Review of Writing Octopus in the Hindu

Taut and crisp


The idea of poetry as an animal is not new. It has always evaded, yet delighted us with its moves, like Ted Hughes’s Thought-fox . In K. Srilata’s latest poetry collection, Writing Octopus , poetry is an octopus or so we are tempted to conclude. So, we have the ocean, the sea, dolphins, the blue-ness, the sky… all spreading themselves as a vast canvas on which the octopus proceeds, or should I say writes.

‘Bright Blue Bird’, the first poem spills blue onto the pages, setting the colour and tone for the rest of the book. The tautness and crispness that are characteristic of most images in the book are evident here: The blue hops down/becomes first one word,/and then, another,/till, finally, it assumes the face of a poem./Before long, the floor is an upside-down blue sky/and the blue of the poem has made its way/into my ink filler,/into my notebook.

And then, at times, this tautness is tinged with the kind of innocence rarely found in today’s poetry, which is so heavy with darkness and cynicism. ‘Mind’s Eye’ is one such poem: So what if you can’t spell Ocean?/In your mind’s eye, you can see/that slothful beast,/Blueness,/lying under the sun,/and, in the depths of his large heart/a playful baby dolphin…kissing his mamma on the nose.

In ‘Siesta’, the same dolphin is ‘leaping off the page and splashing into a child’s water colours’. The “horizontal rain” and “a tree with its irreverent hoofs in the sky” from ‘Dreaming, Mostly, of Nameless Things’ also takes you by surprise with their freshness of image and child-like imagination. But there are also poems that invite your attention in a philosophical way. In ‘A Graveyard of Faces’, the poet persona is looking for a fresh face as she dropped her own when she was sleep-walking. Set against this absurd context, the story takes a strange turn as her attempts to buy a ‘face that will weather the long winters of dying poems’ fail and she has to settle for a disposable face. One of the toughest battles every poet fights is avoiding clichéd and overused images. Srilata appears to have won that battle, especially in poems like ‘A Pair of Very Flat Feet’, where we find her reflecting on yet another part of the anatomy: feet. There are very flat feet, pretend feet, metrical feet and perfect feet, all displaying a slightly melancholic, yet funny, side of the poet’s views on feet.

Revealing another set of emotions are the few poems on poetry itself. Hope in a state of hopelessness points to the optimism in Srilata’s writing. ‘I Wear My Wordlessness Like a Tattered Dress’ is one example: I wear my wordlessness/like a tattered dress,/its stitches undone./Twice a week,/I wash myself…in a river of drowning words/in whose lungs,/the despair of poets/has long settled./And yet, this!/a new-born fawn of a poem/taking its first steps.

‘How to Pick Poems for a Collection’ is a sweet and honest portrayal of how, to poets, all their poems are precious. Yet when it comes to this collection, I am sure the poems were carefully chosen to surprise and to delight.


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