BOOK REVIEW: Robert Maddox-Harle


Stitching A Home

by Basudhara Roy, 2021.

Red River Publishers, New Delhi, India.

ISBN: 978-81-950900-0-6, USD 9.99 INR 230

-Reviewed by Robert Maddox-Harle, Australia

Stitching A Home is a wonderful collection of poems which explores the idea of Home in its broadest sense. Home maybe a city in which one lived (or lives), it maybe a house which has become a home, it also maybe deep connections with others (children, parents, lovers) which sustain levels of emotional connection. As Basudhara says in her Preface: “What, however, makes them then [the poems] belong for me, is their shared aspiration to emotively configure the contours of home.

Basudhara also says publishing a new book of poems, “ ...is like sending children off to school for the first time.” I think this describes what most poets feel, poetry is not impersonal words like a scientific paper or journalistic article, it exposes the poet’s soul for the world to see and critique. It is most definitely like relinquishing constant care of young children to allow them to find their own way in the world.

The book has over fifty nicely crafted poems which are divided into three sections: 1 – I Sift The City, 2 – I’d Still Keep It, and 3 – It Takes Time. It runs to almost 100 pages and contains some lovely needlework/stitching images to help convey the feeling of interwoven themes of connection, home and belonging.

Basudhara is Assistant Professor in the English department at Karim City College, Jharkhand. She is author of two books; Migrations of Hope: A Study of the Short Fiction of Three Indian American Writers (2019) and her first collection of poetry; Moon in My Teacup (2019). She has a doctoral degree in Diaspora women’s writing from Kolhan University, Chaibasa.

The title poem of the book is very powerful and delves into the deepest understanding of home, Basudhara Roy “ tells it like it is”, some poems such as this one look life “ straight in eye” and weave their magic through the harshest situations. I will quote this poem in full to give the prospective reader a palpable feeling of the beauty and poignancy of her poems.

  

Stitching A Home 

 How does one gather things unmindful of love?

Things that strayed so far alone they

have no idea how to belong?

 

Where does one fit the rusted keys

of a house long sold, its wheezing now

watermarking your dreams?


Let us ask this leper under the bridge,

his wife stroking his denudated stump of a leg,

what wholeness means.


Beside his weary, blind bowl

and a misshapen gunny bag they call home.

I learn from them that home is not arrival,


to a place, not even hope or dream.

It is the union of time and mind,

of inhabiting the present with what you are.


Summon a mud-house, leaking roof,

second-hand bicycle, worn charpoy, the neem’s shade.

Marry it all to the moment, call it home.

 

This poem, especially the fourth and fifth stanzas, in a sense convey Basudhara’s deepest understanding of home. “...a misshapen gunny bag they call home”; “ It is the union of time and mind,/of inhabiting the present with what you are.” The Taj Mahal might be a home, a misshapen gunny bag might be a home – nothing to do with splendour, aesthetics or expensive materials!

Basudhara uses marvellous imagery in her poems together with extraordinary metaphors. Some of these metaphors are what could be described as normal such as, “This chatter of ours never ends. It goes on like rain in the hills...” but many are at a level that few poets achieve, to me these flashes of brilliance are what lift Basudhara’s poetry out of the ordinary to the extraordinary.

A couple of examples:
From “Address”, “ love loses its way on undulating shingles of hesitation”,

from “Tomorrow”, “having pawned by then this heart you could find no place for, I will turn indifferent.” ...”,

from “For A Friend” “ I tessellate thoughts into neat stanzas, hang them like chimes on windows you come to greet.”
In “Topophilia “, “...shadows protect you from the excesses of truth,”

One thing I found most satisfying about reading this collection of poems was the complete lack of ‘technology’. It was so refreshing to be away from, and not reminded of, smart phones, computers, artificial intelligence apps. ad nauseam. The book jolted me, once again, into remembering what it is to be human - warts and all!

Love is never far from Basudhara’s mind in all its various forms, most poems weave love stories around metaphors which adds delightful mystery to the poems. For example in the poem Translating, love is encapsulated within a landscape

to a place where we will stand

quenched, feet planted on firm earth,

over our heads a benevolent sky,

all knots in the heart undone. In this

 mosaic rain of unuttered sounds

Then in the poem Post-Love we see love likened to an abscess or swamp!
 

Slayed, love dies slowly,

draining out like

an abscess, a swamp, a womb,

the messy fluids that

adamantly held together

whatever the heart holds dear.

In Love’s Winter another wonderful metaphor likening love to the process of growing things in the earth.

Shuttling between hope and

despair, I bring a spade and

watering can to loosen the

earth. It remains stubborn not

knowing the spade as love. 

Then we see Basudhara showing in the poem Habits that love can be like a habit and may be discarded.

so that sweetness is only

diet and not craving,

so that slowly, unneeded,

you become a habit too. 

Most poems exposes how our lives become entangled and complex, both with our relationships to others and to our homes. As previously mentioned Basudhara’s poems really reinforce the realities of what it is to be human. For example in her poem Gerontology she captures the process of ageing brilliantly, honestly and at times bluntly. This poem resonated with me deeply, partly because it is a superb poem and partly because I am getting old myself, it is amazing how a young person can so astutely understand the ageing process when they have not experienced this “life event” personally, yes Basudhara, I am trying “to wear failures as flowers”, . below the poem in full:

Gerontology

You can’t number age

on mere fingers. Age is eyes

added to years, resignation

to flesh, loss to hopes, fears.

 

To know time’s weariness

in you, you must hear

in your restless cradle of bones

a wistful longing for the sea.

 

You must learn to read

the edgeless syllables of fatigue,

count sighs, know plain

from fallow, upheaval from furrow.

 

You must distinguish silence

from its tenuous shadow, the

need to sleep from the sleeping.

To learn age, you must learn

 

to count the words you have lost,

the times that hope has slipped

on doubt’s rocks, the loves

that have beat wildly in your breast.


Above all, you must respect folly,

wear failures as flowers, learn

on time’s sands this timeless carrying

of the body from the body itself.

Every poem in this collection holds a surprise, an unexpected twist – most speak directly to the heart, whether they are Stitching a Home (literally), or a love affair or a close relationship each will make your heart think. I can thoroughly recommend this book as essential reading for all students of poetry, and as a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of poetry lovers, to which I can guarantee you will return to time after time.

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