Lustrous poems with troves of imagery

“Aneek’s poems move from the grounding details of life to thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, struggle and society,” writes Gopal Lahiri.

Jorge Luis Borges once remarked: “Poetry is so essential; it’s like the colour yellow. You either see it or you don’t.” He was blind when he said this. Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison’, the second collection of English poems by Aneek Chatterjee, like his earlier collection, is quiet, emotionally restrained, a whir of technical prowess and at the end is an essential reading. His poetry is indeed engaging as much for its gentle poise as for the tremors that both destabilize and reinforce that poise in a subtle manner. 

In his introduction, the poet has mentioned, ‘Poems in this volume reflect different moods and thoughts of the author, his surroundings, his struggle for livelihood and existence.’ The premise of this collection is even and composed. Perhaps the reader needs a quiet place and settle down with this book as haunting troves of imagery. The poet is careful enough to show not just sadness but moments of buoyancy and suppleness, too.

Aneek Chatterjee is a master of the spontaneous moment, the merging and blending of perception, the pleasant difficulties of relationships and questions rising from a deepened experience. Some of his poems are luminous, adding mystical colours to the syllables and letters, blurring, earth to sky, which holds a radiant past moment as a pivot for everything to come.

I write, scribble
Thousand manuscripts
Every day, every week, month

But these comeback
To a secret chamber, to be loved & loved
By the trampled & killed (Manuscript)

This collection is a meditation on life and soul. Aneek’s gentle, technically adroit poems do its work often to good effect, through quick shifts and dreamlike situations. He approaches poetry with humanity and warmth and the resultant poems are genuinely arresting.

I choose dresses, watch
& shoes & sunglasses in the shop

I buy a smile that
I’ll nurture in my sleep. (Fugitive 2)

Poetry is an intermingling of thoughts and imaginings. Sometimes poems are about returning to ordinary life but in a subtle manner. The contrite, eloquent, deliberately casual poems can surprise you with their tenderness but also with their intelligence. Each poem has its own challenges.

Lemon juice stared at me
Sour or sweet, sour or sweet (life)

Or 

Let me cry loud before
The war begins, because
I’ll have no tear left
After the war (Before the War Begins)

The poet has reminded us the need for soul searching, ‘Let us do some soul searching/not for restoration of likings, /not for crisis repair’. The complexities of life have rarely been given such subtly caring treatment and the moments of stillness is equally compelling. 

I am afraid of brightness
Reminds me a of a dance floor
Where the leading lady
Was knifed by someone she loved. (Dim Alleys)

This work is admirable but it is difficult to overlook his growing command of the surreal poems laced with ‘injured legs and faded memory’, which presents subtle challenges that are easy to underestimate. 

My autobiography is read
everyday inside the refrigerator,
along with dry vegetables.
Pancakes (Birthday)

Aneek’s poems move from the grounding details of life to thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, struggle and society. From the sinew of reality, his poems slither effortlessly to the metaphorical world. The poet is anxious as ‘Fear chases me/in urban jungle, under a/ glass ceiling, mansion. /Sweet voice chases me’. You can also hear the voice rolling in ears.

There is also a well disguised soft lineament run through his poems. Despite the wry humour spilling over some of his poems, a thin veil of sadness is discernible at times,

How long do I have to greet
those torpid eyes?

How long do I have to bend and touch
those cold spears as honourable feet? (How long)

This loving poem pauses and holds and memory permeates awareness again and again, illuminating the absent, suggesting not that we keep it alive but that it may keep us alive. Many readers will be drawn to this type of smoothly paced poems. Behind the playfulness is a well-hidden thoughtfulness. 

You came, rain
I was burning my effigy
I was burning my effigy
Blocking the I from me
Silence, pain
Burning my effigy
Removing the I from me. (Effigy)

The poet also reminds us that the purpose of the poem extends beyond desire. His poem mirrors the emotions with calm surreal heights and pack the lustre of lifetime into what may be the autumnal symphony of light. 

Surreal paintings I made,
On dull, dark sky
With an orange, pinkish shade (My Narrow Evening)

Here is a poet who takes risks, both in form and in content. He even dares to swim against the current and refuse to fit in or write the same way, one after another which is more than satisfying. 

‘Don’t try to read the epitaph
of a naked tree
create your own verse
and leave the barren land
happily, forever’ (Naked Tree)

Aneek’s poetry is sometimes better advanced by underplaying the reality and allow the words to reinforce the connection the reader makes in a seamless manner. It is greatly to the poet’s credit that the following poem is a delight in which seemingly unrelated threads are carefully knit together to build a resonant whole and the execution is exquisite. His seeming ease with play of words is worth-mentioning. And sure, enough the poem ends with, 

‘Do not be the wall
along the mustard field
yellow flowers and unborn
 Poems
My river has all the time
to break any shackle. (Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison).

He often contains a concrete moment or two and then something amazing or startling drips in. Honestly the poet has taken the inner life very seriously and that’s why this poem resounds so deeply to us. 

Colourful walls made ways
For a big tunnel
Big and illuminated tunnel, where
Darkness awaits impatiently
At the other end, pompous.
A glittering afternoon
Searches light in pervasive gloom. (Death of an Afternoon)

One of poetry’s most alluring elements can be its blend of observations. How do these things go together? Aneek has carefully woven the disparate moments into a coherent frame and that is the hallmark of his poems.

Formally assured, this book moves from particular to universal on a poetic journey. Not flips into fury, it is the quieter poems that reverberate and encapsulate the feelings with ease. It’s always in step with the current scenario.

The cover page is impressive. The book enlists your heart as well as your mind. It should be embraced by all and surely is a must read for all the emerging poets.

Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison, collection of poems by Aneek Chatterjee, Cyberwit.net (2019)

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata-based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 19 books published including three joint books. His work has been published worldwide.


Read more poetry book reviews on Bengaluru Review :

Setting linguistic conventions on fire

Catharsis seeping through words

I continue with alphabets, full stops, and all it takes


 

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