Milan & the Sea
By Abhimanyu Kumar
Available at Amazon.in
There is nothing bigger than your heart.
Take in all you can
like a tall tree on a Spanish boulevard
gobbling up the sun.
Like a scavenging bird, feed on dead meat,
the refuge, the remains;
choose the revolting rubbish heap
over the fragrance of a field full of jasmines,
the maladroit over the well-adjusted,
the fallen over everyone else,
the diseased dust over the seduction of silver.
There is mysterious quality to the process of writing poetry. It is a letter to the homeland from the country of exile. It is a form of prayer to me, an agnostic one.
It is a search for perfect articulation, perfect in its conscious imperfection; to say what we really feel, pared down to its very essence. To bring us in touch with our deepest self. To see through the deception of the ego.
It is also a simultaneous moulding of the being and intellect into absorbing precisely all that is around us, to be able to see our own prejudices and filter them out slowly. The dropping of all disguises.
Poetry is an exercise in recording the minutiae of existence. Before GIFs came along. Its very purposelessness is its most urgent purpose. Like that of God’s.
Poetry is not holier-than-thou. Holiest is the man and the woman and all those who are neither men nor women. Poetry is impure.
Poetry is not a pose. It is not luxury, as has been noted.
Poetry is not for the dead. It favours death over life but that is different. It is a form of alchemy, to turn the lead of life into gold.
Poetry is a bulwark against fear. It is a song in the praise of freedom. It is a thorn in the flesh of tyranny. A flower that blooms in the harshest winters.
Poetry does not want to live forever. It has no interest in posterity. It is always here, now. It is never absent. It is not an account of things that have happened.
Poetry measures time. Like music.
Poetry is primal sound. An elegy. A lament.
It is ridiculous and sublime. Scared and courageous. It revels in its follies but is neither proud nor ashamed of them.
Afterword by Indran Amirthanayagam
Abhimanyu Kumar has tested the poems of Milan & the Sea in magazines far and wide, online, in print. He is a poet of the people, writing without rhetoric, using informal idioms. These are poems I celebrate by writing this praise song. I laud their frankness, their unprejudiced human angst, the revelations that he finds digging in the imagist garden, as well as in Beatnik fields of poppies and encounters that cross the borders of sex, ideologies, economies.
Abhimanyu comes from, consists of, and writes for you and me, and, in particular, for the betel leaf seller, the rickshaw-walahs, the bucolic visitor from the country at the elite South Delhi party, the misfit, the ill-mannered, the shy. He orients his passion towards the great majority, the dilemmas of the ordinary:
Sleep tugs at the eyes
Like a dog
At a polythene bag
Hanging from a rubbish bin.
This poem costs five rupees to write.
He is biologically and thematically an Indian poet, a singer of greater and multiple ‘Bharat’. But he also travels beyond the subcontinent, seeking to document the lives of the left out, the downtrodden, the ignored in every landscape. Hence, in Amsterdam, travelling with a girlfriend, he walks the
…narrow, cobbled streets
looking at the birds in cages
who sing their song at a price.
What price? Wisdom?
In ‘Waiting for you’, he writes:
The bamboo tree has finally bloomed,
which means it will die next year,
says my father-in-law.
He is worried it will be
a lot of work
taking out the remains.
‘It will destroy half the garden,’ he says.
This morning I had the first stirrings
of mortality. It was real, like a slap in the face.
It hurt but did not sting.
Abhimanyu’s poems sting. They pull off the scab, expose the skin to the healing wind. But the reader has to survive the raw hurt, to accept that poems bring you to catharsis but that catharsis is not anodyne, painless.
Abhimanyu is also a Beat in India, honouring Allen Ginsberg with versions of his signature poems in Indian landscape.
Let us note the debt he feels to the frank cry for accepting ‘the other’ that surged from Ginsberg’s consciousness in an America whose apple pie and dream did not readily include the daimon-ized poet, the recent immigrant, the homosexual, not to mention the Negro (as the term was used in the 1950s), the communist.
In ‘Being human’, Abhimanyu declares:
people that I know in this world
are the cycle-rickshaw drivers
who live near my house.
I would add Abhimanyu to that list, for his honest, courageous declarations.
I salute him at this new stage in his career, and I hope that we can break bread one day, real bread, and sip coffee or tea while reading poems. And let us invite other poets as well, including the ones who travel abroad to accept literary prizes or enjoy fame in the contemporary press.
Let us make peace while screaming.
(Poet, essayist, and translator Indran Amirthanayagam, who writes in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole, because he believes in cross-cultural encounters, lives in America.)
Ratnakar Valmiki on Abhimanyu Kumar and his collection ‘Milan & the Sea’ in The Wagon Magazine
The book is a breath of fresh air in the current landscape of Indian English poetry, where the main concerns among the young poets seem to be either to wax eloquence about their own erudition or to complain against the world around them. Kumar does neither. As is the concerns of a first collection of poems, Kumar’s poetry is essentially a means to understand himself, within the bounds of his personal connections, his father and his son, and the others he meets. What I find most remarkable in these poems is how Kumar refuses to wallow in self-pity, though there are ample opportunities to do so. Neither does he launch on irate triads. Instead, he is a clinical observer of his world, including himself. Perhaps this detachment of tone was acquired from the poet’s experience as a journalist. This may also explain why he uses a plain, spoken idiom. There is trickery of language, no show of erudition, but a sincere attempt to observe and report.
Read the complete feature, ‘Of Everyday Poetry’ in The Wagon Magazine.