Rajani Radhakrishnan, whose work I first encountered online some years ago, in poetry groups we both participated in, soon became one of my favourite poets.
Hers is not the kind of poetry I immediately love and admire, go ‘Oh yes!’ and as quickly forget. Rather it’s the kind that – while I do both love and admire it – constantly surprises me with its complexities of language and thought. Born of deep reflection as well as intense emotion, it causes me to reflect deeply too. It can be returned to repeatedly without ever growing stale.
The blurb of her latest book, ‘duplicity’, says that it ‘examines life and love in a big city, before and during the pandemic, tracing the transformation from chaos and dissonance, hope and enticement to silences and death, loss and helplessness.’
A sombre undertaking? Undoubtedly, but the poetry is so beautifully crafted, the language so original yet accurate, I feel lifted out of myself when reading. And then, perhaps, returned to myself enhanced.
Her craft is meticulous. She is a master of enjambment, and also excels when working in form. Her cherita sequence in this book, Word Upon Brick, is particularly engaging despite its sad subject matter, and the haibun, The stories I cannot tell, is stunning. Its closing haiku is nothing short of profound – even as its message, once stated, resonates as unmistakable truth.
Much of the book is about unhappy love, but it is also very much about the experience of the pandemic. There has been a LOT of poetry written about that subject, yet she makes the known new, e.g. ‘Hope too is curfew, hovering 1.8 metres / away, masked and gloved. … This city / reverberates with the loud silence of prayer.’ from This is the time, isn’t it? Then there are details specific to her country, India, such as, in Summer: for those who never made it home, the horrifying account of the many who tried to walk long distances to their home villages early in the pandemic, often dying along the way: ‘This / summer of mangoes, red with blood, scattered / on a highway with the luckless dead.’
She is a very clever writer, as instanced in her section titles with their play on the word city: Duplicity (as in the overall book title) and Ferocity. It’s also seen in extended metaphors, e.g a piece called This city as punctuation, using punctuation and poetic language metaphorically to describe so much more, e.g. ‘The space between your arms. The space / between possibility and semicolon. Between / being and full stop.’ Or in The lover who never arrives in which that title begins as metaphor, e.g. ‘But want is this city’s other face. … Want is the litany buildings / hum when they pretend to sleep’ and moves subtly but inevitably to being about the literal interpretation of the title – an agonising poem in the end, in closing lines which manage to be both restrained and intense.
As you may gather from the lines quoted, she is never merely clever, in a facile or attention-seeking way. It’s always in the service of the deeper message, and presenting that in a way so arresting yet right that it first shocks me into fellow-feeling and then consolidate that with its truth.
I could go on and on. Re-reading finds always more to love, admire and praise. But I’d better stop now to let you enjoy this remarkable volume for yourselves.