In these poems, Sen reflects on an experience which is international, and establishes his poetry as a conversation amongst diverse voices. Whether in response to the art of China or France, travel in the USA or Germany, or residence in Calvinistic Scotland, Sen's insights are enriched by their Indian frame of reference, just as his poems set in India are marked by a sensibility which has absorbed the world outside.
Joseph John writes in World Literature Today: 'Dali’s Twisted Hands... offers 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...’
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Sudeep Sen lives and works in New Delhi & London. He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS.