Poetry at Sangam



April 2016

Summer heat heralds our second issue as a quarterly.

For the first time we’re inviting a guest editor to curate the issue; our first choice is Rahul Soni, writer, translator, editor and the supple backbone of Poetry at Sangam.

His work is well known and admired. As a double whammy, we offer Rahul’s translations of acclaimed Hindi poet, literary-cultural critic and arts administrator Ashok Vajpeyi’s new collection, A Name for Every Leaf: Selected Poems, 1959-2015 (Harper Perennial). The title evokes heart wrenching tenderness and impossibility; it invokes language’s expansions, explorations and constrictions. This is the first poem titled ‘The Beginning’: ‘They left/ having trampled and destroyed everything/ certain that nothing remained intact./ Then, like a worm from a heap of dry leaves/ came a word/ and taking sand and twigs in its mouth/ it began to create.’ In another poem he writes, ‘…am searching for/ words for my poetry/ everlasting holiness for words…’ One conjures the image of the poet as both pupa and sunlit shed chrysalis, weaving a cocoon of words only to break free then return to its self-made womb to discover the glint of a new colour, a new thread. Each translator is, in a sense, a somnambulist, trance-walking through terrain that she renders familiar through the journey, or pilgrimage, into another’s creation. Rahul Soni’s translations are moist with the petrichor of Hindi rising through poems which he fashions into an idiom that is intimate yet unexpected, and at all times, inviting. These translations are remarkable, not only for the redolent ease of their wording but equally for the charge carried through each poem that makes it spring alive in our minds.

We select six poems from this collection replete with cosmopolitan élan, artistry and earthiness. (See New Releases for book details.)

Over to our guest editor.

— Priya Sarukkai Chabria

What a pleasure it is to be guest editing Poetry at Sangam, and to be able to use the opportunity to present the work of three poets — Jon Davis, Vahni Capildeo and Sharanya Manivannan — each technically brilliant, each calling upon a staggering array of voices yet utterly distinctive, and each possessing a razor-sharp historical and political consciousness, but most importantly for me, at this moment, each in some way, to some extent, especially in the set of poems that you will read here, resonating with my own current preoccupations, whether it is process, or a reaching for something beyond the urban, human experience:

Jon Davis has said in an interview: ”The technique was all in the twenty years of practice prior to the poem’s arrival. For me, craft is learned on the practice court. The poem is the game. You catch the ball on the wing and you know you can hit the jumper, drive left or right, hit the runner or take it to the rack, or make the quick pass to the cutter. If you’ve been practicing, all the options are there, the skills sharp.” We have four new poems here, part of a manuscript called Only When They Are Broken. About The Island, the poet says his intention was, “to point out that ‘civilized’ adulthood is all about distancing us from immediate experience,” and Western Civ started out with “thoughts about beauty and the encounter of my imagination with what, for lack of a better word, one might call the real.”

Writing about the circumstances that occasioned the sparkling new poems you’ll read here, Vahni Capildeo says: “I had to escape because my head was disrupted by brown/white patterns of noise… [I] was nourished by the sharing of silence: on walks, in the tending of animals, the presence of babies, in cooking and washing, questions of wells and fields and irrigation, small islands and access routes; in the reconvergence under one roof after a day spent alongside a working harbour or a town not built too high.” Two Foreign, a standout here, was “based on real mishearings and misreadings… I had to cut through back to a youthful arrogance, not caring to ‘make sense’ or ‘be kind’ to ‘an audience’, but have language slip relentlessly as the snake it is.”

We have two poems from Sharanya Manivannan’s long-awaited second book of poems — The Altar of the Only World (HarperCollins, 2017) — which began, she says, “by sitting with Sita in the wilderness. The changing sky then brought the stars, and the light-bearer, Lucifer – who just like her fell from grace because of an impossible love. She, of the earth, carries the memory of having entered the underworld, like Inanna. This book is myth and journey, faith and resurrection.” Her other poems here will hopefully be part of a third book “about promise and fulfillment, and disappointment that never deepens beyond the bittersweet…”

As per usual, there are six poems by each poet. This is dense, beautiful poetry that will stay with you and reward multiple and close readings… Dive in!

— Rahul Soni