Book Review: A Trellis of Ecstasy by Lily Swarn

Name of the Book:                  A Trellis of Ecstasy
Genre:                                     Poetry
Author:                                    Lily Swarn
Publisher:                                Authorspress New Delhi India
Year of Publication:                2017
ISBN:                                      978-93-86722-45-4
Pp.:                                          235
Price:                                       ₹ 395.00  US$ 20.00

Reviewer:                                WaniNazir, Pulwama, J&K (India)

Dark clouds of miseries and deprivation cast in the sky of human life come always with some silver linings. People afflicted with dolour and grief often turn out as the most creative amongst their race. Or to say more precisely, angst has creative perks. Aristotle too echoed the same "that all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art... even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus". This belief was versified by Milton in his poem, Il Penseroso:

Hail, divinest melancholy
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight

The veneration of gloom was catapulted to its logical acme by Keats by asking, "Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and trouble is to school of intelligence?”

“A Trellis of Ecstasy” by Lily Swarn, too, is an outpouring of a bruised soul rendered in shards by the strong buffets of pain and agony - the arrows and slings that racked the very being of the author deep down. But like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, the angst paid dividends by bodying forth poetry, the eternal lines, out of the creative womb of Lily Swarn the same way an oyster exudes a pearl out of sea-sediments after experiencing the harrowing travails. The plumes of pain in her case transmuted into 'soft rain' that 'drenched' the 'innards and a dam broke’:

A sigh sneaked out from my heart's rubble
And mingled with the monsoons
Tempest thrashed against jagged cliffs
And washed ashore the breakers.
(From Preface of the Book)

Lily Swarn, despite having scads of blanks, a horde of sorrows, wringing her very petite soul with paroxysms of grief and loss, strides along like a Titan:
Let me for once stand tall
Despite my diminutive stature
Allows me to stride like a Titan

It is the creative encounter and engagement that comes handy to the author to hitch the wagon of her life from the quagmire of angst. She elsewhere says, "In the past five years, reading and writing alone saved me from going mad with grief". And “Trellis of Ecstasy”, a host of her brain children, proves to be an escape hatch for her to exterminate the brute of grief. She has employed poetry to see life in an all-encompassing vantage to embrace joy and sorrow and barter gratitude in lieu of the joyful moments and innumerable bounties life brings along with itself. As she writes in one of her poems, ‘Forgive Me’ I read on the Facebook timeline of the author:

Forgive me
Forgive me if I say
Life is such a precious gift
When the spotted sparrow
Nuzzles her tender fledgling
In the precarious toxic fumes.

The book, adorned with 140 poems, is divided into seven sections: The Prize Winning Poems, Conversation with my Soul, Nature Poetry, Love, Spontaneous Ponderings, Portraits, and Alliterations. Variegated themes have been put across through the poems the book contains.
The poem, 'My Story' being the semblance of the same titled autobiography by Kamala Das, the cry and anguish of the poetess is blatantly heard, the same quarry of pain and anguish experienced by the invisible piercing bullets patriarchy aims at women as vociferated by Kamala Das, Gayatri Spivak, and the ilk. The echoes of the lines from Kamala Das’s poem, ‘Introduction’:

With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours

reverberate so vehemently in the poem:

I write about a lump of clay
That pretends to be something more
This squeamish terror stricken
Wide eyed lost soul
Scoffing at its own limitations
And fist fighting its dejections
Blundering into arenas
Never trodden before in tight jeans

The expression ‘the lump of clay’ connotes the ephemeral nature of flesh. The chic and pomp of earthly life is targeted. The poetess metaphorically by the device of Swiftan irony lashes out at the human pride and haughtiness.

The poet succeeds in evolving and establishing Gothic mise en scene in the poem ‘Amavasya’.  We discern how the poet, as if accompanying, hand in hand, Horace Walpole or Clara Reeve, has struck a morbid note of murkiness when she says:

It was dark
As dark as Amavasya
No moon night hurling stones

Men are considered as supreme and this is what the poetess ironically paints with an artistic brush.

How easy it is to be misled into believing
That men are god’s gift to mankind

The women as the poet exposes their wounds in raw are the instrument like the strings of a guitar:

…like women
Perfectly sculpted puppets dangling on strings

In 'Smothered in the Cul De Sac', the poetess has made allusions to the Romantic tragedies of Shakespeare and Robert Greene:

The confetti of loves
Lost in Time’s cruel twisted
Lanes in Delhi’s ancient walled city

The poem makes abundant use of the device of imagery. The odyssey of love has been curtailed revealing the pessimistic and hapless approach of the poet:

The road stopped here
There was no beyond
The showers of blossoms
Went to their graves

In the poem 'Frost’ the poet has deplored the obstacles that an artist is beset with while making art very artful. The poet weeps over the impediments faced by an artist in bringing about certain reformation. The poet complains:

Icy fingers of indifference
The silence between two humans
A frosty shuddering gloom

The image of frost has been used the way Coleridge has used it in ‘Frost at Midnight’, a symbol of a frozen world where the subject matter of poetry remains static, the way it has been used as a symbol of obstacle in Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness”. The unfathomed silence and chill has plummeted down all the sinews of the poet that has left her in eerie petrification:

Buds shriveled before blooming
Under the frost of wintry burning
Droplets of rain on your window pane

But the poet does not shun the hope for a miracle in the midst of this frozen voyage of life as she is:

Waiting for the whip of spring 
To thaw my frost bitten heart

The note of this optimism is as powerful as Shelley strikes in his ‘Ode to the West Wind’

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

In 'She', the women is treated with tenderness and devoid of any irony. The poem has enormous overtones of Mary Leaper’s ‘An Essay on Woman’:

Woman a pleasing but a short-lived flower
Too soft for business and too weak for power
A wife in bondage or neglected maid

In the poem, the essential goodness of a woman’s heart is brought to the surface. She has been called a clown by the poet only to expose that her credulity is suffering an undue advantage:

While trying out her Mama's high heels and lipstick like a clown
She is her own woman soon
Who will not bow to patronizing male superiority

The poem has the theme of gender role and how a woman is treated as the denizen of the third world, a subaltern, as stated by Gayatri Spivak in her influential essay, 'Can a Subaltern Speak?’

In 'I Died’, we see the poet targeting the pomp of human pride as something like a fist of sand, something ephemeral, the sunlight as if falling on morning mist, how the sliver coloring of the ferny floor hastes away soon,  and how our life on the planet is terribly evanescent:

I froze like
A moth on ice
Did you see the filtered 
Shades of sunlight
Bathing my aura?

Coming to the experimentation of forms and styles, the book has ‘a god’s plenty’. There are Free Verses, Tankas, Alliterative poems, Palindromes, Mesostic poems, Limericks, Roseate Sonnets, Tidlings that embellish the book to the nth degree, and is an attestation of the author’s prowess of making the forms her pen’s slave. Her foray into the realm of pain and annexation with the territory of despair makes her style and language take on a new timbre that rivets the reader’s attention and emotions to the verses so much so that the reader falls victim to ‘the alienation effect’ to use Bertolt Brecht’s phrase.

Let’s hope more literary creations from Lily Swarn in future.

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