By Abha Iyengar
Serene Woods, New Delhi, 2010
Number of pages: 112
Available at: http://serenewoods.com/book_details.php?id=419
Reviewed by Nabina Das
Yearn for the Body and Beyond
This could have been a collection of usual love poems, love that is intense and physical, but Abha Iyengar‘s shamanic voice take us beyond just the deep sense of longing that her poems transmit. Flipping through “Yearnings” (Serene Woods, Delhi, 2010) one notices the tenor of her poems to range vividly from the soft, muted plea to a coy dalliance, to a voice of aplomb. In the very first blush, a poem that reached out to me was “She” – the ‘she’ with her delicate blue throat, an intrinsically empowered woman who “could have any lover”.
Iyengar’s style is playful as well as pithy, her diction conversational, the kind you’d imagine in an intimate tête-à-tête. Besides the love poems, the other compositions are melodic and philosophical. She, like her poetic personas in this collection, is at once hyperbolic and restrained.
In “Denial” the voice is passionate and defiant. Although the image of a zipper as a “metal snake” is invariably masculine in its evocation, it is not difficult to imagine the feminine voice, confident and aroused. The same voice easily glides along the speaker’s daily humdrum routine:
I wait for you to leave
And sigh with relief.
Do my yoga,
Drink my orange juice
Eat my fresh fruit
And marvel at how I like
Except you. (Everything Natural)
The poet’s oeuvre quite often is that of a soothsayer, made wiser in love:
And as you feel yourself
Split wide open
Your eyes will fail to hide
The memories, the thoughts, the dreams
One by one they will shine through.
And you thought
I never knew. (Split Wide Open)
Iyengar’s allusion to physicality is bold and wholesome:
At the base of your throat
where your pulse quickens
At the sight of me
This moment. (This Moment Etched)
And at times unabashed:
His tongue under my skin,
His hurt under my bone,
His touch under my collar,
I feel him everywhere.
I will live this life like this. (Wanting)
The ephemeral quality of love presents itself through a stunning stanza such as:
Then bends down to take the picture
Of a green grass hopper,
Waiting for time to pass but
Hoping he will catch her before
The light dies for the day. (As the Light Dies)
Iyengar is comfortable with using mythology as a prop (The Banks of the Brahmaputra) as well as venturing out for metaphors from hitherto unexplored ideas involving even race, color, skin, quite unexpected in Indian poetry:
Cracking like an eggshell
I let out all that I hold
Sticky and yellow the desire
for this man
Of another land, another skin,
Light of an unknown dark,
His sunlight on my bleached shore. (The Dark of Another Land)
The anaphora as a poetic device Iyengar employs well in (A Strange Stirring) with the phrase :
There is a strange stirring
The line break employs a pause like the speaker’s breath, with the enjambment dropping that one word in the next line like a throb.
One sees that device in the negatives as well – “no” and “not” – where the lyric persuasion wins over the curiously italicized portions in the poem.
Something in Iyengar’s voice and imagery is startling, yet it feels familiar to the Subcontinental ear. A song-like (I am tempted to say a geet or a naghma) quality resounds in the following:
I shall put ittar on my pulse
Sing the song that pulls him
To the red of my palms
And the blood within. (Certainty)
Although she writes in mostly free verse, Iyengar’s poetry is marked by abundant internal rhyming, free-flowing rhythm patters and the efficient use of styles like list poems, refrains and even rhymed quatrains. Satire and humor too dot the pages, that of a wily lover or a sage seeker. Published by Serene Woods this year, “Yearnings” is a highly recommended reading for poetry patrons.
Abha Iyengar’s poetry has appeared in Dead Drunk Dublin, Conversation Poetry Quarterly, Long Story Short,Up the Staircase and others. She is a Kota Press Poetry Anthology Contest winner. Her poem-film, "Parwaaz" (flight), has won an international prize at Patras, Greece. She is recipient of the Lavanya Sankaran Writing Fellowship.Website www.abhaiyengar.com
Nabina's novel “Footprints in the Bajra” is available from Cedar Books, India, while her work has been published in North America, Asia and Australia. An Associate Fellow for the prestigious Sarai-CSDS "City as Studio" Fellowship 2010 (New Delhi, India), Nabina has won prizes in the poetry contests organized by UNISUN Reliance, 2010; Prakriti Foundation, 2009; and HarperCollins-India and Open Space, 2008. She blogs at http://fleuve-souterrain.blogspot.com/ when not writing. An MFA candidate at Rutgers University, Nabina has been an editor with literary zines and newspapers in the US.