November 26, 2022


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Book Review: Strokes of Solace by Sanjeev Sethi

8 min read

Poet and Critic Gopal Lahiri reviews Sanjeev Sethi’s poetry collection Strokes of Solace (Published by Classix, an imprint of Hawakal- July 2022) calling them time-defying poems by Sanjeev Sethi

  • ISBN:978-93-91431-25-9
  • Publisher: CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal
  • Year: July 2022

In his latest collection of poems titled ‘Strokes of Solace’, Sanjeev Sethi finds a way to interrogate and transfigure a profound quietude in his poems, to bring forth what otherwise evades our consciousness. These strokes are not interposed by the poet. And each moment makes that coming into mindfulness accessible to others by constructing it into the organic structure of the poetry itself.

Many believe that poetry puts language in a state of emergence in the poetics of space. The form is the shape of the poem’s understanding, its way of being in the world, and it is the form that structures our experience. And we tend to agree that poetry is a soul inaugurating a form.

For Sethi, every poem is a scene of language. It is a rite without a ceremony. In his poem, form is an enactment and revelation, yet it inscribes a ferocity. His technique takes us not away from, but toward, authenticity in artistic impulse. Ezra Pound goes as far to call technique the test of a poet’s ‘sincerity’.

Yet some readers can feel that his poems are a secret doorway to which a lot of them don’t have the keys. One can argue that they are disconnected from the world and from themselves. And their indifference cannot extinguish a heart-warming collection.

Here is a poet who writes something of integrity with style and mystique, where language is taken seriously while peeling back layers of involvement, personal memory and natural phenomena in pages. And so much of what we are seeing and witnessing and experiencing in life is wrapped in bespoke language and engaging metaphor. The well-cadenced sentences manifest its own terminus and produce trills.

Poetry is a place where many poets look for understanding and answers which they can’t find them in other places. Sethi’s poem reaches across time and circumstance to remind us that we can endure what seems unendurable. In several poems the mood uplifts, offering a chance to bask in subtle happiness. There is a momentum that never disguise the truthfulness.

Andrew Taylor (The Journal, UK,) writes in his blurb, ‘Sethi’s work is a masterclass in the art of concision.’ And it is the craftmanship, in the truest sense, that Sethi does best with careful symmetry of the details. The poet in his freedom of intellectual movement, inherits a multitude of settings, words and directions. Yet concision is the hall mark of his poems which rarely goes beyond fourteen lines or so. His poetry moves freely within this without being burdened by the long narratives of history and life.

This is Sethi’s sixth book of poems. There are eighty-five poems in this collection and each poem burns in its own flame. One of the pleasures of reading Sethi, is the way he luxuriates in words, rhythm and allusion to be extracted from the dreary skins of everyday life. His poems are so rich in texture, luminous words and subtext, it can in rare cases, tip over into too-muchness and tend to come off less impactful. But then the poet believes, ‘Surfeit never satisfies, / it enlarges the exactness’. (Distich).

Sethi is a master poet, bringing responsible (not didactic), reserved yet often playful attention to what he sees and write on pages, that brings an obvious resolution in a subtle manner. He writes ‘Words are never said/ you’re always told or ‘Don’t love too much/love correctly’. (Distich).

And Nadia Giordana, (WINK, USA), rightly mentions, ‘Sanjeev Sethi is a poet of supreme talent. He has a command of the English Language few native-born Americans can boast. When he turns that skill into poetics, few can match his layered meaning and metaphor.’

It appears that the poet is interested in the ways location, literal and metaphorical, can be kept open in his poems. The following poem has a marvellously respectful delicacy and topicality. It ends in gradualness, but this is perfectly judged in its understatement.

Pointless in squabbling about the window seat

In an airbus or van, look for one’s inner lucarne.

Nutant or a crisp nosegay? Answer is crystal

Clear. If every case had such an easy comeback?

Beyond velitations, ben trovato is balustrade

For a few to carry on. Aisle isn’t for everyone. (Transit)

For the poet, the poetry is not an end to itself but an echo of the defeated routine that are mirrored by the ironies of pedestrian life and the stark emotional landscape of isolation forms a central focus. The poem explores the happiness that revolves around the meditative quietude. There is a sense that the poet has reached the unidentifiable place where poems begin.

The spotlight ushers me

into monologue mode.

I stutter: scream.

I speak to no one.

Not even myself. (Transcendence)

Sanjeev Sethi is a key voice in global poetry.

He casts a critical eye on recent happenings that allows injustice to thrive, but his poetry get an idea across infused with the tender grace of his wordplay.

Many of his poems in this collection make an effort to reshape our mundane beliefs exploring the split subjectivity and trembling hesitancies of our crotchety time.

Decals of a decade

gone by stir up a salute

to orneriness of exposure.

While in its reach

there were other reverberations. (June 2022)

The poet writes wittily of identities and strangeness. Identities are presumed and then rejected. In the following poem, the lines move with a pulse of joy but at the end (they need to be subsumed/ by pecuniary inflows or possessions) the poet’s eye for telling details stand out in skywriting.

Some are pushing up daisies.

Others are stiff

due to ideology or intention.

This March has no music.

The band is over.

One is guarded

to get- together another one. (Arrangement)

Sethi creates a worded space for himself, and his poems movingly make peace with form and content. Some of his poems are imbued with the density of words rooted in various lineages. The passion may be fierce, but the syllables are a relief.

Bedowed groin at dayspring

Corporeal blank call to love.

When you oil the system

Be wary of skidding.

Friseur or fitter

Will never be in the frame.

When you sulk; I wish I were

A crackerjack in zoosemiotics. (Portamento).

In an apathetic and recumbent world, this multi-layered poem is perfectly upright and on your face. It’s like a poetic prose, supple and jerky enough to adopt to the lyric movements of the soul, to the undulation of reality and conscience.

We must write the most laudatory validations,

Present ourselves with the warmest certificates,

Provide the best approval ratings. No-one else

is impatient to ratify our resume.

In the groceries of my mind, I purchase saas and

Serenity to grasp how to procure the right wares

For the right rewards. It’s like being married to

A martinet: obey or opt-out.  (Pointers)

His skill is constructing a space from disparate things is exceptional, and offer a way forward with insights, anecdotes and conjecture. It’s to some extent a distillation of emotion, a mindfulness and yet contains themes and images in microcosm. We find ourselves in a world where a single word, a swift turn of a phrase or a short sentence make a difficult moment delectable. 

A shorthand

of brisk emotions

is this love? (Snips)

These are dreamlike, startling poems that shift our understanding of what language can perform in a poetic space. And the exact observation and accurate ear for the rhythms of poetry will seize the reader’s attention even though it asks them to think hard. In this process, the poet free poems and language into a different capacity.

Rain helps


unanswered questions. (Snips)


I am willing to wind up connections.

Daub me in your colour. (Stubs)

There is no denying that he has a sharp, brainy edge in his poetry that combine shining words, hypnotic rhythm and satirical wit in a seamless manner. The poet here conveys an openness to the self’s quiet moment and resilience, stimulating our understanding of ‘solace’. The following poem is not an exact transcription of experience but somehow beyond the personal, reflecting transcendental self and it has a moonlight glow.

Your saining too filters in.

In your firmness

I seek solace from you.

Walking away from self

isn’t as easy. (Deduction).

Sanjeev Sethi is one of the most scholarly and inventive poets of our time, throwing challenges to the predictable language of poetry and its classified traditions. Strokes of Solace is a strikingly rich set of poems characterized by a sharp wit and perfect attention to the language of poetry. The voice in these energetic, rhythmic, staccato poems speaks to the questions of the present and the words are woven like tapestries.

The cover design is attractive. If you want to read a book of poems at present, make it this one. This book stands apart.

Reviewer’s Bio

Gopal Lahiri is an India based bilingual poet, editor, critic and translator and published in Bengali and English language. He has authored 23 books to his credit. His poetry is also published across various anthologies and in eminent journals of India and abroad. His poems are translated in 14 languages. He has reviewed books in Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi, (Print journal), Muse India, CLRI and Setu online journals. He also writes book review in the newspapers like The Statesman, Kolkata and The Millennium Post, Kolkata and The Elixir, USA and The Lake, UK online journals.

About Sanjeev Sethi

Sanjeev Sethi has authored seven books of poetry. His last two: Strokes of Solace (CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal, Delhi, July 2022) and Wrappings in Bespoke (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, UK, August 2022). He is published in over thirty countries. His poems have found a home in more than 400 journals, anthologies, and online literary venues. He is the recipient of the Ethos Literary Award 2022. He is joint-winner of Full Fat Collection Competition-Deux, organized by The Hedgehog Poetry Press, UK. He lives in Mumbai, India.

About the Book

Strokes of Solace is Sanjeev Sethi’s sixth book of poems. The award-winning poet continues to chase metaphors that move us. Ripening is an unfinished emprise: on the cusp of his sixtieth year, Sethi indites with fierceness and fervor. His renditions soothe him and his readers.

Sethi’s dedication to his art form is enviable, his patience with perfection or his closest version of it is praiseworthy. Read him to realize the mellifluousness of his motif. Read him to soak in the smoothness of language born of lived experiences.

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