I’ve always found the term “chapbook” off-putting. You’d think poets, being poets, could come up with a better word for what is a shorter-than-normal collection, as prose people did with “novella”.
But it’s what inside that counts and so it doesn’t really what matter how Kavita Jindal’s latest title Patina, a collection of some two and a half-dozen poems, is labeled.
Jindal’s poetry can be direct and pointed, messages punctuated by rhythm, repetition and the occasional rhyme:
Don’t pry don’t ask to whom I pray
if it changes from day to day,
if the entity is male or female
if I fast and for whom
don’t ask, don’t ask.
Other selections launch off into narrative with ledes that would make a journalist proud:
The day the gutters overflowed
I left Kotapuram Port
while continuing with with descriptive vignettes dripping (perhaps literally in this case) with atmosphere:
Abandoned on the platform were black trunks
and tan suitcases
forsaken to their drenching while the porters huddled
under the whipped red awning.
The long brown train awaited the flutter
of the guard’s green flag
as with slick-wet hair, from the window I stared
at a shadow I thought was there.
You’ll have to secure a copy of the book to read the rest.
Jindal is of South Asian extraction and had a stint in Hong Kong; Asia—its places, its objects, its sensations—seems never far away from her work. The title poem begins:
I have wrapped up the hurt
like a betel nut in a betel leaf
tucked it under a stone
a metaphor that will resonate across a wide swathe of tropical and semi-tropical Asia.
The voice throughout, whether introspective, scolding, ironic or open, is always—almost always—immediate, as if someone you know were urging you to listen. It is hard not to.
Like the kurinji flower of the Nilgiri hills
I blossom once every twelve years…
Like trains to London are thrown by leaves on the line
I too am derailed by minute distractions
One can make an argument that poetry is better consumed in doses smaller than the 80-100 or more pages of most collections. Patina is a case in point. Who knows where (or why) people read poetry, but if something both trenchant and calming were needed to occupy those minutes of the morning commute:
That kind of Wednesday morning on the tube
when I’m sinking into stupor
after daredevil antics and death-chases in my dreams
burnt out at dawn
this is it.
Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books. A long time ago, he—as publisher at Chameleon Press—published an earlier volume of Kavita Jindal’s poetry, Raincheck Renewed.