Born at the tail-end of the cruelest month, Kushal Poddar is a 37-year-old poet residing in Calcutta, India. I’ve been reading his work for about two years. Heavily symbolist and imagist, often surreal, it sometimes confounds me; many times I have to read commentators’ remarks (on Facebook) before reading the poem again, and commenting myself. I once had a conversation with Poddar via messaging about whether I was a dense reader. His reply, paraphrasing: “a poem is 50% the poet, 50% the reader;” in that sense, the poem can have many meanings. There are no wrong takes, he said, which put me on guard. I found it rather specious. “Get it on the paper,” he said, “see what people make of it,” which bothered me, because it didn’t seem to take the craft of writing seriously, at least, thematically.
Back then, and because he is so prolific, I sometimes got the feeling that he labored without true intent, or vision, a la, anyone can spew words onto a page. However, and this is a very large “however,” with time and continued reading, I have noticed that Poddar’s work is full of intent, is not some arbitrary love affair with words. I have also noticed an amazing “layeredness” in his poems, impressive in that they are, as a rule, short (concise, that is). If you glance at the commentary on any given piece, you will see that nearly every poem is, or at least, becomes, a good – very good – can of worms, inspiring far-flung discussions. The highest compliment – one of the highest – I can bestow upon a poem is that it is an onion, or perhaps, a rose, which would dispense with onions’ problems (though invites thorns).
This circumstance is even more impressive given the fact that English is Poddar’s second language. (His first full-length book, “A Place for your Ghost Animals” will be released by Eclectic Galaxy Press in September 2014.) Let me get all of the “bad stuff” out of the way. Often, I have trouble with his diction, and send suggestions, which he is always happy to receive – for me, the mark of a true scholar, an eternal student, an artist of integrity. He is never offended (though his commentators sometimes are). I have considered, though, that perhaps, in writing in a non-native tongue, the artist gets “closer to the bone” than otherwise. I’ll say it: his language is simple (not simplistic); not flowery, not rife with vocabulary. Simple, but not ordinary, is how I would describe his work (not that simple implies accessible, always). I will comment when something pulls me out of the poem (like an unneeded article, or a needed one. The point is to maintain the flow in an otherwise awesome product, for the native-tongued reader.
But often, it is the very strangeness of diction that makes the poem so fresh. I am reminded (with no insult intended, only compliment), of the precocious child who puts pen (or crayon) to paper, the child with no developed inner critic, and sometimes, if not often, produces something amazing. I think it is the inner child, arising from different culture (I should not leave that out), the latter of which would also speak to diction, no pun intended – that ever-curious (and free, as it were) creature (too often dimmed by time and/or circumstance) – which frolics so brilliantly in Poddar’s verse.
It is all a matter of sustained curiosity, or even awe. (Can you see a poet in the making below)?
Poddar’s themes are catholic. He recently said to me, “everything is a poem.” I used to “be” like this, “finding” poetry everywhere, so I know what he means. With one foot on the ground, the other in the clouds, like many artists, the grounded Poddar is acutely attuned to current events, the natural world, and the world immediately about him (people, places). In terms of current events, the poetry is not especially political, or not overly-so. It does have a powerful, subtlety, however. It has been written that poetry should show (reveal) the world, not persuade (attempt to) to some point of view. You will find some persuasive effort, certainly, if in the tone, not merely words, but in general, Poddar is a mirror; also, at times, a visionary. Here is the first poem of his I ever read (and while I would suggest attention to punctuation, verb tense, and use of articles, this is the original, which much impressed):
The recovering men in pajama toil in the garden.
Silence hunched in the chairs.
The wild hands crossed on their mad chests.
A white warden hammers a nail
into the mid torso where two sleeves meet.
A garden man brings a rose to decorate the dot.
He stands at the door.
His hands hold the flower like a child for baptism.
And the priest nails the insane who has Godlike hair.
Here is another (grim) piece, posted recently (and needing a better title, in my humble opinion):
She Made A Beautiful Video For Your Tube
One thirteen years old asks: Am I ugly?
Since I have no say, no minutiae,
I like her post. Hundreds like her post.
Imagine her standing between two mirrors,
light striking back and forth, thinning her
beyond frame, perception, silhouette.
Am I ugly? Asks a cloud freshly kneaded
from a flood. Am I ugly? Asks a bird.
I can see a rat’s tail hanging from its mouth.
The left mirror does not exist. It is
a shadow of the one on the right.
The right mirror is a mirage. It casts
the light left over from the beauty’s erring side.
Referencing nature (non-human, that is), is common is Poddar’s work, radiates outward from a central image (theme), and returns, like a created then dying ripple. It is precisely this which, to me, gives the poetry universality, that holy grail (a topic hotly debated as to its “grail-ness.”). The teen, at a time in life when it is natural to wonder and be concerned over outward attractiveness, has turned to a world of strangers, supposedly for truth, more likely for (positive) validation. There is a poignancy here, a dark thing lurking, a snake in these ethernet and spiritually shallowest of times. And he has delivered the snake. Simple, powerful social commentary.
Is this next about reading a book? Or something larger?
Breathless in the open
reels the afternoon.
Comes the looming green,
the shadows. I peep
at the ending that
gives away nothing.
It may be of interest to know that Poddar doesn’t work on a computer (or on paper, despite this blog’s title), but rather, on a phone. This is where he both writes and sketches. He has no private space at home, and no psychological support from his family, as regards his arts pursuits. But he is not friendless (the good side of ether). He has his readers, and, always, Meowtown.
Line 5 of the following poem is now typical, characteristic of Poddar, and don’t think any reader missed it. Note too the use of slant rhyme (been/beam) (reaches/riches) and alliteration. I have seen an evolution in the work: more attention to poetic device. Poetry is not just about theme – it should be a thing of beauty. At its core, it is a cappella (this computer will not accept any spelling of the term) music. Asking questions is also a hallmark of this poet’s work. Questions, for me, solidify the curiosity, an I find them endearing – charming, even.
My brother sits in his favorite
astronaut suit, a light coming from
the place his head should have been. The beam
reaches for riches of the dark
that hangs loose around the room’s ankle.
Which year? Which year? I hold my time and
find it a distant star I can never visit.
The original word in line 2 was “dress” vs. suit; I suggested suit or garment or raiment (obviously, “dress” takes things in another – and unintended – direction), but we had a fun time, venturing into, for instance, speculation over a cross-dressing universe. Poddar’s use of irony and subtlety (not to be confused with inaccessibility) are masterful. I should mention having tried to model his poems. Some of the deceptively simple poems appeal to me most, in terms of challenge. I have rarely succeeded (according to myself).
In the following poem, note the use of the abstract “All,” which seems to work well. And then, the ending, in which suddenly the main character/event takes a back seat to what’s “really” important. Well done, I think.
At The Premise of The Departed
All that loved and hated
sit beside the death.
I cannot differentiate
one from the other.
They drool dollops of molten whispers
down the bends of chins.
Outside the glowing jasmines
ambush the night.
I tell my name to one of my kin.
Are you on the black side?
Or the white?
Poddar has never met a pathetic fallacy he didn’t adore. I had been told for years that pathetic fallacy may not be dead, but was not only out of vogue: downright verboten. Then I met then-Poet Laureate of the US, Kay Ryan (whose work I love and which is similar, I think, to Poddar’s), who said, “not so, because I say so.” That was sufficiently authoritative, as the simplest statements are, when you hear what you wish to hear. Now, Poddar, who I don’t think spent years in a mill called undergraate an graduate English studies, doesn’t care about rules. I am trying to learn from him.
Here’s a poem I tried to model. (I have made an edit here which he accepted but may not have updated). Humor and pathos: a fine marriage.
When you imagine
you know her she will
drop her pet spider
in your breakfast, and
you tell yourself that
you know your insects
from your life in village.
True. Save that its not.
The village stopped at
your doorstep. Inside
mother wore a fluffy coat
which made her, sometimes,
a hairy insect.
Your love’s spider crawls
down your spunk, veins.
You can live it, you can
adore the dawn on the web.
The same as you always did.
Remain in the web.
Your mother’s. Lover’s.
The Flame-Eater, by KP (his only titled artwork)
Here’s one of my favorites, with an Audenish (“Musee des Beaux Arts”) ending.
Atrophy (formatting won’t cooperate; apologies. Single spaced, stanzaic)
To the person pacing on the pier
with an urge to kill something, I show
Drowning in the ninth day rain, we
hallucinate some spiders weaving
sun-catchers between the trees’ fingers.
I show those clouds above the crouching
town whose claws rust once snapped out of their mounds,
whose eyes burn in the sky without sun.
I pour some good luck in the madman’s ear.
The ticket-collector turns on the weather.
I watch a boat
dimming in the distance.
Those We Put To Sleep
When the rain drowns every other noise
The female fetuses begin to
Conspire. Green splashes from the green, and
All morning the sons of men play with
The rooms, tables, chairs. Indoor, because of rain.
Outside the murmurs float and twirl from
One glistening leaf to another.
Father you put us to sleep. Father
You put us to sleep. You said, A man
Can do only his life’s worth of wrong.
Wrong. Wrong, father. One wrong travels beyond,
Blows in the breeze from veers of time.
Fetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion by medical professionals has grown into a 1,000 crore industry (US $244 million) according to Wikipedia article on violence against women in India.
The Repetition, Must In A Love Poem
Again I say, You
cannot change my eyes
with yours, set straight on
imposing your childhood,
that middle earth, that
river stream and those
industrial strength hands
holding a bouquet
for your mother.
I say, that, love is not.
My eyes have two
middle class soup bowls,
a TV blurring
three souls, all using
one staircase to climb
up and numb down.
One long pause after
a short siren.
Some man selling
a bouquet to no buyer.
A Love Poem
In response to a love poem by Raniah Nadhir
And I whisper, You’re
made of dimples of light.
Last night the beast slept
between us. At dawn
it bit my hand. Love, what
do you want? On its good
mood days it licks our skin,
its tongue, rough, seems
to lave away our sins.
In truth it wants us to
clean it in return. Love
I whisper to the beast,
between us, in us, us,
in this dawn, light denting
the deepest of our relationship.
The following poem was written after I spoke with Poddar about first-generation Holocaust survivor’s guilt.
An Orphanage In A Land Of Revolution
The dew-wet swing sits raised in
offerings to the half moon –
the charity of light thins.
One humid night they took three
to the realm of maturity.
The stain of survivor’s guilt
smells quite bloodlike, clotted black.
Oh father, mercy upon us.
We let them. We laid them down. Interred.
Note the interesting phrases “charity of night thins” and “to the realm of maturity” (death). Curious title, I’d say – but not if you understand the poem, how survivor’s guilt affects the offspring, who can never go through normal/natural (even desirable, in the end), necessary teen or young adult rebellion. Sure, all of this isn’t exactly clear in the poem. One can ask for clarification or suggest, at least to this poet, a more transparent rendering.
The Land Of Landslides
dedicated to Pune landslide victims
Our sharp instruments
chop down the mountain tops.
What will you do with them?
You ask. We need more on
our banana-leaf plates,
more for our soulless hole’s
satiety. You know us;
we, the mythical, ghosts,
holy spirits, birthless.
But death, oh yes, death gets
us in the end. We, the dead
in a landslide.
The days after
the death pose more turbulence.
Since we had no birth, we
had only present and
now that death becomes clear
and present we come ashore
to life again. Our bodies
are mud, mad, marvel of flesh,
Another with a bit of humor, here, a black humor, or, at the very least, gray, which offsets a quite serious piece:
The Jogger On A Toy Bridge
Down the toy bridge I run.
You said it would relieve
me from my guilt. You said
nothing about the length.
The toy bridge grows ahead.
Perhaps I move too slowly.
Perhaps my compunction
acquiesces the bridge,
made of fire, blow by blow.
I pant, grasp the rail. Below
lies the stillness only
a toy city can possess.
I can envelope it
with my handkerchief.
Like the best art, including the best performances, it all seems so effortless. Perhaps it is not, though Poddar writes a poem virtually every day, sometimes more than one (while holding down a full-time job) – and, obviously (to me), good poems, not drivel. Perhaps it is indeed effortless. There is such a thing as being born with a gift. The name “Kushal” means “skillful, clever.” So maybe it’s true after all, the old saw: a name is a map. All I know is that this is one fertile mind at work. mind like an properly-rotated garden. If there is something to write about, Poddar will write it; if there is nothing, he’ll write that too (basically, because there’s always something). That’s what I mean by Ku Shall. As mentioned, he does have a life aside from poetry. Just don’t tell him.
Some of these poems were part of The Tupelo Press 3030 project, December 2013; others have been published in various venues; some have appeared on FB only. All rights reserved by Kushal Poddar.
Posted by Julianza Shavin