Love is often the nucleus of initial attempts at poetry by poets. It is expressed in multiple forms of longing, union, grief, jealousy and, at instances, hatred. Beginning with the beloved, some poets move on to other aspects of human existence, while love remains a perennial theme for others.
Hutashan Vajpeyi’s first poetry collection, Shapes of Longing, has 150 poems that explore the subtle shades of yearning. In these verses, the blurb tells us, “love gets realized only in the longing for it”. The poet weaves a cosmos where even “angles are forbidden” from entering the “lover’s eyes”. These eyes “penetrate” the narrator “like the sword of time”. The narrator underlines the emptiness of heavens and asserts that his face resembles “the calm of ashes, after a great fire”.
In Vajpeyi’s poetic imagination, ashes is a recurring metaphor with which he builds a vivid imagery. “These poems/are logs/under which/I am putting myself/in the pyre/They will never be enough/Your eyes/have taught/Even my ashes/how to dance.”
Touched by the beloved’s gaze, the ashes break into a maddening dance. The resonance of Rainer Maria Rilke is obvious here, given that the book’s epigram is also a poem by the German master.
Vajpeyi impresses in his sublimity. In his superior creative moments, his poetry does not directly address the beloved, but is in a conversation with the external world that eventually illuminates the interior too.
Here we learn that the “desire to write” is an attempt to remember the world that was destroyed by the beloved’s gaze.
The syntax, in several instances, also betrays that the poet is still grappling with the form. There are a few trite and unhelpful phrases that Vajpeyi perhaps might wish to review later in life. “My pen/has gone mad/from longing/writing about you/No ink/will satisfy it now/it has tasted blood.”
“Don’t look/for love’s reason/in the lover’s eyes/or the beloved form/it’s like asking/the blind/to describe/the sky’s color.”
Phrases like “tasted blood” and “asking the blind to describe the sky’s color” have worn out by repeated use and don’t exactly signal the subtle shapes of longings. In the search of a poetic expression, a poet often falters and fumbles. His art lies in concealing such moments.
It comes well as a first book, evokes interest and promise too, but might not be enough to cement Vajpeyi’s place among the pantheon of major poets. Perhaps his next phase of creative endeavour will begin when he looks back at these verses and attempts to situate their position in the genre of love poetry. A silent introspection that eventually defines a young poet.
A fiction writer and journalist, Ashutosh Bhardwaj is currently a fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla