Rob Harle – Sanjeev Sethi’s poems are intriguing, engaging and enticing literary treats

RobHarle.jpg1410575147Rob Harle is an artist, writer and researcher. His academic work involves research into the philosophy of Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence and the nature of Embodiment. He recently abandoned a PhD in philosophy concerned with the relationship of human consciousness with an all-integrating field of matter, to instead develop his digital art in this direction. His art practice includes: drawing, sculpture and recently, digital images – both for the web and print. Writing work includes: reviews, academic essays and experimental poetry and short fiction – some co-authored with computer programs. These are published in numerous journals, magazines and books.  His formal academic studies comprise: Philosophy of Mind, Comparative Religion, Architecture and Psychotherapy.
Rob’s main concern has been to explore and document the radical changes that technology is bringing about. He has coined the term technoMetamorphosis to describe this.

This Summer And That Summer: Poems by Sanjeev Sethi, 2015. Bloomsbury, New Delhi, India. pp. 55. hardcover. ISBN: 978-93-85436-70-3

Reviewed by Rob Harle – Nimbin, Australia

sethi_102915040923Sanjeev’s poems are intriguing, engaging and enticing literary treats. I find his style quite unique which I will expand upon throughout this review. This is his third collection of poems the previous ones being: Suddenly For Someone and Nine Summers Later.

This volume contains fifty of Sethi’s original poems, is beautifully produced in hard cover form by Bloomsbury, the graphic clarity a real bonus, and the dust jacket design is simply beautiful. Most of the poems deal with everyday situations though in a way which transcends the commonplace, the poems need a number of readings so as to fully appreciate the sometimes “quirky” sensibility of Sethi. This is evident in the short poem Metropolis (p. 19) which describes living in a high-rise Metropolis with no nature nearby but ends with an intriguing rhetorical question.

The use of rhetorical questions, generally just one simple line is one of Sethi’s clever stylistic characteristics. In Longing (p. 47) Smog of sadness has serried our space/Can we be reason for each other’s repair? Asking a question in such a way either at the end, or even mid poem, has the effect of engaging the reader quite dramatically, we think about the question, perhaps refer back to other lines in the poem and find our own answers, which may be different for each reader. Another example in, The Marketplace (p. 17)

and attitudes negotiating in a script
of disorderly happenings.
Meaningful or meaningless?
Depends on your gaze.

This creates a kind of interactive poem engaging the reader as an active participant rather than a passive reader.

Subtle metaphorical inferences are another wonderful characteristic of Sethi’s poetry. I have not been able to stop thinking about the short poem Nocturnal Activity (p. 3) since I first read it, reproduced below.

After I switch off the lights,
crawl out of closets.
They waltz on walls
as flashbacks
choke my conscience.

For insects, various repellents
are available.
But is there a pesticide
for the past?

Deceptively simple for the inattentive reader but a profound philosophical conundrum for the astute reader. Then the last line, humorous on the one hand, though deadly serious on the other, addresses the perennial problems of past “pests” (memories, relationships, wounds and so on), which we all have and need to eliminate from time to time. He uses the rhetorical question as a brilliant metaphor! Notice the poetic sophistication of iteration waltz on walls/cockroaches crawl out of closets. Subtle repetition of words with the same leading letter is one process of making a poem excellent rather than ordinary. Sethi does this all the time, the world riddled with rift must reign (p. 18)

Sethi’s poems occasionally use uncommon and abstruse words, this is paradoxically annoying and interesting. There is an old parable briefly paraphrased which says: an old Chinese poet would take his poem to the most illiterate person in his village, any word in his poem which they did not understand he would change or simplify. This gave access to his poetry to all people. However noble this gesture may be I personally disagree with it. Reducing one’s art or poetry to the “lowest common denominator” is not necessarily a good thing or productive of producing the best work. If the reader needs to consult a dictionary occasionally on first reading so be it.

Great poets are seers and visionaries weaving their magic for all who are willing to spend a little time and effort in understanding their poems. This is not to say that poets (or scholars) should deliberately use obscure words when a commonplace word would do just as well. The following poem is an example of a one which requires a number of close readings to fully appreciate, Worlds (p. 52) Also note again the iteration boulevard of bliss/ porch to peach these are brilliant lines. And note well the last line, Sethi’s trick of leaving a kind of key to unlock the meaning of the poem.

Existence is a grand triptych.
First one occupies mother earth
that you and I understand
as wheelbarrow of worldliness.

Another populates your head.
Individuals control
rights to grant
passports to this microcosm.

An uncluttered brain
is the boulevard of bliss,
one’s porch to peace.
Third in the triad is maya.

Sethi is not afraid to write poems about subjects that others may shy away from such as sex, religion and death, in some of these he combines a sense of humour with serious injunctions. For example in a poem I really like, Request (p. 45) Sethi is issuing The Lord (God) with instructions, the last verse below:

Lord, your lackeys
are striving to swindle me.
I know, it cannot be You.
Take a gander at your garret;
the account books are usually there.
Kindly straighten the record!

This bizarre sense of humour which is basically telling God to “get his act together”, even though Sethi absolves Him of blame I find hilarious and rather cheeky!

This rather slim volume of unique, humorous and serious poems will be a great addition to the collections of all lovers of fine poetry and I guarantee will provide the reader with many hours of enjoyment.




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