Kapur’s collected poems compellingly respond to afflictions and healing in women’s lives.
This second collection for Kapur, following Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (2015), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series; many of the poems first appeared in literary magazines while two won awards and were anthologized. Several threads weave through the book, including Hindu mythology, conversations on a crisis hotline, and the ravages of illness for both sufferer and onlooker. Much of the work addresses the corrosive ways girls are portrayed as responsible for their own rape and abuse. Drawing on the Hindu epic Ramayana, in which Sita, wife of Rama, must prove her innocence via fire ordeal after being kidnapped by a demon king, Kapur writes in her opening poem that “Every girl can be taught / her middle name is shame.” Whether ancient or contemporary, the same story prevails, as suggested by the poetic form in “Steubenville Ghazal” (referring to the 2013 Steubenville High School rape case). An Arabic poetry form dating to the seventh century, the ghazal is written in couplets that repeat an ending refrain—in this case, a preposition plus “him.” Narrated by the survivor, the building up of this phrase leads to a devastating conclusion: “My name is redacted, it no longer applies. / I end every line writing him, him, him,” just as media accounts tended to focus on harm to the promising futures of the accused.
The spareness of Kapur’s lines throughout the collection speaks of emotions that must be contained; in the hotline poems, fragmentary lines halt and hesitate across the page as the callers struggle to articulate their stories. “I wish the old me would just,” reads one unfinished, perhaps unfinishable, thought. Such lines thrum with coiled tension. Throughout, the speaker’s role is often to bear witness, sometimes in ways that can find expression only on the page. As a hotline worker, she’s been trained not to react with shock; as a hospital visitor, in the poetry cycle that gives the collection its name, she must be circumspect: “I watch the last / whip of light blurring the far bank slip away. / It will be back tomorrow. I know better than to say so.” Kapur’s craft is everywhere evident, as in these lines from “Waiting for Sleep, I Imagine Sita in Her Youth,” a poem that also uses imagery from Sita’s captivity, though the “she” in the poem could be any Indian woman: “From the window she could see / women from every corner of the city // walk into the river, disappear / then rise clean, saris soaking.” The sibilants in these lines onomatopoeically recall the rush and rinse of water, as they do in the final stanza when the speaker imagines herself with Sita in the river, “so we might both rise ready / to wring out the story.” The alliteration of window/women/walk and rise/ready/wring skillfully enacts both the connection described and the process of transforming experience through the work of art making.
Poems of craft, power, and compassion: a fine collection.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 85
Publisher: Black Lawrence Press
Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020