She conceals herself
here the forest is thickest
and waits for the sound—
dry leaves of
–Andrew Schelling’s The Cane Groves of Narmada River
Translation in poetry becomes essential not only for bringing a work to a wider audience but to begin a literary and a cultural discussion. This is where the role of a translator becomes an important one—serving as a bridge between the poet writing in his/her language and a reader who will read it in another language. It is extremely difficult to transport the cultural and the literary baggage of one language and load it onto another. And this is where a translator steps in—the idea now is not to translate a text with its original exactness but to help a reader understand the connotations embedded in that poem and to introduce the reader to a world that he/she may not be able to understand in its original form. Andrew Schelling’s The Cane Groves of Narmada River: Erotic Poems from Old India introduces the readers to a world of poetry that would otherwise be lost to present-day readers; these khanda kavya or fragmentary poems are from the classical poetries of India. Each khanda kavya is complete in itself.
get the cage
out of our wedding hut
this parrot has taught the whole village
to mimic our
These lyrics composed from the second century CE to the sixteenth century were contained in anthologies from where Schelling selected the ones that appear in this book. One of them is by Vidya, one of the first women poets of India who wrote in Sanskrit.
…only a poet
linking words with ineluctable cadence
her entrails with fire.
But how does one compensate the loss to poetry, when in certain places, the stories and poems encapsulate, and disappear in reality? This disturbing question asked by the translator makes this collection an indispensable read. TC Ghai’s translation of Lal Singh Dil: Selected Poems takes the reader to another era, another entirely different setting. This collection of nearly hundred poems is by revolutionary Punjabi poet, Lal Singh Dil who joined the Naxalite movement hoping that it would bring about the much-needed social and economic equality, but that revolution never happened. Inspired by the Naxalite movement of the early seventies, this book is an eye opener as well as an insight into the lives of an era from the eyes of Lal Singh Dil.
You have learnt the art
of hiding the worn-out edges of your shirt sleeves
of walking with ease in battered shoes
of wagging your tongue to say sweet things
of smiling while hiding corpses under your eyelids…
His satiric language is enough to jolt one out of the stupor that one comfortably loves to remain in. His poetry does not romanticize the working classes, instead he writes as he witnesses it—the hollowness of promises; the never ending darkness that Dil witnessed has been beautifully translated in this book and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
When tying up poetry with a place—one runs the risk of oversimplifying the relationship the two of them share. The real task lies in capturing that fleeting reality that one is surrounded with and which is specific to a place, a city one lives in. Michael Creighton’s New Delhi Love Songs does exactly that—he softly places the hand of poetry on the rapid pulse of a city. A city he has an intimate connection with; a city like Delhi consumed through poetry.
Smog and dust mix with the air in New Delhi.
I buy jasmine for her hair in New Delhi….
Friends ask, Michael, why’d you leave your own country?
I found jasmine for her here, in New Delhi.
The keen eye that observes Delhi cannot be missed. Be it a bee man who turns up trying to sell fresh honey he has extracted to an auto rickshawala to a sweet potato seller, selling shakar kandi. It is easy to bracket these poems as an exoticization of a city by a man from Portland. But this is exactly the stereotype that is debunked here by Creighton and a much-needed fresh pair of eyes on this city has been introduced to the readers. The book is an absolute delight to read and at a personal level, for a reader like me who came to live in this city some fifteen years ago, it is this book that will remain in the front row of my bookshelf for years to come.
I think I’d be well suited to life
as a New Delhi auto-rickshaw.
With neither the gravity of a car,
nor the grace and verve of a two-wheeler,
I’d nonetheless present a dashing enough picture…
Amit Ranjan’s Find Me Leonard Cohen, I’m Almost Thirty is a collection whose overtones have a playful lilt to it but the themes that he looks at touch the heart. He is not a frivolous poet, as reading the first few pages makes very clear. He is nostalgic; he is critical and the best part—he is unapologetic. He is a realist but does not make his creations sombre. They have a playful quality to them and he has already gotten over the tough bit—of putting his heart across in a lyrical manner on matters close to his heart.
On a night that tastes like smelt iron,
no one to fathom, nowhere to run
something deep wills to well up.
A lynching mob in my head.
To take out a few lines from these poems is a difficult task as the lines in every poem demand to be read in their entirety for the effect to sink in-–and isn’t that what poetry is all about?
I was in standard three
I thought gerunds came free
I was playing in the park
An uncle took me to the parking
Little neighbourhood puppy kept barking
The inward journey that Ranjan’s poems take you on have a lot of social and historical context in which they have been cast. What makes this collection a powerful ode to the times that have passed and the times that wait around the corner is in the manner they have been told. These are not only poems–-they are a skylight into someone’s heart.
Poems, are what you
steal from a child’s crib
and don’t give back
until you grow old
– The Land Below Water by Manik Sharma
We all have in some way or another, erased a bit of ourselves as we grow old. Sometimes it is forced upon us while at times it is the choice that we had to make and live with. And while we continue to roll downhill at a breakneck speed, there are moments that slow down those speeds at which we are falling. Such moments have been beautifully captured in Manik Sharma’s The Land Below Water. His poems do not skirt around the matter—rather they dive deep in and when they come up—they bring with them a sense of fear, a feeling of suffocation and above all—an awareness of a self that has gotten lost trying to save the rest.
Every road leading home is watched, not because it takes
me anywhere, but because it doesn’t.
It is not a light read. The poems in this collection will not let you sit comfortably with a cup of tea. Rather, they will force you to read them not once but several times and each time bring forth a facet that one missed reading the first time. The layers that lie in these poems have to be unravelled but slowly. The poet makes sure you don’t rush through the book—Read.Pause.Inhale.
While at times it becomes difficult to express oneself in the face of a rapidly changing world, an anthology comes up that brings different voices to the table—100 Poems Are Not Enough, a slim volume of 90 pages tries to introduce the reader to the different ways of looking at the world. Setting the tone for the poets of contemporary times is Cipun Mishra’s ‘Star Dust’ in this anthology:
You write poems
On your skin,
Like plastic flowers.
There is art in pretense,
A certain flair
You could almost see.
And another –
We stay still; like a moment between
Two train, crossing.
The two trains part,
Our seats exchange.
– ‘Strangers’ by Ro Hith
It is not an anthology that panders to only a particular kind of an audience. It is an anthology that will reach out and pull you up by your collar to show you things you run away from.
…That we haven’t grown up
We have grown out.
– ‘The Difficulty of Childhood’ by Bijaya Biswal
There is one translation I wish I could share in its entirety—Sokhen Tudu’s poem has been translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar titled, ‘A Poem for The Ol-Chiki’. The translation from the Santhali beautifully captures the delicate nuances of this poem in the original.
Dear writer, for how long will you
Write your language using
Someone else’s script
This anthology is not about writing in a particular manner on a particular theme; it lets a poet express him/herself in the way they want to making it quite a unique collection of voices. It is always a pleasure as a reviewer when you come across a variety of poetry collections and hope that while you read them, they all have their distinct voices and not overlap each other to make it monotonous work. Towards the end of the review are three collections of poetry that have dealt with the theme of loss as well as self-awareness in their own distinct manner. These poets are geographically and as individuals distanced from each other and yet what binds them together are these themes that they invoke and explore in their own beautiful ways.
If Ranu Uniyal’s The Day We Went Strawberry Picking in Scarborough lets loose a sense of pain and suffering combined with looking back at a past that refuses to move out of one’s life-
…And she dreads the company of a man
Who has lost his voice and is left
Just with a smell.
Then Noor Unnahar’s yesterday i was the moon, picks up from where Uniyal’s book leaves. The fragmentation of the self and how it is not always easy to pick up the pieces and walk away has been beautifully captured in this book:
in this human skin,
i am half war
In the end stands Kanwar Dinesh Singh’s The Frosted Glass that makes one question all things that one surrounds oneself with and the fragility of it all.
Sitting on two isles close by
you and I
send each other
Why do we write poetry? What is it about this form of writing—this form of expressing oneself–that makes one take it up? These are a few questions that have always riddled me and continue to do so even today. Maybe a few questions are best left unanswered. As a year discards its old clothes and prepares to wear a fresh set—how far will poetry go to embroider itself onto these clothes? Whether in doing so it will tear it to shreds or patch up the torn bits is for us to wait and watch.
Semeen Ali is currently pursuing PhD in English Literature from University of Delhi, Delhi.
THE CANE GROVES OF NARMADA RIVER: EROTIC POEMS FROM OLD INDIA
Translated by Andrew Schelling
Aleph Book Company, 2017, pp. 77, R299.00
LAL SINGH DIL: SELECTED POEMS
Translated by TC Ghai
LG Publishers Distributor, 2017, pp. 200, R395.00
NEW DELHI LOVE SONGS
By Michael Creighton
Speaking Tiger, 2017, pp. 122, R299.00
FIND ME LEONARD COHEN, I’M ALMOST THIRTY
By Amit Ranjan
Red River, 2018, pp. 141, R300.00
THE LAND BELOW WATER
By Manik Sharma
RLFPA Editions, 2017, pp. 59, R250.00
100 POEMS ARE NOT ENOUGH
By various authors
Walking Book Fairs and Pan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Publishing, India, 2018, pp. 90, R299.00
THE DAY WE WENT STRAWBERRY PICKING IN SCARBOROUGH
By Ranu Uniyal
Dhauli Books, 2018, pp. 81, R300.00
yesterday i was the moon
By Noor Unnahar
Clarkson Potter, 2017, pp. 160, R250.00
THE FROSTED GLASS
By Kanwar Dinesh Singh
Cyberwit.net, 2017, pp. 73, R200.00