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Semeen Ali

CP Surendran
Available Light
Collection of Poetry
New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2017
ISBN 978-93-86702-80-7
Pp 240 | 499

Portraying the various wavelengths of the world around

To those whom I served grief
In killer cups, raged naked and free
As the first man to their disbelief
Consider these words olive; fig leaf to me.

At the beginning of the book, these four lines stand in front of the reader demanding attention- more are to follow for the reader to take heed and one realizes the measured approach to the world that the poet has now started to take. As the foreword by Ranjit Hoskote mentions – “The early C.P. adopted a bohemian self-image, a radically nihilist attitude towards the world. He was ready to embrace catastrophe. He was committing to colliding with the world.”

I believe you are right.
Each life prints
Its dictionary;
Some a thesaurus
Of just one word
What’s yours?

In his other works as well, the world and the individual are at odds with each other. It is the survival of the individual not only in the world but also with his own inner doubts and fears that can be read in this book of collected poems. The struggle with one’s self has been described in a very powerful manner and defines the range of human condition from moments of resistance to moments of self-flagellation-

These magisterial dead stare at you from afar,
Distances measured in irreversible events,
Till you give in and blink,
And mirrors within mirrors,
They all go blank;
That’s the time to cross over, turn,
Full eye and no mercy, return

The favour to the next in line.

To the heart beating in memoriam, half in, half out of time.

My doubts were a religion, and I was my own squirming god;
At any rate, succeeded in keeping up appearances…

Was I born like this, a mask, or did it fall from the skies
And visor around my face, perfectly in place?
(Curriculum Vitae)

There is no interconnectedness in the poems and they all stand out individually expecting the reader to read through them – to absorb the words and feel the various emotions that they emit. The depths of which are difficult to fathom as they carry with them the ability to deform or transform a person. The interesting thing that one comes across in the book is that Surendran does not shy from bringing to the readers his personal life which is examined by the poet –

Time rusts human heart
To dust. Sprouts tongues of iron
Through erected stone.
Stricken black the trees.
The leaves, flown like birds,
Far from home,
Chat up a storm.
(Last Season)

A letter in a familiar hand,
Slipped under the door
Of a house receding
Along the same lines,
Return to vision
Phantom ache, faded land.

Most of his poems deal with his relationship with his father, Pavanan who was a Malayalam writer and how Surendran’s relationship with his father changed over the years. His poems give a glimpse of the changing relationship – and as it has been observed that the greatest intensity of experiences lie with those of direct experiences. One of the poems – I Spy is an eleven year old poet writing a letter to his father complaining about his mother-

Well, that was the mail I sent to you,
Spy to spy, you my mentor
Which you returned, too,
Post- haste to my tormentor
Who turned again to her
Implements with a razor-smile.

If only you had torn that letter and blown
It to the wind, I might have grown up less alone.

Poetry embodies the experience of the poet and the best way to describe one’s experiences is in a language that listens to the call of the poet. The language that Surendran uses for his poetry listen to him – do not conceal.

The words must
Speak sabre, a language tigers growl
When they have their prey nailed
In hunger’s cross- hair.

What I have to tell you is a story;
A story of beasts
Trapped in the zoo of my body, waiting
For me to speak the language of their rhapsody.

Words are cold things, come after
Broken ties and slammed doors.
They form frost at the turning hour
When the mouth holds in a round stare….
(A Cold Feeling)

While reading through these poems, there is a sense of recognition of experience, a part of one’s self that had been stowed away. As a reader, one discovers through this work a part of oneself that was previously not known.

We were almost here, reeking of our future
And then we were gone, our hands conjuring
Ashes from grey air.
(This Close)

The multitude of my selves, precious enough to spawn
Their own praetorian guard.
The day is a mirror
And I see myself everywhere.

A man couldn’t remember his name.
He had lost it letter by letter
To the language of many wars.

The man went around looking
For his name,
But everything looked the same.

In Surendran’s poetry one encounters phrases that are unfinished chasms/gaps and are completed by the reader.

We’ve almost forgotten what we left behind.
How familiar the loss
How distant.
(Sidewalk Art Plaza)

A thought
Shifting shape
With each ragged breath.

It is difficult to read through a book like this one and not use lines to portray the various wavelengths at which the poet processes the world around him. Words have an ability to transform the self – the pen writes it and the paper that reads it. The book has been reviewed by using multiple extracts from the work as it is one of those few books that, as a reader and a reviewer I have come across, that needs to be illustrated by its work rather than be explained through only a reviewer’s point of view. The constant engagement that the book requires, the intense subjectivity and the sobriety of this work can only be understood by someone who has read the poems contained in this book and CP Surendran is one of those few contemporary Indian voices whose works one needs to be familiar with.

The trees are still, still the branches wander
In air farthest from roots.
We are where the wind returns shaken
Emptied of heart.


Issue 78 (Mar-Apr 2018)

Book Reviews
  • Ambika Ananth: Wet Radio and Other Poems
  • Ananya Sarkar: The Legend of Kuldhara
  • Ashish Negi: Murder in a Minute
  • Atreya Sarma U: One Rotten Apple & Other Stories
  • Gopal Lahiri: Songs of Light
  • Gopal Lahiri: The Portrait of a Verse
  • Lipipuspa Naik: Tibetan Caravans
  • Madhumita Majumdar: Not in My Name
  • Paromita Sengupta: Don’t Run, My Love
  • Patricia Prime: Growing Within
  • Semeen Ali: Available Light
  • Sunaina Jain: The Wanderlust Conspiracy