Dr. Nabanita Sengupta reviews Gopal Lahiri’s latest poetry anthology, Return to Solitude and shares how she thinks the poet provokes his readers to think.
Title – Return to Solitude (Poetry anthology)
Poet – Gopal Lahiri
Publisher and Date of Publication – Hawakal Publishers, 2018
Reviewed by – Nabanita Sengupta
Gopal Lahiri is an internationally acclaimed and widely published poet based in Kolkata. A Geo-physicist by profession and a poet by choice, the earth, its flora and fauna seep into his work as comfortably as do complex emotions. Return To Solitude, his collection of haikus, senryus and other short poems vouchsafe the bond that the poet shares with nature.
‘crevice and gap
questions buried, eyebrows raised
glide into history’
The above can be an example of three succinct lines that merge the persona of the perceptive poet and the earth scientist.
Japanese forms of poetry, particularly haikus have a fairly long history in India, particularly in Bengal with Tagore being fascinated with the form. But it had not been as popular in the field of Indian poetry previously, as it is now. As Kala Ramesh says ‘Indians are slowly, but surely waking up to its beauty and the reasons are not far to seek. Haiku is about nature’s creative force and if we read the Rig Veda, all we see are verses in praise of nature’ (https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/4b81b14e2078d5cb3ba3572d8a2ae010.pdf). She calls ‘the art of suggestion’ as ‘the core ingredient of haiku’. Poet Gopal Lahiri steps into this tradition of poetry with its rich historical baggage and cultural import in this collection of poems Return to Solitude.
Poetry is an expression of the self or the effect that the environment has on the poet’s consciousness. It is an amalgamation of our felt experiences, knowledge and perception. In shorter forms of poetry, it is difficult to bring in such complex web of expressions to their complete justification but Lahiri succeeds in doing just that. A master wordsmith, the economy of words he exhibits in these shorter forms of poetry is worth admiring. In three lines, he packs dense meaning and a lyrical arrangement for his readers. The book is a collection of 89 short poems of which eighty five are three lined and the longest one has six lines. The poems come as a refreshing gentle breeze, a perfect read for a lazy afternoon in this world of complex lifestyle that also often produces complex narratives. But the simplicity of the genre does not do away with its depth. The poet knows how to provoke his readers to think.
probe the wounds of last night
count your first love’
The poet here so easily juxtaposes love with wound or pain – something that can be both physical or of the heart.
hanging from the sky
makes one think of the nostalgia of childhood – visible yet unattainable. The warm feeling of that thought makes the night tender.
The universality of his verses can be highlighted by the fact that though the anthology was published long before the world changed, it resonates with these pandemic days as well.
leaves are falling
one by one’
Can there be a description more apt than this to speak of so many lives being lost in the throes of the current crisis!
Interestingly, Gopal Lahiri brings in versatility even within a span of three lines. While some of his haikus are in classical form of 5-7-5 syllables, there are quite a number of them that do not stick to this format. In some of the three lined poems he uses 2-5-3 syllables and in some there are even five to eight syllables in the first line. That makes it a bit difficult to categorise his poems strictly in the haiku format. In fact, he himself subtitles it as ‘Haikus and other poems’. The number of syllables however does not in any way affect the enjoyment of the poems.
Another noticeable thing in the collection of poems in this anthology is the continuity of small case letters. He does not follow the established tradition of using capitals for each beginning. Though such experimentation with punctuation is not unique here, it does add to the flowing quality of the poems. The short poems do not appear to be standing alone though each does stand out individually. The combined use of full stops and small case help in maintaining a kind of a federal structure within the book.
Gopal Lahiri’s poems are not only universal but they also have a strong local flavor. The quintessential Bengali image of ‘shiuli flowers’ associated with the arrival of Goddess Durga sneaks beautifully into the anthology as he says,
‘wet shiuli flowers
on your tiny petri dish
sharing my puja.’
Yet, this emotional, nature loving poet is also the bitter, scathing and sarcastic one –
‘the leaders are walking
with bags of promise and poison.’
Or in the lines – ‘a few words/ wrapped in a dirty silk cloth/ never raise the voice.’
To say in a few words, Gopal Lahiri packs a wide range of perceptions – some tender, loving, some soulful, some scathing and incisive in this slim volume of poems. The reader has to revisit these poems again and again to let them speak. The voices speak at multiple levels, adding to the richness each time the reader revisits them and therein lies the success of this anthology.
Dr. Nabanita Sengupta is presently working as assistant professor in English at Sarsuna College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta. Her areas of specialization are 19th century travel writings, women’s studies, translation studies, digital studies. She has participated as translator in workshops of Sahitya Akademi, Viswa-Bharati, and others. She has presented papers in various national and international seminars in India and abroad and organised both national and international webinars and seminars for her college. She has co-edited a volume at Café Dissensus on women displacement in South Asia. She is also associated with two literary societies – Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library and Kolkata Translators’ Forum. Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction have also been variously published at places like SETU, Muse India, Coldnoon, Café Dissensus, NewsMinute.in, News18.com and Different Truths.