– Mahesh Paudyal
A group of six young experimentalists associated with the Society of Nepali Writers in English recently launched Six Strings—a joint anthology of poems that reveal that poetry can address things seldom thought of. Brief yet brilliant, the poems are about relations between men and women and vice versa, humans and the city, and changes forced upon lives by other lives.
Bal Bahadur Thapa has honestly asserted human realities of the present—even those that pertain to issues often considered ‘private’. Honesty worthy of a true poet, his themes are deeply philosophical and address some of the subtle issues associated with the psycho-sexual reality of life. My City is filled with pessimistic foreboding about bad times ahead. A Stranger delves into the nemesis of separation decreed upon relations, however intimate they are. The falseness of the world and the corresponding falseness of identity find expression in The Discovery. Apocalypse is deeply contemplative, narrating the tale of a mother that dies at childbirth, leaving behind four ‘strong and menacing’ boys. An Overnight Star is an absurdist’s search for fame within the limits of his existential contingencies. In Kathmandu, I Love You! poet Thapa lays bare the paradoxes associated with Kathmandu, fundamentally marked by plight, poverty, filth and disorder. Rain takes up sexual imagery, suggesting nature’s impregnation of the dry earth. Holi, one his best poems in the anthology, aptly catches the psycho-sexual filth foisted upon the piousness of Holi, the festival of colours.
Prakash Subedi’s poems reveal an epiphany known to all but seldom thought of. Experimental in make and Zen-like in content, they reveal realities that immediately appeal to the intellect. Goats, for example, juxtaposes the slain goats’ heads on the butcher’s table with those of live goats munching grass under it, and exposes the simultaneous existence of life-death binaries, and brevity of life doomed by nemesis. The Poem is metapoetic, claiming that “beneath the massive weight of their big bulky words, remained squeezed, hidden and choking—the poem,” satirising the tendency of authors to veil the bankruptcy of ideas in their creation by a cloak of heavy affectation and pedantic verbalism. One of his best poems in the anthology, Barrier is an apology in favour of emotion. “I was prepared / to cross the mighty Koshi / when two big drops of tears / from your eyes / created an ocean for me.” In Time, the poet writes: “Did you notice, the dream was longer than the night?” upholding the permanence of vision in the infinite gyre of the space-time continuum.
Keshav Sigdel’s verses are more about identity in an apparently unreal world. In him, a powerful urge for change becomes conspicuous, though an inevitable frustration at the lack of change is more or less explicit. To Myself at best represents both these evaluations: “That election/ I voted my own will. This election / I am not sure / because / everybody speaks with threat / to vote for ‘the people’”. Deeply satirical, the poetry is a sublimation of a commoner’s frustration with political impunity. The ‘tag’ nature of one’s name—that often acquires a consubstantial connotation—is exposed in Identity. Metamorphosis presents a grotesque picture of the real, characterised by our strategic suspension of the matter-of-fact realities to retire to an imaginary Byzantium. His Will Power is one the best poems in the anthology wherein the fallacy of the mere rhetoric of change is exposed, especially at a time when the spokesmen of change are themselves undecided about changing.
Hemraj Kafle’s poetry is more or less about paradoxes associated with life and relationships. He foregrounds plain realities and laughs at their incongruities. His opening poem My Fear invites readers to the richly contemplative world he promises in the anthology: “You say life is a river / And you and I sail along / But I fear a time / When the river changes its course / Or splits into two streams.” Equally meditative is The Burden, commenting on the mere verbosity of peace to which practically no one is committed. My Neighbour, and Co-travellers are poems on relations characterised by vanity and self-centeredness. On Martyrdom, On the Pile of Papers and Street Theatre are satirical poems voicing the poet’s disgust at the inimical changes being foisted upon our time. Woman’s Day best expresses Kafle’s wit where he portraits his mother on that day: “So/ As usual / My mother / Got up early / fed her family / gathered her native tools / and went to work.”
Sarita Bhattarai has furnished some of her finest verses, more bent on the experiences of being a woman. Transformation is partly feministic, claiming that all tortures meted out by males transform into tears. The claim is, to some extent, an inapt generalisation. The word ‘transferred’ associated with tears sounds out of place. The Spectacle promises a gothic experience, attempting to identify beauty as an ugly beast. The poet marvels at its beauty while the beast is ‘contemplating’ the poet’s danger. How a beast can contemplate a poet’s danger is not explainable. Her Kitchen Garden expresses the best in her, harmonising as it does the opposites. Her sharp criticism of man’s territorial concern is beautifully expressed in the poem At Play.
Saraswati Lamicchane, while maintaining lexical brevity like others, exposes some poignant facets of art, and some ugly realities of life. Her celebration of the strength of poetry can be seen in Poems, wherein she writes: “Since/ my poems are just / between/ you / and/ me / I decided to remain silent.” The relative nature of ‘change’ that acquires a dynamic denotation just because attitudes change or the environment in the vicinity changes is the substance of her poem Change. Concrete and quite experimental, The Gap echoes the deep-seated realisation of a daughter, who bears an inevitable destiny of becoming a mother. The best expression of her feministic attitude finds expression in Women-in-red wherein redness, associated with birth, sex and childbirth, is given an allegorical hue as related to a woman’s evolution in a social fabric, and her ultimate identity as defined by the redness of vermillion, and of course of blood.
Edited with extreme linguistic accuracy and characterised by a conscious selection of word and images, this anthology in a way heralds the burgeoning of a new generation of poets capable of translating fine human realities into beautiful pieces of art worth reading.
(Paudyal is a faculty member at the Central Department of English, TU)
(Published on Oct 1, 2011 in The Kathmandu Post)