Into the cartilage of urban reality

People can find themselves mirrored within most of Sharma’s poems. His vibrant and uncomfortably direct poems encapsulate ideas of  the complexity of life in a seamless manner and are the celebrations of common humanity,” writes Gopal Lahiri.

Sunil Sharma’s seventh poetry collection Intersection – Visual, Verbal takes a reader on a fascinating journey through his poetic landscape, exploring the intersecting planes of life and its surroundings, and bringing the essence of its time vividly to life. The poet whips us through emotional states, allowing us to consider what we’re doing to one another. The poems in this volume retain a sense of the slow but steady accretion of feelings of searching. The book is elevated by the poet’s striking and original voice.

In Sharma’s latest collection, there is a balance of despair and unsettling realism as well as grace and beauty. The book hums with hope and compassion, and yet the dark and the difficult are always present. He is nearly peerless in his ability to capture the tastes, textures, and characters of cities and locales, moving through a wide variety of topics, themes, forms, and tones. Most of the poems from this collection have been published in various online journals as well.

Intersections: Visual, Verbal by Sunil Sharma, Author’s Press, 2019

The poet believes that poetry is not made only of words or language but of images too, and this makes a kind of argument in this book. In his words, “The formalism, both as a motto and motive does not work for me, as a writer rooted in realism. My province is humanity, not language-games, dry and self-reflexive.”

Sharma’s poetry is rarely linked to starry skies, soft lyricism or roses in the garden with exotic languages. On the contrary, his poems are distilled in class struggle, social norms, imbalances, and the rise of modernity with indifference to the common people. Social consciousness and enticing truths are his primary focus here. He has mentioned, “Poetry must portray common struggles and give hope to the toiling masses – that is my credo. It should also uncover spiritual truths and dimensions – and connections with nature and community.”

Sharma’s poems are impassioned, incisive, concentrated and in the end, an integral part of the humanity he expresses with pain and wonder. His work ranges from the moving to the insightful, from the expansive to the intimate. He is pretty much everywhere and has accepted the virtues of a workaday life. Few poets would have bothered to explore ‘Sisyphus in his labours,’ as such: 

repeating like
the Camus-discovered
Sisyphus in his labors
trying to find hope
in a hopeless place
might sound madness
for the successful
but that is most heroic
for some ordinary guys –
locating a flower in an arid
Gulag of mind and space
littered with dead roses. 

– Heroic

The poet traces the pathways of urban life in this tender yet devastatingly succinct poem and reminds us that the purpose of the poem extends beyond pleasure. From the endearing metaphor, the poet glides easily to the cartilage of urban reality. Everything here is transparent without the thin veil of indistinctness. You can almost hear ‘the hum of a dying river.’

Hungrily hugged
By moving shadows.
Music of the
Silvery trees
Fusing with the hum
Of a dying river –
Heard far-off
In a troubled sleep
By an urban mind.

– Phantom Road

Noted American poet Scott Thomas Outlar has rightly pointed out in his foreword that “the chasm between the wealthy and the average workers continues to widen – whether in London, New York, or Mumbai – and the heart of Sharma’s collection of poems clearly captures the discrepancy.”

The gloomy vault
washed in a mysterious blue
frayed at edges
pierced by the jagged leaves of the phantom trees
in various places.
The blue enchants the mind
and beckons quietly.
An invitation to walk into the other side! 

– The Blue

Here is a poet who never writes anything that doesn’t come from the heart. In fact, very few of his poems shy away from moral ambiguity and difficult questions of life. There are some striking lines and a hidden pointer looking into the soul in the following poem. It builds out of history and spirit, myth into reality.

Like
Hamlet
caught in a wrong court/age
I stand midway
between visible/invisible realms

placed amid the
theater players
royal players

searching for real
in an un-real setting 

– Wrong Place/Time

Such writings have the immediacy of personal experience that highlights the poet’s strengths, which include storytelling and references to the global poetic canvas. Sharma’s poems sometimes tell stories about how we connect with each other, how we make sense of everyday chaos in the darkest corner, how we love, and how we heal. Mumbai is the emotional core of this collection. 

and an old stone wall in
a Mumbai slum bursting with
shanties
then—
a golden light came on
from the only sodium-vapour lamp
and drew a finely-etched collage
on the broken asphalt of the street.

Street Art

Poetry, it seems, offers a means to engage with language here and a sort of re-birth happens in search of a fairer world. His word play is not about limits; it’s about making language richer. Sometimes his poems enter our hearts with a silence that still echoes.

re-birth happens
new formats made
older ones shed or made
irrelevant
new texts then
emerge from the shadows,
tired wombs, contexts, places
every such moment
 new threshold marks
the birth of a Guernica
or The Island of the Fay.

– Formations Verbal

The versatile poet wants to matter in a world that he has been watching closely for years. The following poem puts in clear and concise terms what the poet wants to express about the transformation in life. The work is extraordinarily perceptive about passions, concerns, and sombreness. 

Bring your empty words
I will re-charge them again
And make them potent;
The hollow words –
Bring them to me and
I will make them sing,
In the summer afternoon
On the glistening lips of
The workers in sweat
Working on construction sites;

Bring Your Words

This is a poetry collection that you can’t put down, to which you keep returning because of its incisiveness and precision. It’s the clarity that appeals to readers because it carries luminous words and moving uncertainties with equal measure. His charming poems are aimed at the hearts of the people rather than the intelligentsia.

Vagrant-heart is like
that pigeon-
fluttering wings against
the glass facade
of a high-rise
in humid Mumbai;

the staircase-light
confusing the avian eyes

frail-body 
eager to enter 
for
making a nest 
in the treeless place.

The Wall

People can find themselves mirrored within most of Sharma’s poems. His vibrant and uncomfortably direct poems encapsulate ideas of  the complexity of life in a seamless manner and are the celebrations of common humanity. A tinge of sadness is also discernible in some of his poems.

Dreams often turn like the leaves in autumn.
A fresh breath of wind drives them away
to some dark spot inside the clusters of bamboo/other wild trees
or carries them further onto a far-off strip of a pale-faced river
that gleams in the freckled light like a golden-colored serpent
ambling slowly on a highway to the horror of
a biker or motorist unused to such a sight!
Dreams die slowly
get buried quietly
and become unrecognized.

Dreams

Intersections: Visual- Verbal is a moving portrait of stringent struggle and hardship, defeat and resilience, and love and compassion, set against the backdrop of social consciousness which embraces the interrogative approach towards identity. The cover page design is equally riveting. It’s a book that testifies to the fragility of life, and one that delves into questions about how long we can endure the imbalances and indifferences in our society. This is one of the best books I have read in a while and surely, poetry lovers want to keep this book on their shelves at the earliest.

(L) Intersections: Visual, Verbal; (R) Sunil Sharma

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 18 books published including two joint books. His work has been published worldwide.


Read more:

Monsoon verses : Five poems for the season

‘The trees grow upside down’ : Five poems by Papiya Bhattacharya

An investigation of longing and vulnerability : Sufia Khatoon’s poetry


 

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