By Rashida Murphy
This Summer and That Summer
Poems by Sanjeev Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2015
I’ve always believed that it is a poet’s job to render the familiar in unfamiliar ways and bring the unknowable into the territory of the known. In his collection of poetry, This Summer and That Summer, Sanjeev Sethi’s poems do just that.
This is Sethi’s third collection of poems and offers the reader a beguiling glimpse into the mind of a poet comfortable in his own skin; the everyday urban sensibility of a life lived on the edge of the ordinary. Never mundane and always surprising, these poems move between the ephemeral and the sharply observed.
In the first poem of the collection, the cacophony of pigeons is ‘louder than church bells/ annunciating crisis’ and in the last poem, ‘ideas interface/without an additional channel.’ In between are worlds created and left behind, wry observations on the human condition and small epiphanies of careful reflections. There is a close watchfulness and self-deprecating humour – ‘That my name is common is not my fault’; [it is] ‘the burden of many births.’
Sethi is not a self-conscious poet. There is no attempt to ‘show’ the poet’s competence with metaphor, image, sound and vision, although there is plenty of evidence of deft use of all poetic forms. Some poems are deceptively simple in structure and reward the reader the second time around. For example, in ‘Holograph,’ there’s this: ‘Your nectarine skin, nicer than all the cookies/we couldn’t nourish’ and again, ‘I get back to the drill of daily existence/happy you chose a summer home in my dream.’ These drills of daily existence and ‘disorderly happenings’ are negotiated with calmness and cheer.
Sethi writes about those big poetic preoccupations – love, loss, ageing, with clarity and precision. The landscape is rendered melancholy with ‘Grief [as] her gatekeeper’ and robust with ‘drinking in company is like making love.’ These juxtapositions work because of his gift with economy. Usually in a poetic collection, indulgence sneaks in and sometimes distracts. Sethi’s indulgences do not distract – they delight; ‘My irises are templates of yearning,’ and ‘Whenever I call her, she is on the cusp/of an interlude.’
The strongest poems are those that speak of the mysteries of intimacy and include somber reflections on the human condition, like the poem “Sunny Chacha” with its often visceral imagery and frankness: ‘Do you wank? My spine shivered. How could one who was used to nuns,/and Mother Mary, answer such questions?’ And again in “Afterlight”, the line, ‘In hush of the gloaming hours when I wish to be by myself and cannot, I cry,’ reveals the balance between intimacy and exposure.
These poems are celebratory and melancholic, cheerful and cynical, precise and universal, and I recommend this collection highly. I look forward to more from this talented and amiable voice.
[Note: Perth-based writer, Rashida Murphy is Books Editor for Cafe Dissensus Everyday. Send your book reviews, critical pieces on books, author interviews, and book excerpts to Rashida at: email@example.com]
Rashida Murphy is Books Editor for Café Dissensus. She lives in Perth, Western Australia and writes, edits, dreams and generally leads a bookish life.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘The Book that Made an Impact on Me in 2015’, edited by Tikuli, poet and blogger, Delhi, India.