Millennium Post

Artist of the floating world

In a country that has a published volume of poetry by its current prime minister, poets like Sridala Swami are both recluses and soft moons lighting up a night sky. Because in an age where goodness of certitudes are ritually flaunted, the likes of Swami dwell on the ephemeral, the fleeting and the untranslatable in lives and languages.

Swami’s debut collection was brought out by Sahitya Akademi in 2007, which was short-listed for Shakti Bhatt First Book Award. She has written four books for children.   Escape Artist is Swami’s second collection of poetry. It has the unique distinction of being the first poetry volume to be published by Aleph. Swami blogs how this uncategorisability lets this little book float in the middle space. It looks beautiful with a cover art by Jehangir Sabavala, called The Sorcerer II (the book is co-published by Jehangir Sabavala Foundation).

Swami’s poetry is a little willowy mood softly swimming in the air caught delicately with her words, held, as it were, only for a moment and then released into the great oblivion. The first poem in the book, Hypersomnia, is such a feathery blink. This is where / everything means / becomes / the thin thought / only at day break.

There are of course the basic traits of a talented poet: strong visual imagery, word play, craftiness married with a soulful longing for the art, a longing to be joined with the muse, a cajoling of the bashful goddess, awareness of change and stagnancy, a flux and a clot, an answer and a question, being at a tangent to the politics of language, history, imagination, imbibing all and rejecting all to make it all new.
It is not so much the blade of day / that slices the morning’s eyes open / as that it begins anyway / uncoerced and softly-spoken …

Morning comes like a man used to / lying awake waiting for tomorrow [Daybreak] 

There’s preoccupation with the idea of art itself. Swami poses questions to a mirror of a page, to the ink and the paper and the words that form as if on a cue.
The poet dreams of a painting. She owns it or part of it with two other people she does not know. Which part of it does she own?  [Never Start Something You Can Finish]
Anxiety floats like a half-formed fish, ever-so-slightly unsure yet delighting in its strangeness. The poet wonders if art, like a thing, or a thing, like a work of art, can be possessed at all. And as if in the possession, there’s another creation, a co-authoring of sort, a coital compromise.

A democracy of strangeness is / a reminder that the work of art presents not an expression / of identity but a problem [‘A work of art is a problem’]
There are questions within questions: Swami’s poetry is a theoretical lake with clear blue waters of beauty. The least every object / around him can do is / record his passing / accurately.

She’s toying with degrees of narcissism in a poet, an artist: how every thing animate or inanimate must bear witness to a poet’s literary bildungsroman, her cyclic maturing, her ritual wilting and blossoming, her artful and incomplete agonies that occupy the same space as time and words.

Your face holds secrets. / Sometimes you recognize / yourself only in fine lines / that tell inaudible stories / on frozen surfaces. [Glass]

The individual in the matrix of time, history, civilisation, political camps, truth, bitterness, the present and all that life nicely mothers is Swami’s poetic self. It’s self-conscious, self-referential to some extent, pulled apart by the monstrous dichotomies and ironies of categories and the demands they make on the heart. Her poetry wrenches itself free from many a shackle, at times it writhes under the felt pains of others, but mostly it flits around like a little bird, a Shakespearean Ariel bathing life and language with love, beauty and a fierce loyalty towards it all.

I was thinking, where areas have borders/ would I need a passport / to come and see you? / My city is the true walled city. / You’d think of forts,
wouldn’t you?
[The Twinning of Cities]

The ominous dances with the complaining. The poet is also the plaintiff, has a tiff with history and compulsions, cons the texts, but is thrown aback, pushed against a wall of dictums: 
Their chants were hard stones / spit out into the air / their feet churned keeping / the words up and moving / like threats / or curses. [Clearing the Air]
I refuse to be stained / with the ink / of my failures / or of yours
The soul in paraphrase, / the heart in transit, / the precise moment / when you and I become / tuning forks / making diagrams / of our merging selves. [Paraphrase]
And in the middle of it all is the body: the body politick, the body electric, the body synthetic, the body syncretic. The everyday is also a tangible whiff, a fleshly whim, a meaty moment, an ample apparition. Her ghosts come and go, but shake your hand firmly even if just once, leaving you with an undeserved bounty, like a great gift received from a stranger that you cherish, bewildered.   
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