Book Review: Utpal Chakraborty’s ‘Kirigami’


By Gopal Lahiri

Poetry can provide genuine solace, pleasure and a sense of connection. But it is the language, subtle and ingenious, that lies beneath your thoughts and delivers the results recorded in the emotional registers. The solace the poet offers in his or her poems is uplifting, relatable and nostalgic.

In his engaging book, Kirigami, Utpal Chakraborty makes use of the Japanese Art Form in his nuanced poems, as the title suggests. A majority of these in-depth poems move seamlessly between the real and abstract and explore the intricacy of the self with a rare quietude. It’s also about the inner self and power of language and to that extent there is a metaphysical quality to the work.

Furthermore, the poet is not afraid to be inventive. His choice of words is not only shaped by the language but also the traditions of economy of expressions. His work has a lovely shapeliness and his ingenious lyricism highlights the intersectional nature of poetry with music, cadence and footprints of life.

“To me, poetry is a journey from the mundane to the spiritual,” writes the poet in “My Pilgrimage”. “Poetry burns oneself and reduces one to his or her purest self, removing all that a poet inherits, giving the artist an evident, unprejudiced eye that can take everything easily and express them readily.”

Poets are the natural critics of their times. Shelley calls them the unacknowledged legislators. Here, the poet finds his vein of expression by attending to the minute details – from the storeroom/undress a poem/to savour the infantile perfume of the travail – and offers a new space that goes beyond the existing while providing a rich fare for readers. He acknowledges the possibility of layered optimism and then writes his way convincingly past it.

Chakraborty believes that poetry can’t be hurried and follows a style that effortlessly mixes the conventional with the abstract. Sometimes his poems are more private and deeply rooted, infused with a strong narrative strand running through them. For him, poetry is not a ripple induced by currents but an echo of life and inward journey that explores the silences and undulations. His free verse is exacting and constricted.

Despite the lighthouse, some sinking
Ships still break the compass.
Dust from sandstorm smears the sky.
Shaking off the boiling syndrome
We get ejected from one ism to the other.
Walls betray the sin of preparing the wicks (Beacon) 

The book appeals as an imaginative work. The readers will feel the struggle and despair and the sweat and tears that flower in the poems, albeit in a subtle way. At times, the poet expresses directly as one human being to another which helps him to write a metaphorical poem with human connection adroitly. His poems are relatively easy to read, while difficult to get to the bottom of them.

Poetry is a rich mineral.
Most people are in pursuit of. (Poverty) 

One of the most appealing elements in poetry can be the right choice of the words keeping the essence close to the heart. Clarity and candidness are not always Chakraborty’s watchwords; yet his voice is not one of grandeur or pomposity.

As the leaves fall
Dementia accumulates like sapsuckers
In the hollows of the tree. 

Clouds and rainbows gradually dissipate
From the horns of the deer. (Eternal Tree)

The poet’s deft rendering and intimate observation of the complex dynamics of life are beautifully enumerated. He has a way of making his words count and they have an echoing meaning. The following poem is an arresting combination of beauty and inelegance, almost an entreaty,

On them are the skeletons
of some pale potentates.
Yet through meritorious silence,
some hell-bent cactus digs the soil. (Cactus)

The tight and crisp poems in this collection feel utterly contemporary and replete with freshness. Showing an astonishingly formal and emotional range and a mastery of language, his finely crafted poems make us look anew at the intertwined natures of the soul and surrounding.

The real architects
Have only dried tears,
Which take a long time
To freeze on pitcher plants. (Metamorphosis)

At every point, the poet’s perception is supplemented through his senses. He implants the situations of his life on to nature with certain cleverness and yet is, at the same time, mindful that he may be finding symbols only because he needs to find them.

Some delicate pores of a Britannia
biscuit steal me.
Through its eyes
I slip into a different galaxy,
see a new sky, a new sun,
shadowless me inside. (New Normal)

Most of the poems dwell on the questions of who we are and where we belong, on what divides us and what unites us in the society. Those are the signifiers we are invited to discover in this evocative poem.

Could you add affection to glue?
Shake the pillars?
Dissolve the melanin blues? (Kirigami)

He writes poems that are full of life and beyond the ordinary even when he is thinking through love and grief. But in their sweep, they defy easy notions of aboutness.

Look at the moon,
Dressed in calm moments of poetry.
Should they boast of borrowed brilliance? (The Sun)

This allusive and assured debut, also twists familiar forms into new shapes that challenge the reader.

There is a weighted stillness to much of his poems, with a love of one or two-syllable words for their weight – and a marked refrain of words – no pushing of the verbal vessel out in order to balance the economy of words.

The thinking is often more complex than the language: the book is full of twists and turns in which the poet seems surprised by what it chooses to show him and delightfully hesitant about visiting his sense of things in the poems.

Birds flutter in the void: it’s but a hearsay.
Void is nowhere
Since Aryabhatta realized it long ago
We can now zero in on zero. (Void) 

The poet has a gift for gravity, rootedness and serenity. Even in a glancing piece such as It’s Not Moon Poem, his achievement is in the sharing of a peaceful moment – “Each poem is a tear for a lost bud.” The lines, “In front of your eyes/I kneel down enthralled”, might, on the face of it, seem riskily slack but Chakraborty has the confidence to lower and allow his poems to speak in an unpretentious fashion.

Every moment we resurrect.
Every morning starts an era
Every day is four eras in brief,
Every life is four eras together. (Transition)

Utpal Chakraborty’s Kirigami validates a distinctive voice as well as a convincing and captivating command of tone, texture, style and technique. It’s a fine debut collection by a promising poet and a joy to read.

The cover page is impressive. This immensely readable book offers us the chance to escape and at the same time forces us to engage. It is definitely worth buying.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata-based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 20 books published, mostly in English and a few in Bengali, including three co-authored books. His poetry has been published in various anthologies as well as in eminent journals in India and abroad. He has been invited to various poetry festivals including the World Congress of Poets, recently held in India.


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