Poet Nabina Das’s Riverine Folk and Other Wonders

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There’s mythical substance in India — an ancient flow of iconic beings and ritualized attitudes. A poet wading into these cultural and psychological artifacts must be graceful and subtle, else the poem drown in subcontinental kitsch.

Being a disciplined poet — a refined artist of language and memory — Nabina Das is adept at navigating these difficult currents. She’s a natural at subsuming ancient cultural substances into eccentric visions of contemporary India. Those substances now radiate an ambient background, the distant past mostly dispersed onto the present’s horizon of weird.

Das creates this fugitive written atmosphere in the poem linked below. It’s a world in which solid beings move through vapors of old time, in which significant happenings have another, farther glow. The dazzle of phenomena is almost hallucinatory.  People and events appearing in this poem convey or project an unforced surreal quality, and that’s a marvelous thing. It’s also a kind of spiritual thing.

I wonder if riverine folk are universally drenched in such a liquid surreal, have similar souls? I can almost picture Huck Finn sitting in rapt wonder while listening to these lines being spoken on a campfire-sparkled riverbank:

my uncle stuffed fireflies in his pocket
to go to the barak’s banks
fireflies as baits for the fish he secretly listened to
he wooed the fish and told them stories

i’m told on gibbous nights they too
came up to tell him tales
truths and half lies
of bodies pushed under
of sad brides sleeping under waves

from rivers and towns: fireflies and fish conversations

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Work by JP Gangooly (via Artetc)

Posted by Tim Buck

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