Book Review by Gopal Lahiri
Title: Resonance- English Poetry from Poets of Odisha
Editors: Chittaranjan Mishra, Jaydeep Sarangi, Mona Dash
Publisher: Author Press, 2020
Poetry to many of us, appears as a process of illumination– as much for the poet as for the other and connects one person to another, one time to another. ‘Resonance’ the collection of English Poetry from Poets of Odisha explores the modern narrative; and a meditation on literary form, and how the modernist poem might look through a contemporary lens.
It is to be mentioned that in the last three decades, Indian Poetry written in English language has progressed considerably. English Poetry from Poets of Odisha is no exception. The diverse styles and uninhibited approach, the magical word-play and the innovative ideas of the poets of Odisha have expanded the Indian English poetry province to a large extent.
Chittaranjan Misra, Jaydeep Sarangi and Mona Dash, the editors of this poetry collection, in their Introduction have elucidated, “The sense of location that the Odia English poets construct are not in consonance with idolatry centred on nationalism or regionalism based on bigotry. It is about cultural specificity refracted through poets’ sensibility and power of fashioning imagery.”
Poetry, too, has the power to transform. This fascinating collection includes English poems of thirty-two Odia poets and explores many things in life that is extensively rephrased. It is a book that invites readers to share the poet’s vision of experiences: sorrow, pain, love, desire, joy, longing, the exposure to art, and transience.
The collection contains a polyphony of voices and language and imagery that draws at times from sources as various as the Hindu scriptures and folklores. It evokes the complex multiplicity of Odisha’s cultural landscape, a result of the states long history of culture, heritage and migration. Many of the poems’ opening lines immediately grab your attention and you feel recontextualized, born anew.
Professor Himansu S. Mohapatra has rightly pointed out the intricacies of the choices based on language and identity, “Odia-English poetry does not disappoint here. Poets from Jayanta Mahapatra and Bibhu Padhi to Shanta Acharya and Rabindra K. Swain have paid attention to the diction of their poetry. They have perfected idioms which are supple and resonant.”
Jayanta Mahapatra, the iconic poet from Odisha has observed, “I don’t think there is one India, Odisha is one India, Bengal is another. Maharashtra, Kerala, Kashmir– all these are different Indias. It is easier to relate yourself to a particular region than to talk about the whole of India as a construct.” His solitary poem ‘The Road’ in this book, has reflected an honest examination of language, gravities, crosscurrents of time.
Eternally thirsty the road has freed itself
From the pull of the earth and the empty garden
Of graves But its spirit is heavy
With reasons for killing one another.
Bibhu Padhi is another outstanding poet from Odisha. His poems are always marked with quiet wisdom, cadence and elegant images. Deploying the qualms and opacities of language, he attempts to construct bridges of meaning that might at any time prove deceptive. He has an eye for the vivid image, allowing him to bring nameless island into sharp focus as in the following poems,
And there is only this fear
of being pushed towards
a nameless island I quietly left
without being noticed, long ago.
—‘Finding and Losing’
perhaps someone lean and weak
is struggling with life, with death,
in an island of his own.
— ‘Night Sounds’
Shanta Acharya is among the most acclaimed poets of Odisha whose works have been published worldwide. There are several jewels in ‘Vigil’ that everyone should read and the poem is a poignant familial recollection evocative, in its conciseness and detailed imagery.
I half-dream though half-awake
Of you in exquisite colours,
Rich hues of maroon, golden, purple,
Memories quivering like fanned tails of peacocks.
With astonishing maturity, Prabhanjan Kumar Mishra weaves together contents, images, and stories with ease and his finely carved, magical poems invite the readers into the quarter of inwardness. ‘Konark by Night’ is a gem of a poem that veer towards the poetic equivalent of stone art that matches like the snapshots of nightly intimacy and the rise of the legend rooted in culture specificity.
Tonight we put our souls together
to sculpt the legend again
out of the dark’s flesh
attune our desires
to the body’s waves and stones,
and plant a seed lovingly
to take back home
a souvenir, joyous and poignant’
Rabindra K Swain’s poems are marked by a firm technique and sense of distancing. The poet is often able to find ideas and meaning and manages to find images suitable to the task of telling that this is the human life. It is the permeability in his poems that absorbs the words and sentences and the measurement of ease in the flow is strikingly evident.
It sensed your despair
and dropped its quills.
failing to get its hint you sulk and then wilt.
dawn is petals; dawn is quills.
—‘What you Miss’
Chittaranjan Misra is one of the most compelling poetic voices from Odisha and his poems often interrogate the difference in the society. At times, they are moving and wise, going beyond the mere philosophical questioning of life. The following poem validates the poet’s curiosity and the fineness of his words.
I am fluid, a solute
Waiting to be dissolved
To lose all bodies
To lose all beings
Jaydeep Sarangi is a well-known bilingual poet. His poetry is assured and he uses language with a wonderful ease and elegance. His work has always retained intimacy, longing and directness. He writes from life, rarely relying on anything else. That’s what makes his poems so immediate – the life is there while he writes.
my forgotten chapter of memory
Sculpted on the walls of Kanakdurga temple
My lines are straight
Arrows fixed up, DNA stitched
Odia veins spark.
–‘Love and Longing at Jhargram’
Mona Dash combines disarmingly plain diction with a familiar quirkiness. It is true that there is no sentimentality and her poems have a quiet acceptance.
The words nestling in my heart
Released in my breath go
I hold up my hands
In the air, to find the very air is
–‘What is lost’
There is a productive oddness to Durga Prasad Panda’s poems, finding surprise and profundity in unpicking objects, phrases and words. On the whole his writing is both rare and laudable for attempting to balance the openness with acumen.
I live in the city
In my courtyard lies a snake.
From above the door hangs a snake.
On my bed stretches flat a snake.
On my rooftop sunbathes a snake.
From within the skull’s eye sockets
Winks a snake.
–‘Snakes in the City’
Chinmay Jena’s beautiful poems featured in this collection are remarkably fluent, lyrical and assured. The poet strikes the balance between silence and word in a seamless manner.
I see the flakes of apathetic clouds
Drift in the northerly wind
The moment prepares me
For yet another tryst with winter
In Nandini Sahu’s poetry, there is an urgent passion for the language. She dissects the world with a wondering discerning eye. Her poems in this collection is deep, engaging and sharply articulated.
Who says death is the only truth?
See, your body of fog is still seated on the throne.
You still shine in the firmament of stars.
–‘Who says Death is the Only Truth?’
Mamata Dash is always in control of weaving words and images. So many lines in this poem shimmer with somewhat ironic discovery — a straightforward gazing-down at intimacy and closeness.
Remember that day
I created a beehive for you
From my nerves, senses and veins
And hung it
On the bench of a tree nearby your window.
Prahallad Sathpathy’s ‘Eternal Verse of Love’ reflects a landscape of elusive words. His love poem feels intensely familiar yet disquietingly inexplicable,
‘Your lips give birth to poetry
When my lips touch yours
Your eyes become a torch when my words fumble in the dark
I bite your earlobe and feel the sensation of poetry’
–‘Eternal Verse of Love’
Ramakanta Das’s poem appears to be more incandescent, emotive and assured in simplest forms, not wrestling with grand themes and contents.
‘A silhouette of greenery
Laced with a silver lining
Visible to me from horizon
Throws distinct hints of a sprout-tender dream’
–‘Hints of a dream’
Deba Patnaik, Saroj Padhi, Shankarshan Parida, Shruti Das and a few other poet’s works are also featured in this collection, extending the vistas of English Poetry and they are certainly worthy of notice.
There is no denying that the contemporary Indian English language poets make themselves heard in recent times. Here is a luminous collection of poems from Odisha intent on expanding poetry’s sphere. The voices are always in harmony while exploring the inner landscape of life’s promise, locale and unpredictable strangeness. One of the pleasures of this book is in the shifts of tone that reflect each poet’s sensitivity to his or her inspired form and the creative content without any regional bias. A delightful anthology revelling in the diverse similarities!
Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 21 books published mostly (13) in English and a few (8) in Bengali, including three joint books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India. He is published in 12 countries and his poems are translated in 10 languages.
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