A decade ago, I discovered a poetry journal named nether on Flipkart. Founded by four postgraduate students of literature at Bombay University, the journal provided a much needed platform to highlight contemporary voices from our vibrant poetry scene, and included some immersive interviews with the poets as well. nether published six print issues and sixteen fortnights (online issues) over their lifetime, and then disappeared without a trace.
One of the best pieces of news I've read during these awful days of 'doom-scrolling' is that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, nether is coming back! An effort spearheaded by two of the founding editors - Divya Nadkarni and Avinab Datta-Areng - the journal is back for a digital relaunch!
When Avinab wrote to me regarding a collaboration, all I could think of was exposing readers to the diversity and richness of the poems I read and experienced a decade ago. So I dug into the nether archives, and put together a special edition for you, with these gorgeous illustrations by Ishita Dasgupta.
Botany by Ranjit Hoskote (Nether, Issue 1)
Prickly garden where voices flower and run to seed:
this conversation could go up in a sheet of flame
any time, any leaf could be a bait, any tendril
a booby trap. Watch your words, and hers, theirs,
and all your stranded thoughts. Clove and mandrake
open the mouths of your mind, all dialogue here
is rolling transcript for a police state:
check the names for shadows, the verbs for stains,
turn connoisseur of signs, yogi, give nothing away
except your deep-shelved archive of silences.
nether started a podcast!
A reading from the Nether Archives by Ranjit Hoskote, followed by a conversation with the editors about a decade in writing poetry, "bearing witness" to history, literary traditions, the lyric, and more, including readings of two poems from his most recent book The Atlas of Lost Beliefs.
Past and Future Words by J J Steinfeld (Nether, Issue 2)
First thing in the morning
even before breakfast
and the three cups of coffee
opening up the day
to misnamed visions
and mangled complaints
that will make up your day
and lead to thoughts best
not thought or recorded
you utter an improper prayer
half parody, half solemn
not very prayerful
but as necessary
Then the coffee
one after another
wondering if today
will be the day
when you glimpse
and describe the absurdity
of your nearly every task
and secret desire
with perfectly formed words
stolen from the past
and hurled to the future.
Highrises by Adil Jussawalla (Nether, Issue 3)
Birds speeding past our balconies
as though they meant to land a message
on them, but missed, always missed,
continue showing off their skills
well in view, as if to tell us
we got the metaphor wrong,
that, though flight and height is what
they taught us groundlings to envy –
whole tribes of us high on firm wings now –
such frozen bird’s-eye views,
such fear between the wing-tips
is not what they meant.
Eulogy by Sonia Sarkar (Nether, Issue 4)
Pear time lullaby
Cup stoicism in both hands lightly
Like a dandelion poised to self-destruct
Blow out the seeds, 500 candles
Illuminate a life of winged-tip regret
Brought to bear in crystallized
Relief: an infant with cheeks
Like moonbirth is now
An infant devoured by cosmos
He is quietly waiting for the saffron
Glaze of the sun to carry him
Efficient cremation of the outer bay
Burned to a crisp by memory
Undertow by Arun Sagar (Nether, Issue 5)
It tugs at you occasionally
as you put down the phone, or
step out of a dingy bookshop
into April sunlight, an undertow
of what you have just left behind
or whom you spoke to. It's like
wading to the shore, your skin
full of sand and salt, although
here it is the unfamiliar
element you clamber into, dripping.
And so you wander through the day's
crowded beach, with its umbrellas
and ice-cream stands, soon forgetting
what it was you felt, distracted
by a girl in blue, or cockleshells,
or crabs mating out of season, until night
floods in wherever you are, miles beyond
where you thought it could reach, over-
powering you, scraping your knees against
the scattered rocks, taking you deeper.
Nether is a non-profit literary collective of writers looking to spread out and build a plexus of more writers/ artists in India and across. It is a quarterly magazine focused on all the potential variations in the sphere of contemporary writings. The poems were curated by Rohini Kejriwal, founder of The Alipore Post.