Book Review: Not in My Name: Selected Poems



Book Review:
Not in My Name: Selected Poems (1978-2017) 
by Subodh Sarkar, translated, edited and compiled by Jaydeep Sarangi.
Authorspress: New Delhi, 2018, 219 pages, ISBN: 978-93-86722-25-6

Reviewed by Bidisha Pal 

Junior Research Fellow, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT(ISM) Dhanbad, 
Email: bdshpaul6@gmail.com, ORCID: 0000-0001-9816-3841

An anthology of poems is like a bountiful dish; a feast to the eyes, to the ears and to the heart. According to Dylan Thomas, “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” (as cited in Price, 2013, p.94) The present book that is taken for review is the recently published Not in My Name: Selected Poems (1978-2017) by the Sahitya Academy Award Winner (2013) poet and president of "Kobita Academy, West Bengal" Subodh Sarkar and translated, edited and compiled by the ardent poet and translator Jaydeep Sarangi that drive us to those various emotions with its universal appeal, a broad range of topical allusions, ease of tonality and thematic variations. The book is a tribute to Mallika Sengupta, the poet's wife, and another promising poet after whose death an insurmountable void is left to Subodh. The poems are, however, a perfect intertwining of both subjective emotions and objective contemplation. In Blanka-Knotkova Capkova’s words:
 Jaydeep Sarangi, himself a poet, presents a unique translation of selected poems by Subodh Sarkar. Sarkar’s poetic discourse typically searches for non-traditional expressions- it is far from being sweet or populistic, often figured in irony (self-irony), paradoxes and sometimes raw metaphors which thematically connote socially critical issues. The poems provoke readers to relativise conventional categories and urge them to deconstruct, together with the author, traditional concepts of hierarchies, dichotomies and identities.
What could be a better start of an anthology of poems except with a poem of the poet itself? And that is what exactly the foreword of the book does. It initiates the tone of the book with a poem of Sarkar translated by Jaydeep Sarangi. The Foreword section by Sanjukta Dasgupta perfectly illustrates and prepares the foregrounding of a poetical journey. The carefully chosen words for the poet and his poetic endeavor make his comprehensibility even to any cursory pan-Indian reader. It blatantly expresses Sarkar's story-telling quality of poems that makes his ‘prose-poetry' unique and rare in academia. Sarkar himself says in an interview earlier "that many of his poems were anecdotal, but just because they tell a story is no reason why one should regard them as falling short of poetic." (Foreward, Dasgupta, 2018, p.7)
            Wordsworth (1800) has discussed the essence and language of poetry in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads; to him a poet should be able to communicate the feelings and emotions to re-create the original experience and the language of poetry should be free from the burden of poetic vocabulary and be of the language of a flesh-and-blooded common man as he shows in one of his poem called "Michael" (1800). Sarkar's poems also follow the language of the very common man; in each of his poem, he gives vent for the voice of the common men. There are in total 121 poems in the book that are carefully organized maintaining the veracity of theme and powerful expression. K. Satchidanandan aptly says, “Here is a set of poems that look at the world with a child's instinct for mischief, an adult's sense of humor and a philosopher's sense of paradox. Language here looks at reality with a squint, as it were, and reality confronts language with a sneer to make sure we live in a post-Modern world where irony becomes a world-view” (Sarkar, 2018, p.220).
Though denying to be tagged as "a socially committed poet" (S. Sarkar, personal communication, July 27, 2017), Sarkar strikes the chord of the crux of the very surrounding socio-political issues. Koushiki Dasgupta points out in her essay, "In Subodh Sarkar's poetry the spirit of anger and protest offers a counter perspective of poetic imageries divorced from the aesthetics of sophistication. It is here his poetry caters the need of historicity in post-colonial time when the essentialities of ‘high literature' were in question" (2018, p. 208). The poems translated by Jaydeep Sarangi in the first sections deal with a variety of themes like lovelessness, inhumanity, war, feminism, poverty, man-woman relationship in the modern alienated world that lends his poems an Eliotesque style. Some poems have striking titles like "Can I take Your Wife as a Loan?", "One Roti Only", "Biodata of a Dog", "Chopped Ear", "Burnt Rice", "On a blind Horse's Back", "Wife or Lover", " Petty Words through a Petty Mouth", "Ahh", "Mosquito", and "The New Shah Rukh Khan". Notable in this section poems like "One Roti Only", "Joke", "Chopped Ear", "Kiss", "Land", "Night", "Story", "Burnt Rice", "For a New Woman" and "Blind Horse's Back" have shorter structures (some of these are four liners, three liners, even two liner poem) and remind us of Japanese ‘haiku' or ‘limericks' of Edward Lear. Some set up the humorous tone as in "Kiss": "Buddha in the Bed Room, so is Lenin, so is Marx, my dear/ I cannot kiss you; please remove at least one from there" (Sarkar, 2018, p.40) or in "Gandhi": "Gandhi was standing in the quiet dusk light/ on the Yamuna/ He has grown thinner/ He muttered, ‘You're not able to give me a patch of land to stand?/He forwarded two steps left/ Three steps right, then knocked his stick on the ground/ Then he started walking along dark India, away from Yamuna." (Sarkar, 2018, p.65) Others are more tragic, grave and deeper in tone and bring out pathos mingled with satire and irony. While "Sita", "Sari", "Tista", "See I am growing up Mommy", "Mothers of Manipur" express the tragic helplessness of women, "The New Shah Rukh Khan", "Burnt Rice", "Mussolini", "Ant Eggs" show to what extent the cruel clutches of poverty can have on men.
            Poems in the second section are taken from Route Map 25 and translated by Fakrul Alam. Poems in this section combine both prosaic tonality and poetic aestheticism. Poems like "I am Nobody's Darkness", "Intensive Care Unit", "The Boy and the Girl", "China", "God", "I am Feroza, an Indian Girl" and "Gujrat" have long conversational tone of a story written in free verse and run-on lines with range of ideas but with a central focus on larger socio-political context. A number of allusions to Bhagirathi, Baharampur, India, Israel, London, Lahore, Central Avenue, Kolkata, Howrah, New York, Moscow, Confucius, China, Beijing, Ahmadabad, Narmada, Russia, Bolivar, Kohima, Kovalam, Delhi, Goa, Punjab, Bible, Nietzsche etc. tend to concretize the essence. Poems in the section are spatial in nature but Sarkar's poems surpass the spatiotemporal necessity to get universalized.
            The third section starts with a lengthy poem "Rambabu" in which Sarkar addresses the mythic hero Ram as a human being and jokingly says, "If you meet Valmiki/ Tell him to revise Ramayana/ before the next edition goes/to the press" (Sarkar, 2018, p.128). Likewise, in Birth of Goddess Saraswati", Saraswati is no Goddess but a girl who dances. Poems in this section are translated by Swapan Chattopadhyay and again acquire a story-telling method. Short poems like "Mother", "Mr. Horizon", "Blind" and "Subhasda" keep intact the grave sense of the longer poems. There is a brilliant use of anaphora in the poems "Dust" and "Palestine Israel".
            The fourth, fifth and sixth sections are polyphonic continuums of translators translated by Carolyn Brown, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Ashes. K Chatterjee, Subho Chatterjee, Kalyan Dasgupta and Sharmila Roy are again a play on the varieties of topical allusions. Poems like "Bread" and "Susmita Sen" throw questions on the vast difference between fiction and reality. The poems in this section create cross-cultural contexts between local and global. Poems are mostly longer and deal with contemporary problems of identity and existential crisis. Steeped with irony and surrealism, "Sigh", "The Kind of Wife We Want", "Three Poor Boys and a Butterfly", "Mr. Sorrow", "Kallu", "Marilyn Monroe in Sealdah", "Cricket", "Come, Let's go to Afghanistan" and "Hey, You, Shut Up, Saala!" have the recurring motifs of the ugly everyday faces of poverty, penury and hypocrisy that lie hidden under the pomp and splendor of cultural metaphors of society.
            The sixth section is a unique one as poems are translated by the poet himself. There a lot of inter-lingual and intra-lingual as well as inter-culture and intra-cultural transmissions take place. The poems deeply reflect the poet's inner urge and psyche. The poet assumes to be a modern Flaneur who stays and sees over everything but remains detached; however, sometimes his choric commentaries come out with the occasional tinge of subjectivity. Most of the poems are entitled in the name of countries like "Nepal", "Bangladesh", "China", "Burma" and "Good Morning, India". Notable in the poems Sarkar replaces the first person singular "I" with the small letter "i" that manifests his signature style.
            The anthology is rounded up with an essay by Koushiki Dasgupta and an Interview with the poet- sections that tend to make the poetic journey complete. The book is a brilliant reading and provides food for thought for a beginner of Sarkar's poetry. It seems to re-create a revolutionary zeal of the second generation Romantic poets. Mallika, his wife has her unseen presence in some poems like "India Pakistan", "Ahh" which reveal deep-seated emotion of the poet's heart. In poetic translation, Singh shows in his article, "language is used metaphorically" (2014, p.11). This book seems to be a well-knit outcome of a vested mutual interface between the author and the translators who have done a commendable job. Translation makes the "spoken rhythm" (Frost as cited in Foreword, Dasgupta, 2018, p.10) of Sarkar's poems alive no in any way marring their aesthetic and free flowing of the verse of the originals. As Dasgupta says, Sarkar's poems are "pleasantly translator friendly" (Foreward, 2018, p.10). Some Words like Rajbanshi Ma, Roti, Dhoti, Saala, Raja, Ganesh, Bidi, Swami, Charyapada, Khaini are left untranslated; some of them are glossed and explicated in footnotes for the comprehensibility of the foreign readers. In a way, it carries the flavor of both domestication and foreignization of language and culture. Dasgupta says that Sarkar's poems bring together "the dreamer and the doer through lines that provoke the reader to think and read between the lines, either in the original or in translation" (Forward, 2018, p.11). There are some printing issues in the spelling of some words like ‘whim', ‘Smokv', ‘pu6liciv', ‘mv' that do not carry any proper sense and secondly, some poems ("China", "Palestine Israel", and "India Pakistan") are repeated twice. Except for these minute mistakes, the book does not suffer from any typographical error as such. The anthology is one of the rare collections of modern Bengali poems in translations that are so slender in number and should be a must-read for everyone who loves poetry and takes pleasure in reading poetry.


Reference:
Dasgupta, K. (2018). Poetic of resistance: Locating Subodh Sarkar's poetry of power. In J. Sarangi (Eds.), Not in my name: Selected poems (1978-2017) (pp. 203-210). New Delhi: Authorspress.
Dasgupta, S. (2018). Foreword. In J. Sarangi (Eds.), Not in my name: Selected poems (1978-2017) (pp. 203-210). New Delhi: Authorspress.
Price, S.D. (Eds.). (2013). The little black book of writers' wisdom. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
Singh, A. K. (2014). Translation studies in the 21st century. Translation Today. 8(1), 5-44.
Wordsworth, W. (1800). Preface to lyrical ballads. Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems. (2nd ed.), (pp. 1-14). London: Printed for T.N. Longman and O. Rees by Briggs and Co.
Sarangi, J. (Interviewer) & Sarkar, S. (Interviewee). (2018). Hunger for me was a Holocaust Conversation with Subodh Sarkar [Interview Transcript]. Not in My Name: Selected Poems (1978-2017) (pp. 211-218). New Delhi: Authorspress.

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