Publisher: Broadstone Books
Review by Sunil Sharma
The Butterfly’s Choice is a thrilling voyage across shifting sands of time. In this third book of her poetry, you become aware of the power of an international language harnessed creatively by a bilingual user and its dexterous employment in the hands of an accomplished writer. Here, the reader keeps on moving in different realms and contexts, guided by a medley of strange metaphors, images; twists and turns of a language mastered.
The poem, On Talking, leaves an immediate impact through the pithiness and implied message of creating values and meanings through human interactions by cutting down on the inanities of daily conversations in deadening societies by using words that are sincere and heart-felt:
Each person has one word to carve
but we don’t know it until
it’s almost too late
Until, too weak to say anything,
we see only dust
in a mirror
Then, knowing we have talked
too much, we hold
The words and their implications need to be sensitively recovered in a consumerist age where language has lost its basic authenticity and got debased by the adspeak and overall duplicity involved in the public discourse. Dust in a mirror is a sensory image that conveys a lot—the inability to see fully and correctly the reflected self. Only distortions or the phantoms stare back at the hapless viewer! Such verbal shifts in emphasis, tones and articulation; quick movements in tenor, from one to another idea; such fast intellectual and imagist diversions constitute the core of her poetry. In the poem Vibrations, the same theme gets echoed but slightly differently:
Shards of words bounce
against my skin; some,
like seed, penetrate me
entering my bloodstream.
Long before my brain can
grasp the meaning, it crawls
up my veins and tells me
exactly who I am.
If I could trace that first word
like Helen Keller’s water.
Was mine, too, soft—or cold?
The grappling with words, textuality, surfaces, linguistic resources and their varied functions in social and interpersonal communication contexts fascinate and engage the poet’s attention. She seems to be exploring the formalistic features of poetic artifacts and poses the question: Is her style/language mellow or harsh on the auditory faculty? In fact, it is a universal probe by every creative mind: Does the style imitate the artist? Is there proper balance between thought/idea and its verbal expression? The potential of words to create or destroy meaning/s is stated in the poem cited above. The most interesting observation comes in a mini poem that deals with the primary role of language as a communicative medium and rendering reality in a new manner, especially for a bilingual artist, experiencing objects differently due to the acquisition of the changed langue-position in the Saussarian sense of the term:
Coming here was a plunge in language
Words join houses and streets into a city
Like a film, they cover hands and faces
Fleeting dreams, they spawn the reality
History and memory get intertwined in the following poem that alters POV:
For Stephan A. Hoeller
A western autumn in Eastern Europe;
the sky’s deep blue, white knit-clouds;
a narrow street—maybe a back alley;
some grass, concrete, a garbage can.
The wind carries an ochre-colored leaf;
it whirls between the walls that separate
our compartments filled with dust.
The air is a mask. I have to stop.
Tackling her relocation in America, Joanna writes about existence becoming as some kind of a riddle and thus speaks for every re-located person:
On Familiarity—A Riddle
In foreign lands, we grow nearer to our friends
who begin to see we are not so very different
but the strangers grow uncomfortable when we
open our mouths and speak in accented tones
At home, we grow more distant from our kin
who perceive us increasingly strange and aloof
but the strangers feel comfortable since we
know how to greet the day in familiar tones
The whole book of poems is a collage of memories, experiences, past and present, of old streets and parental home left behind and current one found, and commentary on things philosophical or mundane, with an Alice-like tribute to a pet cat. In My Grandfather’s Suitcase or A House That Says Nothing, the personal histories intersect with national histories and references are made to the Nazi occupation and then fading away of the living into the dead and finally the eloquence of silence with its implied threat of erasure and amnesia. The poet is concerned with capturing such critical junctures, thresholds, intersections where individual and collective meet and collide and wish to record such individual encounters with history through acts of literary commemoration. In brief, The Butterfly’s Choice is a delicate tapestry of emotions, moods and contexts caught in broad and/or minimalist verbal strokes, thus creating a deeply enriching and satisfying totality. For Joanna, butterfly represents both profound beauty and fragility—and life-force and vitality. The lines describing the winged and tiny, pretty creature are equally valid for people as well:
Knowledge about ways of being eaten
is implied—if not conceived—
in a butterfly’s design,
time of death depending on which part a beak
captures first—a wing or a leg,
the head or the trunk.
Does the butterfly have a choice? a life
yielding half-beauty to the world it fans
with a half-wing?
Death, life, satiation, hunger—for an insect
things can only be black or white,
even in shades
(A Butterfly Caught In The Frame Of A Harley Motorcycle)
It is book that lingers on, post-reading, like some beautiful sunset recalled on solitary evenings in a cramped Mumbai home…
Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma, a college principal, is also widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. He has already published three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited six books so far. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were recently prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. Recently his poems were published in the UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree.
He edits online journal Episteme: