobody knows
precisely what it meant in the old days.  Hence debate about whether
it is sandhya- (twilight) or sandha- (intentional) speech.  I've tried
to give it a  contemporary spin: poetry as a place where language has
the "conjoint" (lit. sandhya-) lights of day and night, waking &
dreaming--goofiness or double-meaning--as opposed to secret initiate
language.  I gave my essay book published in Indi the title Twilight
Speech.  Its USA publication I'd hoped would have the same title, but
Leslie Scalapino who published it was alerted by Philip Whalen to how
close the term sounds to "twilight sleep" which he said is what women
go into when they have spinals for Caesarean sections.  So Leslie
insisted we come up with another title.  As for the Masson/Merwin
book, it is a good collaboration.  Masson's introduction particularly
fine.  The choice of poems is surprising--even inspired--though Merwin
doesn't know the language so he can swim a bit with tone and meaning. 
Masson was once upon a time a terrific Sanskritist, but on occasions
sloppy.  Notice for instance the opening verse to his introduction,
which is not in any Sanskrit anyone I know has been able to decode. 
Not even Masson when I took it to him and said what the hell's this. 
Said he thinks he got it from his guru.

End of Waldman/Schelling transmission

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