Sudeep Sen read English Literature at the University of Delhi & as an Inlaks Scholar received an MS from the Journalism School at Columbia University (New York). His awards, fellowships & residencies include: Hawthornden Fellowship, Pushcart Prize nomination , BreadLoaf, Pleiades, nlpvf Dutch Foundation for Literature, Ledig House, Wolfsberg UBS Pro Helvetia (Switzerland), Sanskriti (New Delhi), and Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland). He was international writer-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library (Edinburgh) & visiting scholar at Harvard University. Sen’s dozen books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Distracted Geographies, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Letters of Glass, and Blue Nude: Poems & Translations 1977-2012 (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Award) is forthcoming. He has also edited several important anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians, The Literary Review Indian Poetry, World Literature Today Writing from Modern India, Midnight’s Grandchildren: Post-Independence English Poetry from India, and others. His poems, translated into over twenty-five languages, have featured in international anthologies by Penguin, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury, Routledge, Norton, Knopf, Everyman, Random House, Macmillan, and Granta. His poetry and literary prose have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Financial Times, London Magazine, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Telegraph, Hindu, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, cnn-ibn, ndtv & air. Sen’s recent work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta) and Language for a New Century (Norton). He is the editorial director of Aark Arts and editor of Atlas [www.atlasaarkarts.net].
Ten years on, I came searching for
war signs of the past
expecting remnants—magazine debris,
that mark bomb wounds.
I came looking for
people past, skeletons charred,
that once housed them.
I could only find whispers—
whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
in full throttle—
sketching outward signs
of normality and life.
In that bustle
I spot war-lines of a decade ago—
though the storylines
are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
There is order amid uneasiness—
the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant—
merging in their separateness.
At the bus station
black coughs of exhaust
The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
skating along the undotted lines
A porous garland
with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
Beyond the mountains
are dark memories,
and beyond them
no one knows,
and beyond them
no one wants to know.
Even the flight of birds
that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
I look up
and calculate their exact arc
and find instead, a flawed theorem.
Zoji La Pass
at 12,000 feet
slopes steeply. Hard snow
cut into two
by winding tarmac—
a severe cold-slice
freezing to a stand-still.
A car shrinks
through this open-air tunnel—
ice walls on either side—
a geometric strait
the warmth of diesel’s grey metal.
Two yaks on the lower slopes
look up for colour
in this blinding white.
Their horns storing clues,
of changing temperatures.
In this rarefied air
clarified oxygen is sparse here—
high-tone octane echo in the stark terrain.
In Japanese, Yuki is snow—
unmelted and poised.
She sits askance
in front of a wine-tinged door
whose paint flakes
to expose its wood-raw skin—
pale, seemingly snow-flecked.
Her hair rambles all over
her face, eyes, and neck,
as she stares shyly—
sideways into the distance.
There are secrets locked,
in a shut non-descript studio
tucked away somewhere
in Prabha Devi—
as the industrial estate
at the allusive
thought of snow herself.
Fantasy instils in
just as for me—
peeling curls of paint,
a circular chromium lock,
a rusted dis-used bolt,
and breeze that affects
a woman’s hair and lashes,
thaw, compassion, desire.
[inspired by a photo by Rafeeq Ellias]
A bright red boat
Blue fishing nets
Ochre fort walls
Sahar’s silk blouse
gold and sheer
Her dark black
A street child’s
holding the rainbow
in his small grasp
My lost memory
white and frozen
now melts colour
ready to refract
drawing a breath between each
sentence, trailing closely every word.
— James Hoch, ‘Draft’ in Miscreants
some things, I knew,
were beyond choosing:
under cancer’s terminus care.
mama’s mysterious disappearance—
ventilator vibrating, severed
silently, in the hospital’s unkempt dark.
an old friend’s biting silence—unexplained—
promised loyalties melting for profit
abandoning long familial presences of trust.
devi’s jealous heart misreading emails
hacked carefully under cover,
her fingernails ripping
unformed poems, bloodied, scarred—
my diary pages weeping wordlessly—
my children aborted, breathless forever.
these are acts that enact themselves, regardless—
helpless, as i am,
torn asunder permanently, drugged, numbed.
strange love, this is— a salving:
what medics and nurses do.
i live buddha-like, unblinking, a painted vacant smile—
one that stores pain and painlessness—
someone else’s nirvana thrust upon me.
some things I once believed in
are beyond my choosing—
choosing is a choice unavailable to me.
Birds fly across the pale blue sky
cross-stitching a matrix in Pali—
a tongue now beautifully classical
like temple-toned Bharatanatyam.
Dialogues in the other garden
happen not just in springtime. Yet
you stare askance talking poetry
in silence, an angularity of stance
like a shot in a film-noir narrative
yet to be edited down to a whole.
What is a whole? Is it not a sum
of distilled parts, parts one chooses
to expose carefully like raw stock—
controlling patterns in the red light
of dark, a dark that dutifully dissolves.
There emerges at the end,
nests for imaginative flights to rest,
to weave our own stories braving
winds, currents, and the elements
of disguise. Fireflies in the grove
do not belong to numbered generation—
they only light up because line-breaks
like varnam keep purity alive—
enigmatic, disciplined, spontaneous.
Let the birds fly tracing angular paths,
let the dancer dance unbridled,
let the poet write unrestrained—
natural as breathing itself.
Matrix woven can be unwoven—
enjambments like invisible pauses
weave us back into algebraic patterns
that only heart and imagination can.
She walks porcupines—as you do—and
listens to the sound of the sea in a conch.
she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan ….
calligraphy of veins ….
— Merlinda Bobis, ‘first night’
My syntax, tightly-wrought—
I struggle to let go,
to let go of its formality,
of my wishbone
desiring juice — its deep marrow,
muscle, and skin.
The sentence finally pronounced —
I am greedy for long drawn-
out vowels, for consonants that
desire lust, tissue, grey-cells.
I am hungry for love,
for pleasure, for flight,
for a story essaying endlessly—words.
A comma decides to pr[e]oposition
a full-stop … ellipses pause, to reflect—
a phrase decides not to reveal
her thoughts after all—ellipses and
semi-colons are strange bed-fellows.
Calligraphy of veins and words
require ink, the ink of breath,
of blood—corpuscles speeding
faster than the loop of serifs …
the unresolved story of our lives
in a fast train without terminals.
I long only for italicised ellipses …
my english is the other, the other
is really english — she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan ….
her narrative grammar-drenched,
silent, rich, etched letters of glass.
Eating Guavas Outside Taj Mahal
The heavy drunken aroma
of fresh guavas
is too sweet for me to bear.
Instead, I drink its nectar
not as liquid-pulp
but as raw unsmooth fruit.
I bite its light-green rough skin
the way I used to
approach a sugarcane stalk
as a child
crunching every fibre
to extract their juice.
There are memories—
memories attached to food
and their consumption.
There are memories
about the rituals of intake—
how certain foods
are allowed or disallowed
depending on God’s stance
and their place
in the lofty hierarchies
How misplaced these stations
are—God, Emperor, Man
all mistaken—proud errors
of selfhood, status, and ego.
Even under prayer’s veil,
there is something about
eating guavas with unwashed
hands, tasting its taste before
masala, lemon and rock-salt
turn them into sprightly salad—
seed’s bone-crack intentions
buried before they fruit.
As winter secrets
with the purple
what is revealed
soil in a circle.
for a calligrapher’s
in invisible ink,
as phrases fold
so do veils