Poetry Books

This was not designed to please you: Review of Jerry Pinto’s ‘I Want a Poem and Other Poems’

Jerry Pinto experiences himself through his poems, which look at themselves, and in turn, at the poet. His gaze is prosaic, almost dispassionate. The poet-figure reveals himself in a matter-of-fact way. There is plenty he dislikes about himself and he has a lot to say about his follies and foibles. In that, he is quite unlike the Romantic poet adoring and flagellating himself at the same time.

I Want a Poem and Other Poems is a conversation between the different selves of Pinto — some of them presumably his past and future versions. The poems in this collection are decidedly modern; they progress through grief, loss and the ensuing period of self-reflection. A line from the poem ‘Grief’ speaks for the collection: “This script was not written to please you/ This edit wasn’t designed to ease you.”

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Watching itself

Pinto takes on the theme of loving and leaving with similar conversational nonchalance. A line from the poem ‘Loving, Leaving’ reminded me of Neruda: “I loved you and you loved me too”. But the similarity is only incidental.

This was not designed to please you: Review of Jerry Pinto’s ‘I Want a Poem and Other Poems’

Pinto’s poem stays wrapped in its temporality, watching itself happen. As in the course of the poem, the poet falls out of love, he welcomes back his old self with brazen admonition: “Hi, you swine, make yourself comfy”. He poses to himself the age-old conundrum of love with easeful simplicity: “So could it be that I invented you/ As not-me and so contented myself/ With a tenement in your otherness?” Most love poems would shy away from the admission Pinto makes unabashedly: that a part of you is happy for the leaving, despite the loving.

‘Night Lines’ is another poem that merits attention because of the way it deals with selfhood — “me-ness”, as the poet puts it. In this one, he talks to himself and to you. Poetry is like sex, he says, with the same “dissolution”, “delight”, “expectations” and “detritus”. Therefore, poetry too should be made in bed — a conceit that would have made Donne proud. Poetry and sex lend themselves to conjecture, romanticisation and yearning: but for Pinto both represent shoddy progressions of “me-ness”. At the threshold of his self-awareness, he “plan[s] to die” (reminiscent of the pun on die — to climax — so frequent in Elizabethan poetry), as all things must, stripped of drama or fanfare. He grabs the poem by the scruff before it can spiral out of control, and then watches it “curl up” between his pillow and the wall.

The imagistic quality of the poems gives them a cinematic feel. For instance, in ‘My Biggles Moment’, “Breathes there/ The man with balls so dead, who hath not/ Chugged raw eggs…” Biggles, for the uninitiated, is the titular character of W.E. Johns’ adventure series. The poem is a meditation on the children’s book brand of manhood and the poet’s aspiration towards the same. He desires the machismo that can thwart “sunburned death”, complete with a bobbing Adam’s apple, a buddy, and an enemy. Are we to sympathise with this desire, question it, or pity it? He does not say. Like any good poetry, Pinto’s pieces leave enough room to house the reader’s projections.

Precariously poised

The other reflection on manhood, a vignette titled ‘On Seeing a Friend’s Post Featuring a Young Man in a Bespoke Suit on His Way to His Standard Ten Farewell Party’, is very different in that it captures the bumbling innocence of an adolescent on the brink of adulthood, poised precariously in the moment before the inevitable betrayal — like Abhimanyu, David, Puru, Eklavya and Nachiketa, all of whom are invoked in the poem.

In a rare dramatic poem, a “burning body” is tossed down metal stairs (‘Backstairs, Elphinstone College’). The body is his own and the act is lauded with wry humour as a “Romantic Gesture.” The stairs descend into the past, in a visual march through time and love.

Pinto expends much of the collection’s tenderness in ‘Today My Mother is in the Audience’ and ‘Will You Miss Me?’, which offer a sweet, sentimental departure from the rest.

I Want a Poem and Other Poems; Jerry Pinto, Speaking Tiger Books, ₹299

The reviewer is a freelance journalist.

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