Poetry of eternal hope

Book Review by Anita Nahal

Book: Beached Driftwood
Author: Ajanta Paul
Publisher: Hawakal
Year: 2023
Pages: 139
ISBN: 978-81-19858-86-6
Price: $15.99

 

When I held Beached Driftwood in my hands, the latest book by writer and academician Ajanta Paul, I was immediately reminded of Driftwood Beach on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. On the expansive, light beaches, weathered driftwood trees are left behind, just resting in their irregular glory, presenting magical optics. Visitors move over and around the oddly shaped remnants of prior full trees in a spectacular surreal setting, experiencing the stories these washed-up natural effluvia or bounties deliver to humanity. Since the title and jacket design of any book capture my attention first, therefore, my initial understanding proved correct in finding delicate, whimsical, and resilient poetry on hope, loss, and rejuvenation in this collection. Ajanta Paul’s book is an exquisitely crafted nod to waiting, expecting, and, in most cases, fulfilling moments in our lives, thereby creating, and recreating new and better memories.

Raymond, the leading character in the American television series Everybody Loves Raymond, said in one of the episodes, “Editing…yes…only remember the good stuff…Remember what you want to remember…just the good ones…” The tan, taupe, and gray colors of natural driftwood are heightened by striking, imaginative poetry in Paul’s memorable collection, one that creates heart-touching memories, in turn bestowing on the original driftwood patina, deeper pink, brown, and sometimes dark hues.

For the first time, I came across an entire collection molded around optimism and anticipation. There are no doubt streaks of grief, pain, fear, and concern embedded in the poems, for example, the heart touching poem on parents lost during Covid-19 in the poem, Statistic: Nobody had planned it that way/he had expected to see grey hair/in the comb, more ash in the ashtray/not be the ash in the shared shelf/of the oven in the crematorium.” (p. 52) Or say, the hurt of bad mouthing as expressed in the poem, Swallowing Slights: There are those slights/that remain in the mind/and, over time, multiply/magnifying the original hurts.” (p. 88)

Paul clearly employs the dichotomy of being as a metaphoric technique to address various routine or natural happenings, sentiments, and actions. However, the placidity in one’s prayer for normalcy despite the storms within and outside is still the central thematic strain of this beautiful collection. It seems the author has carefully crafted each poem with her heart placed at the center of the jumbled, confusing life matrix.

The very first poem in the collection, Trust, talks of, “I have placed/the knotted handkerchief/of my life/in your open palms…so that your monogrammed initials/in its corner may be seen again.” (p.17) Like any piece of art, the creator leaves it to interpretation. These lines could be about a lover, about sheer existence, or, as Malashri Lal asks in her foreword referencing this poem, “…I wonder if the poet is entrusting the interpretation of her poems to each individual reader…” However, as I see it, the forte in this and numerous other poems in the book is the sequential span of time and emotions that lie between wanting and aching for something to its plausible culmination and fulfillment, or at least the signifying of some kind of realization. So, we have poems such as Rice (pp.18-19), Caesura (pp.24-25), Mirror (pp.28-29), Nocturnal Rhapsody (p.30), Eternity Unrationed (p. 32), Moon Gazing (p.32-33 or Ritual of Survival (p.82) among others. And, if not realization, there is an acceptance of the tribulations and outcomes of thoughts and decisions say in poems like Eyes (pp.20-21), Aftermath of a Riot (pp.65-66), Dead Stars (p.133) Word (pp.55-56), Pin Code of Peace (pp.63-64), or in the last poem in the book, Becoming (pp.136-138).

There is also lament in many poems, such as, Of Porcelain and Pain (pp.34-35), Felled (p.36), Hibernation (p.39-40), Inheritance (pp.42-43), Ruin (pp.59-60), The Migrants (pp.67-68), and Reading (pp.50-51) to name a few. And yet, still, I find myself sensing a phoenix like positivity despite time’s misfortunes on people’s lives. Take Reading for example, while Paul talks of, “Had I read it wrong, then/Or, were the words upside down/upending their meaning/wrong side up, confusing… Or for hopes sewn into the lining/or your coat, promising warmth/in desolation when the world/ lies changed and closes”. (pp.50-51).

Like in poems by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, and others, Ajanta Paul’s poems draw forth a distinct internal energy that is inherently reflective of our daily rituals and times. In that sense, Ajanta Paul’s poetry is contemporaneous, visually impactful, and motivational in the conduct of our lives. The poem The Impossible Light is one clear example when the poet says, “The impossible light/is the untidy sun/yellow like straw…scattering the largesse of its smile/around the quiet compound/like leaves of corn on fields of blight.” (pp.123-24) The uniqueness of Paul’s poetry is epitomization of both the good and bad of life and living, quite like the poet Rumi.

Anita Nahal
Paul’s book is very much like the driftwood that washes up quietly yet assuredly, never without a narrative to share, never without revealing scars to those empathetic, perceptive, and prudent enough to grasp, and always leaving sparkles of hope gleaming like the iridescent mother of pearls.

Beached Driftwood is an endearing poetry collection to revert to in challenging times, reaffirming our faith in ourselves, others, and the natural motion of existentialist elements.

Reviewer:

Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP, is a two-time Pushcart Prize-nominated Indian American author. She was a finalist for the Tagore literary prize 2023, and for the 2022 Cats poetry contest and 2021 Women’s artist contest, The Ekphrastic ReviewAn academic and author, Anita has one novel, four poetry collections, one of flash fiction, four for children, and five edited anthologies published. Her third poetry collectionWhat’s wrong with us Kali women? (Kelsay, 2021) was nominated by Cyril Dabydeen as the best poetry book, 2021 for British Ars Notoria, and is mandatory reading in a multicultural society course at Utrecht University. Her just released prose-poetry genre collaborative noveldrenched thoughts is also prescribed in the same course and university. Anita is the daughter of Sahitya Akademi award-winning Indian novelist and professor, Late Dr. Chaman Nahal, and educationist Late Dr. Sudarshna Nahal. Originally from New Delhi, India, Anita Nahal resides in the US. Her family include her son, daughter-in-law, and their golden doodle. More on her at: www.anitanahal.com


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