LOVE WITHOUT A STORY
By Arundhathi Subramaniam
Context, an imprint of Westland Publications, 2019, pp. 106, Rs.499.00
STICK NO BILLS
By Madhu Raghavendra
Red River, 2019, pp. 60, Rs.250.00
HOW WE MEASURED TIME
By Sivakami Velliangiri
Primero, an imprint of Paperwall Media & Publishing, 2019, pp. 63, Rs.200.00
By Amlanjyoti Goswami
Poetrywala, 2019, pp. 104, Rs.300.00
SERPENTS UNDER MY VEIL
By Asiya Zahoor
Tethys, An imprint of Yatra Books, 2019, pp. 70, Rs.299.00
By Sukrita/Yasmin Ladha
Red River, 2018, pp. 129, Rs.300.00
By Kiriti Sengupta
Hawakal, 2019, pp. 99, Rs.300.00
MAKING A POEM
By Vihang A. Naik
Authors Press, 2018 (Second Edition), pp. 49, Rs.250.00
TRIPS AND TRIALS
By Jayshree Misra Tripathi
Pepperscript, 2018, pp.112, Rs.290.00
By Rajni Sekhri Sibal
Bloomsbury Prime, 2019, pp. 83, Rs.399.00
In 1912, the rhetoric by Ezra Pound was considered as a predecessor for what was to become the future of poetry: ‘Poetry is not a sort of embroidery, cross-stitch, crochet, for pensioners, nor yet a postprandial soporific for the bourgeoisie. We need the old feud between the artist and the smugger portions of the community revived with some virulence for the welfare of things at large.’ For Pound, a poet’s duty was to contribute to the techniques of writings that would help advance the art. In the light of this view, here are a few books of poetry that seem to deviate from the usual trajectories and have set forth on a path that requires the reader to see the world around them in a new light.
Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Love Without A Story begins with a poem on growing up in the Age of Poets and the transitions that every era brings with it, the changes that occur within and how that defines the world that one inhabits as the poem signs off with a line ‘Still Best to Meet in Poems’ taken from Eunice de Souza’s poem, ‘Meeting Poets’, where it recalls how the late poet agrees that it is better to meet poets in books than in person. People form an important part in the book and it is not just with the relations that the poet has with them, but as individuals—the stages of life that one associates certain people with.
Childhood is inextricably tied up with old age and one poem looks at the depreciation that age brings with it to the extent that one forgets the beginning but there is no looking towards an end; it is a journey that one sets out on and continues–
It gets easier friend,
to delete, plan breakfast,
turn the page.
It is a looking back at one’s childhood in a beautiful poem titled ‘Mitti’ where the word throws up its various names by which it is known finding their place in the ‘democracy of tongues’, but for the poet, Mitti is the only name that works for her: ‘Just that. Nothing else will do’; thereby setting out right at the beginning how certain words and objects have a value that differs as it passes on to others. That which holds a specific memory for you need not hold that for another. The book questions one’s existence; the way one grows up around stories and myths that form the way one perceives the world and with it comes a realization that—
…there is never
a single point
to any story…
And with that knowledge at the back of our minds, as one trudges along the path that we carve or has been sorted out for us one comes to a conclusion that no matter what life throws at us
we are fundamentally
built to float,
built to understand.
But understand what? The intricacies that zigzags across one’s consciousness is not an easy thing to decipher and to recall one’s role in the world as well of the ones that come and go in our lives turns one away from the realities that are daunting and a threat to all that one holds dear. For—
Remembering isn’t an art,
more an instinct.
And it is here that one tries to take cognizance of—and understand that—
It was a world of common nouns
The book does not mince words with the poems it encases and tells one straight up that there will always be a grid running across selves that will not lower down or be removed—
Until the world is a neighbourhood,
until emptiness has biography…
Subramaniam’s poems present a tension between the past and the present. There is no idyllic setting for that which is now long gone. Instead questions that seem to crop up stemming from that which no longer is around. A rather sombre poem—‘Parents’—deviates from the usual sentiments that the term is associated with—
They cry ‘wolf’ many times over
but when you turn for a moment
they melt away,
velvet pawed, sure-footed,
into the night.
And in another one, the trope of motherhood is used to shed light on it being one of the identities of a woman and not her whole existence.
That chink in a wall
is all you need
into a parallel universe.
These poems come from a private memory but at the same time they are social and a collective. It is not only the subjects of longing in nostalgia that have been looked at but also the objects that become living entities—passing onto generations; providing readers with an alternative perception of what nostalgia can be.
And that’s how I discovered
that keyholes always reveal more
If there is a heavy infusion of remembrance that the previous book deals with, the next one, Madhu Raghavendra’s Stick No Bills uses that to re-examine all the concepts and ideas that one has dearly held on to. The lines that define the tone of the book and open up themes to be looked at with a fresh pair of eyes are:
I write about little things so that every time
I sit by the fire in some unknown village
to share food, and the children ask me
to read poems, I don’t want to tell them they
will not be able to understand what I write.
His poems are not just about familiar sights and sounds that would draw an audience to read/listen to his work; it is also about the familiarity of emotions that one can relate with. The sensitivity with which he portrays the relationship between a child and his father departs from the stereotypical notions that such a relationship has long been associated with.
I keep all noises from breaking
your measured sleep,
I hide the slightest sounds
That night may bring….
hands spread, your tender spine rests on
your mother’s dupatta knotted on my back.
There is an active identification with the new setting the poet finds himself in. That is not to say that there is no looking back at where he has come from but the idea that home is a state of mind that does not require a permanent residence in a material world. But the questionings regarding its validity continue—
Once I could leave homes silently
change cities like clouds that leave without rain—
now, I dress up, but go nowhere;
or maybe dress to stand by the window.
And in another one, the poet asks:
They say, ‘Home is where the heart is.’
Where exactly is the heart?
The heart belongs everywhere and yet stays nowhere. The nomadic side to our selves comes out now and then; getting wiped away and sometimes getting translated into words and utterances that only the heart is familiar with. It is not just the home but also one’s roots that have been explored in detail in this book. It is also the significance that one’s language has on one’s self—
I hear children sing Bollywood-
it’s cool and all that. Who sings in Galo?
The book is about homecoming; it need not be a familiar place one grew up in. The places explored, the voices recorded in these pages are what the poet considers as home. Thematically, the book has opened a fresh conversation on home and the discontents that one lives with. But for the poet, the all-encompassing feeling of being home cannot be tied to one definition and as he finally says; one agrees that—
Homes are chaurahas
with the sun and
the breeze to talk to,
a poem to reside in,
a stanza to walk through.
The home as a theme for poetry continues with Sivakami Velliangiri looking at her childhood to illustrate her point of how home is rooted in memories in her book How We Measured Time. There are moments recaptured from the looms of time and given life in these pages. People that seem to have turned into memories have been revived here in the book. The idea of memories being tied up with the concept of home serves as a linkage to places that people no longer live in. In general, the construction of identities can be looked at through memories that are incorporated into the present day. These delicate intersections that occur between one’s identity and how one recalls a place helps us think of how one understands places.
My eyes relocate the old breach
in the compound wall.
The paddy shoots must have grown
Earthwards. I can only see buildings now.
The mother-daughter relationship has been explored in detail and beautifully in this collection of poems. The shared lives that have been traced through this work are worth mentioning since it is not just the mother one is connected to genetically but the idea of how socially one is bound to the concept of a mother has been explored in this book. How motherhood is not up only for glorification but comes with its own set of struggles, an erasing of a part of one’s identity.
mother, we lived our own phobias—
to me all ropes were snakes, to you all men
were creatures on legs with steel buckles
It is not just a patriarchal world that is invoked but also a struggle in such a world to stay afloat. Memories have not been used in this book to simply reminisce about a past long gone; they have been used to hit back at those very structures that started closing in and never stopped. The book becomes a powerful voice of a woman and represents the women that played an important role in the poet’s life.‘ I Remained Her Shadow’’ is that one poem that resonates with the strength of a relationship that echoes throughout the book.
At the hour of the half-boiled egg
she taught me the Tamil alphabet
as we ran our separate ways
to different palm trees to kindle
the soil for snake skin jackets.
All the poems are interconnected—a theme that strongly runs across the book has the figure of the mother at the centre. The maternal figure at the crux of this book binds together the various threads of this book and her presence can be felt in every poem. The book turns into an ode for the mother.
On the kitchen shelf,
I see my childhood photo:
white frock and red rose
black frock and white
a toothless smile—
and remember mother
who must have requested the photographer
to tarry a little, then hurried to the garden
to picture-pick those flowers.
What makes this book thought provoking is the way these poems interconnect the theme of home with a maternal figure. The idea of nostalgia takes on a new meaning as it does not end with recalling or looking back at what one has lost; but it infuses life into them to illustrate the point that this is what makes an individual—one’s provenience.
There is a clear jump here to a postmodernist take on life with River Wedding by Amlanjyoti Goswami. Language is used to give voice to the inner self as well as the emotions that are otherwise difficult to express. The book expresses in the strongest sense thematically that our lives are made up of a series of fragments and it is difficult to hold on to a single notion or definition of life. The book here in question turns into a poetic diary, jotting down life as it came and continues to be. At the beginning of the book are two poems on city life that reflect the fragmentation that cannot be captured in its entirety.
The dust flies,
The book you will never open
Eyes of the city that never close
And in the other poem, the lines that stand out:
Streetlights are Van Gogh’s sunflowers…
….A man strings cloud, makes a living
The isolation that one feels even amongst people, the inability or rather, the exhaustion that weighs down on one’s mind to explain oneself to others is an idea that one can relate to
There is no one to talk to
And being deaf is a way to find peace.
One of my favourite poems from this book is ‘Looking for Matthew Arnold in Chandni Chowk’, the play on words as well as the leitmotif cannot be overlooked. It is not just a fusion of the old with the new but turns into a comment on the complex ideologies of the time periods that seem to clash in this poem.
But boatman, where’s the hole in the wall?
Where’s the bookstore dripping literature?
….We left him there, he needed no rescuing,
His place in history as assured as the banyan tree next door.
Matthew Arnold had arrived
In Chandni Chowk, and never left town.
The flow of words takes on a new meaning with the title poem of the book. It is a powerful voice that speaks up about the apprehensions that surround the fragmented world that remains hidden.
Ma wonders if the water station
Keeps all those rivers, bottled
She can’t stand maps too, after dark
I haven’t the courage to ask her why
One has to keep in mind that poetry is not a puzzle waiting to be solved but rather an experience. This experience takes its life from all that has happened and is happening around. The unfamiliarity of the inside meets with the familiarity of the outside:
I am grandmother.
Your daughter will remember me,
Whenever you mention gravy
When the trace of tongue
And lines from another poem:
my nest is all yours
and when I awake, for you I will let a thumri flow,
from another sparrow who flew away years ago