(By Akhil Katyal)
All the Worlds Between
By Ed. K. Srilata & Fiona Bolger
The two editors of this book, Indian and Irish, say that the seed of this book was sown when they met in 2015 while “chatting about their writing over a cup of hot ginger tea”. They wondered about ways to bring together writer friends, beginning a quirky collaborative poetry project involving 23 poets from India and Ireland.
The collection starts with a starling poem Synchronicity by the Irish Maurice Devitt, which is also fittingly the book’s epigraph. It captures the odd and unpredictable ways in which two places or two people can come together, something which the book also attempts. It is a little gem and merits to be quoted in full:
When I finished the jigsaw
I noticed that one piece
was missing. Little did I know
that you, in another town,
had risen to the grumble
of morning, a reluctant kettle
and, through the kitchen window,
one luminous cloud, patched
onto an otherwise unspectacular sky.
The editors have spun a collection around this sparkly idea of synchronicity. They have made something of all the meaningful coincidences that can happen between two different places or people, brought together poets who did not know each other, instigated conversations and then left them alone to let the magic happen. When it does, it is searing, like with the collaboration between Bombay’s Adil Jussawalla and the Irish Sue Butler, who lives in a cottage on a European coastline.
In thinking about what Butler’s poetry enabled for his own, Jussawalla says that she “has made me aware of a way of living that I miss — at ground level, close to nature — having spent more than 40 years of my life in a highrise”. Jussawalla is wrapping his Bombay head around the pastoral: “her weatherboard cottage, the salt marsh it overlooks, her gardening and the seasons that shape it”. Now, having let Butler’s world sneak into his imagination, these become his ‘perspectives’ as well.
This new-found high-rise nostalgia for surer ground precipitates a poem that is tender and soaked in longing. In From the 61st Floor, someone has given up on “her dream”. She’s been bitter about the “nouveau riche upstarts” whose taller apartments “steal her view”. She’s decided to “order some blinds, / some weed, and be done”. But at the end of Jussawalla’s poem, “she waits” still.
She lets the past happen to her, aching for the surer footing of a lost love, of a ground now unapproachable. This is the serendipity of literary collaborations. That a Bombay poet finds a new poem for his mega-city through someone living on a sparse European coastline is wonderful. In her poem Spite, Butler is escaping a love which was only a “tether, staked to keep me circling”, and finally at the end of her poem, she walks “east to steal/my story a sail”. This project lets the poets thieve from each other’s imaginations. When they let in someone else’s words into themselves, they write what they could not have written on their own.