Poetry Beyond Boundaries: A Review of Sudeep Sen’s Fractals
Book Name – Fractals
Author – Sudeep Sen
Publisher – Gallerie
Pages – 383
Sudeep Sen is a major voice in the parlance of contemporary Indian English Poetry. He has published more than a dozen collections of poetry, worked as an editor on many anthologies and is the editorial director of Aark Arts. His latest publication, Fractals (2015) is a comprehensive collection of rambling prose-poetry, translations, haiku, musings, traditional and experimental verse. The collection brilliantly weaves together an exquisite range of poetic influences, human emotions, dislocated cultural practices, politics and history. Using an amorphous title for his collection, Sudeep Sen travels huge distances both geographically and philosophically. The term fractal stands for diverse meanings in mathematics, physics and cultural studies. The ambiguous title allows Sudeep Sen to move comfortably across various cultures, religion, literature, science and art. Fractals contains a collection of over 250 new poems and translations composed between 1998 and 2015. It is like the Russian matryoshka, dolls-within-dolls, where each poem goes on revealing the other. Sudeep Sen has a deft ability to be both realistic and self-effacing, expressing control and poetic facility embedded in structure. The first section of his poems is weaved to passion, experience and craft. Drawing its creative material from nature, landscape, art and science, Fractals sculpts life: “these are acts that enact themselves…” (Choice 24). His poems are full and rich with colorful imagery and fresh lines:
“The color of this room is blue that seems almost black. Against this, the radiated glow of green and its tiny electronic letters and numbers, the nurse white linen, the stale rice-scent — all trying their best to induce lullaby. However, this languorous soporific lyric is making me feel colder, rather than the warmth it is supposed to inject in me” (Magnetising Dead Bones 49).
The poems in this section are a mélange of some unusual subjects; bacteria, calligraphy, nature, taste, library, photograph, war, rain, desire, absences, postcards, prayer, elegies, women, thus, celebrating ubiquitous life forms among us. The observing mind finds the raw material for poetry everywhere. We find “alterations that marry physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics…” (Fever Pitch 54). The prose-poetry is at such “interstices that art and passion find their true shape.” (Fever Pitch 54).
Alongside this vivid, and often delicate and emotive, coloration, Sudeep Sen also delves deep, and reaches the soul. In ‘Postcards’ he writes: “But all of a sudden – I am apyretic, apyrous, and aqua-cool – I am not at all my own self. It is merely the beginning. I can scent a bloodstained epistle on its way.” (64)
Sen’s poetry travels across continents, it is boundless, unconstrained and takes the reader on a world tour. It begins from Goa where, “topless bodies burn”, (Goa Haiku 38) and then move to rural areas where “… god’s body has been caressed for hundreds of years”, (Rural Mappings 60), it then takes us to the peaks of mountains laden with snow in ‘Ladakh’ to the “…12,000 feet…” adventurous steeps of ‘Zoji La Pass’ (73). From the glacial dove white mountains, his poetry takes us to the “hot, grainy, chilly, powdery…”‘Sahara’ (242). It then takes off for the coastal city Durban “couched in the warm lap of the sea…” (Durban 311). After enjoying the sun kissed beaches of Durban, the poetic flight drops us to “…the wet, settled on encased pyramids of glass of higher art, from the grand palace across the city’s Louvre.” (Musee D’Orsay, Paris 318). The journey finally ends with the “rasa-lilas” and echoes of “… – Radhey, Radhey” in the ‘Govind Dev Temple, Vrindavan’ (339). Sen’s poems thus, take us on a variegated world tour, effusing a wild sense of freedom. The poems evoke a vibrant and dynamic ongoing conversation that demonstrates various cultural shifts, their way of living and artistic practices. Sen’s poems are work of stringent verbal economy, wary of sentimentalism and vividness. The poet allows image to do most of the talking: “Suburbia’s quiet pastels, its silent music make me restless. I go out for a walk, there is more beauty in the grey cold rains.” (English Colors 164)
In later poems the rhythmic patterns of the beautifully enjambed phrase is more horizontal than vertical. In ‘Ledig Notes’, however, these presentations of irregular spaces and enjambed phrases create the music for heart:
“The same familiar life-size pieces of art appear installed, uninstalled— their prospective, mood, appearance, change every time I visit them.”(192 These lines have a different structure in the original text.)
The medley with images from day to day life makes Sen’s poetry unique and attainable. His brilliant use of images reflects various moods, lifestyle, and emotions. The poetic style of Sudeep Sen is distinctive and orchestrated at divergent levels. His poetry is meticulously choreographed with thought provoking images. In Sen’s poetry we find many references to liquid — its amorphous nature and irregular motion. An adequate number of references to milk, blood, water, liquid paints, tears, wine, ink can be seen in pieces like ‘Chinese Calligraphy’, ‘Zanskar- Indus Valley’, ‘Drass’, ‘Mount Vesuvius in Eight Frames’, ‘Snow Struck’, ‘Sati’ and most vividly in ‘Rain’, combining the visual and the virtual to display the contrasting images, the beauty and ferocity, “ability to douse and arouse” of rain, as enjoyed in India and its subcontinents. (Erotext: desire, disease, delusion, dream, downpour). Next in line is “Blue Nude” sequence. This section is a mixture of prose poetry, pure poetry, and is divided into six sub-sections. This section may be said as the heart of Fractals.
“A formally chiselled set of poems inspired by Henri Matisse’s cobalt-blue cut-out series. Sen obliquely juxtaposes the Indian myth of Radha and Krishna with the post-modern view of European art, as he takes on other modern masters such as Cézanne, Picasso, Dali and Chagall. Literary classics, mythology, music, dance, theatre, graphic art, cinema, photography, and other media serve as additional inspirational sources for many of his new poems.” (The Missing Slate, Ziaul Karim)
There is a progressive growth in the style of Sudeep Sen’s writing. The sections like, ‘Rain’, ‘The Ache of Archivist’, ‘Wo|Man’, ‘BodyText’ ‘Dreaming of Cezanne’ are in complete contrast to his earlier works like, “Kali in [Double] Ottava Rime”, “The Lunar Visitations”, and “New York Times”, which celebrates the traditional and classical verse-forms. The new pieces on the other hand use a highly stylized and graceful mode of poetic micro-fiction or prose poetry.
According to the literary critic Pramod Nayar, while “excavating a set of images from physics, chemistry and biology, Sen does an extraordinary job of imbricating the corporeal with the natural elements and processes [in] a brilliant formalising of these themes … the images are startlingly fresh and extremely evocative.” (Erotext: desire, disease, delusion, dream, downpour, Sudeep Sen).
Sen’s love for science and art, topography and architecture, light and shadow, human and nature is apparent in the section titled ‘Geographies’, which explores caves; takes a walk into the castle, visits dungeon, and ends in the silence of graveyard. There are also some direct and indirect, real and bookish chance encounters — with ‘Banalata Sen’ in Jibanananda Das’s muse, with Aminur Rahman’s ‘Love’, Kedarnath Singh’s ‘Self Portrait’, with Gulzar in ‘Sketch’ and ‘Ash’, the ‘Ancient Mariner’ and with a few others from the various genre of music, art, films, politics and literature. Sen’s poems are vibrant to their possibilities, and preoccupied with delicacy of proximity. The human skin and blood often act as a boundary. It deals descriptively with, desires, pains, illness; we try to hide from others. The skin “breathes love” in ‘Taste’ (103), but in ‘Wishbones, Arias, Memories’ the “bones,muscles, fluids are already drying up.” (51) Sen’s poetic persona encourages us to feel various sorts of art forms, be it digital art, dance, music, photography or graphic art with extreme care and delicacy.
The third section of Fractals stands testimony to Sudeep Sen’s finesse in literary translation. It includes few poems from ‘Aria’, the book that won A K Ramanujan Translation Award. In this section Sen has translated poems of various Hindi, Bengali, Urdu poets and also the poems of Hebrew, Persian, Spanish, Macedonian, Danish, Portuguesepoets, whichshows how effortlessly he crosses boundaries, and beautifully combines variety of linguistic traditions and forms.
Sen’s poems wiggle us out from our well settled notions about poets and poetry. They are by turn rhythmic, subtle, versatile, vivacious and innovative. His poems are always balanced and evoke various emotions. Fractals with its various experiments in poetic style can be called as a promoter of avant-garde. It’s a comprehensive collection of highly stylized and experimental poetry collection with camera sharp imagery — an awaited volume from one of India’s leading poets.
Badrinath, Tulsi. “Poetry from Everywhere.”The Hindu. Online.
http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/poetry-from-everywhere/article4985448.ece accessed on 21 May 2016.
Chatterjee, Arup K.“Sudeep Sen’s Erotic Narrative in Fractals” Online.
http://www.museindia.com/featurecontent.asp?issid=62&id=5926 / accessed on 25 July 2016.
Karim, Ziaul “Spotlight Writer: Sudeep Sen.”The Missing Slate. Online. http://themissingslate.com/2013/10/26/spotlight-writer-sudeep-sen/ accessed on 21 May 2016.
Mathematics Dictionary, Online.
http://www.mathematicsdictionary.com/math-vocabulary.htm accessed on 17 June 2016.
Robertson, Jenifer. “Distilled, Delicate, Definitive: Sudeep Sen’s Oeuvre.”The Daily Star. Online.
http://www.thedailystar.net/literature/distilled-delicate-definitive-sudeep-sens-oeuvre-205825 accessed on 25 May 2016.
Sampson, Fiona. “Sudeep Sen Archives – The London Magazine.”The London Magazine. Online.
http://www.thelondonmagazine.org/fractals-by-sudeep-sen-an-introduction-by-fiona-sampson/ accessed on 24 June 2016.
Sen, Sudeep. Erotext: desire, disease, delusion, dream, downpour. Online.
https://books.google.co.in/books?id=nJtYCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT19&lpg=PT19&dq=Erotext:+desire,+disease,+delusion,+dream,+downpour+google+book&source=bl&ots=byveSBCX-8&sig=TJlXV7WM6afUi8dY064_HvCAi-g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjh9P7-qbnOAhXGp48KHUI2BnUQ6AEIKjAD#v=onepage&q=Erotext%3A%20desire%2C%20disease%2C%20delusion%2C%20dream%2C%20downpour%20google%20book&f=false accessed on 23 May 2016.
Sen, Sudeep. Fractals: New & Selected Poems: Translations, 1980-2015. Print.
Sudeep Sen. Poetry Foundation. Online.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/sudeep-sen accessed on 11July 2016
[*] Research Scholar, Department of HSS, IIT Kharagpur
[†] Associate Professor, Department of HSS, IIT Kharagpur