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Updated: August 31, 2013 18:24 IST

Frank images

Gopikrishnan Kottoor
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Phantom Camera; Jaswinder Bolina, Hachette, India Rs. 399.
Special Arrangement Phantom Camera; Jaswinder Bolina, Hachette, India Rs. 399.

Poems that draw on everything from racism to nucleotides, but glimmer in monochrome.

Jaswinder Bolina’s poems are courageously transparent, and absorbing, in a time of increasing poetic artifice. We are easily drawn to this young poet of Indian origin, born and raised in the U.S..

Jaswinder employs love to scale his poetry to the desired piquancy. Subtleties are revealed gently, as he prods us onto his serious inscapes.

In ‘Mine is the First Rodeo, Mine Is The Last Accolade’, he refers to the birthmark on his ex-lover’s left thigh as resembling Martin Van Buren (the eighth U.S. President) which her new lover keeps smooching.

The poem then philosophises on The human condition like a phonograph skipping/ which is the condition of urging the same things over/and anticipating a different result.

‘Make Believe’ might make one shudder. It is that time when I’m alone in America with my young daughter who startles herself/realizing the woodpile beneath the black oak is itself formerly a tree/and she wants to know whether these trees have feelings/it’s this acquaintance with death she so improves upon annually.

‘My Face Instead of Virgin Mary’ reveals profound empathy. My plain face instead of Virgin Mary/unable to relieve or heal you/What appears cradled in my arms/is only a loaf of rye/Why would you tell me things that hurt you?

Trudy, how do you find it so difficult/to accept my adulation/the way many French leaders can’t accept American Dominance in ‘We Were Blundering Around in the Darkness’ is viral. Jaswinder’s visual poem, ‘Denouement’, conjures up appalling, restive images. No rogue airliner’s sinister trajectory descending/merely the lovers lying asunder in the sudden certain post-coital disinterest.

Variegated juxtapositions of unlikely miens create bumpy effects. For instance, The blackened trunks of its forest in snow looking frigid as a barcode (Sunday, Sunday), All autumn we are unobtrusive as clean laundry left in a basket (Portrait of the Village), A snowfall so thick it is as if/the whole scene is coming over a faulty antenna (Portrait of the Village) I lie awake/and wait for the turbine/of your breathing/to whir steady and deep/until in your sleep/I feel simple again (If I persisted for Seven Lifetimes, I’d Spend Six of Them with You). Triggering fireflies become maniac synapses of the garden (Phantom Camera).

From gladiolas, to Chevys, thermodynamics, troposphere and nucleotides, anything is fodder for Jaswinder’s versatile poetic shebang. Phantom Camera, with its swamping sweeps on the absurdity of looking for reasons for fatalities, particularly impresses.

In ‘Federal Scene’, Jaswinder pens his love for the U.S. In the heady seconds in which a breeze would lift your cuff enough to expose an ankle, I wanted my dust mingled with yours forever. In ‘Course In General Linguistics’, his recoil, shaken by race shock, is tackled the Gandhian way: If I must be attacked, let it be by a rare pathogen/not by some yokel hurling Sand nigger at me/But I could barely blame him/all that concrete and glass/having fallen out of blue September/the god-awful, sand nigger sky/how it was his sky, and I wanted then to embrace him/and murmur, I understand, or I am sorry/or I want to stab you in my heart/meaning/How easy it is to wound/how much easier to be wounded.

The poems are besotted with American place names, and countless slang. It cuts its tracks through much tall-grass prose. Even granting that they are wilful choices, the book presents a final monochrome feeling. But the poetry here is genuine and affable.

gopikottoor@gmail.com

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