Poetry As Out-ofbody Experience
Aditya Mani Jha
3 SECTIONS: POEMS by Vijay Seshadri Graywolf Press, US, 2017, 88 pp., 1323
April 2017, volume 41, No 4

Language is our first line of defence—and also our last resort. Bob Dylan won’t tell you that you’ll be incinerated in a nuclear explosion. He will warn you about getting drenched in a hard rain. A Bengali matriarch, when she looks at the bottom of an empty rice jar will not say dhana shesh (the rice is finished) but dhana prachur (there’s too much rice), trusting that her son will get the message and buy a fresh bag. Language is driven, again and again, by defence mechanisms, obscuring all that we are afraid to acknowledge about ourselves and the world around us.

In Vijay Seshadri’s magisterial collection 3 Sections (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2014), there are quite a few poems that describe acts of dissociation, in one way or another. At least one of his narrators (from ‘Three Poems’) goes through what is commonly known as an out-of-body experience (OBE). A close reading of these poems shows us how Seshadri unpacks phrases like ‘out-of-body experience’; after all, every such splitting is really a splitting of the soul. Why, then, this nomenclature that points us towards the converse of what we’re struggling to convey? How can poetry track down and expose these faultlines in language—and consequently, in everyday, run-of-the-mill thought processes?
The poem ‘Three Persons’ is about reconciling yourself with the presence of three people within you: the timid, gauche person from your past, the assured juggernaut of the very near future, and the gently acerbic narrator of the present. Seshadri writes:
That slow person you left behind when, finally, / you mastered the world, and scaled
the heights you now command, / where is he while you / walk around the shaved lawn
in your plus fours, / organizing with an electric clipboard / your big push to tomorrow?

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