Book Review: Lopamudra Banerjee’s ‘Woman And Her Muse’


By Gopal Lahiri

 It is often argued that poetry is the only form which brings people together. The beliefs, doctrines and feelings shared through verse collectively paint a large picture of the state of the society. Yet poetry can be both abstract as well as a necessary vent in life.

In her entrancing new book of poetry and memoir, Woman And Her Muse, Lopamudra Banerjee offers insight into the details of everyday situations, disparities against women, emotions and the nuances of life in the world of art and performing arts. The poet is, as if, on an endless journey through scenes of the human heart arrested and restored in verses. Most of her poems have a sense of urgency, reminding us that the past in many ways remains our present.

The book is divided into six sections – Five Weird Musings, Kolkata, the Poetry in which I Breathe, Bon Voyage, Portrait of a woman as the Artist, The Durga Series and Cinema Musings – and assembles poems, prose poems and memoir.

In her foreword, Santosh Bakaya, an eminent author and poet, has rightly pointed out, “Couched in an elegantly elevated language, her words pour forth her emotions with a lyrical intensity rarely found today, managing to craft a new universe, exploding in a crescendo of hope. One can even glimpse the lingering beauty of those many unuttered words, peeping from between lines.”

Poetry for Banerjee is a practice of daily salvation; a form of ritual, of taking root in the life of a woman. Her poems narrate the journey of life through verse and investigate the way the life does revise itself for a woman. They are intimate, defiant and at times a compelling read. This book is truly an invigorating revelation and striking contemplation on conscious living.

The poet has points out, “Being a woman, first and foremost, the uncontrollable sense of unrest between the stagnant, familial home and the one mammoth home, the universe outside spread out in bits and chunks of images, pictures, paintings, is the prime reason I chose to pen this collection.”

She advances her arguments through the lens of women’s liberation, staring it down with more humanity and rigour and frames equality in a challenging new light which linger more in our mind. She writes with flair and momentousness; a sense of steadfastness braces every line. 

“Have you seen the tattered girl flopping down on the festering ruins
Looking frantically for lost crumbs of food?
That, my dear, is my Durga, her trishul, her trident blown to ashes
Mingling in her soiled, chipped of fingernails.” (Durga, Where Art Thou?) 

Along with this concision, even curtness, Lopa’s poetry goes deep on humanity and gives some kind of bounce even in its minor moments. The poet is vocal about gender inequality as the sweeping injustices levied against women and girls on a global scale. So, it’s no wonder that gender equality factors so prominently in her words.

It is remarkably a mature poetic voice, in its search for meaning, in its inner workings. As a part of one’s life, and current to what’s going on, this poem depicts a very personal touch to real life. These lines contain an image that beautifully sums up the connotation, and the intense feeling, of the poem. 

“The artistry of an old, crumbling house,
A grand minaret,
A fallen leaf,
On a doomed woman,
Or star-crossed lovers,
A raped, ravaged corpse
Of a girl, or a dead bard –
Her muse.” (Woman and Her Muse) 

Perhaps more than most genres, poetry depends for its power on the precision of words and language. The following poem is a stand out and rewinds a stylish evocation of rain-drenched memories. The build-up is exquisite and the quiet lyricism creates the magic with a delightfully light touch. Her Kolkata connection is amplified here, 

“And then the morning grew, like the crisp promise of a rain
That had kept me company on many a sleepless night
When my wails exploded, and I stood in its sway,
Tasting its downpour against my threadbare flesh” (Kolkata Rains) 

Some of her poems are fresh and sharp with an eye for details. The poet at times weaves her words on a broad canvas in which past and present blur in impossible nostalgia. The poet captures the emotion and wistfulness in a beautiful and elegant way.

“This lonely city, these empty skies
She has aborted her embryo, and her dark poems
Hanging in her room like skinned carcass.
She has lost the name of the street where she parked her dreams.” (This Lonely City, These Empty Skies)

Freewheeling and spirited, her luminous poems, are steeped in the rhythms and evocative language that mark her style of writing and resonate on many levels. The poet strives for female empowerment and is often stark and captivating.

“There, my oceanic core calls out again,
the melange of Ganga-Yamuna
In my bloody ripples.
My ‘Vasudha’, the earth that they feast on,
Is the womb, the blood riot, the mantra of this life,
flowing, rippling, gorging.
Let them not taint the earth that they feast on.” (Vasudha: The Earth)

Some of her poems evoke a feeling or concept with alarming exactitude. What strikes me most in her poems, is the power surge in reshaping our thoughts.

“When my jittery breath smells
Of your cigarette, your faulty sperm,
Your pale living room walls?
Take me by the hand, for once,
Let us tiptoe across the dotted lines
Policed by human whims and ravaged dreams.” (A Slice of my Life)

The poet loves to address history and culture in poems that combine rich wording and skilful use of form. Lopa’s intense and incisive poems eventually evoke the power Goddess Durga and sound a blunt warning, grounded in a refusal to suffer violence or shame.

“Let me be the Goddess in shining armour,
Let me be the surreal creative feminine force,
Let me regain my ten mighty arms,
My fiery red clothes, my infinite power.” (The Supernova)

It’s true that the splendour of language is as much a matter of sound as of meaning. The solace Lopa offers in her ‘earthen songs’ is special, elevating and refreshing.

“All my plain, earthen songs
Crafted with the bits and pieces
Of today’s glittering pearls
Drifted by the wayward wind,
Peeling off, taking light.” (All My Plain, Earthen Songs) 

In a world of male privilege, she is drawn to the idea, expressed in her poetry, that difficulty in women’s life is essential, that one should challenge and overcome it. The poet has settled down in US for long and Black life really matters to her as racial imprints make its mark in the mind of coloured people.

“When you turned from a doll to a girl,
When they will let you wax and wane
In the architecture of your flesh,
Being a dark girl, and a living human.” (The Dark Girl’s Song) 

Turning over clear ideas through crusty, alluring images, Lopa’s poems typically unfold in long lines grouped into short stanzas. She tutors and queries; she laments and rhapsodises the memories reminiscing Jorasanko.

“locked doors open wide, us prying
In the wet womb of Thakur Bari,
Seeking songs, prayers, cadence, the blue sighs of loss.” (Jorasanko)

Her poems often exhibit the brightness and bite of the life and unpeel the way life absorbs the impieties and challenges, compassions and rages.

This book is an authentic and convincing book of poems in its many nuanced portrayals and unflinching reflections on crucial issue that the book rarely glosses over.

Her more prosaic moments are evidence of her drive and resolve to use poetry as a uniquely transformative mode of thinking.

“All that matters right now, deep into her skin, her bones, her marrows, and her consciousness is the call of the breeze, the rocks and the water, her closest skin.
And the waters and the walking ghosts of the winds call
Glittering, gliding in parched lips, the chorus of early fall.” (Some meditative Prose by the Side of Table Rock Lake, Missouri)

Poetry grants us bounds and shades. Lopamudra Banerjee’s Woman And Her Muse provides the emotional balance in the daily chores and bares the darkness of life of the women behind the lightboard. It gives the book its immensity, its balminess. Sometimes it’s not enough to be at one place. Sometimes we need to be universally present with the lost. Her poems shimmer with luminous connection, landscape of longing and draw map of fury against the gender gap and inequalities.

The cover design is imaginative. And surely, it is the right kind of book to fill up your empty moments. 

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata-based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 21 books published mostly (13) in English and a few (7) in Bengali, including four joint books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India. He is published in 12 countries and his poems are translated in 10 languages. He is also an experienced book reviewer and is currently in the panel of reviewers of Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi, (Print journal), Muse India, CLRI and Setu online journals. He also writes book review in the newspapers like The Statesman, Kolkata and The Millennium Post, Kolkata and The Elixir, USA and The Lake, UK online journals.


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