Culture & Society

Book Review: Blend Of Diverse And Lyrical Sensibility In Poems

Sukrita Paul Kumar is an accomplished poet, painter, critic, translator and well-known academic. Vanishing Words is Sukrita’s fifth collection of poems. And there are thirty- four poems in all in this collection accompanied by gem like black and white illustrations by the poet.

'Vanishing Words' book review
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Book: Vanishing Words
Author: Sukrita
Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata

In her latest collection of poems ‘Vanishing Words’ Sukrita depicts a reality on various states of mind struggling against the undulations of life and illuminate the inner life as a singular encounter between physical and spiritual realms. At once fierce and subtle, her poetry combines both diverse and lyrical sensibility, sometimes almost solemn in its utterance. 

The poet’s voice crosses a threshold into a visionary world which it itself creates and where words vanish in a dream state. The voice in some of her poems inscribes a profound longing and desire. For the way their vividness takes root is remarkable.

Sukrita Paul Kumar is an accomplished poet, painter, critic, translator and well-known academic. This is Sukrita’s fifth collection of poems. And there are thirty- four poems in all in this collection accompanied by gem like black and white illustrations by the poet. The poignant clarity of the images, makes her poems linger in your mind long after you close the book. She is an important literary voice. The book draws in themes from injustice, disparities, evolution, to spiritualism and art to shape its brilliant enquiry into how the poetic mind works.

What strikes me most in her poems, is the rhythm which possesses a fluid continuity akin to forces of resistance that capture many tender moments. Her ability to challenge the distresses in life with love and light is notable.

The solace the poet offers in her poems is elevating, relevant and soulful. Her inventive lyricism highlights the intersectional nature of poetry with music, cadence and footprints of life. Her poems are as if a journey through endless scenes of the human elements arrested and transformed in poetic form.

The rhythm of her poems is startling because of the pattern operating underneath them. But the real liking, whatever she chooses to write about, is her unprompted craft, the effortless ease of the writing, the words that seem to weave a magic. Her ability to blend art, love, grief and yearning is unmatched. 
 
The poet thinks the words can break reality in giving way to dreamlike complexities and her poems often explore the surreal sense of instability.
 
The following poem establishes a hauntingly lyrical voice, a surreal poetic space and a master class. And this is also motivated by a desire through shrouds of time and space. She casts a new light on the poetic world.

I am not an etherised patient.
The moon whispers to me,

Something might come out of
My nothingness
Like

The complete circular wetness
Out of
A bubble exploded

On a dry, blank state. (Affirmation)

Poetry, it seems, offers a means to engage with language. Sometimes her poems enter our heart with a silence that still echoes. The following poem acutely captures the paradox of life- the streak of faith mixed with the anxious mindscape. 

Where shall I write
The paper twists in pain
All space is in awkward crinkles

Where shall I paint
The canvas fills
With sighs and whispers
As I lift those brushes. 

And the poet ends the poem with these meditative lines,

I carry the cross nailed by
Unborn poems, aborted paintings
Neither living
Nor dead (Untitled).

What astounds me about Sukrita’s poem is how it captures both the sense of isolation and deep connection that mark our everyday lives There is a dynamic unfolding of the ideas and perceptions of the poet. Against the starkly beautiful backdrop of Kashmir, she provides a small map of such a place.

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‘The boatman’s oar splashed and
diffused the colours,
taking the muddle to
the shores in ripples and bubbles,

making my thoughts
once again
opaque and
dense.’ (On The Dal At Srinagar)

In poetry, you can say a lot with just a few words. The poet weaves an affecting and nuanced collection of well-crafted and resonant poems. Through it all runs her blazing compassion and relentless curiosity, as her poems take us to the edge of love and grief. She laments, ‘I didn’t know then/ What I know now’. And then 
the poem achieves a tone both delicate and strong, studded with moments at the end that catch our breaths, ‘Treacherous journey uphill/difficult to climb/more difficult to come down. (Mountain Nights).

The following poem offers a tempting excursion to the collective identities, memories and myths that runs like a river and keeps breaking its own banks. The old lineages are familiar draws.

All three generations heaving
Sighs of relief
In a cosmos full of 
Intergenerational networks
Through shared memories. (Cosmic Connections)

Sukrita has enviable gift for difficult questions well masked, and her poems ring truth not like a church bell, but like the sound of wind flowing through leaves.

‘Can’t there be flight/ into the clouds/ will I always keep sinking.’

Paradoxically, the elasticity extends to the form, where closure is somehow held off, and the certainty of metre and rhyme is blurred by the leisurely accumulation of visual detail. It generalises without being bland, condenses without being narrow, and philosophises without being poetical.

The effect is a set of astoundingly moving poems in which the self becomes an inclusive vehicle for bridging the hurting gaps between generations, ideas and living things. 

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Africa, her childhood place comes back to her poems. She touches upon with intensity and verve, the subjects of the curse of blackness, black life and the racial imprint how they force an uncomfortable conformity, ‘on the other/ black screams and yelps/in search of their Africa.’

Her voice is assured, unhurried and unstrained. With the heaviest subjects, she travels light. With lighter subjects, she knows how to hold them in her fist. This intensity, becoming more and more explicit in the symbolic poem, ‘(Crows are our ancestors) seems hinged on its literariness. (‘Crows have with us a deep/ Linguist and genetic connect/ They are our ancestors.’)

Yet there's a sense in which it's ambiguous whether the welcoming light is possible because nature solicits the human or because the mind domesticates the forests. 

The poet displays the exploration of the power of silence as a means of resistance, a way of carving space for the self in a hostile world. Her poems have a clear-eyed elegance, buttressed with a controlled ferocity that is acute on the damage done by institutional indifference.

When the mind is made up
Begins yet another journey
of torment
Gut wrenching pains in labour
Before the musical notes trigger
from the free metal reeds
folding bellows in silence
woolly cotton balls in thin air. (Birthing).
 

The poet writes about the mysterious cosmos swirling with intricate linkages and continue on with our lives. The poet confesses, ‘picking words that cancel all noise in themselves, such that pulsate in echoes of meaning and then vanish into colourless space- past sound beyond meaning.’ and her eye clasps the liminal spaces between precision and shadow so well that brings her way of seeing into sharp focus. 

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Who knows when the earth was split into
Black and white
No record of any earthquake
Nor of any planetary catastrophe. (Colour That Bleeds)

Sukrita’s poetry is marked by rhythms, elegance and improvisatory delight. much certain of itself and its purpose. Her poems represent her engagement with life and her effort to bring unknown clues of the universe to light is cathartic, exhilarating and fresh. Her poems are like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time.

 Stillness total and absolute
when wheels at unseen speed
go beyond destinations (Freedom)

And the verse that uses subtler charms are sure to win you over. Throughout, there are familiar shades of mysticism and mindfulness, with tapping into something ancient and mythic. The following poem plays with the idea of exception, building a propelling account of the inner-voice script. The poet is a deft hand at knitting subtle layers.
 
What is real?
 
Image of the bird
fluttering in the sky
or the one still
in the gushing river
 
The wavy moon
in the water
or the one above
that is steady
 
Parallel
Forever (Pagoda Poems)

The book is generous in its compassion. It’s a voyage deep into the soul to reveal the unexpected depths. It’s the tone, the hue and texture, it’s the restraint- as impressive as it’s compassionate- that elevates this book to a different level. Throughout, the book’s greatest charm lies in the sensibility and subtlety of its narrative.

The cover page design is riveting. ‘Vanishing Words’ is one of the most arresting and beautiful collection of poems published in recent times and surely, the poetry lovers want to keep this book in their shelves at the earliest.

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(Gopal Lahiri was born and grew up in Kolkata, India. He is a bilingual poet, writer, editor, critic and translator and published in Bengali and English language. He has authored 10 volumes of poetry in Bengali and 17 volumes in English and jointly edited seven anthologies of poems in English and published one translation work. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. His book reviews have been published in Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi, (Print journal), Muse India, Scroll.in, Different Truths, The Lake (UK), Elixir (US), Kitaab (Singapore), Setu (US), The Statesman and The Millenium Post, Kolkata and many others. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prize for poetry in 2021.)

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