Review by Anjana Basu

Singing in the Dark
A Global Anthology of Poetry under Lockdown
Edited by K Satchidanandan & Nishi Chawla
Penguin India
₹ 499.00 INR

Nightingales we all know sing at their best in the dark -that possibly applies to poets as well. This signature collection of poetry that relates to the strange times in which we collectively live has been edited by noted poet K Satchidanandan and author Nishi Chawla. In keeping with the wide sweep of the pandemic, the book includes verses by over a hundred poets from across six continents written in 20 languages which have been translated into English.

Of course, poetry has always been written in times of unrest and the most is written as a form of protest. Strange times have always bred verse and lockdown and a global virus is in actuality a reversal to a situations that poets like Dante and Donne were very familiar with as they skipped in and out of the contagion of plague and smallpox. And of course, many have written poems in prisons of all sorts. Lockdown has even been compared to an Aung San Su Kyi scenario for a better tomorrow staying imprisoned for the world’s good in the hope that the pandemic will disappear. Though yes, it has directly distanced man from man in a more urgent way than smallpox and plague did since in those bygone days the source of the contagion was unknown and the dichotomies of social distancing are hard to erase. So, for that matter is the new metaphor that masks have acquired instead of veiling out true nature through deceit, they are the new shields of protection in the topsy turvy world order called the new normal.

Anjana Basu
Moods as in any book of verses by different poets vary – from direct anguish at being prisoners without bars to indirect musings on what has vanished from life with a certain kind of celebration in between since the Coronavirus has also rolled the world in blue skies and cleaner air. Nature as one poet writes is against us since the virus is a manifestation of the natural world rather than the speculations of biological warfare. Experiences also vary – those who never did housework before have taken up the broom and the mop and celebrated the superiority of the vanished household help through aching muscles.

There is a plethora of rhyme and rhythm and forms such as aubades which are not so widely used these days– lockdown, after all has favoured many in their lyrical musings, with undercurrents of Marquez and Love in the time of Cholera. But then, as we are all aware, Shakespeare wrote King Lear in plague times and presumably the experience heightened the aching sense of helplessness and loss as the experience has inspired these very diverse poets.

This very streamlined anthology includes poets of the calibre of Vijay Seshadri, Grace Cavalieri, Arundhati Subramaniam, George Szirtes, Chandrakant Patil, Anamika, Francis Combes, Rafael Soler, Jerry Pinto and Ashok Vajpayee, though, quite naturally there are more poets of Indian origin since gathering verses from across the globe was naturally a yeoman task, laudably performed. 

In many cases the writers have built up houses of memories peopled with angels as well as demons contrasting what was with what is and reiterating that ‘nothing is but what is not’.

Making it a collection that lovers of poetry – as well as recorders of history – will want to include in their libraries.

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