Ahead of the launch of Sudeep Sen’s Fractals, read a few words on Sudeep Sen’s new collection by poet Fiona Sampson.
Sudeep Sen is a truly international poet. In the era of globalisation, he has responded to the challenges of the connected world with a unique poetic synthesis. No other poet writing in English today manages to balance the steely North American tradition with the lyric sincerity to be found in much of the rest of the world, from the subcontinent to Europe and beyond. Sen responds uniquely to the artistic opportunities that have been opened up by the new global cultures.
Sen’s unusually creative response to our rapidly changing world makes him both innovative and exemplary. But this is not to forget that he is also simply a very fine, highly imagistic poet; one who produces such brilliant, tightly stitched pictures as the ‘Shadow’ from his ‘Goa Haiku’ series —
—-at mid-day, shadow-dance on
flint-speckled sand dunes
— or who notes, in one of many fine ekphrastic poems, the way Henri Matisse’s ‘Femme à l’amphore et grenades’ appears: “Having stolen / the blue / from the sky’s / canvas / for her own body”. Sen works particularly with French modernist masters, Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne, but also with Dali and with contemporary artists including Anish Kapoor. Blue Nude, his ekphrastic series, beautifully judges how to exceed the given of the original painting by taking its own descriptions into confessional, emotional realms.
Alongside this brilliant, and often emotive, colouration, Sen also conjures swoops of insight. In ‘English Colours’:
Suburbia’s quiet pastels,
—-its silent music
make me restless.
I go out for a walk,
—-there is more beauty
in the grey cold rains.
The characteristic flow of sentences across the short Sen line is what allows us to experience the poem as “swooping” on the insight like a raptor, or a camera shot zooming in suddenly. The motion is hugely fluent. Here it comes again, in one of the opening poems, ‘Banyan’:
for a calligrapher’s
—-in invisible ink,
—-map, uncharted —
as phrases fold
—-so do veils
Momentum allows the sense to cohere, so that the concluding insight feels “natural”.
In later poems the rhythmic “scoring” of the beautifully enjambed Sen phrase and line is sometimes more horizontal than the sheer vertical drop of these poems. At times this horizontality even stretches into prose poetry. In a piece like ‘Ledig Notes’, however, the spaces and the punctuation create the music of thought:
The untarred road sweeps its gravel in a rowdy grey arc.
————————————————It rains, and then stops — the wet
————————————glaze mourns for light.
At night it is freezing — shingles turning into irregular eroded ice-rocks.
But this rhythmically choreographed insight has also been constructed by and through images. His thinking-with-pictures makes Sen’s poetry uniquely vivid and accessible. There is a grammar to his images that allows him to build with them. His colours have associations with moods, for example; lists accumulate; while the associations of memory are often transformed into metaphors.
At the same time, a rhythmic connectedness both springs from and enables these connections. Both sense-connection and aural-connectedness keep the verse in motion. The poetry is filmic rather than simply pictorial. This too marks Sen as a pioneer of the digital era. His world is animate: one thing connects with another, as one thought connects to the next. We can always click through to the next link, his images suggest. Yet their fluency and beauty prevents any hint of a purely mechanistic post-modernism. We may live post modernity, in a world to which fluency and the contemporary, given moment have come flooding back. But this doesn’t make us subject to merely arbitrary connections with the world of everything. Instead, Sen is highly discriminating. He is interested in light, landscape, love and desire, as well as in the visual sense in which these poems are bathed.
So we return to the creative syntheses that make Sudeep Sen such an international poet. His poetics brilliantly synthesise the resources of contemporary North American and European writing with the traditions of writing in English from the Indian subcontinent. For example, from the last of these come, among other things, his interest in the flexibility of free verse, his abundant visual imagery, and the risks he takes with straightforward beauty. From the British tradition comes a literality of diction — there’s none of the throat-clearing of some North American “cool”: these poems “own” their own experiences and emotions. Many British traditions also go by way of the concrete particular to the abstract insight, as does Sen. North American poetics are perhaps the most hospitable to risk and range such as Sen’s, and also to a certain swept-clean diction: a poetry of intellection rather than song. Perhaps particularly North American, too, is the rich density of the epigraphs he employs: though the range of reading they reveal isn’t confined to a single country, or even hemisphere.
Of course, he is also an international poet in the traditional sense of having a distinguished international reputation: his work is published, translated and honoured across the world. Moreover, the places and cultures he writes about are located in every continent. Fractals is, among other things, a book to make the reader long to travel.
There is one other fascinating aspect to Sen’s poetics of internationalism. He is exceptionally interested in boundaries. These poems are alive to their possibilities, and preoccupied with the delicacy of proximity. Often the boundary is human skin. In EroText, that skin is “bristling, burning, // breaking into sweats of desire”, while in ‘Odissi’, from another erotically-charged sequence, Wo/Man, the narrator is moved by a dancer but, “I can only trace imaginary lines with my human hands on the stage’s black canvas”. Sometimes the boundary that is or is not quite crossed is the space between ink and the white page. Sometimes, whether or not it goes by way of images of paper and skin, the boundary is perception itself. Sen’s poetic persona encourages us, as he encourages himself, to go forwards and, with extreme care and delicacy, to encounter something beyond ourselves and what we know. It is a surprising, and beautifully apt, image for the globally connected world:
——————————————–there is tactility in the vanishing
——————————————–the point is
a pointillist’s vision, bullet marked, beautiful —
———————————————————-a deftly deranged love.
(from ‘Ledig Notes’)
– Fiona Sampson, Frampton on Severn, April 30th 2016
Fiona Sampson has received the Newdigate Prize, a Cholmondeley Award, Writer’s Awards from the Arts Councils of England and of Wales and the Society of Authors, various Poetry Book Society commendations, and international prizes in Macedonia and the US. She has twice been shortlisted for both the T.S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prizes. She is published in thirty-seven languages. She is Professor of Poetry at the University of Roehampton. Her Selected Poems recently appeared in the US, China, Romania and Ukraine.