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:
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.
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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