Monday, 31 March 2014

Some poems from Delhi: Ranjit Hoskote

Ranjit Hoskote has already had a remarkable career as poet, translator, theorist and curator. His work is published by Penguin (India). He is a very fine poet in a way that an internationally minded reader would immediately recognise. He writes in English for a start and his sensibility has been formed as much by his reading and wide culture as by his specific location. His imagery is sharp and the intelligence and sensitivity behind the images is subtle and moving without ever looking as though it has designs on the reader. The poem below comes from Vanishing Acts, his New and Selected Poems, 2006

Poste Restante

Instead of addresses the postman finds
a child pumping a thirsty hydrant,
and a barber's throne twisted by fire,
marooned in a side-street;
to the north, a dented milk churn
sits across the road from an upset pannier,
buns scattered; past the traffic island,
a leather suitcase, handle wrenched off;
to the south, a public library,
stack on stack of carbon ghosts.
The letters fall from his hands
like homeless prayers.

The terror that has overtaken the place in the poem is comprehensive, There has been a great fire, and maybe more judging by that dented milk churn. And it is not so long ago either. There are buns spilled from an upset pannier. Perhaps it was a military attack or a riot. The library has been burned out. There is just a child with a useless hydrant.

The poem addresses these details with a calm that amplifies the desolation. The tone is measured. The very title and the word pannier alert you to a knowledge whose realm extends beyond the specifics of place. The eye is like a video camera panning the scene. The voice stands at roughly the same angle to its subject as does Derek Mahon's in A Disused Shed in County Wexford. But this doesn't look to build history and echo into the scene, it lets the scene resonate with itself. It is, after all shock, not archaeology.  That most normalising of figures, the postman who introduces us to the poem, ends it with the one symbolic gesture required, still underplayed and all the stronger for that.

The poem goes about its business quietly without any attempt to raise the stakes. The scene is the stakes. The history is in the control.


Anonymous said...

'He writes in Englih for a start'

George S said...

Thanks for pointing out the typo, now corrected.