Poetry that’s cocooned in illusions of the poet’s own penning.
The first impression the book offers is that Ankur Betageri is a young infatuated man who is already hunting his girls. In that bliss and madness, poetry is his love-gun. Ankur works as assistant editor at the Sahitya Akademi, and we have quite a few ‘let me pat your back’ acclamations. H.S. Shiva Prakash does the introduction ‘while under the spell of Ankur’s poetry’. Michelle Cahill spots ‘Tagorean and Whitmanesque grace’. But her Tagore surely needs a revisit, the way Ankur goes on with his cu** poem that imitates the beat poets — ‘ah, happy cu** of the great Indian middle class!’ K. Satchidanandan yields as usual, quickly fishing phrases from here and there, to please. He sees in the poems ‘meditations on existence’ with an ‘enchanted universe of men, women, trees, birds, and stones’. We also have U.R. Anandamurthy dropping in to say that Ankur is ‘in the A.K. Ramanujan line’. Now, are the good times really over?
Ankur’s poetry presents a college-goer’s butterfly chase. He is trying to get at his own voice, and considering that he is just 30, he still has enough time. Ankur must take heed of real poetry happening all over, even as he cocoons himself in the illusions of his own penning. His strengths include an agile deftness with words, alongside hard hitting poetical prose, with arresting, interesting sparks. Presently, Ankur has limited his themes to infatuation, girls, sex, poetry, love-doubts, nature, modern inanity, and the metro, with an uncanny vanilla peevishness to top it all. Ankur just about admits it too — ‘I write, and when you call it poetry, I am all surprise’. We are easily surprised too. His weaknesses include his fly-over statements, limitations of theme, and his predominating subjectivity. The ‘I’ element in many of the poems makes them much too personal, often fencing him in within the orbit of personal statements and observations. He’ll do well to off-load his subjectivity, and externalise his poetry.
Easily, Ankur’s best poem in the collection is ‘Contained In Her’: But her change astonishes like spring. Her exuberance, still unexpected. Like Jacaranda blooms. Sunbeam injected. The poem ‘Sparks’ is dismal. His attempts at creating Basho-like effects appear strained. Is it the sunshine on grass that shimmers, or my tears of delight? or Climbing the steep face of the mountain, the horse loses its carriage.
In one poem, Ankur says, “The first rule of poetry is never to take yourself too seriously”. But he also wishes to be heard. If Ankur is pretty serious, he’ll do well to not expect his readers to lap up everything he has written. He must measure the depth of his poems with due respect, to elevated standards of excellence set in the art and craft of poetry. Ankur says in his foreword, “Poetry comes only to those who make the highest demands of life”. True. Truer, poetry must pass the test of the highest demands of its craft. It cannot be left loose or profuse to the extent of tearing itself chaotically to shreds.
The poem ‘Evening at Tagore Park’ has a rousing last line: old footsteps, gasping, sink like sobs. A touch of Poe brightens in what should I call the ends of these roads which begin again as I end in them. Swinburne softly echoes in smiling bluebells are amused at my utterances; which cannot mean as much as their blueness could. Keats steps in with a sensuous surprise: sparkle of shrubberies like a sudden turn of phrase’ (Spring). As a first book of poems in English, Ankur’s book fires its salvos, yes.
A light blue x-ray image of the poet’s skull appears on the back cover that adds to our interest in the poet. Hemant Divate of Poetrywala deserves praise for his sustained efforts in bringing forth remarkable Indian English poetry editions, and for laying them at par with international imprints.