Outward from Inner Things: a review of "Of Ashes and Persiflage"

Review by Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Title: Of Ashes and Persiflage
Author: Aneek Chatterjee
Page: 84
ISBN: 978-81-8961948538-3-1 (Paperback)
Edition: (2020)
Published by Hawakal Publishers, Calcutta, New Delhi India.

 Aneek Chatterjee is a poet and academic from Kolkata. He has been published in various reputed literary magazines and anthologies across the globe. Of Ashes and Persiflage are his third collection of poetry after Seaside Myopia (2018) and Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison (2019). Writing poetry is an intensely personal experience while putting it out for the world to read is quite the opposite and poet Aneek Chatterjee explores juxtapositions akin to these and more---some very corporal, some very metaphoric—in Of Ashes and Persiflage. The title “Of Ashes and Persiflage” has a magnetic pull because of the element of drama in it. According to the poet,” many of these poems were first published in reputed literary journals in the U.S.A., U.K., South Africa, Mauritius, Singapore and India. These are unrhymed poems, composed in free verse” (Introduction). It is his response to stimuli but one good thing about this form is that if one continues to evolve and hopefully Chatterjee is, then there is a richer texture to one’s response even on a familiar stretch. In this collection, Chatterjee mixes love, despair and hope suggesting the binaries of individual identity and anonymity. He writes, “The train that slowly moved/past a dilapidated wall, / pink flowers, suddenly took/ a reverse gear” (“Dilapidated Wall”, 13). There is a neatness that adds rare verve to his poems. In “This Afternoon is Grey”(14) he writes, “This afternoon is grey/All lights were switched on early/I know every bit of this/surreal world, brown door, every bit…/But I never knew/I loved grey so much”(14). 

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

 The poet’s soft-focus is life, human life with its myriad hues, their substance liquefied in dappled tones. “I stitch words/for a ballad/& decorate these on my page/ When I open the page/It’s only a tabula rasa” (“Barren Page”, 15) exploring relationships between the self and words/stillness, breaking down his process of recreating an intimate moment in his poetry and often stretching its infinitesimal capacity by testing emotional limits, Chatterjee has produced a body of poems that is minimal to the eye, yet profound in its layers of meaning. “I’m still flying/I’m still flying in danger/without energy & colour/you’re unable to/figure out” (“Coveted Seat”, 20) the poet thus captures a significant part of the breadth of human emotions. When Chatterjee writes, “The mirror survived,/but the piece of wood/broke down in shame/& the mirror stood alone, as always”(“Piece of wood”, 21) he tries to show how to live with oneself and to write in expressing the solitude one has to tear away until one is left with oneself.

 Some of his poems are buoyed with quizzical humour---‘you idiots made a hue and cry/over my health, fought over me, / but could not save me’ (“Fossil”, 22). There is a swift gliding when he writes “Summer gone, rains /came/But the sky remained/blue” (“Blue in Rains”, 23), feather-light bristles that arrest words in dense splotches at places---favouring in both cases, chance over life. At the other end of the spectrum is his poem “About time & pride” (24), very sharp, feisty and a fey stylization ideal for telling stories. The paradoxes in his vision are fashioned much after what the average human being also experiences, thereby making Of Ashes and Persiflage intensely relatable in their emotional quotient. Sometimes Chatterjee’s canvas reflects hope in the form of uninterrupted and calming colours—“The colour I see gets coloured/according to my desire, my wish/my ego, my people” (“Colours”, 35), the poet thus strips down the range of human emotions through colours and textures.

 “Not easy to sleep/in ruins/the debris, the holocaust/ come back in short naps,” (“Ruins, 32), the poet thus makes a familiar experience seem a little too extraordinary. What one finds most intriguing in Chatterjee’s poems is an attempt to arrest a moment of truth in a tasteful manner. Life isn’t static. Each day has something to offer. Of Ashes and Persiflage has captured that. Certain poems help him to make sense of his situation. He wrestles for nuance by wrenching words and woes like “I wasn’t in my senses/ and longed for/ a glass of water” (“Mythology of Mind”, 40). Some poems like “Green Packets’, (44) dip into his emotional deposits, other poems like “The Music” (47) document the demotic. The poet however teases the medium into drier, speckled textures in his best work, “Of Ashes and Persiflage” (46). “Chair looks at the corpse/for one last time, and status/Belongings, wealth and/ego each in persiflage/The fire is waiting,/ time is waiting, and the ultimate ash,/to embrace all hankers, ladder, perfume/and vanity: you and me”.(46).‘Art teaches us to see into things’ Chatterjee’s collection Of Ashes and Persiflage allows us to see outward from within things.

 No doubt poetry is the outcome of very personal emotions and expressions. But only those which can make a perfect balance between the personal emotions and realities to represent the time both in eternity and temporal can be considered as true poetry. Chatterjee’s collection Of Ashes and Persiflage creates a perfect balance between personal emotions and his surrounding realities. The beautiful book cover by Bitan Chakraborty is an added embellishment. Hope that this particular collection of Aneek Chatterjee’s poetry pushes Hawakal Prokashona to key stronger poetry collections. The future will be in a better position to answer this.

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