Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Living Inside by Gopal Lahiri / Authors Press

From - Reviews, Vol I, Issue II

Gopal Lahiri is an ethereal gypsy of the night. With his poems he weaves magic spells which delight the soul and stir the heart. Living Inside is a perfect title for Gopal's latest collection of poetry. The reader will notice, even after a first casual reading, that well over a third of the poems contain either direct or indirect references to the 'moon', the 'night' and to 'dreams'. From the title poem, Living Inside (p. 19) in the night the moon swells and tear apart/the shadow path of the hidden stars/an attempt to escape in silence.

The moon is the mysterious goddess of the night, in Western mythological and esoteric traditions she rules the subconscious, the realm of dreams and our 'inner lives'. These attributes, together with a sensitive, caring appreciation of the natural world are the main substance of Gopal's poetry.

There are far too many examples of the moon’s eerie presence in the poems to mention but here are a few lines from different poems that illustrate my point.

the night darkens, the moon struggles/the stretch of sun and moon, the stillness, the pillage/in one possibility, another possibility always remains./the moon is perhaps behind the real time/it seems safe to come out in the vast open,/the cruel moon can’t possibly/hold that much love and grief.

He often uses a juxtaposition of the moon and the sun, this helps contrast the mystical element of earth with the ethereal, hard-to-grasp mysteries of the night. From the long poem, Kumarakom (p. 31)

azure sky, crisp clouds,/soft sunlight – rolls into/an orange yellow screen/spreading colour; the various/shades and hues of flowers/lay scatter all around by /rocking of the soothing breeze/connect the long pending/mystical elements of the earth.

As renowned poet Charles Simic so brilliantly noted: “What they forget is that a poem is an instant of lucidity in which the entire organism participates. It may not make shopkeeper's sense. This is what haunts, a world where magic is possible, where chance reigns, where metaphors have their supreme logic, where imagination is free and truthful.” (Simic, 1985) The poetry in this volume addresses spiritual matters with vivid imagery to paint colourful pictures in the reader’s mind. Simic’s “metaphor and magic” indeed excites us in Lahiri’s poems as he explores silence, darkness and the unknown recesses of the mind. The first verse of We Lie Empty (p. 146) this one from a recent anthology, The Dance of the Peacock (Jha, 2013).

In a quiet room with no window/Exploring the forms of life in darkness,/A search for strange and unknown depth,/We move our dreams and destinations./We fall for the inner mysteries and Shadows./A speedy river flows into our veins and arteries,/We hear the flapping sound of the marine birds.

Lahiri is a master poet employing all the attributes of great poetry - imagery, metaphor, simple language, and a gentle cadence. There is an elusive depth to many of his poems; this is only plumbed after a number of close readings. Metaphors may be quite obvious or rather subtle, in the poem Time Device (p. 45) for example Lahiri uses metaphor in subtle and intriguing ways.

wafts of burning hung in the air; it was post summer,/the evening scored to a slow and sifting rhythm/in search of the mysterious golden light,/no different than mirrors of yours and mine./skin tight jeans giggled outside on the pavement/the biggest smile still clung to the armchair;/at times pushed back and forth for comfort

As with the subtle use of metaphor Gopal’s use of rhyme and gentle cadence is also subtle, for example in the lines of the poem Fence (p. 54)

The form and style infuse/The meter and tempo to/A logical path, a careful walk/Only to bring the sunshine and shade/The forgotten pain and scar of the sharpened tip.

Some of Lahiri’s poems are concerned with injustices and poverty but these poems are more observations of a situation rather than proselytising lectures. For example in Chasing Stars (p. 34) the grim reality of a harsh life is portrayed. Sometimes this gentle approach has more impact and power to bring about change than a direct hard hitting approach.

in the summer night/of this quaint town/streets of temples/litter with rubbles/dingy house/with broken bricks/ravaged by greed./a slum boy/sits alone/weak bones/dirty clothes/eyes squinty/look up and up/still chasing stars.

Living Inside contains seventy poems preceded by a Foreword by Sunil Sharma and Preface by Gary Robinson, both internationally acclaimed writers and poets. As Sharma says in the Foreword, “Reading Lahiri can be sensory and visual delight. You are wafted on words to a different realm. It is a gift special to the poet. His poems are surcharged with electricity enough to jolt us out of somnolence. Only great poets can achieve this desired result.” I agree with this statement completely and Gopal is certainly one such poet. He has previously had published a number of poetry collections, seven in Bengali and five in English. He is the recipient of many awards and also translates from Bengali to English. Living Inside has an enchanting cover design and artwork.

As Gary Robinson says in the Preface, “...no mere chronicler he is also a guide taking the reader into regions of the heart and mind like rooms to joy or sadness. He does not shirk from the human condition and all its complexities.” The poem Other Side (p. 43) needs careful reading to reveal its hidden meanings, it appears as a great rhetorical poem of an inner conversation, but? – I believe that it hints at the folly of unconsidered personal opinion and self-deception. Two verses below:

if this is true/then there will be/a charming audience/ignoring the/multiple layers/of blatant lie/that rages daily./rudeness or reward/formulate questions/without any answer/more often/we want to see in/black and in white.

Living Inside is a truly wonderful collection of contemporary poems which deserves a place on every poetry lover’s bookshelf. More importantly it should be read and re-read by all aspiring poets as it demonstrates by example the nature of excellent poetry.

Reviewed by Rob Harle

He can be reached at harle@robharle.com

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