Poetry Reviews

Ganga and Yajnaseni, again: Review of anthology ‘Collegiality and Other Ballads’

The premise of Collegiality and Other Ballads is rather befuddling — here is a range of predominantly male writers pondering women’s experience of gender to establish the point that men shouldn’t be left out of feminist politics. Considering the book as a declaration of solidarity, its poetic merits can be discussed only on the assumption that it does not usurp the proverbial mic from women, trans and queer persons writing in their own voices. The editor, Shamayita Sen, briefly engages with this dilemma in the foreword: “I was concerned if the time is apt for a work such as this.”

The general air of the collection is of unmitigated tragedy, barring a few exceptions. To describe the female experience as a saga of sacrifice might be a homage to lived reality, but to confine it there is a misstep. A lot of poems thrum an undifferentiated tune as the same figures of Ganga and Yajnaseni tiredly relate the same experiences of womanhood: womb, fertility, emptiness.

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Perhaps we haven’t yet reached the stage where we can be unhesitatingly celebratory when talking of femaleness. That said, some poems on sacrifice and violation stand out — K. Satchidanandan’s ‘Non-Negotiable’, ‘Burnt Poems’ and ‘She, Inside Me’ add interesting variations. The voices of Alvin Pang and Amal Matthew Joseph are original. Non-binary poet Chand’s ‘My Gender’ also stands out for this reason: the piece daringly declares, “My gender is a crown of thorns… My gender makes me happy.”

The poems that bring out the intersectional aspect of the feminist movement are commendable too. Chandramohan Sathyanathan’s ‘Portrait of a Poet as a Young Woman’ brings together Black and Dalit women. Madhu Raghavendra’s ‘Conflict’ is a witty take on the concept of “sex strike.”

Several poems are addressed to mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers in a familial context, such as Soradeep Roy’s ‘For My Grandmother’ or Sumallya Mukhopadhyay’s ‘Myths In the Family.’ All of them are sincere and presumably personal portrayals of the titular characters.

Overall, the anthology has an eclectic cast of allies holding up mirrors to the lived experiences of women. However, the radical act of breaching language so as to connect it with feminist politics is a task best left to women.

Collegiality and Other Ballads: Feminist Poems by Male and Non-binary Allies; edited by Shamayita Sen; Hawakal Publishers; ₹450.

The reviewer is a freelance journalist.

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