The Dance of the Peacock: A True Celebration
A Review by Gopikrishnan Kottoor
Debjani Chatterjee calls the collection ‘A celebration in diversity’, while also feeling that ‘not everyone will agree with the editor’s choice of poems’. The book of poems has 151 contributors.
Indian poetry is going through an obtuse phase at the moment. There is no warrior who’ll defend ‘true poetry’, no one who really cares for the Indian English poetry stuff. Here Jha’s efforts are laudable. Jha also says that he has picked up poets who have been consistently ignored despite the large numbers of poetry volumes that they have brought out’. He says his work will ‘help to shine light on their work too’.
Now we have a medley. So much so, it puts a reviewer like me in a tight spot.
A poetry editor has a prime responsibility. When he puts on the mantle, he should attempt total justice to his role. It then gets hard not to be a ‘ helper of friends’. It is difficult not to fall into the trap of accommodation. This has been the problem with the editors of some other recent Indian English poetry anthologies too that have been severely criticised for ‘accommodation,’ giving wrong, utterly wrong leads.
We have, in this massive missile of an anthology, established names and small fries running side by side. Here’s the rough summation of the book: 20big names, 20 medium, 20 running round about to make it, and around ninety odd ‘ignored poets’ of which say, seventy would have been better if left ignored, but for whom the editor has offered wanton space with much compassion.
Now, here’s the random harvest. Akhil Katyalis a possible future voice.’I’ve crammed into the PCO booth/ closed the wooden flap behind me/ and now every number I dial is fear’. Nice take. Ameranda Khatua’s ‘Injury Time’ looks like he is trying to make a poetic mark. He has flair. Ami Kaye impresses with her‘A Scene froma Mughal Painting’ “in the background/ minarets have turned red/ from the sun’s farewell… there’ll be no more beheadings tonight”. Her ‘ Ghazal of the Rose’ is inviting enough. Her ‘Morning Raga’ is also sensate ‘The hundred mouths of morning/ open their soft dark sleep to welcome/ the splendour of the sun.
Anna Sujatha Mathai, though a seasoned poet, disappoints. Archana Sahni’s Lady Hanuman is original. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s ‘Return’ is deft and endears ‘After so long you’ll be here again/ And I’ll have to relearn how it works’, and ‘Watching the Steamrollers Arrive’creates turbulence ‘Names have started their dissolve…’ . The poem’s closure is effective. Asha Viswas, long neglected, has a wonderful poem ‘Another Vignette’ where every stanza is arresting with stellar images ‘The air is full of the moaning of the bees/ and the purple flowers assume/ a deepening shade of the dusk. A spider web holds a heart on a string’. There is typical Jayanta here with ‘A lone funeral pyre breathes quietly in the peepuls’. K Satchidanandan makes one feel as though he is trying to breed in his poems a pastiche of Latin American poetry ‘A man walks with a door/he looks for its house’ – It isn’t at all original. Others like Mani Rao, Menka Shivdasani, or K. Srilata have certainly not put in their best. Mustansir Dalvi emerges fresh and strikes deep with, ‘You said You would kill it this morning. Its’ still around. It crawls’. Nikesh Murali is another fresh voice that reads well. Prabanjan K Mishra’s ‘Dung Woman’ shows maturity and accomplishment. He is a poet who deserves more attention. PK N Panicker’s ‘Little Blue flowers’ is dainty.
Ravi Shankar looks good. His poems ‘Breast Feeding at the Blue Mosque’or ‘The Condition of Certain Evenings’ startle and never quite leave. Rudra Kinshuk has coloured sparks. Padhi does not quite come out of Jayanta’s clutches. Ruth Vanita can cast an occasional spell as with ‘Ancestry’. Vivek Narayanan’s ‘In Church’‘ In a few minutes this empty classroom will take the form of a house of worship’ eloquently reveals his talent. R Raja Rao, as usual will want to make you puke. His poems make you think that he is attempting homosexuality, even on paper.
Now the sad part. Because we have hundreds of pudding poets who litter everywhere, with a lot of self-praise and unappeasable desire to see their names in print, a major chunk of what passes for our poetry makes its weird atmosphere with diffuse narrative that drags aimlessly without being pleasurable to the senses or the intellect. Several such, revel in their prosody of statements, leading to monotony and dullness. A discerning reader may spot some of them here.
I’ve skipped many poets who did not appeal to me on first reading. Perhaps, I also said my heart about many poets who might seem bright to other readers. Of course,my tastes are not final. To everyman, his mind. But, all said, this book of poetry creates a mysterious open sky feeling.For one who’ll tread carefully, this dancing peacock will offer splendid beauties, and reward with treasure.
All said, Jha has done us proud. Well edited and presented, this is significant work indeed – A true celebration.
Gopikrishnan Kottoor has several national prizes of the British Council-Poetry Society, India, for his poetry. He has ten volumes of poetry. His poems have featured inter alia, in Orbis (UK), Verse (Seattle), Nth position (UK), The Illustrated Weekly (India), Ariel (Canada), and anthologies by Bloodaxe (UK), Fulcrum (US), and Poetry Society, (India). He has published novels (A Bridge Over Karma, Hill House, Presumed Guilty), and plays (The Mask of Death, Fire in the Soul, A Woman in Flames). He edited A New Book of Indian Poems in English and founded Poetry Chain. He was poetry editor for The Southwest Poetry Journal during his MFA stint in Texas State University, USA. His poem, Father, Wake Us In Passing, (translated into German), won him a poetry Residency, in the University of Augsburg, Germany. www.gopikottoor.blogspot.in.