“Neem’s serrated leaves
outside my study
wear season’s toxicity
on their exposed skin”
Emotions recollected in tranquillity and the world is too much with us — these are the themes that run through Sudeep Sen’s poems in Anthropocene. You feel in his words, the searing heat of India like in “Amaltas”, “drips ochre at 48 C, drenched in yolky heat.” Or “Heat outside is like filigreed sand on my skin — swift, sharp, pointed, deceptive, furnace hot” in “Heat Sand”.
This collection is not just about poetic descriptions of weather, however. Underlying each line, unstated but ever present, is the reminder of what we of this Anthropocene era, have done to this planet we live on with so many other life forms, but usually forget about.
It’s there in “Concrete Graves”: “arrogance, avarice, real estate seduction”. The words trip lyrical but that is deceptive. Sen uses his voice to bring home every atrocity we have wrought on this planet, on ourselves and our lives.
Inevitably, we reach the pandemic. His “Love in the Time of Corona” has already been widely published but it bears re-reading:
“Cretins spray bleach on unprotected poor, clap,
bang plates, ring bells, blow conches, light fires
to rid the voodoo — karuna’s karma, infected.
Mood-swings in sanitised quarantine — self-isolation, imposed — uncontained virus, viral.
When shall we sing our dream’s
Like all anthologies, this is one to be savoured. This book is also a collection of vignettes of thoughts, even photographs. The poems vary in style though not in tone. Or perhaps that is incorrect. Rather, you get used to a certain consistency in range and construction and then suddenly, the short bursts of thought are replaced by longer more philosophical prose-like constructions. From E.E Cummings to Robert Lowell. Or you might come across photographs of clouds!
“Skyscapes” as he calls them, “ink spill bleeds dark — newsprint blotting out our wheezing breath”.
Through the surprises and the theme, Anthropocene is a keeper. You dip into it, find a thought that opens your mind, an emotion that has you yearning or a phrase that you keep going back to. Some ideas you may have heard before, but perhaps they need repetition? The writer in his study with the neem tree outside is a recurring motif, reminding us of our own containment both literally during the pandemic and of the limitations we place on
Poetry you might say is an acquired taste. But it is one worth acquiring.