Stillness Visited

Review of Kiriti Sengupta latest volume of poems Solitary Stillness

The juxtaposition of two words ‘solitary’ and ‘stillness’ can be intrinsically evocative and nudge one to the mutating landscape of imagination touching upon various subjects. Kiriti Sengupta in his latest volume of poems Solitary Stillness weaves a tapestry of fleeting thoughts, images and themes which are an admixture of the subtle and the deep, contemporary and eternal. The book consists of twenty poems where stillness is rhapsodized, explored in manifold perspectives of the apparent and the real. Rightly does the poet reflect, “A poem should speak for itself and deserves to be interpreted in several ways.”

The world today is a high pitched clamorous blind — alley of chaos and consumerism where man chases material gratification and is obsessed with unmindful pursuits. Amidst this daily drudgery and din one has an epiphany of that much needed pause to ponder, a respite from mundane madness when man can rightfully “stand and stare” and savor stillness.

The very first poem of this volume is “The Pilgrimage” followed by “The Bengali Phenomenon.” Both of them are terse with incisive messages explicit in their inherent simplicity. The interface with stillness occurs in the next poem “Quietude and Loneliness.” The poet exclaims, “For God’s sake, don’t take silence for granted!” This has a hint of allusion to the metaphysical poet John Donne and is evocative of “For God’s sake, hold your tongue…” (“Canonization”)

Silence for Sengupta has the potential to resurrect and throw a “challenge” to the chaotic world of existence. Equally remarkable are the poems “Tournesols” and “Illumination.” The former is a poem dedicated to the painter, Vincent van Gogh, who died at an early age, famished, dejected and penniless. Vincent’s favorite subject of exploration was the sunflower. We find his sunflowers in still life and landscape, much before he had dwelt upon them dating August and September 1888. The poem, “Tournesols,” starts with: “Make them alive, I said,” and proceeds with: “Wish he had listened to me,” and closes with: “Life would not have stilled/ had there been water in the vase.”

Sengupta’s creative persona paints a picture of life which rejuvenates the stillness of van Gogh’s sunflowers. The poem provokes multidimensional interpretation and can be acclaimed as a masterpiece. “Water” in this poem as in many others symbolizes the spirit of life and resurrection. In the poem “Pillars of the Soil,” the sound of rain falling is likened to the “music of precipitation” and the trees alongside the expressway receive it as divine blessing with their “head bent down.”

The poem, “Shoreside,” is vibrant with imagery where Sengupta seated on a peripheral location by the shore watches the waves and the play of water until along with his friend he is bathed and rejuvenated by a splash of water from the sea: “The sea sprinkled on our dry skin.”

Similarly, “Manhattan Skyline” is a tribute to the Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, the painter and the musician. Here the twin talents of the painter Dylan and the singer Dylan merge together. The poet chooses to “keep silent” but the silence is obtrusively vociferous, the connotation “blowin’ in the wind.”

Kiriti Sengupta does not restrict himself to non-issues and subjective musings. His sensibility encompasses themes on religious, cultural, environmental issues as well as subjects on agony, amour, and alienation. In the poem “Poetry, Cricket and Two Neighborhood Countries,” he speaks of the alienation of two countries India and Bangladesh which were once united by a common colonial history. At one point he writes: “Trust me; securing the visa has been easier.” But after the setback of Bangladesh in a match the same pen writes: “Poetry took a backseat;/ they don’t buy my appreciations anymore!” But probably, the profound paradox is hemmed in the culminating line: “Culture upholds religion more than the history and British Empire.”

Interestingly, a flippant word game in “Patriarchy” [mithye (lie) tumi (u) dos (ten) pipilika (ant)] by the touch of his free flowing inimitable style unfolds into a scathing question in the end. Here the father-figure is the quintessential cultural male stereotype in the edifice of power and its appropriation while the mother is a “subordinate,” a mere tenant (dos, pipilika!). The poet questions: “All along you lived a life where/ Baba remained the chief and you his subordinate?”

The closing line in some of his poems is an implied query, coaxing the readers to fathom and flesh out the answer. In some poems questions sneak in as part of the narrative itself. In this dialogical approach, readers are invited to reach beyond the limits of the poem. In the poem “Expressions” an agonized voice is raised in the form of a closing question with startling unpredictability: “Did Jesus keep silent/ when they nailed him to the cross?”

Again, agony and despair of a poet’s journey is palpable in the polemical query of “Write to Eat”: “Do I surrender my pen?” Questions are liberally used as a distinctive style in his poem “Rolling Stones.” Some stray thoughts on a possible extramarital affair are penned as questions while there is an immediate switch over to lyrical verse to delineate the transitoriness and hollowness of a freak affair which he compares to the “pre-monsoon shower.” The blending of the prose and free verse with effortless ease in this book speaks volume of the poet’s skill in the use of English-language. In fact, there is a preponderance of prose in the later poems of this volume. The poet dexterously juggles the two forms, discernibly an innovative style. Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta has rightly observed, “In this new venture Sengupta juxtaposes prose and verse, subjective musings; (These) poems are remarkably well–wrought exuding both sense and sensibility in the use of English language and the poetic content.”

As is implied by title of the book, Solitary Stillness wafts a cadence of stillness when one is through with it. There is an inherent silence in most of the poems but it is loud enough to be resonated in the heart of those who have an ear for quietude.

Amita Ray is a retired Associate Professor in English and Vice-Principal of a college in West Bengal. She has several academic publications to her credit. An academic career spanning over thirty-seven odd years has given her the insight and critical acumen to engage extensively into literary activities and leave footprints behind. Read other articles by Amita.