Review of Rachel Bari’s “Body, Mind and other poems"

Body, Mind and other poems 
Rachel Bari
Signorina Publications, New Delhi
ISBN : 978-81-945657-2-7
Price: ₹ 249.00 INR
Pp -73

Review by Shweta Rao Garg

Rachel Bari’s poetic offering is replete with ruminations on her lived experience as a woman. Bari, though a professor of English, deliberately strives for simplicity of language and thought rather than using obtuse scholarly jargons. As a result, her volume of 45 verses delights in its conversational, matter-of-fact observations on a range of themes related to “mind” like writing, creation, language, gender politics and “body” like motherhood, love, ageing, and, even death. Many of her poems from the collection evaluate her own uneasy relationship, as an Indian feminist, with the Euro-American brand of feminism. Sometimes there is a spark of rebellion, and sometimes painful acceptance of conventions, and yet sometimes, subversive attempt to negotiate her life vis-à-vis patriarchy. 

Shweta Rao Garg
The volume opens on thoughts on writing poetry itself. “Denial” speaks of how writing is cathartic – 

Tracing a thought onto paper
Is a miraculous act
Like letting out blood,
Like clotting, Like healing. 

Many metatextual verses depict the poet’s complex, and sometimes conflicting, world view. There is a pleasure of intimacy in the act of writing. And yet, it is a painful act. If weighing words is difficult, not being able to express her thoughts instills fear. If the Muse seems like an overbearing slave driver in “The Muse of Creativity”, the same is later depicted as a temptress “Never to be yours forever” in “The Temptress”. There seems to be a shadow of Dickinson’s in her “Language Again”. 

The punctuations I learnt as a child
Do not equip me as an adult
My sentences do not begin with a capital
Nor does it end with a period
it begins with a comma
which teeters as though at an edge

As a poet, she wishes to own language, the ever-elusive medium of her expression. She craves to dwell snugly in the realm of the language only to realize how ill-equipped she is - “For my thoughts have no tongue/ This tongue is alien.” Perhaps her self-consciousness makes her writing so relatable. It ceases to be about a moment filtered by her thought; it becomes about the collective experiences of women.   

She embraces all the ironies of motherhood. Be it “I request…my son” or “Adieu”, she metes out a detailed set of instructions in the event of her own passing to her son. Her child may not bear her name, but he shall live actualizing his mother’s passion and compassion.  One of the most touching poem in the collection, “From mother to her son, she has a few thought-provoking questions for her little one, 

For every little animal which is helpless
Do you feel compassion?
For every new season of dew
Do you marvel?
For every new moon
Do you remember to run for your camera?
Do you feel anger for every branch chopped
And tree uprooted?

In her poems, motherhood emerges as one of those spaces where the divide between the mind and body merges into one indistinguishable whole. Her child is not only created from her body but is also an extension of her thoughts. It is only apt that the “Postlude” of the collection has a couple of poems penned by her young son. The mother’s book seems to cradle her child’s creations. 

More often than not, in Body, Mind and other poems, being a woman of letters is depicted as a disconcerting journey. The dichotomy between being and becoming, expectations and reality, sounds and silence is all too rife in women’s lives for Bari to ignore it. In “I and i”, she admits, “I am tough, capable, unafraid/ I decide, solve, organize,” but then, “i shudder, shy away, weep/ i am afraid.” Bari’s own subjective position as a Christian punctuates poems like “Faith” and “Slither”. In the latter, she talks about women trying to deal with the exile that began with the banishment of the Eden. Although man has freed himself, woman still struggles “to see that she exists.” If woman is a “Rock” she is also “Water Woman”. She contains multitudes. The following lines, redolent of Helene Cixous, are from “Water Woman”

Pour me into any container  
I remain
The shape of the vessel.

I am water,
I am woman
I shall not be contained.

For Bari, the authenticity of feelings is the most important in poetry. She would bare herself, without a façade or a charade and she declares “I prefer not being known/ To being known differently”. She is purportedly not ambitions, as “game of fame is one” she does not play. She upholds her words and her verses without the ostentations of craft or rhetoric. She maintains that “rational poetry does not bring tears.” 

As a reader, I am acutely aware that these poems come from a place of feeling rather than of reason. Emphasis on emotions seems to be the most distinguishing aspect of Bari’s work. There is no theatrics involved. She does not ascend on the stage performing for the readers - there is no desire to sparkle through wit, or charm with stories, or even shock by confessions. I visualize the poet in her own drawing-room, on a relaxed day sharing tea with her readers, her fellow empaths.  The collected poems of Body, Mind and other poems comes across to me as unpretentious, moving, and authentic. A tender, humane connection is sought from the readers which, I am sure, the readers shall bestow on their own accord.

***

Reviewer’s Bio: Shweta Rao Garg is an Associate Professor of English at DA-IICT, Gandhinagar.  She was awarded the Fulbright Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) in 2010. Her co-edited volume, The English Paradigm in India: Essays in Language, Literature and Culture was published by Palgrave in 2017.

Her research papers have been published in journals like Postcolonial Text, Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC), Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, In-Between: Essays and Studies in Literary Criticism, Journal of School of Languages etc.

She is also a visual artist. Her artwork can be browsed at www.shwetaraogarg.com



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