Lines across the Ocean: Love and the Impossibility of Words

Book Review by Soni Wadhwa

Title: Lines Across Oceans

Authors: Nalini Priyadarshni and D. Russel Micnhimer

A few days before this Valentine’s Day, Nalini Priyadarshni urged her friends on Facebook to  “consider getting a book of love verses for your sweetheart this Valentine”. The book is Lines Across Oceans: Intercontinental Love Verses which she has co-written with the late poet D. Russel Micnhimer, also a winner of Poet Laureate award in India. To those who love poetry and those who have been in love, Priyadarshni’s mischievous call to action invoked nothing less than a gleeful sentiment of “ooooh… another one” tinged with “oh no – not again!” It is a sentiment that gushes out of a lover/beloved every time a note of pleasure comes close enough to unfold aspects of loving.

While the book was published three years ago, it was a perfect moment to discover how the two poets from different continents would reinvent ways of understanding, expressing love and talking about it. The book does two wonderful things for the readers — it begins with Rumi and then somewhere in the middle declares what lovers already know about the impossibility of syncing love with speech:  

Listen if you must

Not my words, for they may be unbefitting

Listen to my silence in pure intent

My pauses bring forth what my words couldn’t 

If you don’t get my silence, my words were a waste

Anything that can be explained away in sounds and signs

can neither be deep nor abiding 

Eternal and elemental, the absolutely best in us

expresses itself as much in black as in white fire

Love cannot be spoken about, and yet, lovers continue to speak about it. Priyadarshni and Micnhimer affirm the paradox of writing about silence in love and so one can peacefully move on to enjoying the way of words that have the audacity to express being in love:

Words born in the recesses of your heart, I treasure 

Even before they rise in your throat 

Or find release from your lips 

I know them from another place, another time 

The refrain “another place, another time” throughout the piece concedes that being in love is being resonant with the idea of love that precedes the lovers in question. Hence, Rumi. Hence, poetry. Hence, reading. Hence, writing. This idea of another time, another place constitutes the iconography of love at the hands of Priyadarshni and Micnhimer:

We pour ourselves out to make room

For the best is yet to come.

What’s love poetry without the snapshots of togetherness? Here is an instance of the mood of the Valentine from the book:

Morning Ritual of shared coffee 

with a tea person should make you wary . . . . 

Mightn’t be the coffee they are after 

but coffee flavored kisses

One wants to blush at the thought of being outdone by the beloved thus. And then one wants to know how the beloved will walk the path of passion:

Knead me as a loaf with your fingers jaan . . . .

– I am growing, expanding, soaking 

in the joy of your laughter’s leavening 

overlapping the edges of meeting hearts. 

The eroticism spread throughout the book brings one back to words as the units constituting the idea of love:

How can I make my words taste as good as ice cream on a hot day 

make them tremble in your ears as they tumble from my tongue?

Lines Across Oceans is interesting for the way it weaves the idea of being together with that of writing together. This laying bare of the cohabitation in the text makes the collection of poems apt as more than a Valentine’s Day read. Sample the lines that articulate this: 

When you write poems for me

and I string my words together 

to write about you and us

we do more than make love

to each other with our words

we bestow each other with 

a slice of eternity

The book appeals to the right spot called desire – desire, that sits perched delicately on the suture between the pleasures of writing, loving, and being loved. In the ritual of reading a collection of love poetry, desire begins to linger on all rituals of living and making sense of life. 

While general readers will be able anchor their experience of love in the light and intense moments in Lines Across Oceans, “serious” and regular readers of poetry will find interesting for its experiments at the formal level in the way it incorporates less known forms of poetry – katuata, sedoka, choka and so on. A ‘choka’, for instance, works very tightly with a form organized around the alternating lines of five and seven syllables:

Let nights and days of

Our loving playfulness, stretch

Into forever

Love is about opening one’s self and shrinking it too. Each number in the book reflects that opening and shrinking in different ways. The collection affirms that love and poetry are so alike. 

Do pick it up — even though the Valentine’s Day is gone, the Valentine is still around.

Soni Wadhwa is an academician based in Mumbai. Her work can be found on Asian Review of Books and Deccan Herald, some of which has also got republished in Scroll and South China Morning Post

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