by Jhilam Chattaraj
Hesitancies, by Sanjeev Sethi (CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal Publishers, 2021)
Sanjeev Sethi’s Hesitancies is a collection of aphoristic, deftly-crafted, yet tender verses on everyday truths of life. The poems are an ingenious negation of William Wordsworth’s theory of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Sethi, like Mahatma Gandhi, uses his “hesitancy” as a “shield”†; verbal mindfulness is the hallmark of his poetry. Hesitancies explores familiar themes like memory, nostalgia and desire without carrying the excess baggage of one’s ethnic, cultural and political identities. In an era when Indian literatures in English are represented at OTT platforms by adaptations of popular Indian novels with a localized focus, Sethi marks a clear departure. He could be anybody, writing from anywhere. His poems primarily call for literary and aesthetic interpretation.
The emotional nucleus of the collection is often garbed under prosaic phrases like “That is about emotions/ they can only play on till one permits them” (p.56). This is both the strength and limitation of the collection. Tenacious readers of poetry would appreciate phrases like “airships gargled” (p.16), “Skin is a bona fide visiting card” (p.87), “poetry inhales what we can’t” (p.46). They would perceive the gentle beauty of the poems beyond wordy phrases like “social media is the most expeditious mortician” (p.35), or “In differences, we dwelled to witness the idea of India” (p.14). However, those who read poetry for pleasure are most likely to be displeased; they might even demand a customized dictionary along with the poems. In the Indian subcontinent, where English is primarily a second language, words like “fuliginous,” “antipodal,” “hesternal,” “hendecasyllabics” are unfamiliar. Sethi’s style is likely to be mistaken as grandiloquence. Sethi is a poet and a logophile; language is his homeland. His use of abstruse vocabulary could be seen as a poet’s way of building an identifiable linguistic domain, exclusive to poetry, just like Science, Philosophy, Economics or any other discipline.
Sethi shows us the uses of poetry; apart from preserving poetry as a repository of unique words, he also moulds his craft to articulate the wise, rare yet universal verities of life. Sethi’s poems, long and short, are replete with astute ruminations: “Grief in any text is grief” (p.22); “Bliss meets us in unusual ancones” (p.56); “Intimacy breeds indifference; in its own way, it keeps us knit” (p. 44). In the age of digital deluge, Sethi’s endeavour to seek profundity in minimalist poetry reminds one of Harold Bloom: “information is endlessly available to us, where shall wisdom be found?”‡ Sethi’s poetry defamiliarizes the process of interpretation and uses “art as technique.” He does not rely on traditional forms like Haiku and Cinquain for brevity. Instead, he evolves brief syntactic structures that are unique to his process and are a refreshing addition to Indian poetry in English. The book is meant for a niche audience and is recommended to readers who seek intellectual abundance in poetry.
† For more, read MK Gandhi, “Shyness my Shield,” My Experiments with Truth. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00litlinks/gandhi/part1/118chapter.html
‡ Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. P. 19.
Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in Hyderabad, India. Her works have been published at Room, Colorado Review, World Literature Today, Voice and Verse, Queen Mob's Tea House, Asian Cha, Not Very Quiet, Burrow, Cerebration, Porridge, Minnow Literary Review, The West Trestle Review and Guftugu among several other national and international anthologies.She has published the books When Lovers Leave Poetry Stays (2018) and Corporate Fiction (2018). She has been invited to several national and international literary venues like the Jaipur Literary Festival, Hyderabad Literary Festival, Ozark Poets and Writers Collective.
Copy editors: Nancy He, Nina Zhang