Resonance: English Poetry from Poets of Odisha

Rob Harle
Chittaranjan Misra, Jaydeep Sarangi, Mona Dash (eds.)
2019. Authorspress, New Delhi, India
p. 197 ISBN: 978-93-89615-03-6

Reviewed by Robert Maddox-Harle, Australia

It is wonderful to read poetry with specific parochial flavours, the world may now be a small place but that does not mean that artworks from different areas need to be homogenized. There has been considerable problems over the years, particularly  the post-colonial years in India of choosing to write in English, some believing that to do so is remaining  subservient to a colonial past. “Indian-English poetry has come of age and its readership has crossed the boundaries of borders and become global.” Many Indian poets writing today are “fusing aesthetics with political perspectives.” as this book clearly shows.

Odisha is a region of India on the East Coast just below Kolkata in the Bay of Bengal. Unlike many other Indian regions it does not have stereotype global prescence, such as Rajasthan for example, and is somewhat low key. This book is a selection of poems from Odisha poets writing in English, the sense of place that the poets evoke is not based on regionalism or nationalism, but a genuine feeling for the characteristics of the place they grew up in and where many still live.

The neologism “glocal” has been used to describe the situation where an individual still honours their local roots but does not shun the bigger global connections that have become available in all countries. Dr Mohapatra uses this notion to describe the poets selected in this anthology as an attempt to retain genuine local identity but to spread it far and wide to the rest of the world.

There are thirty two poets in this wonderful collection, which has tried to situate itself in the middle position between elitism and populism. I thoroughly enjoy reading poems which transport me to a very different place to that of my own early years. Nandini Sahu in her long poem, Growing up Amid the Ruins and the Rains, recalls her early years growing up in Udayagiri, her Utopia, a small town in central Odisha, below verses five, six and seven:

Rains were awful, power cuts for
weeks, incessant rains, mountain rains
with thunderstorm, eerie wind. Mother

was prepared with her kerosene stove
for a minimal meal of rice and dalma
with pickles and papadam, since her

soil-hearth was wet for days. The
open-drain in our courtyard, water
splashing, flooding like Mahanadi

The book has attempted to include both established and emerging poets and also poets of the Diaspora, which of course are still part of Odisha even though they may be living abroad, as does the editor Mona Dash. The editors need very little introduction as they are all well established poets and academics, the quality of this collection attests to their expertise as literary luminaries.

Many people are familiar with the famous Sun Temple in Odisha, with all its exquisite carvings, below is the full poem, The Sun Temple at Konarka by Niranjan Mohanty (p.109)

Between an argent shaft of sunlight
and darkness, it sleeps and wakes,
its muted stones roiled in a heap
of white whispers, flutter of absences.
The wheels broken beyond cure.
Etiolated gestures of dark dancers
demand a little love, a little solitude
to measure the immensity of their blood.
The wind, as usual, straggles the sand,
the century-wide mirror of our becoming.
Is grief a well where nights shed
their darkness, and days, their light?
A godless emptiness floats in the air
converting it into a convention of despair.
Between the jaded stare of stones
and an unknowable glare of silences
a father’s frozen tears shine like dew.
And a host of adept fingers bleed
at the unkind whimsy of a king.
Is the chronicler of history a dying thing?

When I first started reading and studying Indian-English poetry the name Jayanta Mahapatra (b.1928) kept coming up, for good reason, he laid the foundations for Indian-English poetry, and is an exceptional poet in any language.”Poets from Jayanta Mahapatra and Bibhu Padhi to Shanta Acharya and Rabindra K. Swain have paid attention to the diction of their poetry. They have perfected idioms which are supple and resonant.” (p. 8) This is a very important point, as we know poetry is not like writing or translating an engineering specification, the subtleties and imagery of each language make writing poetry in a different language just that much harder. Mahapatra has certainly perfected this transmutation, below the first verse of his poem, The Road (p. 67):

It’s not the road anymore
along which my mother sent me on errands.
Nor where dogs slept all day with one eye open,
their tails pestered by flies.
It’s not the road which chewed its lip indecisively
waiting for the future to be predicted.
Nor is it the road that steered me once
into the heart of one primeval garden.

As well as representing established and emerging poets Resonance also features, in memoriam, a number of poems by some Odisha poets no longer with us, below the first few lines of one such poet, Shankarshan Parida,  Super Cyclone in Orissa: (p. 181)

Nature’s malevolence
ravaged the land
when the Puja festival was in full swing.
The unprecedented cyclonic storm
along with tidal waves from the Bay of Bengal
created havoc
and the tormented and tortured people
underwent the trauma, anguish, horror and hazard
now writ large in their memory.
The vicissitudes of fortune
took away numberless victims to the other world
what to speak of beasts and birds.

Most poets featured in this anthology are bi-lingual, writing both in English and Odia, there are no translated poems. As the editors state: “This is not to deny the power of regional language translations, but this anthology is a humble beginning at bringing together poems in English from Odisha who have already made their voices audible through books, anthologies, web-journals, festivals, reviews, and social networking sites.” (p. 9) I believe the editors have done a remarkable job of achieving this, and have done so with a genuine sensitivity to the subtle problems of representing local creative works in a global context.

Resonance is not only a wonderful collection of poetry for poetry lovers world-wide but an excellent reference and representation of original Odisha poetry for scholars and students.

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