To book lovers in India, scholars and avid readers alike, Seagull books is an important publishing house whose list of authors and translated texts is legendary. Naveen Kishore founded Seagull in 1982 focused at first on drama, film, art, and cultural studies and has since begun publishing poetry and fiction as well. For his work in promoting International literature, he has received several awards including the Goethe Medal. Now, Naveen Kishore has published his first volume of poems, Knotted Grief, through another of India’s distinguished indie publishing houses, Speaking Tiger. Evocative and moving, Kishore’s economy of words as a poet, his ability to capture a mood and feelings, and his striking use of imagery make this volume one in which readers can immerse themselves.
The collection begins with a Coda, a surprising move, and one to which the reader will return after reaching the end. The return to the Coda deepens the opening and its layered meanings for the reader. It reads: “Wearing a transparent shadow, the young widow waits and waits.” What follows the opening Coda is a 105 stanza/ 105 short poem sequence called “Kashmiriyat.” The term refers to a centuries -old tradition of Hindus and Muslims living in communal harmony and sharing lives in Kashmir. It is an expression of solidarity and of a core Kashmiri identity that transcends religious conflict and differences. In the last seven decades since the decolonization of the British Raj and the formation of the nations of India and Pakistan along religious lines, Kashmir has been contested territory between the two countries. This has left Kashmiris at the mercy of violent state policies, war, and major political challenges. In August 2019, the Indian state abrogated Article 370 which had granted Kashmir autonomy and annexed the territory leading to increased political repression and violence. Kashmiri literature and writing (Agha Shahid Ali, Mirza Waheed, Basharat Peer among others) have written poignantly about the struggle for autonomy and peace in Kashmir. Naveen Kishore’s poetic sequence is less about the sentiment of Kashmiriyat as an ideal and more a depiction of that ideal now lying in tatters and the price that individuals, especially widows, pay in this decades long struggle. This long poem made up of 105 stanzas that are both interlinked and which can also be standalone starkly depicts through startling imagery the heaviness of grief: “bird stripped/of sight/seeking/refuge/in a sky/full/of bullet wounds.” It’s not just grief but also rage that is captured: “streets/full of rage/stones/grappling with fists/willing/to bleed” These poems echo the title in how grief is knotted and braided through the whole sequence—grief for lives unlived, for a destroyed landscape, for children surviving in a war torn land.
In addition to “Coda” and “Kashmiriyat”, the volume has 5 other sections/sequence of verses: “Street Full of Widows,” “Selected Griefs,” “Titled Sky,” “Under the Skin,” and “Birdcall.” Each one leaves an impression on the reader through the weaving of individual grief with that of a community and a people. As the poet says, “Gather wreaths/at the rim of the poem/let it die on your tongue/running out of breath/as it mourns/its own passing”
Naveen Kishore will read at Elliott Bay Books on November 29 from 7-8 PM. This is an In-person event.