A Place for Your Ghost Animals by Kushal Poddar Ripple Effect Publishing: Colorado Springs, 2015
Kushal Poddar is an example of a relatively new phenomenon, a poet who has built an international reputation and audience, and a resume of far flung publications, through the use of social media. Born in India, Poddar lives in Calcutta where he practices law, writing poems on his cell phone in spare moments doing what lawyers seemingly do most, sitting and waiting for judges, adverse parties, or clients. He also spends his nights reading and writing poetry. Almost daily he posts new poems on various venues on the internet, where several dozen people from throughout the world, primarily other poets, eagerly read and comment. I, myself, am among those frequent and long time readers. I have also used his poetry and visual art in the webzine, Return to Mago, for which I serve as an editor for poetry and art.
A recurrent topic for Poddar is animals—fish, elephants, snakes, ants, birds, rats. He appears to employ these creatures as metaphors for repressed or unexpressed emotions. In “Night Crawls Into An Unfinished Patch,” reproduced here in its entirety, he writes
The rain measures
the heart of a wheelbarrow.
I bet the rat drowning there
has some life left
before the fall.
And that it shivers with hope.
The moon rises
in the abstract.
from tomorrow’s fieldwork
bites my right leg.
Most of the poems in this book are brief, none more than several lines long. Poddar most often uses straightforward language and addresses everyday matters such as the weather, broken relationships, travel, hunger, family, and food, using unexceptional language in exceptional ways. Here is the complete poem “A Drift in Emotion,”
A red tractor on the slouch of the bend:
mail from the earth. I can crumble
its earthy words between my fingers
and then genuflect, break into rain.
In “Fish,” Poddar evokes a frisson of fear and anxiety merely from his description of the main course of a meal. “. . . Such a fine fish. It stares straight/at us through the film of death. . . .” He transforms the mundane into a celebration of language and the oddities found in his reality, as in “Possession” where he writes “. . . You/see those arced lines/making a sky and/those stumps of lines for birds.” He looks at the average day and what could be a commonplace observation is turned into something striking, describing banalities in terms that dazzle a reader, as in “To Morocco Returned, 70,” in which he describes a painted wall, “. . . A fresh coat of white/spells gleam on the walls. . . .” As stated by Alicia Kinski, the editor of Seattle’s Nightwing Publications,
His visuals are snakecharmer enchanting; his readers have no idea how or when the magic overwhelmed them, nor do they care. Kushal’s readers are happy only that they have found themselves under the spell and magic of his poetry.
Death and the rituals accompanying it are recurrent themes in Poddar’s poetry. The context of “Fish,” mentioned above, is a funeral meal. In “The Lights, The Spots,” “You rearrange the bright lights/in a bottle and feed them/to the dust. . ./Perhaps death clouds your mind.”
Consider also “Grease,” and again I quote the entire poem.
The grease, he said, cured the death
he faced every day. His wife
told him not to bring it inside.
If you miss the irony
you must have missed the funeral.
They laid his gun on his heart. A sizzle of rain
fattened the leaves. The road back
turned oil. I saw his widow
slipped, held someone’s hand, released
In “Amour Honestus,” he speaks of a widowed friend. Here is the complete poem.
Her friends donated
for the perfect grave,
buried her husband.
Made of wrought iron.
He said, often, that
love must fail to be
honest. He quoted
Now she shivers with his frankness.
It crumbles. A fistful of earth.
When death is ever present, it takes a toll on the emotions of those affected. Poddar describes the impact ingeniously yet with concrete detail in “Within, Without The Spring,” while distancing himself from those feelings by using the second person pronoun, a device he uses several times in the poems of this book.
. . . So you begin
to seek where you put the sense of loss,
inheritance of grief your family
brought from home. Surreptitiously.
it sewn under the hem of some skirt
they made their widows wear before they
shaved their heads and sat as their guardians. . . .
While being an extraordinarily good poet of the ordinary, Poddar is fluent in imagery and symbols that are frequently described by his on-line readers as surrealist or surreal. At times, however, where a quick reader might see surrealism, it’s more a matter that Poddar’s observations are expressed with such original use of language that concrete reality appears dream like or unreal, as in “The Monsoon Visa,”
The monsoon exhausts your tourist visa.
You have spikes of rain on your head,
nails of water on your feet, on your palms.
You carry a wet and swollen crucifix on
back. . . .
Notwithstanding his gift for vivid descriptions of ordinary matters, some of Poddar’s writing still may be fairly considered surrealist, as he often uses non-realistic or dream-like images to provide insight into the psychology or emotions of the people who inhabit his poetry. In the title poem, “Ghost Animals in Our Marriage,” he writes “I place some ghost animals/on the desert around. We/landscaped the space, spent nights, days/on the proper emptiness. . . .”
Another example can be found in “Atrophy,” which I quote in its entirety.
To the person pacing on the pier
with an urge to kill something, I show
Drowning in the ninth-day rain, we
hallucinate some spiders weaving
sun-catchers between the trees’ fingers.
I show those clouds above the crouching
town whose claws rust once snapped out of their
whose eyes burn in the sky without sun.
I pour some good luck in the madman’s ear.
The ticket-collector turns on the weather.
I watch a boat dimming at distance.
In the book’s biographical note, Poddar is quoted as saying that he adopted English as the language “in which to dream,” which underscores the relationship of his poetry to surrealism’s focus on the subconscious and unconscious. As one might predict from its title, “Kafka Dreamed Of Paprika” is subject only to dream logic, permitting the label of surrealism.
He dreamed of paprika for nights.
Nice, hot, sun-dried on some flat roof.
Grounded to a haze, to the crux of the color,
to the hue of some long summer
and falling for a distant niece.
He dreamed of becoming one pinch
held between a bride’s thumb and index
for his family and husband every day
and two pinches on those month’s opening
when her man returns drunken, colorful,
frustrated and lovably cruel .
He dreamed himself into paprika in a glass
His mother left one on the bottom shelf of
Poddar himself has said he feels more comfortable with his writing being categorized as “magical realism,” the widely known Latin American writing style which uses magical elements in a reality-based context. More appropriate, perhaps, is magical realism’s forerunner, “marvelous reality,” a term coined in 1949 by Alejo Carpentier, the European-born Cuban writer. Carpentier, who knew and was influenced by the early French surrealists, used his novels to develop “marvelous reality” as an alternative to German “magic realism” of the 1920s, incorporating elements of Afro-Cuban culture. As opposed to magical realism or surrealism, Carpentier’s theory was that the actual reality of Latin America was perceived in other cultures as exotic, extreme, magical, and unreal. Similarly, outside of India the reality of that country and its people may appear so exotic and unreal as to defy reason. Part 4 of “A Page From The Island Diary” provides an example.
Have two beds.
Sometimes they aspire to enisle themselves.
They dream of their own bird-fleets.
Their own South.
Some serpents on their own sprawled trees.
I tell them.
We share the same directions.
The same moon.
The same cold awakening
and climbing up at midnight.
Through his network of colleagues on the internet, and certainly the merit of his poetry, Poddar publishes in literary magazines throughout the US, from El Paso to Tupelo and Los Angeles and elsewhere, as well as in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and his own homeland. That he writes in his second language, English, makes his work accessible to readers throughout the world. Many readers, including a plethora of editors for independent magazines, have followed Poddar’s writing for close to a decade. While having read widely of past and present writers in the English language canon and translations from other languages, as well as Indian classical and contemporary literature, Poddar, who is in his mid thirties, has developed a unique poetic voice. Readers try to make him fit within their own arbitrary categories, describing it as surrealism, magical realism, or marvelous realism, political protest, symbolist, imagist, child-like, or simple poetry of straightforward language. Yet his work is unmistakably his own, sui generis. Irrespective of labels, Kushal Poddar’s work is compelling, and filled with fantastic imagery from daily life in Calcutta.
Donna Snyder lives in El Paso, Texas. Her books includePoemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewalfrom Chimbarazu Press andI Am Southfrom Virgogray Press. NeoPoiesis Press will publishThe Tongue and its Secretsin 2015. Her work appears frequently inRed FezandVEXT Magazine. Untilrecently, she worked as an attorney for indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities. Follower her @fronteriza_djs.