Thursday 24 April 2014

Book Review - Collection of Chaos by Tikuli

From chaos emerge new paths’, says Tikuli, as she introduces us to her poetry and her book, aptly named, ‘Collection of Chaos’. When you begin reading the verses contained within, you understand why this name. Not just because the author admits it was the ‘swirling chaos’ of her personal life that gave birth to this poetry, but also because each verse penned manages to bring forth the exact turbulence that it intended to. Such is Tikuli’s skilful style and thus rendered the emotions and moods behind each piece. 

The book ‘Collection of Chaos’ carries an unconventional structure. None of the poems have been titled and one page flows into the next, as if in seamless continuation even if the theme of the next poem is different from the one before it. Perhaps, this signifies chaos? Imagine, a battalion of verses coming at you without any method, without any reason to make you pause. Like a chaos of thoughts themselves, one after another. Similarly, the form of individual poems is unconventional too in keeping with the disturbance around. Single words as whole sentences, or even whole paragraphs. Six words as a poem or a sudden 60 traversing two pages. In this unpredictable structure lies one of the most important ways in which Tikuli paints Chaos in our minds. And to get the moods-behind-the-poems across. 

What are the poems about? About the dark underbelly of city life and the dreariness of the country’s. Poem after poem, Tikuli explores bitter truths of social existence. She shuttles between controlled rage and uncontrollable empathy to draw vivid but disturbing pictures of conflict and chaos – both within beings and around them too. The poetry is not pleasant, and neither is it kind. It was not born to delight but to shock you out of your comfort zone. Her recurrent imagery is of black crows, crushed flowers, shadows, solitude and silence. Tikuli writes about refugees and loneliness, martyrdom, mad women, farmer suicides and honour killing. She removes the veil off wifedom and even shows us the mind behind prostitution. There are labourer women and those being abused in plush settings. Old age and widowhood. Emotional infidelity, divorce and even rape. Yes, like I said, these poems are not kind. They are too real to care to be polite. Much like some of Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry. Like his ‘Hunger’, for instance, which I read so many years back but which refuses to leave me for the stark reality it threw at me, and which this poetry reminded me of.

Some things I found particularly interesting, and you may too. The placement of Children, the over-arching feminist angle, the use of Nature and finally the play of Contrasts. 

It is interesting how Tikuli brings in children into her scenes. In a poem about ‘bone coloured sky’ and ‘parched earth, baked brown. Fields, dust bowls’, a scene of drought, perhaps, she says:

‘On a scorched tree –
A body hangs.
A child’s striken eyes,
Not really understanding,
keep a watch.
A vulture
awaits his chance.

In another place, 
A little boy stands alone
On the banks of Ganges,
his head shaven clean
Waiting for a crows touch,
for deliverance of his father’s soul’

In Tikuli’s poetry, children are neither the perpetrators nor the direct sufferers. They are mute spectators to violence and blood, rites and rituals and aspects of society they either don’t understand or know not how to respond to. Is the poet trying to remind us of our Tomorrows’ eyes watching the carnage, with the incipient fear that they may carry it into the future? 

The second idea is the predominance of the female presence. Tikuli’s poetry makes no attempt to veil her inclinations – that of creating verse upon verse to poetically document the Female Experience. Women – their wronged bodies and broken hearts, suffocating roles and helpless lives – are what keeps the poet’s pen occupied. So much so, the men automatically become conspicuous by their absence. Actually, they are not absent, but are present – as the perpetrators, the deceivers and the wrong-doers. The poems are sung by a female voice and aim only to give voice to women. Somewhat like Adrienne Rich?  

If we were to divide the book, roughly, into three parts, we see how the first and last part is only dark and chaotic whereas in the middle lies bright sunlight too. Tikuli gathers within her painting the world of animals too. You know, somewhat like the technique of Pathetic Fallacy, attributing human emotions to all things that make up nature too. These handful of verses right in the heart of the book stand in direct contrast to what the reader has witnessed till now. And all of them are deliciously imagined and penned. A banyan tree ‘standing tall … holds the cosmos in its canopy, a centre for life – insects, snakes, birds and humans’ and where ‘children play’. To nature we can turn for relief, seems to be the message in the riot of green introduced within all the grey, all too suddenly. Unlike the Romantics, who deified nature largely, Tikuli celebrates aspects of it which lie in our kitchen slabs or grow in our gardens. An organic whole of which humans and animals are part and parcel. Such verses are full of visual beauty and flowers, fruits, ‘marmalade skies’ and ‘sunburst margarita’ seem to signify fertility and growth, satiety, love and even happiness, actually. 

Love and Happiness? Not something one would imagine to find within the folds of this book, wrought with a lot of imagery from bad marriages, separation, infidelity and even sexual abuse. But Kris Saknussemm does prepare us for ‘a powerful sense of hope at work’ in her introduction to the book. Throughout the book, as you go from page to page, you see how for every 5 lines full of despair, in comes one pointing to hopefulness. Usually a fleeting sense of bright, but there. A woman is killed by a mob, like a witch hunt maybe. Tied to a tree she is stoned to death. And ‘her eyes closed forever, relieving her of the misery of being a woman’, and there is positive deliverance in death. A mad woman is always mocked near the village square, but ‘she rejoices in a life well spent,’ rising above the crowd, mocking their lives in turn. A labourer woman, mother, poor, but ‘in her vacant eyes an abstract dream of four walls and a roof,’ daring to dream. 

And this leads me to the play of contrasts in 'Collection of Chaos’. Tikuli admits the poetry was born out of chaos, thus metamorphosing chaos itself into something that can feed creativity, or give birth to poetry…

From the
Incessant dust
From the doors
Closed forever
Poems burst forth

Remember Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’? He said-

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

Rich and poor, city and village, fertility and barrenness, chaos and creativity, and finally a breathtaking spiral downwards between words and silence near the end of the book are just some of the contrasts Tikuli works around. The poetry in this book arises from and breathes between them. Like:

Canvas of snow
A raven adds colour
Yin and yang

How ‘contraries’ are important to move ahead, to understand, to assimilate, perhaps to even realize the good parts of life, to celebrate. Why, I can almost imagine Yeats’s Theory of the Gyres – how in the death of a civilization lies the very seed for its birth too. And this to me remains the most beautiful aspect of this book.     

I see two problems with the compilation though. One, even as the title-less format adds to the effect of the mood the book is talking in, it can become confusing. Most poems begin and end on a single page. But some don’t. Which means, you may close the book not knowing the same poem continues on the next page. I wonder how many will find this format convenient to read the book over multiple sittings. Secondly, the idea of men being the perpetrators in multiple situations comes to me too strongly, and if I may say so, bordering on the prejudicial. The book voices the feminine, only, to the extent of silencing the other side of the story. I continue a little disturbed on this front. 

The poetry in ‘Collection of Chaos’ must be read. For those who enjoy structural unconventionality in poetry coupled with bold issues usually made invisible, this book offers a most mature poetry. For those who like it lyrical and light, the verses on nature will leave a permanent impression on your minds. And for some others who like to take it slow, to read a poem a day, know that each poem of this book is like a world in itself – offering you thoughts to think and maybe ideas to pen even. I got mine! 

The last verse of the book: 
Unlit words
In the shadows
Of your silence
Luminous within

… points to an awakening. A sense of something to come. A fire smouldering to burst forth. Perhaps, another collection, Tikuli?

Titile: Collection of Chaos
Author: Tikuli
Publisher: Leaky Boot Press


  1. This will be cherished for life Sakhi. I do not have words to express how much I love this review. The first proper review of my debut book. Thank you so much for reading, understanding and bringing it out for others to take notice. Means a world to me.
    Yes, not giving titles was a mistake but one learns a step at a time.
    I write from my experiences and by observing what's around me. Many people tell me to cut down on angst in my work but that's what I have seen and experienced even in the sweetest moments of love and happiness. They have always been effervescent. Love and all the very best to you. You Rock.

    1. And I do not have words to express how happy it makes me to see you like my impressions of your work, and even to graciously realise how the title-less format could be problematic.
      That you write from experience and observation shows. And if you are being true to your thoughts, even if it is angst which pours through, I say so be it. :)
      All the best for all your writing, Tikuli. It is good to know you! :)

  2. Wonderful. Sakshi, I really love Tikuli's book and your review does it justice. I want to read it again

    1. Good to hear that from someone who has read the book already.
      Thanks you! :)

    2. An attentive, thoughtful review of an intense book of soulful poetry.

    3. Very happy to see you read this, John. Thank you. Indeed, 'an intense book of soulful poetry'!

    4. Thank you John and Ritu. This is very encouraging. Sakshi I can't thank you enough. Love.

  3. I am not a poetry fan. But your review is certainly making it sound compelling. It seems to have very intense thought play.

    1. It is deep, and deeply disturbing. But in that lies its relevance. How art is imitating life here and bringing it to you uncensored.
      Thank you for reading, Jas. I love your reviews and I feel happy when you read mine.

  4. Terrific analysis, Sakshi. :)

  5. Not for me , I am not that intelligent to understand it all ...


    1. :) You are an honest man. But poetry doesn't require intelligence to enjoy. It just requires a mind which wants to enjoy it. :)

  6. I am in love with your words just as much as I love Tikuli's poems. What a beautiful and an indepth review. Your review is like a poetry itself :)

    1. What a nice thing to say and a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you so so much, Rajlakshmi.

  7. I am not a poetry kind of person, but this is a very good book. I first bought it because Tikuli is a friend, but I often read a few lines for the depth of emotion. Brilliant review Sakshi

  8. Your review mesmerized me, did the glimpse of this 'Soulful' composition.

    Waiting it to reach me. Tikuli is such a brilliant writer and so are you :)

    Kudos to both and Good luck !!


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