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5 poems from Annus Horribilis by Avinab Datta Areng

Annus Horribilis, a debutant’s collection of poems, is out today. Written by Avinab Datta-Areng, who has been the recipient of the Charles Pick fellowship for fiction from the University of East Anglia and the Vijay Nambisan Fellowship for poetry, the book is an ensemble of impressionistic poems.

The collection deals with the violence of thinking, alone. The voice in these poems cover a range of subjects, such as mental health, drug use, relationships, family, friendship, external disintegration, the labour of loving, being loved and of caring.

On the headspace that these poems emerged from, Avinab says:

"A majority of the poems in the book were written in the past decade, during a period of time which is almost a self-induced blur for me. My mental health was in the pits, while I kept drinking, abusing substances, which is probably a common trajectory of a lot of people. The poems are the only moments that I had some semblance of focus and life - both while I was writing them and later when I would revisit them, which is when I could trace a rough outline of everything I was largely trying to forget. A map of that time and the past that came before it. I think the dominant emotion would be desperation (but what do I know?) - to have some record, some composure, to confront a lot of things somehow, or have something to hold on to by which an individual could look or someday make their way to the present and try to make sense of everything."

Having previously collaborated with Avinab and his incredible literary journal nether here, here, here and here, I have always found inspiration in his love for poetry and the work he has done for contemporary poets in India. But to enter this poignant, often dark collection of verses that seem to show a deep connection with nature and the workings of the world, showed me who he is as a poet.

Five of my favorite poems to give you a taste of the collection:


Sunlight and anxiolytic flora

drink themselves silly.

An eastern pinch of sky blurts

like it forgot to take its pills.

The worm has wept

all Sunday while you were

reading the newspaper.

Of watering the taste of a fleck

of midnight fruit between your teeth.

Of the hummingbird, disturbed

by the sound of hideous undressing,

again leaving the portrait

of uncut happiness

unfinished in the whorl.

Mist rises towards

the balcony and leaves

a trace on the rails.

M is in the kitchen rinsing

the stained cloth.

Wind bends a shrub,

exposing its mangled roots.

An unsettling wave of sound

rises from the valley:

like it’s time to hear

what has made through.

Clouds rushing in like the early

death of someone you never knew.


On My Way to the Anatomy Museum

Already the swans were

paddling insatiably towards my heart on the promenade.

They wanted to take turns,

stretch my heart,

wear it over their heads like a balaclava.

I was aware

that it might be unsafe to walk out

of the house exposed like that, inside out.

But given where I was

going to, it came naturally.

This was what I was inside, these were my possessions.

How entrancing the sycamore fanning

my cerebrum, how exhilarating to have

the hummingbird hover above my aorta.

To walk past the bridge, ignoring

the ominous graffiti, past the concrete

steps, leaping over the turnstile,

my blood lighting up the living offices,

possessed by a prenatal revery, but aware

this doesn’t necessarily change anything.

To declare: here I am, I’m ready.

There is something inside me,

I have preserved its secret by not uttering it.



All night the cat wails beyond the door.

Our bed surrounded by empty glasses like marrows.

Someone was being pulled out of her house by her hair;

someone turned to a face and sucked in a fist of ice.

From the phone tower sleeping kites fell one by one.

First touch. Marsh crackling then engine then flutter then orphan noise. Our sense of danger rests under our ribs like a bowl

of leaves. Wind fucking mirrors. Should we rise

and stir our own séance, our haloed air? Who knows us?

The morning news is now irreversible.

Who knows us? These sheets do. They don’t move away.

We keep lying and eat the dark.


Ode to My Panic Attack

You wake each day within

a peach or half-buried

blade with the feeling

that something is simultaneously

preserving and fucking

you, a thought

so naive and clear like god

thinking of themselves, before the first

fuchsias or baby-blue eyes,

the ones now cowering

with the grace of nothing’s will

as you refract past.

Between giving in this time (to hell

with trying to get better any more)

and convalescing without any work,

there’s a blue begging

that still wants to know . . .

But you are not in you any more. You are being

passed along to camouflage

the braindead cirrus, bitter phantom

of eucalyptus struck by lightning. You climb

the ringing green meadow, it doesn’t

go away. The breathing

doesn’t stop, it’s what you think

you want, it’s everywhere,

the breathing doesn’t stop.


The Hare

How dare you live here

in another country

without knowing me?

Carefully, on the dead grey

tufts, not the green

of the eye’s back.

They often pass

through the university, only

to, no, never to have their history

kissed on the board!

How he came to

my feet, then sprang

back to the rock, which

was also a hare.

And before leaving

he said to me: If you

cannot sleep,

then hear me living,

I too came here to hide.


About the poet:

Avinab Datta-Areng currently lives in Goa. He’s been a recipient of the Charles Pick fellowship and the Vijay Nambisan fellowship. He’s also the editor of nether. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Annus Horribilis here.


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