Drawn by Tantra’s radical Otherness, ‘its experiments, oddities, contradictions, and secrets’, Nisha Ramayya’s pamphlet offers etymological definition and investigative, immersive poetry in a work of crystalline beauty. Her writing and thought on Tantra has a magical quality.
Tantra is the practice of extending, of stretching to make
connections, of creating something from those connections.
Tantra is the weaving of multiple threads and the extrication of
one essential part from the whole.
Tantra, she writes, is ‘a process, a set of instructions and values, a dialogue, a desire, a promise’. She effectively investigates through etymological definition in various languages the possibilities of what Tantra may be to create a Tantric poetics in action. She allows a rich dialogue and process through both the openness of Tantra and its resistance to definition, and the various correspondences the poetry explores. She effectively takes the Sanskrit definition of ‘woven together’ and spreads the threads apart, opening up avenues of possibility, and enacts practical applications in the poems. Here’s the beginning of ‘Correspondence as Writing System’:
Correspondence is a garland of skulls that may be divided
absolutely into 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 10 or 50 or 51 or 108 or 1000 or
1008 skulls. This calculation is correct, repeatedly, to the point of
For example, a mother as not less than measure as not less than
authority as not less than light as not less than knowledge as not
less than binding, fettering as not less than death as not less than a
The long poem, ‘Her Voice as an Instrument of Thought’, at the collection’s centre, explores the verbal root of ‘mantra’ and stages of Vãc, the goddess of voice, speech, language, and sound, to which it is oriented. This combination of analysis and poetry opens up worlds of possibility for a Tantric poetics. The ‘vaikharī’ stage has ‘words with hard faces that you don’t want to look at in case you hear too much’ and is ‘speech for bodies and for differentiation’. The ‘madhyamã’ lies between the gross and the subtle and here ‘the lights in your house shine blue’. The third voice stage, ‘paśyanti’, meaning from a harlot is known as ‘the Visionary, and leading to the ‘parãvãc’ the supreme voice, the relentlessly throbbing of ‘I am’, the all-voice in the all-head’. The stages correspond to stages of knowledge, belief and practice, ‘which may be understood as a key.’
Ramayya’s tantric poetics allows for the possibility of voicing parts with sounds and text, and ‘the first stirring of the air or breath, articulate utterance’ as in ‘vaikharī’, and images and video, as in ‘madhyamã’, and so on. In this way, she takes something that might be considered ‘dark and dangerous’ from Aryan, Sanskrit and Vedic cultures to give utterance to distinct female voices as instruments of thought. What excites this reader is that her angular contextualisation combined with etymological definitions and variant root meanings opens up such possibilities as practice that can be feminist and oppositional within a range of cultures. It takes something that is emphatically different and makes a corresponding outward poetics.
David Caddy 2nd August 2016