Book Review: Existential Exploration in Poetry

Basudhara Roy’s third poetry collection Inhabiting takes the reader on a fascinating journey to her poetic landscape that explores the essential aesthetic truth in women’s life. There is so much to absorb and ruminate on in response to the subtle questions the poems raise. Her language is precise and nimble, sometimes almost solemn. Each poem stands proudly on its own but also perfectly connects to the narrative arc.

Basudhara Roy
Authors Press

Never abandoning the formal technique, the poet is able to bring that discipline into her free verse. Her poems advocate plain-speak, down to earthiness and the hope that ‘somewhere with some door of return, open.’

In his Foreword, the noted poet Jaydeep Sarangi points out, “On the whole, Basudhara writes of the experience of what it means and feels like to inhabit the body and mind of a woman and a sensitive poet in this world, with considerable honesty.”

The depth and humanity of the poet’s understanding are increasing clear in most of her poems. She is nearly perfect in her ability to convey that these poems articulate an existential necessity. In her words, “In the fallible journeys that these poems attempt, if some of them also inhabit the reader’s consciousness for some time, they will have found a cherished place in the world.”

It is a participatory relationship with the reader, demanding intimacy with what the poet is asking for – deeper contact with another, deeper contact with oneself and to engage the poetry on its own terms. This inhabiting is not much different from what Sylvia Path feels, “I am inhabited by a cry.”

This poem establishes a voice, an attitude and a class. And this is also driven by an impulse through veils of time and space.

‘The synthetic love that grows
will breathe neither fragrance nor air.

But it will have colour and form and
All the semblance of a promise, still-born.’

– ‘Faux Foliage’

Many of her poems surprise us in words by formally delivering a sense of inhabitancy and reminds us that the purpose of poems extend beyond pleasure. It instils us with a feeling of what can be possessed and lets the souls have its way with us. The following poem acutely captures the paradox of life – the streak of faith mixed with the anxious mindscape.

‘Flowers must be regularly brought,
offerings made, the sanctum dusted,
and the deity housed well.
Not all masters can be dispensed with.’

– ‘Masters’

Here is a poet who never writes anything that isn’t from the heart. In fact, almost all her poems never shrink from moral ambiguity and difficult questions of life. It is all about the imagination in co-operation and harmony with the surroundings. The word ‘soul’ has such resonance here because it suggests that a soul trying to reach beyond poetry but still expresses itself in terms of reality. This results in a feeling of emotional entrapment.

‘To feed your desperate hunger,
I reach within for rough handfuls
Of my soul, offering words plentiful
Like rushing grains of rice tirelessly.’

– ‘Circle’

Some of her poems show that the poet is also a delicate and tender solitary figure and the following poem is a soul in action through words. It has a tickling, uncontrolled energy. The escalating rhythms of the poem create a sense of incoherence, a rhetoric of rupture.

a little dying. At the rim, a falling
off of petals, a little shedding, like
tears, of leaves, of hair, tail, tooth,
nail, skin. And of desires uncoiling
like soaked bandages seeking rest.

– ‘A Little Dying’

Sanjukta Dasgupta, a renowned academic and poet, mentions in her blurb, “All the fifty-five poems in this new volume are a fascinating blend of nuanced images and well-crafted words and lines.”

Poetry, it seems, offers a means to engage with language and re-birth happens in search of a fairer world. Her word play is not about limits; it’s about making language richer. Sometimes her poems enter our heart with a silence that still echoes. As if a way to inhabit physically, what we feel inside. May be there is a kind of liberation in that. We find ourselves suspended in a state of unknowing.

I am standing in the sun today,
inviting its gold to travel
through my pores
the way languid butter traverses
toast. In my depths are
continents unlit…

– ‘Inhabiting’

In her earlier book Stitching a Home, she attempted to configure the contours of home. This book is an obvious breakthrough, in which she improves her contemplation and gaze in an undoubted manner. And also put her powers of identification and hope in reader’s mind. Anisur Rahman, an eminent poet and writer, rightly points out, “Inhabiting is a way of putting both the poem and the home in order.”

Roy’s poetry collection Inhabiting revels in the gap; the open space without a railing or resistance, without the help of explication or transition, yet it endures the imbalances and indifferences in the society. The poet touches on themes of longing and belonging. Her verse is often inspired by the cadence – the natural rhythm, the inner tune – of spoken language. This book strikes me as a mature work, certain of itself and its purpose.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata-based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 27 books published including eight joint books. His work has been published worldwide.

Featured image: Laura Barbato / Unsplash