“Tanmoy Chakraborty’s Bengali translations of many poems are a big plus of this anthology,” writes Aneek Chatterjee.
When authors of two poetry-rich nations come together, something extraordinary is destined to happen. “Bridging Continents: An Anthology of Indo – American Poets”, edited by Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri, and published by Zahir Publications, carries in its pages, that stamp of the extraordinary. Here is an anthology which is more an idea than a collection of poems from the two countries. When the editors replaced the more formal ‘Foreword’ or ‘Introduction’, normally seen in many printed volumes, with the informal ‘Let’s Talk’, the idea creeps in.
Editors engage in a dialogue in this section which is captivating, and brings out the essence of the anthology. When GL (Gopal Lahiri) says, “We do not want our readers to slip into prejudices and stereotypes”, a different idea starts to shape in. SR (Sharmila Ray) informs readers, through this dialogue, “Humour, satire, sentiments are all there with strength and nonchalance and that is the beauty, the hidden magnet in the poems”. True to her words, this anthology presents poems which are incisive, subtle, satirical, simple, and always thought provoking.
Andrea Witzke Slot’s poem in this anthology represents subtlety expressed in simple language. “I cannot hear your answer, sister, / but I know midsummer blooms. The bridge ? / I’m crossing it with asters in hand --- / modest gifts of sincere exchange. / I’ve come to spring your country’s paths with / forget-me-not blues, all hues / of hyacinth tolls and gentian dues. / Please open your door. I have changed” (Between my country and the others, as ministry). After going through these lines, the reader is tempted to say, silently: our doors are always open for such refreshing poems.
Thomas Hardy once said, “Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.” Andrea’s poem is a wonderful manifestation of this art with measure. Alan Walowitz sounds satirical when he watches city life disguised as a lamppost. “Since our doomed-to-fail motto had long been / the seemingly impossible and untested, / No woe, no woo, no rue, / you might hardly blame me for standing / on the city street disguised as a lamppost” (Welcome to New York). From an inanimate, metallic state, the city life often gives the poet an animate, real feeling: “However, once rescued from my inanimate, metallic state, / the hugging we shared / in the Time’s-a-Wasting Hotel foyer, / did feel like something animate real” (Welcome to New York). Occasional flashes of reality come to the poet in a seemingly unreal city life; and these had been aptly expressed through such satirical, yet magical words.
The outburst of love was expressed passionately in Gjeke Marinaj’s poem “Twenty-Four Hours of Love”. Feel these emotional dews: “In the meadows early we sweated the first dew of the dawn, / With the silky tresses of night, we wiped the chest of the / day, / We ripped up the flowering fields like a bolt of tapestry, / And found the newest, freshest smile of the milky way”. Here love melts “everything down to the color of the chocolate”. This ‘everything’ also includes us, the readers. Martha Collins’ “Field” is another fine poem in the anthology, built on love: “back to the place, your fingers / reading my skin, and I cried Love! / before I could stop myself, love / is a yellow shirt, light / is what it thinks when it thinks / of itself, and now it shines / through both our skins, in the field …” Heath Brougher, on the other hand, weaved magic with strong imagery: “Let there be warm tendrilesque days / upon which to kiss the flower petals / strewn across the streets and yards / like soft pink snow ! / Let there be moons so bright / they cast shadow on the midnight grass!” (A Zillion Miles Sublime). With his wonderful diction, Heath takes us to a surreal world. But we are thrown back to the harsh, mundane earth with Rainer Shultz’s “Credit Cards”. “I pay / therefore I am/ Zero to nine / contains my life / on computer cards … / I drink bills with my morning tea”. Shultz’s piece is a fine instance of how our day-to-day life can be crafted into a nice poem. And Scott Thomas Outlar sounds a bit satirical again when he writes: “Out on the window sill / the shutters flung wide / blinking / begging / to be not / betrayed (Apples & Owls at Midnight – part 3).
Noteworthy contributions by Indian poets enriched the volume immensely. Ayaz Rasool Nazki painted melancholy with deft hands: “Moth had written an epitaph / On the petals, / On the marble panel / No one came to read it ever; / No one came to light a candle / There was no mourning in death (Time of Death). Whirlpools are used as imageries to portray the contemporary individual and society in a unique way, in H. K. Kaul’s poem: “Whirlpools remain active / In sleep, under the masks / Only sizes vary / Minds that matter gets sucked in too / Only the swirling remains in the downdraft” (Whirlpools). Jaydeep Sarangi yearned for the divine river in his brilliant verse: “The lake / That looks like a piano / On it I sat / Time whispered in the Rhododendron sanctuary / … But why is my mind yearning forever / For the divine river ? / I had been there once, nearly / Unaccountable years ago” (Lake Of The Mind). Mandira Ghosh mixes science with poetry in an admirable manner: “Let heat of the fusion reaction clear / the earth and we recite from the Vedas / “Oh Sun ! Purify us / Pardon our sins” (Language of the Sun). Pradeep Biswal’s satirical ‘Nero Isn’t Dead’ is applicable to all societies all the time: “king is always right / He can never be mad / Mad are the masses / Who tolerated / His whims and fancies / His indifference and idiocies / So long a time”. These lines make a stark reminder for us, the readers.
Sanjeev Sethi’s choice of words, subtle expressions and poetic rhythms always fascinate me. In this anthology, he makes a strong presence: “Anxiety burnishes his straddle / with an impetuousness that un- / covers his emotive whereabouts / His voice is serene like one who / has cottoned to possibilities of / vowel – chime” (Alter Ego). Sanjukta Dasgupta’s ‘Autumn’ is a great read and a prized addition to this volume: “Spring sprang surprises and shocks / The magical monsoon healed and mellowed / Strands of silver brightened my hair / With unwelcome persistent care / Autumn now is in my eyes / Cataracts and dripping tears / Well up and steam, though I no longer cry”. Free flowing and powerful. Vinita Agrawal’s ‘Shewolf’ celebrates a new womanhood searching for dignity and self esteem, with powerful diction: “She has scented the wolf in her / uprooted the fake pews of pious womanhood / made brown wrecks of lungs”. Sunil Sharma’s ‘Ruins’ uses great imagery: “Paths covered with dust / strangulated / by the sands of time, falling quietly / in an hourglass kept in an antique shop”.
The editors of this volume, Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri contributed noteworthy pieces to make this anthology a special one. Sharmila’s ‘Home’ is a simple yet incisive narrative of our favorite abode. “Home is where darkness leaps from the window sill to / let in the bird of light. The ovulation of warmth creates / cozy corners while ancestors from dusty albums smile. As / street lamps come to life in the evening and light from the / sky dims, one realizes home is a single flickering glow within / us”. Devoid of technical jargons and weighty phrases, this is one of the better portrayals of a home I have come across in recent times. Gopal Lahiri’s ‘Past Wheels’ is full of strong imageries and an excellent read: “Limping through the dusty sidewalk / Nostalgia hangs from the lips, / The smoke and haze are in unknown harmony, / The local trains scrawl across the iron bridge / Where else can I spin the wheels of the past ?”. The reader gets infected in poet’s nostalgia through such powerful expressions.
Tanmoy Chakraborty’s Bengali translations of many poems are a big plus of this anthology. These translations are well crafted and deft, because Chakraborty is a Bengali poet himself. Due to these translations, Bengali readers can savor the taste of some fine poetry, written in English, by eminent poets of two culturally rich nations. However, like any anthology, this volume also has some forgettable pieces. But the presence of these few pieces does not in any way diminish the overall significance of the volume. This anthology presents a memorable collection of contemporary American and Indian English Poetry. It is a possessor’s item and adds value to any library, personal or institutional.
Aneek Chatterjee is a poet, literary critic and academic from Kolkata, India. He has been published in reputed literary magazines and poetry anthologies across the globe. His recent credits are: Chiron Review, Shot Glass Journal, The Stray Branch, Chicago Record, Ann Arbor Review, Setu, Ethos Literay Journal, New Asian Writing, Montreal Writes, Mark Literary Review etc. He authored two poetry collections named “Seaside Myopia” & "Unborn Poems and Yellow Prison" (Cyberwit.net). Chatterjee has a ph.d. in International Relations; and has been teaching in leading Indian universities.
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