Sudeep Sen, Dali’s Twisted Hands
Joseph John, World Literature Today
Dali’s Twisted Hands is a more substantial collection of poems representing a wider spectrum of Sen’s poetic skills. Unlike the poems in Mount Vesuvius, which are meditative and reflective, these poems offer us a poetry of reflexes, of quick, qualitative response to stimuli from the perceptual world, instilling in the reader’s mind a sense of the wondrous actualness of things. The unmistakable vivacity of most of these poems stems no less from the refreshing unexpectedness of their imagery than from the arresting vibrancy of the speaker’s voice, pitched dexterously between the lyrical and the dramatic.
Several poems in the volume provide ample justification for the critical plaudits Sen has won as a poet. ‘Dali’s Twisted Hands’ is a surrealist piece in which the Daliesque imagery (‘one clock unsprung setting time for a new time’) ascends gradually from the unconscious to a conscious resolve to ‘mould the clock that / once refused to fit.’ ‘August 9, 1964’ is a poem on the poet’s own birth, a tribute to his mother for her ‘labour, nine months of shelter, / her live chamber cloistering his helplessness, / sharing her blood, breed, and breath.’ Deservedly a prizewinner, ‘Govind Dev Temple, Vrindvan’ is remarkable for its fusion of past and present, of history, mystery, and mysticism, and of god and man and bird and beast within the vast ambience of the poet’s ideational and verbal cosmos. ‘Between the Flight of Two Sparrows’ is a lovely poem detailing the hilarious burly-burly of a day in a middle-class Bengali home, portrayed good-humoredly in all its benign human amplitude.
Perhaps the most moving poem in the volume is ‘The Garland of Stars,’ in which the speaker tells his friend of his ‘love’ for the latter’s wife: ‘At that time I told your wife, "I love you," and she shuddered / not understanding, but only you know what I meant.’ But the poem is more than an expression of platonic love; it is an attempt to unravel the enigmatic ‘syllabics’ of loneliness and communion: ‘I’ll always wax and wane in a kangaroo pouch, heavy / and weightless like the moon’s breathing belly.’ Among other notable poems are ‘Scottish Dirge,’ ‘Evening’s After-Light,’ and ‘The Unposted Letters.’ Unfortunately, these excellent poems coexist with a few indifferent pieces incapable of lifting themselves off the ground of mere literalness. The flatness, for instance, of ‘I could hear / another telephone, / ringing, even in this rain’ is matched by the triteness of ‘Just as the sky / and earth are joined / by an indeterminate / horizon, so are we, made / one by an indeterminate / faith.’
However, the best poems in this volume are good enough to rank Sen ‘amongst the finest English language poets in the international literary scene’ (Gregor Robertson). Like A. K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra, Vikram Seth, and Vinay Dharwadker, Sudeep Sen has proved that Indian poetry in English has ‘arrived,’ that it has attained an autonomous status in the world of English letters - a status assured enough to render the controversy about its ‘Indianness’ both irrelevant and outdated.
This review relates to the book
Dali's Twisted Hands
by Sudeep Sen