Book Review: Jharna Sanyal’s ‘The Nomadic Trail’

On the Trail of Sculpting Poems

Poetry, often said, offers us insight and truth that feels like the poet working in this place that’s sort of beyond knowing or beyond explanation, and yet it rings the deepest bell of truth within the mind of readers. ‘The Nomadic Trail’, the captivating debut collection of poems, written by Jharna Sanyal, delivers a big knock of meaning and connection, rich space to explore the human experience if we are equal to the challenge of unearthing the truth, if we will take the time to pause and ponder with the surroundings. There is a strikingly contemporary voice in her poems conflating the mythical and the real to the unnerving effect..

Her poems bring easy charm to candid reflections on travel, unattended love, loss and human frailty, the results are moving and thought provoking. In this stirring, witty and emotive collection, there are seventy poems that focus on the working of the images, memory, literature, myth and history and also on the physical world around us.Jharna Sanyal is a reputed academician, translator and poet. In her ‘Postface’, she wrote, ’Poetry, reading or writing, is a journey through thoughts, ideas, words, sounds and images. Walking in and out of poems, following the trails, taking a sudden turn, or may be revisiting old sites, or, unexpectedly discovering our own selves are some of the pleasures of poetry.’ In ‘The Nomadic Trail’ the readers also move with the poet in this poetic trail, crossing different nodes of locales and cultures.

What is all the more remarkable is that her engaging poems explore life in all its forms, from “A Dutch Cemetery” at “Bheemunipatnam”, to the ‘Wizened woman of Aizawl’, tenderly slicing pineapples. The poet has an eye for the vivid image (read snake especially) and her poetic canvas is effortlessly wide and resplendent. She records the human experience in poetry alive with beauty and wisdom.  Her poems seek out new and revealing perspectives on the human condition and gives context to them so that they can work within a system that highlights the nuances of living.

From monographs of a ‘A Barbecue Evening at Long Island, NY’ to elicitations of ‘Matsyagandha and Parasar’ the poet is intensely receptive to questions of learning bubble and the ephemeral state of life. The openness, optimism and spirits shared through the verse, each with a different alignment, portray a bigger picture of the innermost corner, yet at the same time her poems can be touching and thoughtful addressing history and culture that combine rich diction and deft use of form.

The following poem offers forthright presence: a personal voice making honest admissions. It’s a poem that opens hands and heart to a reader — no double talk or cryptic shadings which has become easier to tune into the core. The images don’t inhabit a world- they are the world.

My monsoon in Kolkata I carry with me

to the fields of slaughter and vengeance

Let there be rain. (A Prayer for Rain)

In a series of exquisitely appealing, nostalgic poems, the poet returns from her past to a changed world where ‘memory is overtaken by memory: frame replaces frame’, where perhaps everything has been rewelded forever.

In this lonely Manhattan cell,

On a white Christmas night, I sit under a lime tree

And watch snowflakes covering A Rangpur ground. (Rangpur Gin).

Her poetry and to what many other important modern poets are trying to teach us – not always through fear and guilt, but through appealing to our senses, including the sense of beauty. The poet knows that oddness can make for great storytelling — better even if it’s infused with irony.

The missing soldiers are logged on to portals

of recapitulation and retrieval.

Like a waylaid love song

the gentle breeze falters among the artful aliens. (Ceramic Poppies)

A poem has to be more than its surface message, however discerning, however wise. And there is that sense of sharing and compassion that moves through then at those moments or when you’re writing a poem. Her unusual impulses with language channel a deep sense of loss.

Overexposed shots

tamper with the ecology of images.

War photographs never tell the truth. (Battlefields).

What I admire most about this collection is that the poet demonstrates her genius with language in a simple way. She is relatable, never writing from the lofty heights of the dream tower, but walking alongside us, inviting us to play, to riddle out the oddness of language with her.

Sometimes her poems can feel distracting, but she also approaches these issues with mordant, wit and moving sentiment. There is, for a long time after, the shock of the new reality and the difficulty applying the fact of the change to each moment that comes next. Have we ever seen a better image than these snippets?

‘The knife pierced through the flesh

Juice oozed out drenching her palms:

Revealing the secrets of birth and deliverance. (Pineapples)’.

Poetry is actually making a story out of a moment and here is a poet who can empty that moment in many different forms and ways. In creating a kind of word disorder, quivers in the mosaic of language, she shakes us into a new zone of attention.

‘The gull is poised to fly.

It spread its wings

To shut out the sun

And hold the world

In the circle of its wings. (Flight).

She is a natural poet with a lightness of touch and resilience, not overlooking to see her state within a broader cultural and historical context. In the tighter confines of short poem, the poet finds a more surgical way to register how moments may speak with a cryptic tongue in the following poem.

‘When I can’t find the butter-knife

I use the mutton-chopper,

When I can’t find my slippers

I walk barefoot.

When I can’t find time

Waiting waits for me. (Default Setting)

Some of her poems are sharp, concise and succinct and have a tended quality. The following poem is amusing and abstruse-stands apart for its recompense. The poet travels light, irradiated yet never chained by scholarship, and investigates the way life does.

‘Someone had photoshopped a cat

in Monalisa’s arms, -not that she

could do anything about it just as

she could do nothing about her smile. (Photoshop)

Her poems often teach us to look again and beckon us to find the enigmatic wisdom in the highs and lows of living. The poet appreciates the worth of delicacy and frailty, exploring the struggle and suffering of our lives through poems that speak eloquently of insight and alertness.

i wasn’t aware

i was in love with you,

your eyes told me

Please don’t wear kajal

i hate it underlined. (Ctrl+u)

The love of wildness, especially snake, is palpable in the signature poem – in a literary sense, too. In particular, she borrows light from the nature that quivers between ominous and fresh resolve to conserve ‘as is the strategy of the survival game’. She is a sensual illusionist of nature.

Like a skein of silk weaving

itself into the green fringe of

the winding uphill asphalt road

it glided: a cursive script

magically writing itself

only to disappear without a trace (The Snake)

The poet excels in adopting the conventional form- its imagery, is metaphor, its language- makes it her own, cantering the experience of the unchartered territories. Poetry is a sublime song, and astonishing art form, a linguistic feat and its rhymes and charms surprise the reader. At the same time, it tickles curiosity, inspires awe and pulls your heart strings by her poems.

‘Waiting lingered

like a slippery shawl

till the chair fell fast asleep. (The Chair by the Window)

The following poem stares straight into grief’s paralysis and the continual climbing out — simply to do whatever small things follow It’s true that the splendour of language (read chair) is as much a matter of sound as of meaning but not the empty cannons of rhetoric.

‘Two white chairs

in darkness

tore up each other

in ferocious silence,

-flesh, blood and bones. (Two White Chairs)

Jharna Sanyal has always had a gift for restabilising the personal universe in her poems. “The Nomadic Trail,” is strong, deep as gravity and provides integral insights into the personal and intellectual experiences, portraying an urgent account of life and the surroundings.

This is a border book, rural and urban at once, for all human beings who embrace one another, or think they relate to them in a seamless manner. This is a major book for our time. One will keep returning to her poems for the sheer pleasure of them.

The cover design is artistic. This book stands out from the pack and is definitely a worth buy.