The Journal of Commonwealth Literature | SAGE | 2020 Vol. 55(4) 590–633
sagepub.com/journals-permissions DOI: 10.1177/0021989420962768 journals.sagepub.com/home/jcl
[In] Fugitive Words, the poetic canvas brings the animate and inanimate imaginatively within its purview: “Trees squat on tall grasses,/ a pond cries for drowned souls,/ plantains droop into muddy sleep,/ fishes breathe hyacinth dreams,/ weeds and stones outlive the night.” An intense femininity informs the collection and Saha’s observant and reflective gaze captures the complex aspects of women’s lives.
— Payal Nagpal and Shyamala A. Narayan
The Asian Age - Polyphony by Sudeep Sen, 13-03-2020
Amit Shankar Saha’s second book, Fugitive Words, is a joy to read — both for the poetry’s tight economy, and for the oblique narratives. His “words” carefully delineate the poems’ plot — direct and abstract, intimate and universal. Here’s an extract from ‘Ruminations from a Sick Bed’, set in tercets: “Last Sunday / around 1:15pm / I turned old. // A hundred butterflies / gathered for winter jamming / inside my left knee joint. // A couple of snakes / crossed over each other / inside my right foot. // … // A sad black cardigan / hugged gently my white shirt / in a lonesome embrace. // … // Winter wars have left me / with broken birthday candles / and an air of insanity.” There is a wonderfully imagistic quality carrying all the hallmarks of a good poem — precision of image-making, careful use of words/phrases, judicious use of line-breaks, and an ease of linguistic flow. I look forward to this poet’s promising future.
Muse India ISSN: 0975-1815
Way of Words and Images
Poetry thrives in sunshine as well as in darkness but without knitting words or leaps of imagination, we lose the pleasure of promises. ‘Fugitive Words,’ the second collection of poems by Amit Shankar Saha, interweaves words with memory and despair, language and history that reflects and reveals the inner space and refracting reality. This is a collection that achieves resonance between an awareness and a landscape of elusive words. He approaches poetry with humanity and warmth and his poems thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, nostalgia, love, religion and society.
Let me pause to say: Saha has real gifts as a poet and it’s impossible not to hear the meta-textual echo of words in his luminous poems reaching from the precise to general.
Dustin Pickering has rightly pointed out in his introduction, ‘Saha is an expert in economy of words, picking them and sorting them in the most emotive and empowering way. They speak for more than Saha himself. These ‘fugitive words’ are literal fugitives, escaping criminal proceedings brought against them.
Reasonably sheltered but far from prearranged, this collection of poems is poignant and inviting in their familiar ease, broadening from the grounding details of life to manage to be both realistic as well as indefinable.
We know that language is a vehicle of history. Some of his poems put an argument – where does reality end and the dream begin? And if reality is the pit stop constant, have we been dreaming all along? Those poems feel intensely familiar yet disquietingly inexplicable. His poems are informed and sometimes unwelcoming, even though enlivened up by his refreshing way of words. Most of his poems seem to have absorbed the essence of the fugitive mind, the sense of time extending and shrinking and prevailing all at a time.
The opening poem, ‘My Words’, enters in the world shining in the light of dusk and introduces a new territory where the words enjoy freedom in the open space.
my words, those that live in huts by the tracks,
who owns their lives in this light of dusk?
They clamber into my poems
like a broken bridge half-way into a river,
like a broken roof half-way into a house. (My Words)
It can almost be about an aggressive inner self wondering at the ways we cross and hurt one another. There is porousness to lines such as these which float up and away. More common are minute observations, surreal moments and moving uncertainties. This and many other of the poems involve yearning and I love the stillness of the imagery, as intensely quiet.
A slow train at Talit
looks befuddled at fields
of ripe-green memories (The Eyes)
What is all the more remarkable is that he is neither emotive nor tedious nor foreseeable in his poems. The poet introduces a voice that intent on investigating spaces we do not ordinarily occupy and the arresting lines keep the readers on their toes –
My solitude becomes frail
as memories starve in the night
I, a water diviner, search
for a solvent to sustain life (The Water Diviner)
A short and startling poem, ‘Ajar’ possibly tells us more about inner self, exploring the sense that the meaning of things is not to be found in the obvious, in what is explicitly stated even though memory ‘ruptures neurons, punctures brains’. And yes, it is the quieter poems that resonate, that marvel the commoners –
From a slightly parted window
Light comes and settles in
My room at night. Lingers on
one wall for long. Staring
at my sleepless body. Soon
it will be dawn. Memory
too slightly parts my mind (Ajar)
There is melancholy that rings true in his poems at times yet his lyricism ripples with light. The nature is vibrant in his poems but not at the expense of human connection. The poet’s ‘fugitive’ words at times detain the readers. In this collection he shows poetry as a form of literary close work, reimagining as critical appreciation.
Ra Sh has mentioned very rightly, ‘Amit’s poems in their journey with words and memories are not limited to any singular species of memories, but are drawn from many histories and geographies.’
Let us plagiarize a chunk of verse
From a Hindu poem and profane it
With the lines of a Muslim poem (A Poem for Dark Times)
While the diversity of content and forms at times dip in lost love and silent grief, cynicism and sarcasm keep the freshness of the wordplay strikingly alive. The love of indifference is everywhere – in a literary sense, too. In particular, he borrows light from the surround and history that quivers between ominous and fresh doggedness to preserve. The locales are the right additive here and one can savour the sublimity of the following lines –
A little ahead of Shyambati,
night sheds lights to reveal
its mysterious shape.
It’s like walking into
At the bend of Ratan Palli (Convalescent)
I can’t put it down and have kept returning to these poems by their beauty and clarity. The prismatic output of the words is among the most significant, paradoxical, advanced and immense. A tender and succinct poem is as follows –
I never came close enough
to register your fragrance
days become months
and then there is an odour-
I know it is the stench of memory. (Olfaction)
Sometimes Saha digs deep and words are his reserve accretion. His subtle observation, ‘I make love to the lump/and it transforms/ into a poem’. Holding history and the contemporary in his palm, the poet displays his poetic canvas with an unwavering eye and his poems provoke and surprise with nuanced expression –
Missing you is like winter
Spent hidden under an old quilt
In the dark, without a torch,
Without being spied, without being sought. (Abyss)
This poem reminds us of the words we play with our minds to calm our own edginess. Saha’s wordplay and local narratives take us deeper into environs and familiar places as they shape boundaries between what might be and what really is. Saha writes poems that are loving evocations of surreal moments and memory, waking up the heart and rallying hope. He embraces the grace and virtually paints with words –
You find a dried-up yellow rose
Inside the pages of a broken book.
The story of the broken rose
Obscures the story of the yellow book
One day my books with your words
Will reach some unknown readers. (Windows)
Here is a poet whose voice is so strikingly rich that his wordplay requires no background information to appreciate. Some of his poems carry the shining presence of alliteration and assonance lacing with lyricism yet create the mellow sound of despair.
Staring long at a grey patch of green,
It seems the greys are the greens
And ungreatness a greatness
And all deceiving undeceiving. (The Greatest Love Poem)
What strikes me most in his write, is the weaving of the words and generation of metaphors. Shadowy, unsettling and mindful, these poems linger through rare images and glowing words.
I undo my smoke-leaden
Tresses onto my yellow skin
To hide the marks of Basanta
Left by a migrating spring. (Grey Love)
Some of his poems make real efforts in combining memories and a surreal present in reimagining the familiar to desired effect. His poems are thoughtful but subtly formal, distant but accessible. This poem is full of surprise and wonder and conjures the rainy landscape within soul. Perhaps the rains are like tears without saltiness as the poet envisages elsewhere –
It is raining inside me
but you can’t see
Clouds of words enter me
but you can’t see (Rain Within)
His poems delving deeply into contradictions at times yet agree with its final tally. Nostalgia and grief surface throughout Saha’s writing, intent on uncovering the incongruous beneath the everyday life, even as it remains hushed, detached and blurry. Not to be stuck in a groove, the buoyant mobility and full of unexpected fronts in his poems leave the readers enthralled.
At the waterfall the wind ruffles
the hair of water, shaking off drops
like flakes of dandruff from the head
of a crevice top. How unkempt? (The Waterfall)
There is a joy in encountering a collection that insists with exceptional grace how to craft a painterly line with elusive words moving without pressure and finally leaves an indelible impression. This book has an urgency about being alive and a quieter seriousness in reconnoitring precisely the life, love and memories and raising its voice in the ‘adverse time space’. If his poems are to believed, there is nothing as consoling as ‘word’ in particular. Fugitive Words reflects a significant deviation from ‘Balconies of time’, the debut collection of Saha’s poems. Tender and artful, this book is a gentle celebration of life and beyond, a spiritual exploration of inner soul.
The cover page demonstrates how much can be achieved by not overdoing it with extravagant illustrations. The book is a must for every poetry lover.
Memory Ecologies: A Review of Amit Shankar Saha’s Fugitive Words.
Review by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
Fugitive Words is the second collection of poems (first being Balconies of Time) by Amit Shankar Saha, an award-winning poet and short story writer. He is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets and fiction editor of Ethos Literary Journal. As Dustin Pickering, in his foreword to the volume, describes, “Amit S. Saha explores memory and desire through the lens of loss and despair. The grief is beyond personal”. “…As we travel these poems, we are introduced to a scientific understanding that is compatible with humanist spirituality”. Ra Sh in the blurb to the book writes, “Amit’s poems in their journey with words and memories are not limited to any singular species of memories, but are drawn from many histories and geographies.” The poems bring forth the literary mediation of memory and experience set in the narratives of particular time, space and milieu. The understanding of memory mediated through the poems refers to a specific modality of reflection by which the poet examines lived experiences ingrained into poetry. The approach is to arrive at propositions which locate poetry as an archive for memory. In the poem “Paisley”, Amit writes:
You, who will find her one evening smiling
at me while wishing an untimely goodbye
and leave me with you under a roof roofless,
know her footsteps echo an ancient
amnesia of the beginning where
she left paisleys of footprints on the leaves
for generations of my rebirth to see
and not recognize the fossils of the past (25)
Memory here is not referred to as an abstraction per se- but a way of passing through the empirical in order to prepare new entities of interpreting poetry.
In the poem “Spices”, Amit writes,
In Paradise Pickle Factories
smell of grandmothers sits
cross-legged to tell stories
of spices who went on long
voyages across the seas.
In that long long past
Forefathers and foremothers
of fenugreek and cardamom
traded in gold and silver
in the bazars of Persia.
… Today in my turmeric mind
when I recall their memory,
listening to smells, smelling stories,
tastes of a bay-leaf past
seep in with all the oils and cloves. (23)
It is important not to see memory as the inevitable result of merely an accumulation of data or information. The varied fields of poetic representations have changed the contours of memory formation and re-cognition which leads to new conceptual innovations and ideas. Another poem “Your Grandmother’s Sari”, speaks of his grandmother who has left many saris for his mother who wears them now. Along with the saris he is reminded of her habit of having betel nuts. The chief object of Amit’s poem is to determine the relationship between memory of everyday experience, lived events and its translation into poetry.
The poet stoically sits through the night reveals layers of personal passions, social insights and aesthetic delight,
If I remember you tonight,
it is because my fugitive
memory escapes the flaccid hours
spent on the banks of forgetfulness. (“Scattering”,49).
The comparative study of both the written way of representing memory and reproduction of memory is the central argument here.
The poet is quite an expert in economy of words carefully picking and choosing them. The words speak for more than poet himself...
my words, those that live in huts by the tracks,
who owns their lives in this light of dusk?
They clamber into my poems
like a broken bridge half-way into a river,
like a broken roof half-way into a house. (“My Words”,15)
These words are “fugitive words”, they are literal fugitives, they escape the legal proceedings against them and find themselves rounded up in the verses.
I have jailed my heart,
no fugitive words
will escape from it
except in disguise
like those trespassers. (“Fugitive Words”, 65)
The poet thus adopts a human approach to reach those dark fugitive lands of our essence. In this dark land he speaks of rains,
Two drops of water dribble
And settle on a scooter seat but
Their meniscuses don’t meet.
The days become wet and sticky
Like folded damp paper. (“Forgetting the Rains”, 60).
In some of his poems like “This Bijoya”, “Autumning”,”Grey Love”, “Rai”, “Brinda”, “Binodini” Amit does the “code-mixing”, having a dialogue between Bengali and English words, which is integral to the poems ideas of place as well as identity. Words like “Bijoya”, “Hemanta”, “Rai”, “Binodini” reflects the Indianness of the sociolinguistic trends in India. The long poem “Lahore Bomb Blast Series” speak volumes, and pulls the heartstrings!”The Hind Shawl Repairing House” is steeped in nostalgia and leave the readers to ruminate. Fugitive Words uses stored memory for future use and the poems in this collection acts as a repository. Unlike a human mind it is not prone to everyday degeneration. Through these acts one visits, revisits the past as well as the present and future. The artistic cover add to the aesthetic pleasure of the reading experience.
-Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
XS: Not a Poetry Review by Jhelum Chattaraj 26-7-2019
Poetry without Hashtags: Not a Poetry Review of Amit Shankar Saha’s “Fugitive Words”
“Fugitive Words” is a collection without hashtags: it is unpretentious and effortless to the core. The poems have a background score too, and it’s Billie Meyrs’s “Kiss the Rain.” I was struck by the resemblance between the charming vulnerability of Amit’s poems and Billie’s voice. The song like a faithful dog followed me all through the read. A strange but pleasurable experience :)
Amit’s words arrive gently and his aching voice, like an ardent Romantic tells you that there is much salubrity in the ordinary beauty of life. In a Keatsian fashion, he creates synesthetic experiences in his writing and sometimes he evokes Pablo Neruda too. His style is lyrical, uncluttered and evokes pertinent conversations between nature and human nature. It was refreshing to find the lesser known places of Bengal like Bolpur, Rishra and Talit. The Bolpur poems carry a Wordsworthian fragrance: rain, summers, small, mysterious windows:
It never snows in Bolpur.
The midnight of my hair
starts to fade. (lines 1-3)
In other poems, such as “Spices,” he churns up memory and nostalgia. The poem, “Paisley,” reminds one of Agha Shahid Ali’s words on Kashmir. Amit’s tone is fragile and reflective.
I particularly enjoyed the poem, “Grandmother”:
What if our grandmothers come back one day
from a parallel universe to re-
claim all that they have left behind and find
how wars have eaten up the family
heirlooms or partition devoured them, how...
but these are negative thoughts and I must
not harbour them. (lines 15-22)
Poems like “Bijoya”, and many others, make the collection a cultural trip back to Bengal:
A late hour interacts
with your kamala sari.
I walk into
a cafe of thought,
order a wok
of Banalata Sen. (lines 1-6)
The poem, “The Outsider,” illustrates Amit’s striking imagination:
I imagine my imagination
stunted by language of power,
and all the words I birth
become husbands and fathers. (lines 10-13)
Later in the collection, the poet offers some succinct lines like:
Mothers are like nations:
they make us emotional. (“Late Mother’s day Celebration”, 12-13)
The poems also talk about sub-continental politics in a terse voice. However, he does not dwell much on that, instead probes deeper into the politics of the body and self in poems like,“The air that ate eternity” and “Ruminations from a sick bed.” The collection has seventy poems and many of them, those with a relaxed tone are eclipsed by poems that insist to stay with you, and share a drink or two as you analyse them.
"Fugitive Words" will be thoroughly enjoyed by readers who prefer poetry as a turncoat, a secret harbour where one can safely anchor emotions, sit back, relax and marvel at the simple and rustic truths of life.