There once was a tradition of storytelling that enthralled kings and beggars, mixing simple language and lofty poetry, while deploying ingenious tricks to retain the audience’s attention. Usually there were three or four stories embedded one within another, like a Russian doll. Just when you thought you were coming to a denouement, a new story began—more amazing and amusing than the last, and so you listened, fought off sleep or wine, and tried not to miss a word of the storyteller’s tale. The home of many of these fabulous tales is India, which gave the world the Panchatantra, and later inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Just So and the Jungle Book.

The poet Ghalib took a broad view about spirituality and ritual. He told a British friend he was half a Muslim, because while he wouldn’t eat pork, he enjoyed as burrah peg of whiskey. Did Ghalib retain a medieval belief in cultic efficiency, or did he have a modern’s skepticism about revealed religions in general? That question comes to mind when reading his 108-verse long praise poem to the city of Vanarasi—so holy to the Hindus.

One of the first poems in Wang Yin’s recent collection, A Summer Day in the Company of Ghosts, finds the Chinese poet in an unexpected place: Vermont. “The Task of the Poet, Written in Vermont After Robert Bly” opens with a pastoral scene on a front lawn, where the poet peacefully observes—and records—the sights and sensations of a slow suburban morning.

Active in the 13th century, poet Matsuo Basho has been a cornerstone of literature globally since the late 19th century when the word haiku was used to cover traditional “haikai” and “hokku” (more about which further down). Largely due to 19th-century Realism, Western onlookers and practitioners have made much of direct personal experience in haiku; DT Suzuki, Alan Watts and the Beat poets in turn exaggerated the influence of Zen on haiku, lauding their depth of truth and presence. Haiku has since become the world’s most prevalent poetic form, with Basho the standard bearer.   

A new anthology of Indian authors writing in, and translating into, English, Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing creates a new sense of contemporariness on the Indian literary scene. This arrangement distinguishes the book from other anthologies of Indian literature which are for the most part organized around a linguistic binary: they are collections either of Indian writing in English or of Indian writing in regional languages English translation, while the project of anthologizing as a whole also seems to be restricted to English for it is difficult to recall any anthologies putting together regional literatures in a single volume.