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Review

Bridging Continents through Poetry

Book review by Madhu Sriwastav

Title: Bridging Continents: An Anthology of Indo-American Poets

Edited by Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri.

Bengali Translation Tanmoy Chakraborty.

Published by: Zahir Publication.

Bridging Continents: An Anthology of Indo-American Poets, edited by Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri, veteran poets and critics with numerous anthologies to their credit is not a run off the mill anthology. It’s a carefully crafted volume comprising thirteen well-known Indian English Poets along with eleven renowned contemporary American Poets. That’s not all, it comes with a translation of these poems at the end of the book, on the reverse, in Bengali by noted poet Tanmoy Chakraborty.

The compilation of living poets is to make the reader dwell on the present, be in the moment across continents, poetically. Contrary to tradition this book doesn’t have a foreword. It begins with  ‘Let’s Talk’, a dialogue between the editors Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri, putting forward the poetic intention of the book through a light conversation to give readers a free hand without the direction imposed by a formal foreword: “whatever meaning they come up with will be theirs entirely,” says Sharmila Ray. Gopal Lahiri adds, “I want our readers to be more of a free spirit and enjoy reading with an open mind”.

The editors seem excited in offering something unique. Poets featured in the anthology have been chosen by the editors. Browsing through the book, reading snippets of poetry geographically apart yet united by the richness of texture, one notices certain common grounds which unite mankind across the globe by the similarities in afflictions but their responses vary depending on their diverse cultural lores. The anthology posits both the uniformity and the uniqueness in human conditions across the globe from India to America and the poetic responses of contemporary poets towards common issues but coloured with their individual experiences.

With environmental crises affecting people worldwide, Indian and American poets alike poetize on it. Andrea Witzke Slot expresses her deep empathy with nature with a tone of foreboding in ‘The Time-Being of Oak’.

Hear the branches reverberate. See the mud soften like grief beneath our feet, where ropes of roots, push onward, ripping through steel pipes, cracking foundations, tearing up roads and pavements and fields sown with aversion and hate.

Kashmiri Poet Ayaz Rasool Nazki in ‘Morning at A Dying Lake’paints a pristine image of a mountain lake, shrinking and its flora and fauna gasping for life:

In the mountain sockets

Still laced with

A blemish of deodar trees

Sunil Sharma in ‘Water Dear’ uses very urban images to startle and shock the reader out of apathy:

The rationing is on, in tony neighbourhoods. One day, for one-hour only.

The fat women hoard it like gold

Terrorism is another common enemy tearing lives apart. ‘Bombs’ by Rainer Schulte versifies devastation:

 Bombs

turn dreams

 into unending screams

Its echoes are heard in ‘Time of Death’ by Rasool who aptly depicts desolation in a terror-struck zone:

Moth had written an epitaph

On the petals

On the marble panel

No one came to read it ever

No one came to light a candle

There was no mourning in death

In a world rife with disunity and discord, sensibilities of the poet cry to reach out, hold hands, cross bridges. Heath Brougher’s free verse ‘Invitation’ makes an urgent call:

I say the time

Is nigh to cast off these antiquated shackles

And free ourselves by taking a step forward.

I say we must cross the boundaries

Jaydeep Sarangi’s ‘True Indian’is a rhetoric on a quintessential secular Indian highly significant in the troubled times:

I see a rose

I gather lotus

I visit churches

The Indo-American poets do write about love, the most primordial emotion or the lack of it though their perspectives differ. In Gjeke Marinaj’s ‘Twenty-Four Hours of Love’ personal emotions beautifully coalesce with nature:

Twilight had sensed our need to seek out a hiding-place somewhere

It melted everything down to the color of chocolate,  which ends with a chic modern image:

“New evening and undid the top buttons of her black shirt;

And for us she hung on her neck the moon washed in gold”.

Parneet Jaggi’s ‘Love Transforms’ dwells on the feeling of love and its deep inner nuances:

“Eyes shut themselves to open to subtler visions

Ears turn inward to a wordless world,

Mind waits not for the lover to appear and make love”.

Whereas Sharmila Ray writes about her inability to write on love in a devastated and disillusioned world –‘I’ve forgotten how to write a love poem’.

For those of us fed on English poets Sanjukta Dasgupta’s ‘If Winter Comes…’ stands out as a marker of an Indian winter to be cherished as opposed to its western avatar:

“Winter is our season of feasts and fairs

 “We do not long for spring in winter”

“Of kash flowers in autumn

Till winter makes the jaggery drip”

There are poems by Dah Helmer weaving fairy tale characters in its tapestry to tell tales as well as poems that braid Indian and Western mythical characters by, Sunil Sharma and Sharmila Ray. Horrors of history are revisited in Gopal Lahiri’s ‘Jallianwallah Bagh Muse’ making it a living presence:

In the evening memorial lights are falling on the wounds 

Empty gaze of water is still misty, still hazy

Mandira Ghosh’s poem blasts into the sun’s periphery, deconstructs human body into atoms yet sees a solar eclipse and prays to the sun:

“Oh Sun! Purify us

Pardon our sins”

Vinita Agarwal’s ‘She wolf’remindsone of Blake’s ‘Tyger’, a pithy image shouting out the state of Indian woman:

 She has scented the wolf in her

uprooted the fake pews of pious womanhood…a fight for dignity

a sheet of self-esteem, an iron caress

 ‘Credit Cards’ by Rainer Schulte warns of the dangers of digitization balancing on the verge of spirituality. Pradip Biswal’s ‘Nero isn’t dead’ echoes the feelings of every man across the globe subject to governmental apathy. Time and space restrict the unravelling of the myriad hues in this collection which entice exploration.

Tanmoy Chakraborty has translated all the poets to introduce them to the Bengali reader as a teaser. However, his translations engage the critic into the processes of translating, word for word or transcreation and more so because arguments are rife about the translatability of poetry. “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” claims Robert Frost whereas Voltaire says “It is impossible to translate poetry. Can you translate music?”

In a translation of Between my country and the others, as ministry’, he translates ‘forget -me-not blues’ as ‘oporajita’ a blue Indian flower, this can be seen as an attempt to adapt the culture into the target language.  However, ‘Twenty-four hours of love’, does lose out on the sophistication in the image of night unbuttoning her shirt to hang ‘a moon washed in gold‘. But these could be seen as lost in translation — in transposing in words from a culture unfamiliar with the gestures of another culture. Bengali readers though can get an idea of the range of contemporary poetry being written in English across the globe.

The Anthology invites a detailed reading and exploration. It deserves a place in any poetry lovers’ bookshelf, for bringing in so many poets from across the world with diverse cultures in one place and offering the reader an eclectic and arresting read.

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Madhu Sriwastav is an Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of English at Bamanpukur Humayun Kabir Mahavidyalaya. She is based in Kolkata. She is an academician, poet, translator, critic, reviewer and short story writer. Her articles have been published in National and International journals. She is a performing poet and has performed on various National and International platforms such as Guntur Poetry Festival, ISISAR Poetry Festival, Apeejay Kalam Literary Festival etc. She has published her poems in various prestigious National and International journals and anthologies such as The Vase, Setu, Glomag, OPA, Amravati Prism, Culture and Diversity etc.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Poetry

Double dread

By Madhu Srivastaw

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Corona cries all around

Amphan raged destruction             

Yet I am me

Living on day to day

Settling my daily scores

Domestic, parental chores

Transferred money to PM fund

Gave food to beggar that came home

Wrote a poem or two

As Amphan screeched it’s belly out

Wrenching people’s life in tears

Rendered roofless by a spat of wind

Precious trees breathing life

Uprooted, broken, lying low

Immersed in darkness of night

With cyclone screaming raging rife

I kept the kids with me in bed

Diverting them in singing sprees

My mother with her heart in mouth

Kept her fingers clasped in prayers!

It diminished slowly…flew apart

Taking away our comforts fast

Electricity snapped; network gone

At least we had our homes intact

Yet we cribbed, sulked, complained

Though hundreds had lost their homes

Torn apart by Amphan’s fury

Coastal areas lost their lives

Electric poles all headlong down

Uprooted shrivelled trees abound

Government help haplessly seek

Only God can save us now

As though Corona was not enough

He sent Amphan to double the dread!

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Madhu Sriwastav is Assistant Professor of English. She is based in Kolkata. She is a poet, translator, critic and reviewer. She has published poems in various national and international journals and anthologies. She has performed poetry in several poetry festivals. She writes on anything that touches her. She is working on her upcoming book of poems.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.