The title of Ranu Uniyal’s latest volume of poetry tantalises us with the promise of a delectable feast of poems. This wonderful book does not disappoint our expectations.
This is Ranu’s third book of poems in English, the previous ones were; December Poems (2012) and Across the Divide (2006). Her poems appear in numerous anthologies and have been translated into a number of other languages. She is currently Professor of English at Lucknow University.
“The Day We Went Strawberry Picking in Scarborough is a celebration of the myriad shades of life. In a world of conflicting emotions, it becomes important to seek the irresistible joy that lies at the core of the human heart.” (back cover) The poem For the Prettiest Girl on the Campus (pp. 23 -24) expresses such joy, here the second last stanza;
Have you been told
how that very face
the face with a promise
and then chilled with sorrow
today has a matchless grin,
as she walks with pride
giving love and life.
As we read through the sixty poems we indeed get a sense of the “myriad shades of life”. Ranu’s poems are emotionally powerful, touching on the relentless forces of love, lust and longing. Her use of metaphor and the creation of indelible imagery is simply superb, her mastery as a poet is characterised by the use of plain, simple language to weave complex, intricate poems. Here is the last verse of the poem, At the Dancing Square – Chowk (p. 38)
A whiff of wisdom sits on her head. She opens her empty
fist and catches the fading star, like long lost siblings they
laugh at each other and promise to meet again. If not tonight,
she knows she will find a lover and watch him snap
her dreams with eager lips and unsteady fingers.
Ranu favours normal free-verse style, with quite a few poems tending towards prose poems, all telling intricate, intimate stories as the above example shows.
Family concerns are important for Ranu, especially her bitter-sweet reflections concerning her mother, poems with provocative titles such as; Mother and the little I know about her (p. 66), Ma’s imperfect advice (p. 64), Mother’s instructions to a daughter who wishes to write ...... (p.31). Here are a few lines from the latter poem,
I must be ready to wait
for the spring to churn sorrows
into tales of celebration
and welcome each spray of autumn
without doubts and discomfort.
It is hard to find the “joy in the human heart” in Ranu’s poem, Ma’s imperfect advice (p. 64), this is a very powerful poem, actually my favourite in the whole book. I love the “blunt razors” and “barbed mirrors”, here is the whole prose poem for your consideration below:
Let go – my mother always taught me, never hold on to
people and memories, like blunt razors, barbed mirrors and
thistled saucers they will drive you mad if you hold on to
them. People and memories can be dangerous as Himalayan
blizzards, as punishing dust storms with their spanking
blaze, as frozen carcasses inside the Kedarnath shrine;
the ones that hurt and prick let them be. Even in strong
daylight they get at you and can swallow your entire day
leaving you with blisters and burns and you will find it hard
to start all over again. Fuggy minds are better left alone
rotting inside closed bodies. Parched skin fails to absorb
beauty and clarity that rests within, mottled mules have no
roads to climb. It is often much more refreshing to open
one’s house to an absolute stranger.
“Fuggy minds rotting inside closed bodies” indeed! In contrast to this astute worldly advice and penetrating insight, born of a lifetime of experiences we see a much softer poem in, For a father who taught me to smile, (p. 59) the first stanza;
My father’s face
soft and grizzly washes away
clusters of sadness and I get closer
to his smiles soaked in eternal bliss.
They are with me
those scattered shades
of a sunset in childhood
unwilling to disperse.
So, this is a fleeting glimpse of the feast offered in this latest book of Ranu’s poems – family, lovers, nature, the Divine are all here, presented for our enjoyment in Ranu’s unique and masterful poetic style. I thoroughly recommend this book to all students of literature and lovers of fine poetry.