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India-born poet wins Pulitzer

Swati Daftuar
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Vijay Seshadri
Vijay Seshadri

When it released, published by Greywolf, a small independent publishing house in Midwest America, Vijay Seshadri’s slim volume of poetry slipped under the radar, as poetry, ever beautiful, groundbreaking poetry, is often wont to do. Of course, Mr. Seshadri’s previous works had brought him both recognition and respect as a poet, and The Long Meadow , his second collection, had won him the James Laughlin Award.

A Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, though, awarded for his third volume, 3 Sections , brings Mr. Seshadri under the spotlight, highlighting his work for the world and underlining the power of his words. Mr. Seshadri's book was described by the Pulitzer committee as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless”. And 3 Sections , a volume that brings together varying forms and displays the ease with which Mr. Seshadri can play with words and rhyme and meter, is universal in its attempt at both the exploration of the human condition, and a philosophical, intellectual interrogation that turns the sight inwards.

Mr. Seshadri’s carefully chosen words explore the increasingly blurring lines between different mediums: when does prose flow into poetry, and when does a poem transform into prose? In ‘Pacific Fishes of Canada’, the middle section of the book, Seshadri attempts to ask these very questions, not by invoking them, but by displaying a complete confidence in the form this poem takes.

Though laced with a deeper, resonant quality, there is also humour in Sesashdri’s words, spun with a dry, almost quizzical wit. In Surveillance Report , he invokes an everyday radio programme, and writes, “Caller Y wants to share that my fearless candor has given her permission/to become utterly transparent herself./Thank you, Caller Y. Your inner light can be seen from here”.

He experiments with style and form, as well as the tone, like one would with spices, trying different combinations, with results that are both surprising and unusual. When he writes, “The soul/ Like the square root of minus 1/ is an impossibility that has its uses,” Seshadri displays the scope and universality of his work, and then, in other poems, like This Morning , he swings the pendulum towards the every day, mundane life.

Mr. Seshadri’s is the poetry we can understand and appreciate, and, more importantly, one that we need. The voices are our own, the introspection and questioning familiar. When, in his poem, Visiting Paris , the speaker says “I was wanted in Paris. Paris, astounded by my splendour/ and charmed by my excitable manner,/waited to open its arms to me,” it's not difficult to recognise this excitable manner he speaks of. The words hide beneath their visceral and beautiful appeal, world of irreverence, humour, thoughtfulness and familiarity.

The beauty of Mr. Seshadri’s words lies in their truth, and the Pulitzer, given to a “distinguished volume of original verse”, has found its rightful owner. 3 Sections includes short and long poems, as well as a prose lyric essay.


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