Written over a decade, Calling Over Water features poems in three movements. The first trails a wake of lacunae and dislocation but also remembrance and gratitude for departed loved ones. Next, the tempo shifts as the mind sifts through dazzlement, disappointments, riddles and resolutions. Poetry making and identity are explored and mapped. In the last movement, geographies of space and time are located through art, history and the act of journeying. The self is in part reconstituted and returned as a retuned being.
“Are you recyclable?” “Why does art leap out of the window when there’s no terrorist attack, only collapse?” “What if you stop smelling of loathing?” These are some of the brave and probing questions Priya Sarukkai Chabria poses in Calling Over Water. While she remembers “The plants in the balcony need to be watered,” Chabria’s poems never let us forget that “mantling stars speak of vast/ wonder.” We need this book of blessings more than we know: “So borrow the river’s tongue rife with rubbish/ and holiness. Get going.” -John Bradley, author of Erotica Atomica.
In what could be daringly called postmodern travel poetry, Calling Over Water combines organic echoes and inner stammer, overlapping voices of multifariousness in a poetic exercise of intertextuality rare to be found in Anglophone Indian poetry. There are “shadows” in the poems everywhere, live and lost, in bold and gray, in “grains of memory” and its erosion, the crumbling and reformation of time, in voices of loss and return, all ceaselessly resisting the singularity of continuum. In a poetry empowered by rich experiences and widening travels, a knowledge-based alacrity imbued by deep cultural curiosity, Priya Sarukkai Chabria in Calling Over Water also engages in a wonderfully elusive nature writing that maps out her travelogues, resisting disruption and myth-building at the same time. -Aryanil Mukerjee, poet and translator, editor, Kaurab
Below you can read a few poems from her collection CALLING OVER WATER. Excerpt courtesy: Poetrywala via Priya Sarukkai Chabria.
Do memories change when what’s remembered is no longer owned? Do your footsteps disappear from those frames of time? Scent fade? Are these feelings your own or taken over?
Are you a rose of water climbing on thorns of glass?
Are you lighter for having your recall removed? Lighter but hate clogged? Is hate a light emotion? Have your bones dissolved?
Are the eyelids of memory peacock blue? Do these turn taupe when its eyes are looted? Can you hold its jelly in your hands?
Does it beat its wings trying to break into your body? How often have you cupped a wounded memory, then put it to sleep?
Are empty chrysalises homes of memories that have fled? Do you collect these? Whose memories are you retaining? Yours or someone else’s? Will anyone retain memory of you?
Can you detonate from the memory of things and still be you? Does a vestige remain like butterfly wing powder on fingers?
Isn’t premonition memory of the future? Did Proust say writers have a blurred memory of things they do not know?
Does memory exist in parallel time or a footloose space that descends like a spaceship to kidnap you?
Is there a way to cross into glow? Is this wanderlust?
Are you a museum of invisible things? Are you made up of people you no longer are? Daughter? Sister? Granddaughter?
Can we heal without memory? Can we live without healing?
Jain Temple at Dusk
Against a lavender sky the hill shapes
into a temple’s crumbling face
of stone and scrub that is brushed
by a stillness not of this world.
Those who excavated this desolate
soil toiled to create the same elusive
enrichment for their broken
lives as we who journey
here seeking enchantment. Through
sinking darkness faint stars bubble: far
worlds that hymn their entrapment
and glows and
fades and blossoms
above our head.
Hear it pulse
from horizon to dome
hear it copied
in bloodsong and breath
in the retina
Tousle your hair
in its tangle.
Lull in its arms
while your feet
stay stuck in soil.
to its umbrella of suns.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is an award-winning translator, poet and writer acclaimed for her radical aesthetics. CALLING OVER WATER (Poetrywala, 2019) is her recent publication. Books include speculative fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry collections, and translations from Classical Tamil. She’s won the Muse Translation Award for Andal The Autobiography of a Goddess , the Experimental Fiction Award in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Kitab Anthology, 2018, her spec-fic CLONE was selected among the best reads of 2018 by The Feminist Press. Awarded for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature, she presents her work worldwide. She edits Poetry at Sangam. More at her personal website.