Example poetry

Two poetry collections ‘Auguries of a Minor God’ and ‘Woman by the Door’ test the limits of liminality in their verse

While Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe’s work triumphs over the experimental, Kashiana Singh’s poetic universe reflects how love, loss and longing make for an unforgettable South Asian reality.

Two collections of poetry ‘Auguries of a Minor God’ and ‘Woman by the Door’ and the poets

Only a poem can illuminate a grain of life, unlike any other literary form. While there is no shortage of so-called “experimental” collections of poetry these days, it is rare to find a volume that not only bears witness to the above fact, but is also entertaining and enchanting in same time.

Augurs of a minor god (Faber & Faber, 2021) by Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe is one such collection. A recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Next Generation Artist Award in Literature and the inaugural Ireland Chair of Poetry Student Award, India-born Nidhi’s collection of poetry has made the shortlist of several prestigious literary awards, including the most recent is the 2022 Dylan Thomas Award.

In this book, divided into two parts, both structured in a unique way, she draws inspiration from both the Hindu scriptures in Sanskrit and the Holy Quran. While the first part ‘स्मरसि स्मर’ (Remember, Love?) is divided into five sections (स्तम्भन [stunning/paralysing]शोषण [drying up/withering]सम्मोहन [bewildering/mesmerising]उन्मादन [bewitching/infatuating]and मारण [killing/destroying]) which are based on the five arrows of the god of desire Kamadeva, the second is a long poem — A is for العرب [Arabs] — whose pattern mimics the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) in which the third element of the sequence is a sum of the two previous ones.

As each of Kamadeva’s arrows is made from a distinct flower and is known to have a unique effect, each poem in the first part of this collection leaves a distinct aftertaste. While the first ചുംബനം (Malayalam translation: ‘kiss’) tells you to give it back to the man “who doesn’t know / how to kiss you” is the simplest of all, as you progress through the collection, you find that every word in these poems has been strategically placed and speaks to a distinct sensibility that can only be fully appreciated when you embrace the multiplicity of its rendering.

Most of the poems frequently mention the “horse”, whose presence in Indian myth-history is well noted by Wendy Doniger in Winged Stallions and Wicked Mares: Horses in Indian Myth and History (Talking Tiger, 2021). By reading Doniger’s work, I was able to make connections and make sense of the cultural myths borrowed from several Hindu scriptures that form the poem. A horse myth but had to rely on the Notes section towards the end to capture the others well.

The dizzying ferocity of this collection lies in the fact that it is both playful and subject to rules. Mathematical precision and fluidity of language converge wonderfully in this brilliant collection. You are immediately drawn into the universe created by these poems. Whether it is the different shades of love it presents or the diversity of emotions it captures or the otherness a Muslim feels in an increasingly divided world that it depicts, Nidhi’s poems function as a conduit of communication between the lost world and the future yet to be imagined.

While experiences triumph in Nidhi’s work, another Indian-born writer, Kashiana Singh, Woman at the door (Apprentice House Press, 2022) explores the limits of liminality in its deftly yet simple verses. While there are several themes one can capture as each poem in this collection remembers a bygone era or addresses pent up feelings, its running theme for me is one of looking, witnessing and documenting the lost. and about to be lost.

Divided into three parts – openings, portals and detours, Woman at the door is also an ode to the South Asian way of life: the families we live in, the relationships we celebrate, the festivals we observe, the bonds we let go and the patchwork we become late in our lives – a P&L state of our collective existence. Most of the poems in this collection, from the first Homesick at In my Nani’s house, sour milk and whey were a religion at Eleven photographs in Ma’s Kitchen, overflowing with nostalgia. Their emotional value far exceeds the joy of noticing their craft. Perhaps all the parts are aptly named, as they not only act as doorways, giving you a glimpse into someone’s innermost depths, but they also describe the varying degrees of pain that exposure to. love, loss and longing can leave you depending on how close you are to its subjects.

While distance is essential for some, an unforgettable memory of youthful years is instrumental in others. Example this:

“I tried so hard to do what Nani did but the

the curd I make always looks like half-fulfilled wishes.

Like he’s telling me to have more patience, want

me to inhale, exhale and stir the silence.

Or this one, an excerpt from Windows and parts:

“These cities emerge one by one from all

unused corner between bedrooms. Each city a

breath, transcreated into memories. Each

memory dragging itself through unborn time.

In this collection, Singh pays immense attention to the strangeness of family relationships. While in one a mother feels that her children “take[s] me through their life” as if it were “a garage sale”, in the other she advises her son (or perhaps a grandson?) to “unbecome your father”. In addition to this, a particular effort can be felt in the poet’s attempts to emphasize how mortality makes its presence felt in our lives and the burden memories ultimately become.

Saurabh Sharma (He/They) is a queer writer and freelance journalist based in Delhi.

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