To every lost traveller

by G. Akila

(Shobhana Kumar’s A Sky Full of Bucket Lists, Red River, 2021)

When a book begins with this dedication, it includes every reader, every path.

Shobhana Kumar’s collection is fashioned like a stage play introducing characters who play their part and the scenes keep shifting from one facet of life to another. On a macro level, the scenes are the ordinary zones – personal, professional, life in general, the world around. But Shobhana zooms into these general segments with anecdotal narratives tossed with some breathtaking haiku.

The book is divided into six sections, each one beginning with a stage play working like an opening scene; each one ending with a haiku that sets the ball rolling for each section.

The first haiku in the first section Motif preambles the collection in the spirit of haibun – to see and sense the ‘out of the ordinary’.

always different
always the same
sea sounds

Tell me if you are not transported to the seaside – water surfing, spuming, rushing.

Pain – an abstract word in haiku takes a definitive structure, so does coping, forgetting, suffering, loss, acceptance, silence. In the haibun Masterstroke, music and paints metaphor schizophrenia before lulling into a symptomatic silence. The haibun Lethologica stands out with crisp one-line narratives. Their subtlety balanced by three haiku. It is a description without words, questions without answers, the lack of it opens in the haiku stating the state as is. To quote a small part:

It just hurts, you say.
this dark cloud
without rain

The abstractness of the continuing hurt images out in the haiku as a dark cloud that does not rain.

The multiple points of link and shift syncs into one deft narrative in minimal words.

In the second section Within, the poet explores role-plays.

size nine
so many miles
in the same shoes

A collection of haibun that accentuates a reader’s delight with crisp narrative and the right balance of link and shift elevates the reading experience with some well-crafted experiments; be it in the form of narrative in the haibun One Hour 35 minutes or haiku. One such haiku is included in the piece titled ‘Charade’. The principle character in this piece battles her anxiety and confidence to take on her long cherished whim before receding back. Quoting one line and a haiku as an example:

Friends tell her the character is anything but her. On the verge of giving up.

the 		lengthening
       of	  meandering

Like form poetry, there are a few experiments with haiku adding a new dimension to the haiku and widening the perspective of the prose. This is one of the simplest examples in this collection.

Few more experimental haiku that have elevated the accompanying prose-narrative are:

flying over clouds thoughts of youandme a l o n e

the elimination of space in youandme and the half space created within the word ‘alone’ brings out the contrast and the contradiction.

broken remote control memories pause
at fast forward
the spacing in this ku creates the space for the surprise of the second line.

It is not easy to experiment in a genre which has a defined form and few rules to work with. Even more when it steps out of its traditional garb of representation. This is not the first time in contemporary works but there is always a first time for the writer or poet. The gentle, endearing narrative in this collection supplements that risk of craft.

The third section ‘Conversations’ rolls out with this ku.

which is the path
that goes home

Conversations that are not always the ones in direct speech but also the loud voices playing in our head, the unspoken, the unchartered, the unknown, be it memory, experience, action or simply the state of being, be it with the self or other.

‘Grimm’ remains a memory, ‘Maya’ is poignant, ‘Wishbone’ and ‘Wings’ carry innocence. ‘Dichtomy’, in this section, is a powerful piece that captures the ironies of human gender and existence and ‘In Passing’ is cathartic. All the colours of a possible conversation that ends with:

into        random       thoughts–
laughing thrush

The section ‘Work’ takes a multi spoke view; Of survival in ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘Alien’, of pursuit of rights in ‘Post-Mortem’, of choices in ‘Remorse’ and ‘Transit’, of dreams in ‘Spaces’ and a kind of soliloquy in ‘Infontinence’.

between orange and pink
a sky full
of bucket lists

this haiku is a well-executed verse for this section that captures a bit of irony, reality and a dreamy disposition,

The section ‘Streets’ hinges on the senryu.

a pigeon flies into
some fiction

The poet has deftly roped in the pigeon to tie the abstract in first and third lines. Pigeon is the most commonly spotted bird in a cityscape and I could not think of replacing the pigeon with a crow or a sparrow.

The piece ‘Oliver’ is a classic example of a title’s contribution to a haibun that deals with hunger and hungry for more ending with a poignant two-line haiku.

window shopping
the cart spills over

The title nails the narrative and holds onto the juxtaposition of the haiku.

The last section ‘Beyond’ is an extension of this collection that steps out of the simple present. It is a section that dwells in loss, the inevitable, the pain and the form it chooses to remain as memory.

lost in thoughts
an autumn leaf dances
to its fall

This haiku stood out for me both as an epitome of this section and its craft. The absence of a dash or ellipsis in line one cleverly weaves a space to accept more than a single protagonist in this verse.

Each of the sections overlaps with the other in many ways almost blurring the lines of distinction but relevant to the theme of this collection. Shobhana Kumar’s narratives are gentle, honest and sensitive. A special word for the book cover with just the right amount of space in a journey of haibun. A lost traveller would love to lose himself again in these anecdotal pages.

G.Akila writes free verse, haiku and haibun. Her poems have found a home in reputed online and print anthologies; few of them are forthcoming. She has also presented her poetry at literature festival readings and TEDx.

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