‘River Wedding’ Amlanjyoti Goswami
Mumbai: Poetrywala, 2019
The seventy-two poems of this collection are hugely varied in both subject-matter and form, as Amlanjyoti Goswami introduces us to an array of characters, locations and narratives. The result is a long series of bewildering, exotic scenarios, propelling the reader through his richly varied experience.
These portraits are often compelling. In his introduction, Pradip Acharya describes the book as a collection of ‘reflective pieces’ containing: ‘a surprising immediacy and an assured ease of assertion’. Goswami’s observances in his first collection certainly contain a deft assurance. Early on, ‘Places’ strikes the eye and ear with an unusual depiction of old age and the passage of time:
Arrivals are lovely
These hugs, so warm
An old man hugs his happiness,
Offers to carry the burden
Goswami rarely employs (or, rather, deploys) a spent phrase, and magic realism often entwines with Hindu mysticism, allowing the reader new insights on spent subjects. We are also rarely allowed to exit a poem easily, as is the case with ‘Places’: ‘All that going in, coming out/All that waiting’. When we are brought to the old man’s internal narrative and at its end, a full stop is not provided, denying closure. For Goswami, experiencing the world is, and should be, all-consuming.
‘Lunch’ with his grandmother is even more personal a poem. Love is shown through action, as opposed to description, tenderness communicated through cooking: ‘The taste of the pot, where we dwelled,/It tasted good.’ There is an obvious nod to Hemingway in the minimalism of Goswami’s gastronomic description, but these occasional literary borrowings rarely jar: they only serve to enhance the experience. This name-dropping is intentional, and not always merely stylistic, with poems dedicated to Leonard Cohen, Matthew Arnold, Derek Walcott and Paul Celan. There are also poems dedicated to remote towns in India.
Perhaps most striking are the more experimental moments. The post-apocalyptic ‘21_ _’ depicts a futuristically-flooded Manhattan, a scientist murmuring: ‘We knew this for a hundred years/Yet nobody did anything.’ Once more, Goswami does not offer an easy exit, with a splash of sibilance and thud of alliteration: ‘Earth is a forlorn shore./Soon we touch the sky/And wade our dreams with those distant stars.’ Romanticism and futuristic dystopia are fused as one, and the reader becomes tangled in spiralling metaphor.
But, the poet does not allow misery to consume his verse. The airy, language poem ‘Terminal 3’ which follows shortly after is emphasises a pre-occupation with travel as a means of escape, and catalyst for creativity. It also presents the challenge of capturing fleeting thought:
Stars, stay away
The blink of
Arrivals and departures
An idea without memory
The poem’s sedated lightness of tone leads to the persona’s accepted drift through consciousness at the poem’s close:
The highway empty
of thought’s litter,
Gusts of dream blowing silent.
Where language poetry often feels gratuitous, reading Goswami’s does not, since it is employed sparingly and for a distinct purpose, rather than to garner critical praise. The form and style of each poem in this collection seems justified.
The descriptive ‘Basantnagar’, concerning the Central Indian town, is captivating. So effective a conveyance of minutiae is achieved that they eagerly imprint themselves upon the readers’ consciousness and refuse to leave. We do not necessarily learn who the figures are, and sometimes they appear a blurred: it is arguable the intention is for us to add these details ourselves, as co-producers:
His scooter turns,
Past the rubbish heap
Past glass shards, lunch
The collective detail builds images that resonate. It is their simplicity which generates this power, along with the poet’s control over mechanics. Here, assonance belies the shards of glass under the scooter’s wheels, the ‘rubbish heap’ and leftover ‘biryani’ working on our nostrils, cannily backed by half-rhyme.
‘Rain Shelter’ is testament to the collection’s consistent theme of the power of traditionalism over modernism, using the metaphor of a rain shelter. The final stanza displays Goswami’s fascination with traditionalism, its comparative mystery over modernity, insisting its complexity:
The paths here are delicately approached
Not the straight modern way,
And storms are not just brought by cloud.
Usually revelation trickles down unexpected places,
Through the roof,
A mud puddle that shows
The sky that falls.
It is these ‘unexpected places’ which engage Goswami most, but what strikes the reader is his combining of the mundane, the everyday, with the unexpected. He provides an unexpected use of language and syntax, peppered with unusual phrasing and sparks of wisdom. The persona of ‘January 2’ ruminates: ‘things happen, they sometimes do.//While you, look, among the grey, for something/Like an answer.’ The poetry of River Wedding is compelling, since its author maps a search for answers in the verse he shares, often with powerful results.