When I started reading Vinita Agrawal's poems I immediately sensed I was involved with something special – by the time I finished this extraordinary book, I knew without a hint of doubt, that this relatively young poet is an exceptionally gifted and important poetic voice in our contemporary, global literary scene. Many poems are unmistakably set in Vinita's native India, evoking the subtle fragrances, the seasonal monsoon rains, and delights of nature specific to this unique country.
Gentle power is an inherent characteristic of many of Vinita's poems. This is made all the more poignant because of her juxtaposition of soft gentle imagery with very serious, important themes and subject matter. In the poem The Refugees Are Here, she highlights the plight and suffering brought about by the unforgivable destruction of Tibet and Tibetan culture by the Chinese invasion of the Tibetan homeland:
The enemy has ravaged modest dwellings at gunpoint/the way swords demolish cobwebs/can guns talk for sixty years
and then the last verse:
Vinita Agrawal is a master of the use of metaphor, a skill and sensibility often lacking in contemporary poetry. Subtle metaphors create magic which defies engineering style logic but elevates a poem out of the ordinary into the realm of the extraordinary. “I entrust these verses the task of carrying the readers to the edge of life and beyond because that is where our truest experiences bear meaning. That is where it all happens.” (Preface)
Poetry is not newspaper journalism, to be successful it must engage the readers imagination and speak directly to their heart. Thus as Vinita says again in the Preface to Words Not Spoken, “Through my written words I hope to strike with the readers a connection more real than artificial, more deep than shallow and more at the level of heart than at the mind.”
In the poem, Monsoon Showers we experience Vinita's wonderful use of metaphor and imagery:
The scent of wet earth/after an amorous monsoon shower/ clambers up the walls of the heart/like a snake biting into equipoise/the blue poison of desire spreads.
Some memories wrapped/in grey sheets of thick old rain/are still strangely warm/like a hearth fire not fully extinguished/or like hot lava fingers scratching a cool earth/from beneath.
Interspersed with the powerful political orientated poems are ones which capture very ordinary events which we all experience such as in, Clean. This poem elevates a Spring cleaning activity to the level of a deeply searching human cathartic cleansing of the soul. From the first verse:
This year my burst of spring cleaning/left life’s cupboards bare/shells, letters, squat silences/dry flowers, leaves/your promises and yes, the hunger/were all forced to flee.
Vinita's skillfull use of the metaphor of a physical clean to a soul Spring clean is astonishing. In the final verse we are lead to look at ourselves:
the mirror was hardest to clean/for it had reflections/that wouldn’t settle.../they flitted away/before they could be erased.
Again in the poem Connections, a relatively simple domestic situation is infused with subtle power and universal significance which is quite overwhelming:
In this elderly house/conversations/are folded away like yesterday’s newspapers/leaving a blank table of silence behind/The future of words is precarious here/for it is inlaid with monotony.
Some poems like the Puppet concern aspects of Vinita's personal life and have a relationship with Buddhism and Indian spiritual traditions such as Diwali. Her brilliance as a poet lies in her ability to write a simple poem about a mundane event which on close reading and reflection contains the wisdom of a spiritual sage. This poem concerns a puppet/doll purchased at a bizarre, then after a time thrown out, a few verses:
it saw but never spoke/never cried/always smiled, looked bridal/
and the children wanted to play with it/
it never gained weight/never wanted sex/not even after a rain storm/and had the detachment/that the Buddha would have envied
it stayed like that for years/until one Diwali you thought it had/
gathered too much dust/and trashed it
I admired it too much to let go/and secretly fished it out of the dustbin/hid it in the cupboard/it was everything that I could never be.
Over the years Vinita has had many individual poems published in journals and so on, but this is her first volume of collected poems. She decided to include some older poems so as not to, “miss any step in her poetic journey,” we the readers are fortunate she made this decision, as nor will we miss out on these exquisite gems.
It has been an enlightening and humbling experience reading Vinita's, Words Not Spoken and I cannot recommend this book highly enough both for lovers of fine poetry, librarians, and educators teaching poetry at any level.
Reviewers Bio: Rob Harle is a writer, artist and academic reviewer. Writing work includes poetry, short fiction stories, academic essays and reviews of scholarly books, journals and papers. His work is published in journals, anthologies, online reviews, books and he has two volumes of his own poetry published Scratches & Deeper Wounds (1996) and Mechanisms of Desire (2012). Recent poetry has been published in Rupkatha Journal (Kolkata); Nimbin Good Times (Nimbin); Beyond The Rainbow (Nimbin); Poetic Connections Anthology (2013); Indo-Australian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2013); Rhyme With Reason Anthology (2013); and Asian Signature (2013). He is currently a member of various literary organizations of high repute.
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