– PADMA DEVKOTA
Time constraints have allowed me to go quickly through only half a book that deserves to be read completely. This is not a denial to read the remaining other half. Six Strings, a compilation of the poetry by six friends who seek numerical balance of representation in the book (six times ten poems each) rather than gender balance (two women and four men), nevertheless seeks judgment of the reader in terms of performance rather than in terms of the identity of the writer. And, it is not easy to identify the poets in terms of style and subject matter until one gets quite familiar with their writing. Thus, these new voices challenge their readers to identify the poems they like before they identify the poet.
I have taken a back-page approach to fall back upon a traditional method of reading these poems, which makes me feel at ease. I have chosen to sample five poems by each writer to get a rough idea of what these are like. Alphabetically listed in terms of the name, the irony of fate is such that the only two women poets appear at the tail end of the list. The males are still dominant! Anyway, the national democratic practice of including thirty-three percent of women representation in everything one does organizationally is rigorously upheld. This is a consolation for the politically minded.
For the poetically minded, there is much more than quantification of competence through presence. Sarita Bhattarai, a poet who has chosen to talk about domestic experiences in her works, smiles at a couple who complain regularly that s/he is the only one who works (“Kitchen garden”). However, each one of the two shares in the garden work and the seeds grow. Of course, they do not only complain to each other; they also share their sorrows between themselves (“Transformation”) like two good friends. Yet, the reality is that, despite their wedding vows of never parting, each has a lonely journey to take. One lives alone, one dies alone (“Pathways”). “Spectacle” and “A Plea” both deviate somewhat from the theme of domesticity and are also vague to some extent. However, Sarita is a very promising poet who has found a voice and a theme.
Saraswati Lamichhane, a meek and gentle absence in grave company, sounds true to herself when she says that silence is the best form of poetic communication between a couple (“Poems”). She is not alone in this line of thinking because many poets writing of love have taken a similar perspective. And, without perspective one is blind (“The view”), says Saraswati. To develop a way of seeing that is uncommon is as hard as it is rewarding. Saraswati does this in “The River” where she symbolically expresses her faith in her parents’ physical aggression as a challenge to continue loving and caring for each other. She surprises us with yet another interesting perspective in “Change” where her subtle understanding of the way she changes because of the variety of people with whom she comes into contact daily as opposed to the table that does not change despite this contact is indeed laudable. Her theme is love and perspectives change again from expectations in dreams and expectations in waking hours with a change in the character who expects the same love from the other (“Shift”).
Prakash Subedi, another meek and humble poet who is recently under the influence of Buddhist texts, likes to look beyond the forms of things as they appear. Life, death and time prove to be the themes of his poems. In “Time,” he questions only: “Did/you notice/ the dream was longer than the night?” “Longer” means more meaningful. In “The poem,” he suggests that words are not always as meaningful since they, out of some figurative self-importance, choke the poem they are supposed to exude. When things are not what they seem to be, the world is a stage and life is as much acting as there is acting on the stage (“At the theatre”). To find meaning where it is least expected is to have an insight into truth: in “Barrier,” Prakash finds two drops of human tear a greater hurdle than the entire ocean.
Keshab Sigdel, with his special concerns for society and human rights, finds life a nightmare in the poem titled “The Change.” We come to this conclusion because he says that mornings are scarier than nights and confesses: “I fear the Broad Day Light.” To him, enlightenment has taken an about turn in the cities (“My buddha-in-becoming”). “To myself” probably explains this by expressing the poet’s fear of degenerated political practice in the nation. He seeks his own true identity amidst a multiplicity of identities and finds out that the twelve letters of his name “only exhibit[s] my non-existence.” He is a mere nobody, a mere piece on the chess board, a pawn moved and manipulated by the players who determine the course of his life (“The chess game”). This is probably what makes his life a nightmare.
Hem Raj Kafle, who seems ready to accept any topic under the sun as a theme for his poems, obviously has a wider ken of vision. He is as much at ease talking about a personal fear of separation from one’s companion as a result of natural forces such as a river (“My fear”) as about general human nature. In “Just or unjust,” he finds the human inclination to justify themselves quite disgusting and self-centered. Another poem, “The burden,” talks about the elusiveness of peace, which everyone desires. The language, though, is quite obscure especially in the third stanza of this poem. He talks about how the condition of the family of a drunkard raises enough pity in him to forgive the drunkard where others might blame the drunkard for making the family suffer. In the poem titled “On martyrdom,” the poet seeks to understand the new definition of martyrdom by asking what qualifies one to become a martyr.
Bal Bahadur Thapa, a quiet and hard working person, brings up the imagery of the womb frequently in his poems. Not quite happy with human ambition of overnight success (“An overnight star!”), he regards human individuality as something that should create its own destiny by moving from the mother to the other and resigning oneself to the inevitability of such a separation (“A stranger”). Survival will then mean hard work on one’s own. In “Apocalypse,” he even accepts the possibility of the mother’s death at childbirth. With this juxtaposition of life and death, or death-in-life as in the city (“My city”) one has to grow wise with the realization that the external image of unity of the self is a lie (“The discovery”), that the self is all fragments, indeed.
Put the seis amigos together and you will find a love of normal sunshine in a happy domesticity, a desire of peace and prosperity in the social world, a desire to enhance the cultural world, a disgust of all that hampers the blossoming of human civilization with barbaric and anti-humanistic militantism, a desire to understand love, life, human relations, death, time, and eternity. Originally written in English, the poems are readable, experimental at times, visually effective at other. After a first reading, the poems begin to attach themselves to this or that poet in terms of themes and styles. All of them promise a growth along individual lines of visions and perspectives.
Since all of these poets are active members of the Society of Nepali Writers in English (N/WEN), I am very proud of these young poets who, I believe, will soon inspire other people with their success. I congratulate them all.
July 23, 2011