Review: Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems (1981-2017) by Manohar Shetty
Though sitting in his armchair in Goa, Shetty is a world poet who, in Full Disclosure, conducts a master class on the difference between merely looking and actually seeing
Imbued with the quietude of still waters that run deep, controlled and nuanced, Full Disclosure is one of the best set of collected poems to shine its light on lovers of poetry. Though sitting at his desk in Goa, Shetty is a world poet and his well-crafted lines are burnished with the elegance of polki that true lovers of the form prefer to the arrogant bling of the diamond-like poem. In Full Disclosure, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Those of us fattened on a diet of the Collected Poems of Kamala Das or Dom Moraes must necessarily salivate at the sight of Full Disclosure. That is until a slow but sure recognition educates us that disclosure need not only mean a confession of anger, guilt, sexuality but also the dwelling upon and fleshing out in words of the mundane, banal and ordinary – a complete revelation of the object being seen!
Consider the poem Jackfruit
Something carnivorous in carving it open.
The two halves, sighing in a fragrance
overwhelming as incense,
rest on their domed heads.
The stem’s acrid milk reddens
my skin, cleaves the knife-edge.
My hands grope in the wholesome
innards, the golden slippery ligaments,
the litter of flesh-coloured seeds,
the plucked flesh heaped in a bowl,
the pimpled carapace
like something disembowelled.
Who would have imagined a blister
to bloat in the ripening heat
to this pendulous
softness and hardness.
Strange maternal fruit,
What unearthly roots
bring such seeds to bloom?
This is an early poem where both observer and the observed disclose themselves. It’s a poem that talks of the uniqueness of each created thing and in the manner of Gerard Manley Hopkins reveals its inscape to the observing eye/I. This isn’t epiphany, a sudden, stinging slap of revelation but a process of seeing and awakening into wisdom.
Sitting in his armchair, Shetty has compelled his eyes to perfect the art of flanerie; his eyes strolling, lounging, sauntering, loafing and his hand, recording. All through the volume, he conducts a masterclass on the difference between merely looking and actually seeing.
The New Poems included in the volume are neat works with neat endings – talking of aging and the wisdom that accrues from fortitude and experience. While the earlier poems are masterpieces of breviloquence, the New Poems are chatty, open and inviting, startling because of their humour, irony and paradoxes. These are oral/aural poems, eminently recitable, written in the rhythms of arch, urbane everyday speech:
Don’t step on that lacy white train;
Take your vows solemnly, but warn
The toastmaster to go easy
On the cocktails and risque jokes
And Father Pinto, you know,
The presiding diety, he can
Ramble on with his sage advice
To follow the straight and narrow,
To remind you your bond is sacred.
(Odd isn’t it, when they themselves
Know nothing of marriage.)
And when you cross that threshold
With her in your arms, take it slowly,
Be gentle (and let me tell you frankly
With six brats of my own
The rhythm method is too risky …)
The bride and groom listen,
Their faces turned away
All prim and innocent.
- Nuptial Knots
Shetty can manipulate assonance and alliteration to create delightful effects. The common reader may not even realize how the poet traps her in this magic maze of melodious sounds as in:
At her ‘Bridal Creations’ Brenda designs …
The waves are a right ragged gossip column.
Shetty can surprise you with an image like:
Aubergines in sets of three
Wear Greco-Roman helmets.
or, when talking of the craft, describe the poet as,
A trapped miner nurturing
Those dark hours in a pit lit only
By the faintest streak of gold.
In a recent conversation with Tishani Doshi in The Hindu, Shetty talks of Ted Hughes and DH Lawrence influencing his animal poems. However, one may discern reverberations of Sylvia Plath, Arun Kolatkar and Eunice de Souza too in the collection. To me it seems, whether willed or incidental, Manohar Shetty is the true inheritor of Kolatkar’s aesthetics in Jejuri. The unmistakable touch of Eunice de Souza is felt in lines like:
All hail the new queen –
Our voices drip
With blood and honey.
- Bee Poems
… whiskers twirling
In a patch of light, its slit,
Deadpan eyes a web of lies.
Read more: The new life of English poetry
But Shetty’s is an individual voice that succeeds in charging the aquifers of language with new metaphors, images and rhythms.
Lastly, a word of thanks and commendation to Speaking Tiger Publishing for creating a space for Indian Poetry in English and producing volumes that are a pleasure to see, hold, read and re read. However, Full Disclosure certainly needs an Index of Titles and First lines.
Smita Agarwal is a poet. She teaches at Allahabad University.