Book Review: Crossing the Shoreline

Reviewer: Utpal Chakraborty

Crossing the Shoreline
Poet: Gopal Lahiri
Publisher: Haoajan
Price: ₹ 350 rupees

Whenever we read poetry what do we hope to find? Obviously the answer is bound to vary even on an average level. But it cannot be gainsaid that we certainly hope to get certain elements that are absent in a mere prose narrative. Now what are those elements that erect an unsurmountable wall between prose and poetry? Again the answers are inconclusive. None till date has been able to define poetry, which is why perhaps this is the most sublime and unpolluted form of art. Still we hope to find something that detoxes and freshens our mind that upholds a pen picture of what is happening around. At least we can say these are the images, phrases or lines that are food for thought. At times the thoughts touch our frequencies. Sometimes they do not. But often a paradox, a cut in thought flow, an unusual use of oxymoron or antithesis create a commotion which has a different charm, that makes us pause between the lines. After a few minutes' brain racking we chance to have a tryst with the hidden truth. We empathize with the epiphany of the poet.

Utpal Chakraborty
All such hopes and expectations we find to come to fruition in the poet Gopal Lahiri's collection of poetry, titled, "Crossing the Shoreline."

Since the poet is writing in the 21st century, inevitably complexity is one of the features of his poems. But nowhere does that strike an abstruse note. Innovative Images, and symbols that are personal and personalized recur through the volume, facilitating the readers to dive deep into his creation.

One interesting point that I have noticed about almost each volume of his poetry is his use of same image or phrase in almost every alternate poem, which however surfaces with different connotations without being repetitive.

In his previously published book of poetry entitled "Alleys are filled with future Alphabets' and "Chhaya Path Jure Jure," his latest collection of Bengali poems, I have found such recurrent images of nostalgia, childhood, memory, etc. Some such recurring words and images referring to the time evening and place bank of the river or the sea clearly point out the time and setting of the poems of this particular volume. The cool evening breeze that washes the poet's face brings back old memories. It feels the veteran poet who was a geologist loves to decipher words of the infinite sky, sitting on the bank of the river in the evening that slowly lapses into deep night: "The sky gives us its opening spiel." (Start Again).

This image of evening and dream recur through the length and breadth of the volume. Here are a few excerpts:
"I slide into the evening on the back of a dream (My Poem).

"Words filter into dark rooms unnoticeably to the tune of the evening"(Orphan Smile)
"I start wandering from window to window, meet outline of the dusk's glow (Little Light).

"The evening sky repeats a smile that burns and comes through unknown stars'' (Search).

The poet flies on the wings of the evening breezes, to reach a river bank or a shoreline to be absorbed in a reverie (Intrusion).

Like T.S. Eliot when the poet says "I have folded the evening breeze like pillow covers, holding the conversation in mute mode"(Folded times), we are struck by his brilliant use of the objective correlative. Evening for the poet harps on different strings to produce manifold 'ragas', ' lyrics', and 'stories'.

Besides denoting the physical phase of life one has to reach after aging, the evening in his poems also plays the role of a multidimensional lens that enlarges the subtle truths of life, telescopes time, and builds up a hitherto unseen bridge between the poet's own persona, and the experiences of the readers at large.

Another show stealer of the book is his use of 'you' and 'I'. It is obvious in many poems that the other half of the poet is the addressee, ''A voice is unrolling in the dark room/ You are me and I am you."(Shoals of love); 'part of me live inside' (Start Again); 'to know each other inside'(Firewood);
"You come and go, leaving unknown palm prints"(Long Read);" You arrive late in the middle, with flowers"(Poetry Mirror).

It is, however, intriguing to discover the 'you' in,"
Until you and I / stepchildren of the evening get an answer in the ancient wind "from his poem called"Step children".

Is it the alter ego of the poet, or his lady love, or the voice of the mythic lands when the poet lisps, "Your words offer you to coalesce around silence?"(Story Elements).
The elusive charm of the use of ' you' is prominent in many other poems for the readers to discover and enjoy to their heart's fill.

In the present volume images from assorted fields are placed side by side lending them the effect of haikus and halibuts, for which there is a separate section inside. On the face of it, they seem to have no common thread connecting them. But repeated reading points to the unseen line that connects the dots. The poem 'Stories' is an instance in point. Fort walls hide stories. It is true.

But the line " between wreckage and resilience lies salvation'' seems to be out of the context. But if we dive deep, we find the line to be the philosophical resultant of the first two lines.
The last line which stands in isolation actually creates a paradox that justifies a greater truth of universal acceptance.

The poet says, "Stories are just stories, I listen and forget."

Whatever stories do the fort walls hide come to the surface, striking the thinkers. But all this is very transitory. We decipher the stories, pine and clean forget them afterwards.

Some such objects that we all see but don't take stock of them appear to be pregnant with meanings to the poet. Like the earlier poem here in 'Story Elements', the mythic lands on the cafe walls seem to say a world of things with their whispers. The poem reminds us of the "Grecian Urn" written by John Keats. However, the poet wants to mean here the fact that appearances are deceptive.

And this message seems to be echoed through the line, "the floral landscape hides the topography of the table, pot and plates".

The same thought of unfolding stories is found in another poem called Kerfuffle, "Some paper flowers are in motion sharing stories." The dwarf planet that comes out in the evening is going to tell us bigger stories, the wall clock sharing ghost stories as in, "Palette." In "Shodo", the point comes clearer. The poet here says, "The brush strokes say a lot, free of poetic trickery and complexities."

The poet finds almost every object of the earth, built by nature or human embedding some stories of profound introspection. For example in 'Immobile' he writes "Every carving, every temple has a tale to tell." In 'Amnesia' he writes, "Beneath the bones of a city, history suffers from amnesia."

His poems have realism and fiction, science and philosophy woven together in a balance. His intense love for colour and nostalgia for the past, two distinctive features of romanticism wonderfully fit in his indirect way of expressing emotion through the chains of events, thoughts and images. It seems that the poet is a past master in sculpting trail blazing images. In "Assassin" the description of the soft sunlight as an assassin is unique also for its antithetical effect. Again keeping time in a betelnut box (Edges of Time) the poet has wonderfully caught time by the forelock. Nothing could be more epigrammatic than the image, "the whole canvas, inward and outward condenses like a sonnet." (Water's Edge). "Sometimes whispers are like the long fluttering silk, weaving the death wish" in "Eye's Memories'' and "the evening's grey skin, sharing stories of muddy water" from "Shadowless" are equally striking for the concentration of thoughts in a few terse phrases.

To be precise, "Crossing the Shoreline" is a collection of poetry where apart from crossing the borders of the approaches to traditional poetic creation, the poet has also crossed the shoreline of the present to flash back and wing forward. Crossing the shoreline may also indicate the journey of the poet's other half where he has seen his alter ego embarking on the sea for exploring the mine of minerals for understanding the alphabets of the choppy sea( " Go and receive the self") and obviously the unscreened mysterious sky above. I would highly recommend all poetry lovers to go through this collection.

Bio: Utpal Chakraborty
A teacher of English literature, translator, writer and a bilingual poet Utpal Chakraborty is a regular contributor to leading Bengali and English magazines and Anthologies at both home and abroad. His 'Uranta Dolphin', an acclaimed collection of fifty five Bengali poems was published in 2018 by the reputed Ananda Publishers (Signet Press), based in Kolkata. His translation work, 'The Mark', a collection of short stories, published by Kolkata and Delhi based Shambhabi publications has got critical acclamations in leading magazines and newspapers. His latest book of English poetry entitled, 'Kirigami', published by #Hawakal Publications has received rave reviews from reputed poets and critics in various international magazines. His five English poems have been included in an important anthology titled "Converse" published by Pippa Ran Books and Media (UK). He is the recipient of the Panorama Literary Award 2020.

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