Book Reviews

Words Not Spoken by Vinita Agrawal

Words Not Spokenby Vinita Agrawal
2013. Brown Critique - Sampark Book pp. 122 ISBN 978-81-926842-2-2

Aren’t ‘oxymoron’ and ‘irony’ the best of words to make sense of the kind of life we live, today, now, here? At least, that is precisely what Vinita Agrawal voices when rather nostalgically in her poem “Coffee, Tea and Rebirth” :

Of someone who walked into café
And spoke of rebirth off the cuff

There is an astonishing ease with which one can talk of rebirth and karma but talking it “off the cuff” unfolds several layers that we live with: a layer of modernity, one that of middle path (Buddhist so to say!) and at core, a layer of culturally (up)rooted self and denial of the self. Reading Vinita Agrawal’s poetry collection makes one travel through vicissitudes of basic human passions and emotions. As if the poetess has decided to empty her heart at once, (re)calls some of the solemnly suppressed experiences, shared agonies and ardent feelings to carve up the sculpture of her poetry. While reading some of the love poems, one likes to compare them with the ones by Vera Pavlova, one of the finest Russian poetess, who has a distinctive framework of placing love in poetry; simple, direct and sure. For instance, Vinita makes us witness a lover’s/beloved’s on-edge like situation in love:

I am the threshold of love
In my next breath
I shall be yours (106)

How anyone can be so precise about such a delicate experience of love, one is likely wonder! It is here that, perhaps we can measure the volume of love and one’s inadequacy of locating the whereabouts of the self. Being universally felt and talked about, sometime love becomes very naïve and proverbial in poetry, especially when all poets want to write about it. However, how many of them really mean what they write? Poet as a poet of love is way ahead and much better than poet as a philosopher of love. Vinita belongs to the former category poets, have this, for example:

I have scratched the names
Of your children on the walls of my womb.
Have thus quietened my restless heart.
Now if blood spills out of the aortas and valves
Into my eyes, I shall not mind (114)

Passion makes love more authentic human experience or should I say more humane, a worldly concern rather than Platonic and lofty. Beloved’s pursuits of “quietening her heart” are actually very disquietening ones when we imagine the bygone days of her happy-love. Unfulfilled love, in the broadest sense, is a recurring phenomenon throughout the collection which has caused expressions with stringent agony:

When you left,
I bolted the door
Of my soul from inside
And trapped poetry within me.
Stripped to the bones,
My poems would still smell a few;
Flashed full
They would gibber about you. (84-85)

Now the poet and beloved get immersed; on one hand we have beloved’s soul piercing experience of love—to the extent that soul has to be “bolted” from inside--, we have a happy trap of poetry—the only healing entity on the other. There seems to be a unique triangle of lost love, grief and poetry: your nightingale cannot voice your grief without poetry, poetry would scratch the wounds of lost love and simultaneously cure the grief. Sometimes we are up with arms against vulnerability of love in the lap of love but the question is: where is that clear-cut border line which separates the spiritual/real love and material/physical love? Are they two oxymoron or complementary? Here is an attempt to articulate the populist sentiments of love being “purely physical”:

Tonight I shall invite your embrace
Because even I want to know
What it’s like to spend
A purely physical night (95)

Apart from these many poems, there are some love poems which are “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” only. Nevertheless, the culmination love-poems is A Trilogy of Love Poems at the end the collections; when you read the trio, your response would be reduced to a few interjections. Along with love, time as a priori floats across the collection. Poetess loves to philosophies, talk to and interrogate much cared element called ‘time’. As the following poem unfolds:

Time is the warp of waiting
That dries up the fluid from the knees
And hope from the heart
Souls depart but the waiting stays
Like ivy on the steps of an ancient temples
Time at its worst
Is the empty room and doorway of a house
In which an old man lives silently
Waiting only for death (30)

Numerous writers and poets have considered ‘waiting’ being the most difficult form of time to face; it is only when one waits, one confronts infinity of time and tangible hopes. Here time is metamorphosed as ‘space’ when it becomes “empty room and doorway of a house”. Not all have such experience of being one with ‘waiting’, ‘emptiness’ and ‘silence’. It is an inevitable solitude gifted to poets, lost-lovers and philosophers, I believe.

There are two recurring images; loss of mother and nostalgia of home left which are in fact two colours of time experienced. Here experience of missing mother and the home eats away poetess like acid when she is articulating the regrets:

Brokenness stood on the spindly legs of a
Yawning regrets of words not spoken (19)

No one expresses so well the pain of loss of a mother than a poet; because every time you read such poems, you are transformed to that one unavoidable moment when you had actually lost your mother. Vinita knows the how to play symphony of agony by not bursting into tears and yet crying:

Goodbyes are about emptiness
Now someone else owns this house
But the hearth that holds it is still mine.
I beg its walls for one last hug
And ask them one last question;
Is there anymore lovemaking left in its rooms? (61)

Sense of owning the house is one of the most bosom feelings of modern individuals both materially and immaterially. Here, it is not just missing the home but actually an urge to capture the last experience of being with/in the house so loved and treasured, and while doing so immortalizing the ‘love’ in some happy corners of the heart. The canvas of meaningful poetic creation is incomplete without addressing the most fundamental issue—of being. Western philosophers keep reiterating nihilistic and existential notions of existence but when poets express their views on ‘being’, they do so quietly and metaphorically. Vinita puts across:

The mirror was hardest to clean
For it had reflections
That wouldn’t settle…
They fleeted away
Before they could be erased (34)

It is certainly difficult and challenging to face the ‘self’ in the mirror, especially when you have philosophical or spiritual or poetic bent of mind. As mirror bifurcates our ‘being’ into what we think we are and what we want others to believe in what we really are. Perhaps, it is precisely why “mirror was (is) hardest to clean” for one is conscious of the reciprocal questions of the self and the reflection; the dialogue through mirror sometimes transcend reality per se and we are likely to forget the difference between illusion and reality.

Of course there are various other issues that Vinita engages with like modern life, nature, communalism, nostalgia of Rajsthan, relationship to name a few. It is said literature-poetry is all about what could have been situations of life, one of the most beautiful expressions that I find in entire collection is:

If roofs didn’t exist,
The walls would tell a different story

It is proverbially so pleasing and it indicates chances of what otherwise life could be. You will find more beautiful pearls when you dive deep into the world of Words Not Spoken and Better Spoken!


More by :  Prof. Vishal Bhadani

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Views: 3377      Comments: 8

Comment Thank you Scott for your wonderful comments on my work and for those insightful validations of my own soul searching. Perspectives govern everything we do and I admire the way you have caught that and much much more in my writing.
Thank you for stopping by here and leaving your comments.

Vinita Agrawal
17-Feb-2014 07:45 AM

Comment Lovely..and so inspiring

17-Feb-2014 06:02 AM

Comment Prof Bhadani's admirable review is right to highlight how knowingly and sensitively in this first class collection Vinita Agrawal takes us on an illuminating journey through the many milestones of life - showing us the potential for depth of experience in every moment life brings us.

Whether these are sweetest glimpses of love and sublime joy or the inevitable parallel mortal torments of loss, despair and dissatisfaction - each cameo is painted with an honesty and deft touch that sings sweet and true. Without a doubt this is a creative soul who is prepared to be open, to take risks to live life to the full and, in so doing, to find true gold... which she is then driven to share with others. Always ambitious in her reach, not just as a writer but as a passionate and generous human being, for me it is therefore the ever present integrity and bravery of this delightful poet that continues to inspire...

Scott Hastie
16-Feb-2014 13:22 PM

Comment Thank you all for kind words about the review. I did what this collection made me do. (Some typo errors have crept in, all apologies for that! )

Vishal Bhadani
14-Feb-2014 12:38 PM

Comment Thank you for your generous appreciation Rob! It's very kind of you to recommend my book.

Paul, I hope the book is in your hands you can uncover the mysteries hidden in the snippets provided here.

Thank you Rob and Paul for reading this review and leaving comments.

All credit of course to Vishal!

Vinita Agrawal
14-Feb-2014 11:37 AM

Comment This is interesting, inviting, and movingly passionate."If roofs didn’t exist,
The walls would tell a different story " This is profound and so true. I can't wait to uncover the intuitive story inside those pages. It is quite an attention and heart warming review. Congratulations, Vinita!

Paul C. Blake
14-Feb-2014 00:19 AM

Comment This is an excellent review of an excellent volume of poetry. I think Vishal Bhadani has captured the essence of Vinita Agrawal's poetry beautifully. This is one volume of contemporary poetry which you should add to your collection.

Rob Harle
14-Feb-2014 00:14 AM

Comment Thank you Vishal for such a wonderful review of my book! Thank you for going into the core of my writing, for capturing and assessing my deepest moods and highlighting whatever you found worthwhile!
Honored by the review!

Vinita Agrawal
13-Feb-2014 22:14 PM

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