Author: Sanjeev Sethi
Reviewer: Mandy Pannett
Hesitancies is Sanjeev’s Sethi’s fifth poetry collection and it does not disappoint. These are poems that ‘globe-trot’ and take their author’s ‘flavours’ and ‘failures’ with them. ‘There is no suitcase, no cabin luggage to pack. /No air ticket, no hotel bookings to be locked in.’ (Rake -Off). The poet is ready to cycle and dog-paddle ‘across channels of peradventure.’ (Barrack Backgrounder).
Several poems are about the author’s family. The one titled On Father’s 69th Birthday is set in a hospital room and concern the father’s decline and his poignant wish ‘to hold/the space you held.’
The whole collection holds memories and echoes. At times the narrator feels there are too many. ‘The onfall of ingathering’ he says, ‘has intenerated my will; it needs to be revitalized.’ (Echo).
References to mythology and the past add deep layers. The poet may be on a ‘macadamized pathway’ but his mind ‘shifts to Gorgon sisters,/mythology and memory brew with breath.’ (Morning Walk)
Words are crucial. With them they carry symbolism, wizardry, enchantment, magic. ‘Even in thought’ the poet’s heart is hewed with a ‘quill of words’, vehement, practised words. (Morning Walk). Frequently, in the background of the poems, there is strangeness, otherness. There is a witching hour and sometimes ‘a howl’. (Gap).
There is also a keen sense of an inner life, a feeling of peace, of introspection and reflection. ‘To be a retreatant’, as Palmer describes, ‘in one’s inner world/is the most informed retreat from reality./The aftermath/is soaked in sapience.’
An aspect of Sanjeev Sethi’s writing that I particularly enjoy is the linguistic skill that can shift effortlessly from the archaic to the colloquial. Mortgage begins as ‘Hesternal echoes break into my bedtime’ but a few lines later we have the comment ‘I must be one helluva bristly fellow’.
Sometimes words are lyrics, vocabulary turns musical, ‘Chanteys, jingles, card-esque verse,/ plainsongs, pop music and poetry:/each has its grid, its grapheme.’ (Chime). Awareness leads the poet to discover that ‘Internal antiphonies/urge me to fine-tune myself.’
Sanjeev Sethi’s poems are notable for conciseness, for their clarity. Observations, when they are made, are witty, succinct and relevant. One of my favourite comments in in Vacays: ‘Issues sneeze/their way, disclosing unresolved chills.’ A couplet in Loose Cannons further illustrates his skill:
Words embroider; they can’t alter.
Grief in any text is grief.
The same poem adds
Questions without answers
Aren’t queries but nagging
Circulars from another circuit.
The more I read Hesitancies the more I found myself sharing in the author’s love of and relish for words in all their subtleties and guises. Often I needed to consult the dictionary as to meanings but that became an additional pleasure as synonyms and etymologies were revealed. I’ll quote one of my favourite poems, Selfsameness, in full to illustrate this:
Emperor of my isolation, I reign over
mottled enclaves of mind. Serrations
on keys of my kingdom are chiseled by need.
Readiness with inner rondure intensifies the apercu.
When a cloverleaf is choked, I taper off the runway,
making minutiae my hallmark.
I engage with embellishments in the sky,
observe run of breath, agile colonization by ants.
Welcome, a cold caller with warmth.
Are these frig-magnet smarts?
Wisdom for one, hogwash for another.
True as tics: inked on my letterhead.
Hesitancies is rich in multi-layered, multi-formed poems, full of strange, enchanting surprises and a sensation of something that is both direct and immediate but also mysterious and half-hidden. A very fine collection.