Review of Anvesh Jain's 'Pilgrim to No Country'

‘Pilgrim to No Country’
Author: Anvesh Jain
Authors Press, New Delhi, India, Pp-112, INR-295/-
ISBN: 9781989466360
 
Reviewed by Gopal Lahiri, Poet and Critic

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 Exploration of Personal Memory

 Anvesh Jain’s debut poetry collection ‘Pilgrim to No Country’ takes the reader on a fascinating journey to his diasporic poetic landscape for exploring the personal memory and essential aesthetic truth in life. And the journey converges to create something lyrical, poetic and true. The poems in this book depict a realism that isn't disconcerting but identifiable. 

The first full collection by the young Indo-Canadian poet presents an immensely assured and exceptional new voice with the hope that ‘Someday I was going/

To write diaspora poetry/ Pen the great ironies of my displaced kind.(Going)

Anvesh Jain
Contrasts in scale-individual and historic, intimate and larger-than-life-occur throughout his write. They are as much about endings as they are about the hope of new beginnings. The depth and humanity of the poet’s understanding are increasing clear in most of his poems. There is variety, as well in terms of voice but the poet never inhabits the unreal voice. You can almost hear that.

It is a participatory relationship with the reader, demanding intimacy with what the poet is asking for- deeper contact with another, deeper contact with oneself and to engage the poetry on its own terms.

One of the poetry’s most appealing elements can be the blend of observations and ideas. The poet is probingly gifted across a wide range of topics. This includes nostalgia, the natural world, myth, dream, spiritualism, trauma and living. He recounts with sadness, the challenging time to pass through- the time of dislocation, confusion and loneliness. It is, as if his poems are a collection of moments captured from his home and adopted home countries in tandem. And the poetic landscape is populated with words, sounds and images- all roll into a meaningful whole.

Gopal Lahiri

Author Nick Mount aptly remarks, ‘An outstanding debut. Defiantly of its time and place. Pilgrim to No Country is nonetheless poetry for any country, language that feels alive from a smart observer of his and our world.’

Poetry is a place for questions and answers at times. This fearless, eclectic debut connects the interrogative force of poetry. Equal weightage in tone and rhythm with sound and syntax sometimes give the poems in this collection a rare sparkle. The poems are connecting, emotional and specific at times.

Here the poet reaches out to the world and poetry is his weapon. And the following poem precipitates a striking resonance.

Was so caught up in goings

I made a hash of the other stuff—

Love, surrender, arrival. (Going))

Anvesh, a gifted new voice, traces the roots and culture of his own lineage in an effortless manner. Strong on imagery, the poems have a lyricism which offers spiritual solace at times but the beauty of nature is also undercut by uncertainty. The language is surreal and modernistic.

Writing with poetic efficiency, this poem establishes a voice, an attitude and a class. And this is also driven by an impulse through veils of time and space.

This is for the optimism of leaving.
For marketplaces that glittered,
The maudlin reveries of mornings,
Waking bone-chill and itchy woolen sweaters (To Puffer Vests Over Kurtas and Dad’s Plaid Shirts) 

It appears that the poet knows efficient writing is powerful writing and every word should matter. His poems overthrow platitude and radically reinterpret our relationship with ordinary things and moments. At times, they are filled with a grip of the everyday sojourn that reaffirms the connections with the life.

Past acts as prologue
To dew-frigid mornings,
The faith barely moved
From bug bulge eyes.
 
Rain drops enough
To wet tethered wings,
Enough to emulsify
Fly heaven. Rain, (Fly Song)

He uses language of exactness and simplicity to express the universality of certain experiences. I imagine it’s a pleasure for his evocation of true life. It is the emotion- the very rhythm of the emotion- that determines the fabric of the following poem.

We see the story of a people
Swirling Kashmir to Cape clove,
In a pot of morning chai.
One cup for a civilization,
Pouring Sundarbans to Suriname.
 
There’s no shortage of terrible and strange events,
Or golden comforts to derive.
I’ve been thinking poetry,
And the froth has boiled over onto land (Voyages)

Shaun Hunter, an eminent author, rightly points out, ‘Anvesh Jain invites us into the in-between world of a suburban Calgary childhood steeped in a South Asian past. The terrain teems with memory and myth, backyard cricket games, and fragrant oceans of chai. Sensual, tender, at times angry and wry, these poems travel through Jain’s two homelands.’

Poetry, it seems, offers a means to engage with language The book contours the childhood immigration of the poet from Delhi to Calgary over and over and reconstructs his home with love and light. Solace is found in memories. This journey records the nodes of life from wisdom to faith, from inevitability to doubt. All poems, in their way are dreams and the poet at times, gives his voice to the commoners.

I found my faith in Dilli dirt,
That womb of all creation.
To think, the unattached would reach nirvana in these hills!
And still I read Tolkien on the Rajdhani Express.
 
Standing on the hump
Of a busted scootee, in Dilli traffic rings,
I knew the pared-back
 
Weightlessness of the sky.
 
My mother’s father held my waist,
Passed my birthright unto me.
 
Yes, Dilli is still far away,
And I have many lives to live (Delhi Days)

This book is an obvious breakthrough, in which he improves his contemplation and gaze in an undoubted manner. And also put his powers of identification and hope in reader’s mind.

The following poem puts it in clear and concise terms that the poet wants to express about the transformation in life. The language has dark sinews. It takes a particular kind of involvement and detachment both to speak and to stand oneself.

Thin separations between the world
Of dreams and the world of dreaming
Of dreams. (Dream from Toronto)

Anvesh Jain’s voice here is elusive and tantalizing at times. He weaves thematic threads that knot the assemblage together. The rhythm of his poems is startling because of the pattern operating underneath them. Most effecting are the moments: caring and funny and razor-sharp, rippling with the subtle inflections and repetitions.

You, concrete, pour
And pour and pour
Into me. Make full
These historic gaps, somehow. (Minar)

 The poet excavates the blurrier borders of home and the following poem is not an exact transcription of experience but represents a moving reflection on mythological escarpment. It is sounded from the depths, spoken from the dark night of the soul but often has the spearing brilliance of the positive vibes probing the boundaries between different modes. The poet knows a desolation inside that can match and even outdo any desolation that exists apart from him. the word ‘home’ is specially charged in the following poem, since the dwelling cannot protect him from himself. He is a maker who has made something out of the expressionlessness of the world, out of a gruelling desolation.

Romanticism a small vole.
Unravel the sacred thread
From the navel of the Canada-wala,
Spin like Draupadi,
Remind him he too
Has a home somewhere. (Winter In Delhi)

Sometimes the poet starts trying harder but without success and all while recognizing that trying hard entails loss and change. The potent space between setting out and arriving gets hazy. 

Unhinge and naga-sswallow the radishstuffed paratha moon
Reflux slicks on a  coastline stomach—
Mama stuffsme an ouroboros of green-bile-ghee and chutney
Sslithersick (Snakecharrm)

Anvesh Jain’s poetry collection ‘Pilgrim to No Country’ is inventive, engaging and passionate. They are a kind of poetry and Indianness that anchored at the heart of the book. The poet touches time and again on themes of longing and belonging. It’s to some extent a distillation of emotion, a mindfulness and yet contains themes and images in microcosm.

Silicon Valley worshippers unload torches
And ice-boxes from parked SUVs.

They move like watercolour.
They move with the moon in their eyes.

Their many-faced procession
Marches to the sea,

Gathering strength to defeat
Demonic Asuric forces. (Durgotsava Festival at Irvine, California)

The poems in this collection move seamlessly between the personal and partisan, the precise and the abstract and explore the density of the self with a raw, unabashed elegance. Their invigorating, deep-seated honesty offers readers sanctuary in these inexact times. The poet here conveys an openness to the self’s quiet moment and resilience with wit and wisdom.

The cover page design is impressive. It is one of the finest debut collection of poems in recent times and surely, the poetry lovers want to keep this book in their shelves at the earliest.

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 Bio: Gopal Lahiri is an India based, bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 27 books (17 in English and 10 in Bengali) published, including eight jointly edited books. His poetry is published across anthologies and journals of India and abroad. His poems are translated in 16 languages and published in 12 countries. His book reviews have been published in Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi, (Print journal), Muse India, Scroll.in, Different Truths, The Lake (UK), Elixir (US), Kitaab (Singapore), Setu (US), Café Dissensus, The Statesman and The Millenium Post, Kolkata and many others. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prize, for poetry in 2021. He is the recipient of the Poet of the Year Award in Destiny Poets, UK, 2016, Setu Excellence Award, 2020, Pittsburgh, US. His latest collection of poems ‘Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets.’ has received Ukiyoto award, 2022.

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 Bio: Anvesh Jain was born in Delhi and moved to Calgary when he was one year old. His poems have appeared in literary magazines in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, India, and South Africa. He was an editor at The Hart House Review from 2018 to 2021. Anvesh is a chai enthusiast, and loves cricket. Pilgrim to No Country is his first book.

 


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