Language as Metamodernist Aristocracy: ‘Hesitancies’ by Sanjeev Sethi


By Dustin Pickering

Hesitancy is the moment in-between that leads to intimacy’s keen gratification, yet something of the moment snapshots itself and makes the moment salient. Sanjeev Sethi’s high localized energies in Hesitancies contend with language technology; his verses are verbose and cosmopolitan and suit the modern world struggle. They appear aristocratic on the surface with lines such as “Boors and gasbags busk when and where space permits.” In context, this poem [page 69] reflects the contemporary situation— “each hoof sights its hymn” in this public square. One may “Surmise” that the public concern is where ancient rituals are extant in our evolution. The madrigals and minstrels of the past are now mere ‘boors and gasbags.’ Hesitancy may be a reluctance to evolve, to move forward, and to adapt. The modern world is taking its breath in intimate apparel of what is to come.

Hesitancy is high energy; it also anticipates sexual satisfaction. All in all, it is the moment of reluctance when desire is penned and pruned simultaneously. Sethi’s linguistic technos carry a thesaurus-like imagination. This prose strains shift and coo. They are what the collection intimates by title. We cannot make out the method without hardware rigged for the work.

Compact and situational in scope, Hesitancies demands the reader’s total imaginative capacity; the works are not subtle but thick and ripe in wordplay. Consonance and assonance are significant players in the game. Fricatives and truncated sounds are compacted to create burdensome thoughts and situations. The situation is primary; these poems are not Romantic because nature and myth are not vital structures. These poems are their breed of metamodernist aesthetics. According to Seth Abramson, writing for the Huffington Post, “metamodernism believes in reconstructing things that have been deconstructed with a view toward reestablishing hope and optimism in the midst of a period (the postmodern period) marked by irony, cynicism, and despair.” The poem referenced above contains its archeology and substructure of mutually engaging elements. The ‘boors and gasbags’ are framed within a context that also includes the technological restrained “recherché.” The poem adopts the cultural frame of reference of elitist castes yet allows for the broken elements and even views them with historical nostalgia. The reconstruction is the right to exist within a privileged framework even if one does not share that privilege. “Surmise” is a poem that reconstitutes lower caste raucousness as expressive and, therefore, viable.

In “Realpolitik,” Sethi seems to canter again on the edge of aristocratic sympathy. However, the poem only seems ironic. The irony is absent from the metamodernist aesthetical toolkit. The final sentence is as direct yet ambiguous as any: “The agency is with plutocrats and their apple polishers” (p. 68). The poem is not completely transparent about its situation. It appears to be about a lovely night walk. The context constitutes its metaphor. “When the buzz of mosquitoes is music lampblack is a painting on one’s wall,” Sethi opens the poem and continues, “streets are lightless,” referencing the streetlamps again. The lamps appear to be absent as official objects of use in the poem. Thus, we negate the Marxist adage about utility determining its economic value. A thing is not for mere consumption or utility in this poem – the thing constitutes itself in the beauty of presence. This deconstructs deconstruction itself. Realpolitik is both a policy of expansion and a non-ideological and hence realistic view. Sethi’s apparent aristocratic sympathy appears again: “Morals are for menials or those with little means. The agency is with plutocrats and their apple polishers.” In this line, an apple polisher signifies the menial who offers bane work for the upkeep of the aristocrat – however, each of us is the same aristocrat if we wipe mosquitoes from our apples! The implication informs an ecopoetics in the usual city situation of most of the poems. The poem does not deconstruct class structures or attitudes but appears to reconstitute a universal sympathy.

Another example of apparent aristocratic sympathy appears in the opening statement of “Response,” a poem written humorously. Sethi writes, “When a famulus vaunts my strengths / it seems he is perusing segments / from an unwritten omnibus.” The aristocracy here is one of knowledge, not wealth or position. If we are to remain metamodern, the poem cannot be ironic. The poet is serious and in doubt concerning his oeuvre. In the end, Sethi writes, “bantam editions are better. / They don’t invite an audit” (p 53). The poet is reminding himself to keep his scope short and not to get ahead of himself, even in the presence of high compliments. The poem is an un-ironic portrayal of a common scenario in academic halls.

It is easy to convince oneself as a reader that Sethi is indeed an aristocrat. The technology of language employed institutes his position as an exceedingly gifted man of letters. However, his aristocracy of speech is the apparel of the poetry. In using these technos to render the most familiar moments and thoughts, Sethi calls attention to the language itself – the language is his foremost tool. In this, he is a master poetical craftsman as well. Each word means exactly what it intends to convey. In this approach, Sethi is a metamodernist of a high order. His thesaurus-like imagination creates opaque contexts, but upon reconstituting each short work, we find a concave sensibility – a slightly distorted mirror yet entirely sensible to the vision.

Recalling my opening statement about hesitancy being the moment in-between that leads to gratification, these poems are their hesitancies. The nature of the construction – the language’s architecture – demonstrates a mastery of the sacral aspects of linguistic structure. Sethi does not use this tool in vain. It is the essence of his metamodernist inclination. Sethi’s use of consonance and assonance to lure the language to reflect its emotion to the reader is gratifying.

There is also the approximate internal rhyme. “I welcome his supplications, accept them…” (“Response,” p. 53). The words ‘welcome’ and ‘them’ create a dialogue between the beginning and end of the line of verse. In “Xeriscaping” (p 48), the first line is, “In aridity, I have planted grass and greenery.” Again, the words listen to themselves and reflect on one another. ‘Aridity’ and ‘greenery’ form an arch in this hanging piece of verse. The alliterative ‘grass’ and ‘greenery’ form fractals with ‘planted.’

Sanjeev Sethi’s verse is tedious and tricky for the novice reader but delightful for contemporary readers who enjoy challenging poetry.

Dustin Pickering is founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He featured for Houston’s popular reading series Public Poetry in 2013 and was a Special Guest Poet for Austin International Poetry Festival that same year. He was shortlisted at Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story competition in 2017.


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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, born in New York City and currently based in India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.


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