Book Review: ‘Unturned Verses’

Unturned Verses

Author: Gopa Bhattacharjee
Zahir Publication, Kolkata, INR-190/-

Reviewed by Gopal Lahiri


Walking through Love and Light

A gateway to a stream of thought, poetry can provide genuine solace, shed light on the human condition and a sense of connection. It can be rooted in fact and at the same time blends ideas and imagination. In her lively debut collection of poems, ‘Unturned Verses’, Gopa Bhattacharjee digs deep into the bottom of the heart that seeks new and revealing perspectives to the contemporary world. This delightful debut collection is painted with many shades of nostalgia and history, laughter and sadness, sunshine and grey clouds.

Poet’s heart is attuned to the changing patterns of the society and its surroundings, its landscapes and seasons, its sorrow and malice, its dream and hope. Furthermore, the poet is not afraid to be inventive and her choice of words is not only shaped by the language but also the traditions of love and light. Her strength is ease, clarity and simplicity, nothing very complex. Weaving simple words with finesse, she writes,

‘Just give me one moment.
To love you.
to caress you.
To make you feel the eternity.’ (Give me a second)

Ampat Koshy, an eminent poet and critic, has remarked, ‘Her poems are simple and straight outpourings of the heart-no artifice or verbosity. They are nostalgic and laced with love. One feels like revisiting them, again and again, to know more each time of the poet’s inner life.’

For Gopa Bhattacharjee, poetry is not a ripple induced by currents but an echo of life and outward journey that explore the events and tremors. She writes in a way that is emotive and endearing, showing how simple yet significant human relationships are, infusing her poems with tender details while never taking her eye off the inevitable endings that are interwoven into human destiny.

Gopal Lahiri
O Life!
Come to my house.
Don’t forget to bring with you
Intense hope,
Trustworthy love and
Honest happiness.’ (Rangolis of Life)

A majority of her poems offer a tempting excursion to the collective identities, memories and myths that runs like a river and keeps breaking its own banks. There is a nod to the myths and history that connect people to their land and which shape their sense of time and destiny. Her poems are earthy, witty at times and expressive against the backdrop of daily events ‘And the false promises of true love,’. She does here what all good poets do, startles you with a reminder, even a simple one, and even with a loose-end.

What did I leave behind?

Just a few half-burnt cigars
Scorched at the dead-end of nights.

The half-peg whiskey
No one to share till the early morning. (Forsake)

Not that vision is always hermetically sealed, nor always the poems are precise, yet her works give a visual aroma, aesthetic commonality and a desire for life.
Each poem is compelling in its own right. But when the poet goes deeper into the lower depth, her poetic voice is a delight. One of the poetry’s most appealing elements can be the right choice of the words keeping the essence close to the heart. 

Frankness and sincerity are her hallmark. Tender, carefully drawn images reverberate through the following poem, lightly touching the strings of consciousness and joy amidst the constant noise, textures and vulnerability of the surrounds. One longs for melodically more elaborate and something more imaginative, less prosaic and it’s here,

Let’s love as dove’s love.
Hidden in deep nests, inside the forest.
To dodge from human insanity.
In the search for Truth, Godliness and Beauty. (Let’s Do It)

Poetry makes us feel certain emotions and think about things differently in our life or in the world or that make us laugh. The poet’s eye may be drawn to all manner of cultural detritus, but she is often able to find emotion and significance. At face value, some of his neat and precise poems are light-hearted and even funny to read, but weightier questions lurk below the surface. As they say, ‘Poetry releases us into our own custody’. When poetry communicates as well as this, it releases not only the poet but the reader too.

What was that I often felt?
Touches of your fingers on my coffee cup.

What was that I hastily saw?
A strand beside my pillow’ (This September)
The poet treats the poems like a canvas, filling it with layers of careful detail; engaging shiny lines and moving word play. Most of her poems in this collection feel contemporary and chockfull with sparkle. Showing an astonishingly formal and emotional range and a soft voice, her emotive poems make us defining the unspoken pulses and shapes of life. Elsewhere, there is a discreet sadness.

Every stone was moved to be beside you, my love.
But why did you leave mine unturned
It falls heavy on my heart,
Stricken and broken
I cannot move. (Heavy Heart).

Gopa Bhattacharjee has a talent for taking the uneventful ripples of life and converting it into lyrics. She unveils an existence that is not necessarily simpler for being clear-eyed and candid. The following poem is an elegant, deeply felt meditation on the power of love and humanity, hopeful revolt against despair, releasing the new forces of assertion and optimism.

Your compassion
Has liberated me
From my body.
To such an extent,
That I have fallen
In love with
Humanity. (Purification)

Attuned to the shifts in perception, the poet presents a much warmer face and conjures a set of profound reflections of echoes. The poems are at times infused with a haunting sense of pathos and made appealing by its uncompromising empathy. It is apparent that the poet has something inside that never permits her to give in when going is no longer sufferable.

I can feel
The pain that the earth feels,
Seeing innocent human souls filled with,
Mistrust, hopelessness and deceit.

I can feel
Why can’t you? (The Pain)

Santosh Bakaya, a well-known poet and critic, has remarked, ‘Despite her confession that poems don’t knock at her door anymore, we have some of the most exquisite, sublime, nostalgic and evocative verses between the pages of this slim volume of poetry. Long after you have finished reading the book, its fragrance refuses to leave you, clinging to you like the fragrance of first love.’

The poet excels in adopting the conventional form- its imagery, its language- makes it her own. This allusive and assured debut, is fresh, clear and convincing and drippingly atmospheric. You don’t need a key to unlock any secret or any hidden message. Her poems are always on the side of a life while the surface details are sensuously, vividly immediate, the language as fresh as leaves after the rain. She reimagines romance with refreshing originality.

To dance to the rhythm of mridang
Rustic dream from rustic soil re-sprung.
Love here is
Endless, at last. (The Rhythm of Mridang)

‘Unturning of Verses’ is an affectionate and at times startling poetic account of the ordinary life which captures both the individual moment and the long perspective, evoking a tear with the laughter in the threads of love. There are poems of every hue, touch and tenor, portraying the personal universe. The result is intensely wide-ranging, a demonstration to poetry’s power to reimagine and remake.

The cover page is impressive. This debut collection is a pure joy to read and reread and definitely a worth buy.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 23 books published mostly in English and a few in Bengali, including four joint books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India.

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