Poetry Wire Books

Married to birdsong

You can’t have near 100 poets writing excellent poetry, can you?

Since I am doling out advice rather freely these days, I find publishers also need inputs. Guys, if you’re publishing anthologies, don’t appoint Virat Kohli as editor. Poetry anthology? He will drop John Milton. So, goodbye to ‘Lycidas’ and ‘Il Penseroso’. Cricket? Bye bye Ponsford, Headley, Learie Constantine. Bradman he won’t drop, for he just might equate himself with the Don. He took a team to Zimbabwe that included off spinning all-rounder Parvez Rasool. We Kashmir-watchers always felt that one way to win the Valley over is to have a Kashmiri playing for India. But Virat dropped him in all the five ODIs. Then he made Karun Nair sit out 49 days.

Advice for poets: don’t write your own introductions — quite unnecessary, and usually the ego slips in. Ego bherry bherry sleepery bird, as our friends in the East put it.

Absolute free will

Satyajit Sarna in his recent volume Profane sticks to poetry. No intro-shintro. The publishers don’t waste a word on his bio. We don’t know where he lives, what he studied, if he has a family or is shacking up with someone. Nothing. But there is his poetry, and it’s riveting.

Poetry today is moving from a sort of determinism (by which I mean poems plotted and planned) to absolute free will. We find a girl who irons her first boyfriend’s shirts, and is then floating on her back in moss-lined river water. When he tells her of his uncle’s death, she floated in a spiral, hair a halo, and said, god bless/ all the living and the dying and that every Parsi was raised in the fear/ of extinction. Then he hears about her suicide. She walked out in the fields in the Midlands winter/ and lay down./ Cold earth, big slate sky… Death lived with her, caressed her hair and so on.

He has bleak poems moving into death, or life that is meaningless. While the Delhi poems are run of the mill, some later poems are memorable, like ‘New England’, ‘Full Fathoms Five’ which scoffs at our “stretched and parched mortality” and ‘Botticelli’s Annunciation’ where the angel Gabriel raises his god-empty eyes to the Madonna.

A big anthology called Equiverse Space edited by Smeetha Bhaumik and others has just appeared from Women-empowered India. It contains good poems and indifferent poems, you can’t have near 100 poets writing excellent poetry, can you?

It starts with a lovely poem by Priya Sarukkai Chabria called ‘Invocation: Spirit of Water’. This is followed by some fine poems from Anna Sujatha Mathai who was deservedly awarded the Kamala Das Poetry Prize instituted this year. Bhaumik, Meenakshi M. Singh, Shelly Bhoil (who lives in Brazil incidentally) have some strong poems.

Taseer Gujral’s poems touched me the most. But after the opening salvo one notices a decline. Some of the poets have been published in a foreign anthology called Half Baked Beans, which says it all. There is real passion here and indignation at women’s lot, which does not necessarily make for good poetry. But then it’s a male reviewer saying that.

Namdeo Dhasal wrote something like this on behalf of Dalits. Take Megha Rao’s poem, ‘Identity’. At the bus stop men watch her face and then slide their eyes down/ undressing me in their heads. Later she says she is a commodity manufactured to elicit male desire, a part of 21st century pornography.

In a poem, ‘Burning Bones’, Rao has a line, I was born as a war for women’s rights — odd grammar and equally odd declaration. Eisha Sarkar writes, I am the daughter/ of mountains high,/ I stand guard/ to defend and spy. Such poems should have been excised. I withdraw my earlier words. Anthologies need a Virat Kohli.

A symphony of the sea

Let us move to serenity of a kind, to Jonahwhale by Ranjit Hoskote, who could be dominating the Indian poetry scene for quite some time. Ruth Padel calls the book “a symphony of the sea in three great movements”. The first movement starts surprisingly at Churchgate Station. As he sets out without a compass, he reaches the sea. At the wharf, the sailor’s wives/ were singing the last song of whales. Then you move into myth and Ahab.

The book is exceedingly ambitious, and Hoskote carries it off with élan. What hit me was the extent of his learning. And he can be profound: Countries are working hypotheses that sometimes fail, he says to Somalian exile Nuruddin Farah. ‘The Poet’s Life’ is a beautiful poem: He married birdsong/ He talked to parrots in Greek.

Hoskote’s poems are always giddy with language — Ahab Saturned to stone;guano archipelagos;accordion sky; Islands sand-wrought, storm-humped. Capital stuff.

But come to the second movement Padel talked about. Here I must be true to my dharma. A reviewer carries his vitriol with him like old scribes their inkpots. No trench coat saves me from the scattershot rain/ that pelts me. Then we have nebula of traffic; militant amber light of the signal; bombing runs. Come off it Ranjit, you don’t need this hyper lingo for just a pillion ride in Poona rain!

The writer is a poet and novelist.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 11:42:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/married-to-birdsong/article25218562.ece

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