'Write to Me: Essays on Indian Poetry in English' by Basudhara Roy

Write to Me: Essays on Indian Poetry in English
Basudhara Roy
ISBN- 978-1-64560-543-0
Black Eagle Books, Dublin/Bhubaneswar, 2024, Pp 228

Reviewed by Jaydeep Sarangi

Thirty-five well researched reviews of Write to Me: Essays on Indian Poetry in English take us to the work(s) of the poets reviewed, faithfully and along with this they do something amazing. Collectively, they justify the strength and richness  that lie at the heart of the current  corpus of Indian Poetry in English. Write to Me is powerful responses to some important volumes of verse, but taken together the reviews serve as a brilliant introduction to the rich diversity of today’s Indian Poetry in English written from different backgrounds. Noted Wollongong (New South Wales) based    critic Paul Sharrad asserts, “I would want Roy as my reviewer.” A curator of Hearth Within, an important online poetry platform, the reviewer is a committed artist who thinks poetry constitutes a record, a document, a witness, a thread of happenings and a timeless corpus. Her introduction to the book is a rare gift for the readers where she earnestly says, “Poetry in India and Indian Poetry in English is, currently, going through one of its healthiest and happiest phases.” Indian poetry in English is globally visible and intrepid for all spheres of social/ literary appropriation. Indigenous resources of multicultural India are the vital energy for the uniqueness of IPE. IPE has that strength that can never bore readers from different backgrounds. The reviewer explores all possible parameters of Indian knowledge banks taking texts from different perspectives and analyzing them critically and contextually.

The review anthology begins with Bhanu Kapil’s wonderful collection How to Wash a Heart. Bhanu Kapil is a British American poet of Indian heritage.  The review is an attempt to find out an interface among cultures and contexts. The speaker in this collection, it is highlighted, is a champion artist, who brings out the fabrics of traditions and modernity at multiple levels. The reviewer examines the question of identity of an immigrant poet through a set of tropes. The immigrant experience is more layered in this collection as the interaction of three personal racial histories of the three women. Like all diaspora critics the reviewer tries to figure out “What is a home?” Her arguments are sharp and intense. Not all poetry collections have an axe to grind, to hypnotize the readers.

A prominent Bengali poet Shyamal Kumar Pramanik’s The Untouchable & Other Poems is a translation from his Bengali poems. Pramanik speaks for the Dalits characterized by subversions, protest, defiance, resilience and emancipation. The fifty poems that comprise The Untouchable & Other Poems are seminal markers for social change. The sensitive reviewer probes deep into the poems and highlights the poet’s strong self-awareness to his social and personal dignity and commitment towards a casteless society. The readers are startled in these poems by a language that resists both aesthetically and functionally. The maestro is at her critical best when she quotes and examines, “Awake, awake O world’s primitive man.” Only a sensitive reviewer can do it with ease.

         One of the champion poets from the North East Robin Ngangom’s My Invented Land is a collection of poems which is a faithful exploration of desires and the heart’s multi-layered longings for peace, hope, justice, cultural/political understanding and human credence. The review shows how the seasoned poet crafts an entourage of life’s daily resilience to fight back from every upset. For him poetry is therapeutic. Self, land and poetry constitute a thematic confluence:

“It is never too late to come home.

But I must first find a homeland

where I can find myself(.)” (p. 218)

Allahabad based Smita Agarwal’s Speak, Woman! is a treat to read and long for more. In some of the poems the past leans out silently. At times, the poet’s thoughts go beyond the world of facts where things are non- negotiable with human wit and routine grammar of living. The reviewer captures most of these impressions poignantly and convincingly. Agarwal reminds:

“Recall, how Kunti had to

dispossess herself

of a son,

Sita, walk into fire,

despite all the wrists

adorned with sacred thread.” (p. 128)

Here is a gyre of poems in which life is portrayed firmly and vividly. Usha Akella’s I Will Not Bear You Sons is an urgent, demanding tone. The book is divided into two sections, I and We. The reviewer goes deep into a planetary history of women’s victimization, dispossession and suffering, and the transcultural and strategic disempowerment of women’s self hoods by the stereotypes. Basudhara claims the collections as, “an anthem of intersectional

feminist solidarity.” (p.134)

Noted poet-diplomat Abhay K’s Monsoon: A Poem of Love and Longing is a confluence of two dominant passions – his love for landscape and his quest for tracing kinships across cultures and traditions. The poet-reviewer cortically examines how a single poem of 150 quatrains, Monsoon describes the journey of the south-west Monsoon from the island of Madagascar across the Indian Ocean and the Indian subcontinent to the Himalayas. Kashiana Singh’s Woman by the Door  is about women at the door. The woman, throughout these amazing poems, remains the nerve centre of the collection and a vital node of consciousness through whom ideas, ideologies, images and intuitions flow, circulate and sediment into knowledge. The reviewer considers, “Kashiana’s woman, as the reader will note, is not one.” (p.163). Her woman represents, for the poet, an ontological  collage for the experience of plural identities; the poet lived in two different lands; India and US. A perfect soul-maker Sukrita Paul Kumar’s Vanishing Words fluidly transacts between poetry and painting, cross-borrowing ideas. Sukrita’s images are pictorial:

“Numbers don’t matter

Till they become razors

The edges rubbing into the heart

Sending shards of pain

And the tunnel to death widening

for the rising numbers to enter.” (p. 186)

All reviews and the individual collections demand our careful attention. Many poets are professors. Among many myriad reviews we may mention, Anita Nahal’s What’s Wrong With Us Kali Women? GJV Prasad’s This World of Mine: Selected Poems, Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca’s Light of The Sabbath: Poems about Memories and the Sacredness of Light, Sanjukta Dasgupta’s Unbound: New and Selected Poems (1996-2021), Vinita Agrawal’s The Natural Language of Grief, Sanket Mhatre’s A City Full of Sirens,  Malashri Lal’s Mandalas of Time. Each of these reviews is a call from within. These individual poetry collections are amazingly   remarkable for their obsession with Indian mythical knowledge systems, the authentic emotional inflections, the loaded metaphors/idioms, and the oscillations across a wide thematic range of living and longing, existence, estrangement, erosion, redemption, hopelessness, pain and forms of beauty and lust.

Let us speak of hands--Black Eagle Books has produced the book elegantly. The book is a face that bears the footprints of India and the world. No doubt that  Write to Me will leave us both satiated and wistful for a long time to come. Happy reading!

Jaydeep Sarangi is an Indian poet with ten poetry collections in English latest being Memories of Words,  poetry activist and scholar on postcolonial studies and Indian Writings  with forty one books  anchored in Kolkata/Jhargram,.. With Rob Harle he has edited six anthologies of poems from Australia and India which are a wealthy literary link between the nations. With Amelia Walker, he has guest edited a special issue for TEXT, Adelaide (Australia). His recent books include, Mapping the Mind , Minding The Map:Twenty Contemporary Indian English Poets , Sahitya Akademi, 2023 and A Life UprootedA Bengali Dalit Refugee Remembers, Sahitya Akademi, 2023.  Mapping the Mind, Minding the Map ( 2023, Sahitya Akademi) is his latest book.  Sarangi is currently the   President of Guild of Indian English Writers, Editors and Critics (GIEWEC) and Vice  President, EC, Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata. Living with poets and poetry, Sarangi is principal of New Alipore College, KolkataHe may be reached at: jaydeepsarangi1@gmail.com 

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