Shanta Acharya, What Survives Is the Singing – review

The title of Shanta Acharya’s What Survives Is the Singing suggests a central difference between it and the other two books (Wing, by Matthew Francis, and The Martian’s Regress by J O Morgan). In them, general ideas arise by implication from particulars. In it, general ideas are the overt driving force. This approach limits the reader’s freedom of imagination and response. Its advantage is the sheer intensity of passion or acuteness of realization it can produce. One very strong poem is ‘Can You Hear Our Screams’, a haunting catalogue of femicide violence starting with the rape and murder of an eight year old girl (Asifa Bano, murdered in Kashmir). Variations of the poem’s title appear every six lines, creating a powerful rhetorical momentum, as does a cascade of verbs, largely in the passive voice because the poem is about the these women and girls are subjected to violence of different kinds. The writing is vivid, concrete, unadorned and alive –

A chirping bird who ran like a deer
was how her mother described the eight-year-old
whose broken body was found in the bushes.

There’s a great deal of anguish in the book. Some springs from human cruelty and folly, as in the graphic poems on honour killing and genital mutilation, bull fighting and a street stabbing. Some reflect the way sadness and pain, whether physical or mental, are unavoidably threaded into life.

Against wrong and pain, Acharya pits ‘the singing’ in many senses – literal, joy-bringing birdsong in ‘Woodpecker’ and ‘Spring In Kew Gardens’, poetry and other expressions of the creative impulse in other poems and, most widely, intense feelings of joy or love or oneness with the universe. Some of these poems seem to me not to succeed completely, not giving sufficient imaginative body to their argument, even though they contain brilliant individual lines and phrases. However, the reward of Acharya’s courage in writing a poetry that whole-heartedly seeks moments of visionary rapture comes in pieces like ‘Day The Clouds Came Home’, a simultaneously religious and earthly celebration of water as the great bringer of life, joy and hope to plants, animals and men. The climax is the breaking of a nameless woman’s waters. Here, the cosmic, the communal and the utterly personal, the gut-emotional and the visionary are marvellously fused:

a promise splashed across the horizon,
turning into tears to brighten the eyes,
holy water to leaven the soul, water that kissed
our lips, leaving us laughing, crying –
in an astonishment of meaning.

What Survives Is The Singing by Shanta Acharya. Indigo Dreams Publishing, 24, Forest Houses, Cookworthy Moor, Halwill, Beaworthy, Devon EX21 5UU. 82pp.; £9.99

I would like to thank Patricia Oxley for permission to post this review, which appeared in Acumen 97.



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