Perface of Atunis Anthology – 2020
Readers of poetry have a weather eye for the new, young talents whose work ensures the serious continuance of an art that is possibly vulnerable from being too little read. Slightly surprisingly, it always arrives, robust with the strange fusion of ambitious intent and self-effacement that serious artistry requires. It is true that, occasionally, there is premature praise from critics and committees of judges, if eagerness at some newness overtakes more lasting considerations of artistic reach and achievement. This is of course unhelpful as feedback, and it patronises the reading public, some of whom might (out of the corner of an eye) already be seeing a fair amount of puffery across the poetry industry. Still, that said, the poems in this anthology impress me as having a true distinction in quality and, personally, they move me. The eclecticism instated by the modernists almost a century ago permeates the work of each poet here. They are great celebrators of ordinary particularities, in context with the world’s larger patchwork of ideas and histories. And this is compatibly postmodern, a term that is still useful to designate how the characteristic mingling of perspectives in modern arts is now general across all manner of media. A flexibility of attitudes typifies many of the best contemporary artists, and it comes out in poetry that often is boldly individuated in voice, style and point of view. The poets anthologised here have grown up with the effects of instant global communication. The raw pressures and creative potentials in diversity are their psyche’s home territory. Dialogical nimbleness is, as you would expect, prominent in their poetry. And quite as potent here is a confidence in art’s other pole, of being still. It is served by a kind of unselving. In these poems, even when part of the topic is personal identity,the personal pronouns that hold sets of emotion and thought together tend to do so very lightly. The momentum of the poem is not so much inward, towards a presented self, as outward to a world and its mysteries, of being and of language. If I were to generalize about the poets in this remarkable anthology, I would want to say something about the tone of this book. There is noticeably a common voice or approach. This is not a collection of vatic lyrics or dissociated rambles. The poems are often set at a middle dis- tance, in a voice aware that it is speaking, pondering, puzzling, but alert as well to impulses that are unspoken or shocking. These are poets who have read, and who expect their readers also to have read. The poetry of the recent and distant past sometimes functions as a scaffolding but is rarely the excuse for a poem. These poets use their reading; they don’t flaunt it. They like history, lore, facts, the kinds of details that annex new territory for the imagination to explore. And this gives their poems—of whatever length—a valuable amplitude. Facts, stubborn facts also prompt an informing irony and often a certain wryness. When these poets write of the personal life, they are never merely private. The ordinary pleasures and terrors of the domestic life reace out sensibly for moral dimensions and weight. The “personal” does not lie behind but upon a work of art: not Turner lashed to the mast in order to experience the storm at sea he will translate into a chaos of colors, but his fingerprint still visible today in the glob of pigment applied to make the sun that drove that storm aside. Some of these poets would be called formalists, others not. But all of them are craftsmen rather than bards. They know how to knead and turn, glaze and fire. Their sense of poetic form is less the virtuosic display than the sign of care being taken to shape a thought or ease an emotion into unexpected consequences. They have tried, in other words, and with astonishing success, to avoid writing what is called “tempo- rary poems.” Above all, there is no sense here of improvisation, of things written about just because they were come upon. As Yvor Winters once wrote, “Poetry is the most difficult form of human utterance; we revise poems carefully in order to make them more nearly perfect. . . . We do not praise a violinist for playing as if he were improvising; we praise him for playing well. And when a man plays well or writes well, his audience must have intelligence, training, and patience in order to appreciate him. We do not understand difficult matters ‘naturally’.” As the editor of a journal, I read thousands of new poems every year. Most of them, as you might guess, are earnest or awkward, sleek or turgid. Invariably, though, from the miasma of smudged paper, the genuine poem leaps out, and asks for a true judgment. I have my own intuitive criteria, but as often as not I am happy to yield to those Elizabeth Bishop once recommended as the markers of a good poem: accuracy, spontaneity, and mystery. These are precisely the characteristics of the poems in this book. Accuracy is not literalism or pedantry; it is the ability to see and describe things as, at first glance or second thought, they truly are. Spontaneity is not improvisation or loafing; it is a fresh apprehension of the uneven textures of life. Mystery is not profundity or spirituality; it is the ability of a poem to clear space for what couldn’t before have been anticipated, even by the poem itself—the passing thought or startling image that makes a thrilled reader stop and wonder. This is what good poems do. This is what ATUNIS ANTHOLOGY does. You are holding now a whole new world of thought and feeling. Reading it will make it yours, will change your sense of what is possible and necessary. Plato, when he met Socrates, immediately burned his own poems. I am not suggesting you do that. I am suggesting you read these new poets, poets who question how we know what is familiar. You will not want to burn the poems you admire. You will want to add these to them.
Sunita Paul, Founder AABS Publishing House, Kolkata, INDIA