Category Archives: Poetry

When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.

Like Blood On The Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems by Akhil Katyal. Art by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue - Delhi Poems by Akhil Katyal Title: Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems
Author: Akhil Katyal
Art by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: Context
ISBN: 978-9389152258
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 164
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It isn’t easy for people to read poems. There is something about this genre that either works for some and doesn’t at all for others. What works for me is the brutality of a poem – the sweet sharp pain, and the after effects of reading a poem. A poem that etches itself on to your heart, is something I look for. Constantly. Unknowingly even. The one that arrives silently and works its way to my heart.

Like Blood on The Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems is a collection of old and new poems by Akhil Katyal. I read this collection in one day – in a gulp. I hurried through it, without letting go. I rushed through it and yet knew words, sentences, and emotions that spoke to me. I recognised them because we all go through the same – yet we feel we are different and so different from each other. Poetry makes you see the similarities, and smile or weep or both in good measure.

Katyal’s poems are about love, longing, a paean to the city of Delhi, to its streets and signs, its small shops and crooked lanes, its monuments, and corners where lovers meet. His poems make me want to go to the top of my building terrace and scream out loud. They make me want to yell and be heard. He writes of lovers – of you and I. He writes of silences – the ones that hang in the living room as we drink cups of tea and hope someone messages or the phone rings. He writes of a better world, a better country where the voice is held high and we all come together. Katyal writes of humour, he writes of the people on the margins – the ones who live in shadows and yet make themselves seen in ways unknown to the world.

Reading Katyal is to be hopeful. His poems make me believe that it is possible to find love, even if it doesn’t go anywhere. Katyal’s poems have a structure, and then they don’t. They meander and roam free like cats. They have a life of their own and that is made very clear right from the very beginning. Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s art is complimentary because it also tends to not follow any pattern or norm. The art reflects Delhi – Akhil’s Delhi – the Delhi that couldn’t be anywhere else but in Delhi. Of cable wires in the air, of pigeons seated on tombs, of the Delhi metro and people who inhabit it day after day, and also of Bombay and how he sometimes yearns for the sea. The art reflects Ghosh’s Delhi of Delhi Calm, of the Delhi in today’s time and world, of Delhi protesting against everything and standing out.

I wrote of a love gone by in the margins of this book. I found myself scribbling alongside Akhil’s words. I also found myself teared-up when he speaks of love and longing and loss and Hoshang Merchant, and then of JNU, of the Delhi Queer Pride, and all things that make us and we become or unbecome as we live.

I am not going to ramble anymore. All I am going to say is read this collection. Read it. Reread it. Read it. Reread it. Fin.

Here’s my playlist for Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems: 

  • Aaye Kuch Abr by Atif Aslam (Coke Studio)
  • Faasle by Kaavish and Quratulain Balouch
  • Aaja Re More Saiyaan from Coke Studio
  • Shaaman Pai Gaiyyan by Naseebo Lal
  • Jaana by Zoheb and Nazia Hassan
  • Aise Hijr Ke Mausam by Chitra Singh
  • Ek Chaand from the movie LOEV
  • Babul Mora
  • Ronay Na Diya
  • Dilli 6
  • Rehna Tu Hain Jaise Tu
  • Kissi Ko Bhi Toh Mukkamal
  • Jinhen Naaz Hain
  • Raah Pe Rehte Hain

Love Without A Story: Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Love Without A Story Title: Love Without A Story: Poems
Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 978-9388689458
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am very particular about what poetry I read. After all, poetry is acquired taste. It needs that breathing time. Time to mull over and make sense of what is going on and how it has managed to leave you breathless in its wake. How a poet has that power over you, and you just cannot seem to decipher that. You just let it be and accept that as your fate or whatever you believe in. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems “Love Without A Story” is a book of poems that just is. I don’t think it is trying to make a point or say anything that you haven’t already heard in various forms – it just is though, in all its beauty, subtlety, and grace.

The poems jump at you, almost ambush you. But isn’t that what good poetry should be all about? The ambushing. The cornering. The making-you-sit-down-and-listen kind of poetry. From making you think of old friends, to getting down to the business of love – sometimes said out loud and sometimes hidden for reasons only known to the beloved, Subramaniam’s poetry cannot be placed on any understanding or technique and quite frankly, doesn’t even need to. As long as the reader feels what she is trying to say is more than enough. Isn’t it?

“It gets easier, friend,
With age,
To delete, plan breakfast,
Turn the page.

It would have been easier still
If you hadn’t deleted the sun”

The above lines are from a poem called “Deleting the Picture”. This one hit home the hardest – the one that made me weep a little and mourn the loss of a friendship. This is what poetry is supposed to do, right? Good poetry at least – to seize you, jolt you out of your existence, and make you see what was always visible.

Arundhathi’s writing isn’t difficult to read at all. If anything, it is so simple, that you connect with it instantly. Her poems are of longing, friendship, of boundaries we are willing to cross, of relationships that break and don’t return, of people who break them and survive. It is almost like every poem is a universe of its own – so vast and detailed, even if it seems contained in the pages of the book.

When parents die,
You hunt for clues
In strips of Sorbitrate,
Immaculate handwriting,
Unopened cologne
And in evening air,
Traces of baritone.

Finding Dad is another of my favourites. Once again, this made me weep. Made me think of things that I did not say to my father while he was alive, and now I search for him in objects, in his favourite songs and movies, and sometimes I think I am reminded of his voice.

Love is a strange territory to navigate. Poetry most certainly helps us. Good poetry makes it even better and tolerable. It makes us see the people we were and what we have become. Arundhathi’s poetry does just that. It has the sense of abandon that poetry demands from its creators. It has the sense of fulfilment and yet keeps you on the edge, wanting more, and not giving it. You have to make do with what you have. That’s the first rule of poetry according to me. You soak in its brilliance and dare not ask more, till it is given on its own. Every poem of Love Without A Story leaves you with something – big or small doesn’t matter. The emotion is there, the feeling of empowerment and helplessness, and above all of love and its various forms. I leave you with this one.

For lovers flatten
Into photographs,

Photographs
Into reminiscence,

Reminiscence
Into quiet,

And then what’s left?

Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world,
Love without a story.

Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson

Something Bright, Then Holes Title: Something Bright, Then Holes
Author: Maggie Nelson
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593762308
Genre: Poems, Prose
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Maggie Nelson is a genius. No really, she actually is. Have no doubt when it comes to this. Her prose and poetry shines and is enchanting to the very last word. I have read close to 3 books by her and I can say with complete confidence that there is no one like her. Sometimes I do not even know if her writing is prose or poetry or a combination of both. Whatever it is, it is glorious and deserves to be read by one and all.

Something Bright, Then Holes is full of empathy. Everything she writes is as a matter of fact. To me that stands out in her writing and the only reason why I love her writing the way I do, beside of course the language. However, you cannot separate the two anyway. Also, this collection cannot be compared to Bluets and you shouldn’t if you have read Bluets. This collection is divided into three parts – a new relationship being embarked on and a polluted waterway in Brooklyn, the second is the aftermath of a paralysing accident that Nelson’s friend goes through and the third is her attempt to get over a failed relationship.

Each section is raw, intense and utterly heartbreaking. It is as though you are being tied to a chair and the person you love the most is walking away from you, and you cannot do anything about it. The collection is unapologetic and she doesn’t put on a brave face – her writing conveys, mostly painfully, what she is going through. Each sentence stands out from the other and lends itself a new voice. Maggie Nelson as usual doesn’t disappoint at all. Everything is satisfactory, even the hurt and the pain, especially the hurt and the pain. Read it. Please be prepared to weep.

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.