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.
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
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.