I am saying primroses lined the pathway of toothless hedges.
I am saying the ocean shimmered like corrugated steel in the
The context of my story changes when you enter. Then I am dung— “In the Event of Change”, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
on the wall of the nomad’s field. Then the everyday waking person.
A whisper, a spring flower, a fistful of protest, or a heart singing in love – all of these have defined poetry down the ages. The river of words has not dried up till date, and even as expressions and images have come and gone, the very idea of poetry has lingered gloriously. The context of all emotions have been repeated, even as they have changed. Perhaps best expressed in the words of Tsering Wangmo Dhompa above.
“The event of change” is a momentous occasion for a reader of poetry such as myself. Even more so because recently a friend asked me what new poetry I have been reading and reflecting upon. She didn’t mean poetry categorised by any age slab or generation, but brewed fresh, by new poets seduced by verse and rhymes and the demands of our times.
My reply, of course, was somewhat skewed. Yes, I’ve been reading new poetry, because poetry is always new to me.
And new is what some writers are challenging the old with. Because it is spring going to summer.
Because the times are dark and yet there will be singing about the dark times, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, it’s heartening that poets are speaking fearlessly. The context of poetry is now replete with an intense awareness of history and politics refined by a dulcet ode to love. There is deep reflection and lyrical plaintiveness:
“There are no prologues, no sequels –
there is always more than the story tells.
The holocaust has come and gone long before this simple loss;— “Illusion”, Madhu
salacious sewage and bereaved songs.
I sit by the lotus pond.”
This concern is seen as another brutally honest octave where the parliament of oppressors is questioned:
“The world throws up its strong men, as we speak,
using their rhetoric, their political acumen, to rile up the insecurities,
of the majorities, about their minorities, economic, unfounded, social change,
and fanning the needs for political revenge...
Will there be yet another holocaust— “Will there be another holocaust?”, Maaz Bin Bilal
in our own lifetimes?”
The poet’s question rings out the prosaic and terrifying nature of the affairs of the world.
Displacement, memory and roots are all but smells and tastes that shape the dreams of a generation removed spatio-temporally, not just in the family tree but in poetic lineage:
“Tonight, I look at Mother’s hands— “Leaving Sind”, Gayatri Chawla
pounding the marble mortar and pestle
crushing pods of garlic
her eyes have swollen
she hasn’t slept a wink last night
grinding her dream with mortar and pestle.”
The mortar is the voice, the pestle is the vision that tells a woman’s story, of every woman.
Among “new” voices, Goirick Brahmachari has emerged brightly after winning the 2016 Srinivas Rayaprol Prize, followed by the 2016 Muse India Young writer award for poetry. While his initial work is sweetly curdled with themes of belonging, very recently he has been writing with the longing of a traveller or an observer, not pulled back by nostalgia but by the search for the familiar:
“out there, over the hill— “32.265341° n, 77.184742° c”, Goirick Brahmachari
they are painting a gypsy town with a clothesline
the market is stoned like the temples that have grown
empty like my mind. i can’t write a single line”
The quest for familiarity in poetry also translates into questioning the self and the “other”. Dalit identity, immigrant identity, and the delicate web of humanism that ought to provide the answers are foregrounded in these lines laced with wry humour:
“The immigrant word in a poem
Sounds like ‘Prufrock’,
To be as conspicuous
As a fly in buttermilk
The immigrant word in a poem— “The Immigrant Experience”, Chandramohan S
Is accompanied with a footnote
Like a GPS tag
On the ankles of the poems”
And the question then arises, where does this GPS tag we have sadly earned leads us? Or, how do we even find our own footfalls in a world where contexts have changed in love or war but the struggle against is still a poet’s agenda? Dibyajyoti Sharma (Selected Poems: Sananta Tanty) does a fantastic job of bringing to us a much older Assamese poet in translation – a new voice for all who are learning to tune their ears to the world around:
“Let the days be a little bloody.— “Let our days be a little bloody”
Let there be a war.
Let there be class struggle.
Let us severe the sighs from life forever”
Then again, the new poetry is not all slogans or revolution. There are lush literary references tinged with a conflicted city-love one has experienced, the in-between-ness of faces known and unknown, and a pensive commentary on the timeless beauties of human characteristics:
“Often, I visualise my friend’s account of the woman— “A Brief History of Railway Stations”, Arjun Rajendran
crossing the rails to the other platform: numbed
by fright, she sat down when she saw the approaching
train. Now, you must do it too, close your eyes
and be her final moment.
the stationmaster’s room, Anna Karenina gently lays
her head on the tracks. An electric engine, weary
of Bombay’s commoners, hurtles toward the aristocrat.”
The new poetry rises above the urban clutter, from the railway tracks, from the horse’s saddleback to swoop down like a sea gull along the arc of history, throbbing and variegated:
“They rewrote history
by sticking a post-it over it
renaming the streets,
unsaddled the white man
from the kala ghoda.
A corporator claimed a chowk— “You Say Tamatar”, Mrinalini Harchandrai
with a water fountain, not Flora’s
from tax drainpipes,
nationalists still drive out colonials
from the grave
indelicately removing the necklace
off Marine Drive’s crown.”
The poet and the reader become the “everyday waking person”, to quote Dhompa again, in the midst of all these emotions that are shaping the landscape of the contemporary imagination. New poetry courts our senses as intensely as does summer, full and brash, lilting and lover-ly.