The poems in Sanjeev Sethi’s new collection explore feelings and troubling emotions and question relationships via complex reasoning and apparently cryptic language. Words, their enchanting sounds and ambiguous meanings, are the means to investigate who we are and our position in this world and can be used to make sense of what is around us. Sethi proposes a rethinking of being human and of our existence in this world using intentionally uncommon words and syntax. New possibilities are therefore envisaged that suggest different visions. Existential implications haunt the lines, proposing a wisdom of sorts: although it is provisional, it is always thought-provoking.
Sartre’s concept of nothingness seems to be a reference point. In relationships we are tested and may fall into nothingness in an experience in which ‘existence precedes essence’, as Sartre claims. It is a process of growth and openness to the Other that jeopardises our self, but despite that it is still necessary. The essence of the self seems to be the goal of Sethi’s poetry, which is scrutinised in depth through language and all its complexities and surprising paradoxical aspects:
After the drill of social punctilios, when curtains are drawn, the blah
blah of bovarism lies peeled in those willing to eavesdrop on themselves.
The therapy of truth unveils its secrets: we know our lies better than all
the light there is. After a mortise level on laminate of life, it is meaningless
to tend to every kernel of truth. Attempts to amp this will only end in ache.
The key is to find your centre. If there were a panopticon edge to one’s script,
there wouldn’t be need for prophets. To be famed for clerihews is so meta.
Synesthesia bedrocks all impulse. What is the colour of your grief?
Pain isn’t proprietary, join the party.
Compared to Sethi’s previous poetry, the poems in his latest collection are more concise and epigrammatic; they are more intellectual in some way, and the language is at the edge of experimentalism. Sethi lives in Mumbai; he is the author of seven books of poetry and has been widely published in reviews and magazines such as London Magazine, The Fortnightly Review, Stand Magazine, Dreich and many others. Sethi has been involved with the poetic process for fifty years and has been publishing seriously for the last 40 years. He is a voracious reader and posts his poems daily on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, though he joined social media less than a year ago. Sethi is therefore constantly immersed in poetry which is part of his essence and fuses with his everyday life.
In this collection, the themes of love, solitude, loss, grief and old age are barely sketched in an existential journey in which only poetry seems to hold things together. Certainties and relationships have disintegrated, and everything is questioned in witty lines that cannot be made into illusions. The protagonist is alert and has a seemingly detached attitude that nevertheless conveys a wish to contribute in line with a compulsory instinct to share and connect to a wider world, which is what happens on social media. The reader needs to find the key to understanding this fascinating labyrinthine reasoning and to finally get immersed in the riveting rhythm of Sethi’s lines:
You and I are no scholars of horology,
but time wraps in bespoke. Detritus
blocks our way, deterring us from
zooming into a xyst. We don’t need
the descant of a dragoman. We know
it’s clock out on a timepiece that refuses
to ticktock. When fresh, we lacked the grace
to smell the flowers. Rearranging an old
bouquet is no way to rev it up.
Reading Sethi is a challenging experience that entertains us but at the same time tests our beliefs and our capacities. The questions are open and the answers are not definite; they are an attempt to fill the emptiness, to make sense of the absurdities of life, to stay alive. The emphasis is on the process, not on the goal. It is a search for the right word, or the ‘absolute word’, as the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti called it, the poetical word that might reveal a truth and give sense to our experience, reveal emotions and states of mind, and create realities. It is a journeying of the self and a meditation on life and being, on how to be and on what is important in life. There is no transcendental or spiritual allusion in this vision; everything seems to happen here and now in this flawed world that is dense with misunderstandings, conflicts, delusions and injustices. Sethi’s poems are an invitation to explore this perilous path leading towards an improbable conclusion that shifts every time we try to grasp it. This is a fascinating and stimulating collection of sharp poems that encompasses today’s anxieties and yearnings.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio 16th October 2022