Wet Radio and other poems
By Goirick Brahmachari
CreateSpace Independent Publishing
August 18, 2017
Walter Pater wrote that “All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music,” and I can see how this applies to reading Wet Radio and other poems by Goirick Brahmachari. Not only are the poems about music and musical figures, but I can also hear the words as song. Some poems are incantations, prayers; some are holy visions. All are intimate and personal.
Simply said, the author has a very readable style. While the writing is searching and complex, it is fluid and comprehensible. Brahmachari tackles many different styles and cadences in language that I understand. And none of these poems put me to sleep with repetition. In fact, I was delighted by the constant shifts of meter and the unexpected subject matter. Brahmachari presents a life’s work; there are microscopic moments with cosmic significance. Make no mistake, this collection is a summation of a life. It is an epic.
The first piece, “Winter,” begins with images of loss:
my father’s face
when I lit his pyre
that only life can bring
The poem continues saying that “a hundred years of nausea / dug out on the waste of hills/ at the border.” Brahmachari conjures up a universe with his images: I can smell the kerosene, see the white robe in the sky. I see the soul of the deceased fly to another place on the bow of a thousand violins.
In the poem “Jaydeep” the author writes:
You live in books,
You are the written word,
Erased, now planted again in our songs,
Wasted. Time leaps. I count your smirks.
I follow the twists and turns of the author’s deep feelings for this person. Someone who taught him, who shared music with him. Who had exchanges of private emotion that only they would know. And yet the last line “we could have planned it better, brother,” suggests the imperfection that life is. I know I’ve shared important experiences and intimate moments with people only to have those relationships end abruptly. Life gives and life takes away. Like John Lennon said “life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans.”
Then, there is the return to music in “A river in F# minor,” the words moving like a gurgling stream:
Notes, like a river
Count death in white syllables,
Bring mist, memories
One of the things I like most about Brahmachari’s writing is the sinuousness of the language and how the words and rhythms connect with the ideas. The poem “Gamaka,” like a raga, or a John McLaughlin guitar solo, delicately threads a needle into the soul.
A turn, a curve
A body bitten by a Gamaka
A slide, a deep swipe,
of a fret-less li
Lovers stung by a Gamaka
Even before I looked up Gamaka, I was struck by the curiousness of the language and how it invited me into its world. The short lines, curving, twisting around my mind, like a snake. I read that Gamaka is a form of storytelling by singing that originated in Karnataka, India. Having listened to Carnatic music before, I recall how intensely percussive it is. The fast beats and rhythms are accompanied by acrobatic vocals that soar and thread through the intricate time signatures. But Brahmachari didn’t lecture me on Carnatic music or John McLaughlin; he pulled me into another story and into another world. I have never physically been to the world Brahmachari describes, but I knew it completely.
A sloth, a murky sun
Bleeding fingers of a Gamaka,
A wood of warmth,
that rubs your heart
A body aches in Gamaka
And like Carnatic music I’ve listened to, Brahmachari’s storytelling entranced me. It was as if the narrator was whispering in my ear only something I could hear. Something so important he had to say it with his lips pressed up against my ear.
Brahmachari manages to plant his feet in both East and West. I was never lost in his worlds. I was invited in. It felt like he sat down with me, held my hand, and then poured me a cup of tea. While he told me his stories, I felt the wind on my face. In “A Trip through Indian Classical,” I floated along his world with ease. Brahmachari handled me gently, opening his mind to me. Maybe to me only.
Nothing like a sitar floating into your ears for
hours, falling over your head and then leaking
onto your veins, cooling you from within, like
a chilly Shillong morning, like years of
solitude in rain. The table licks the space-
measures its coordinates and draws a
thousand circles in vain. It grows on you like a smoke of an incense stick that floats away
from your face in slow motion, reminding you
of sagely old men who sit by the road
smoking pot by the side of Ganga on the way
to Sarg Ashram.
Call me crazy, but I’m just in love with these poems. I want to drink and savor every word. I know exactly where I am in each poem, but I’m deliciously lost too. I’m splashing around in the Ganges, or in some river in a remote village. Maybe I’m in Innisfree or in Wonderland, or on a farm in upstate New York. It doesn’t matter. In “Bhimsen,” Brahmachari writes “Yamuna bleeds through Kairana / and disappears into a night/ that has veiled/ these solitary paddy fields.” I’m not even sure what this means, but I’m willing to get my paddle and go along for the ride. “Only a blood moon now/ can bring her back. / Time falls like a stone / into the notes of a rivereye. / Waves a thousand evenings/ a Vilambit in Darbari.”
Brahmachari is a mature poet. He has the confidence and skill not to rely on technique. There is no play with language for the sake of it. The language play and the music it evokes emerge from the mastery of the form. The final poem “Oh, what do I write,” illustrates Brahmachari’s mastery of style. Brahmachari describes himself drinking cheap vodka sitting at a busy train station. There’s even a family birthday party going on around him. Losing his professional ID, among other things perhaps, he has experienced “fierce noxious anger,” and even “jealousy and pain.” Lost in love wanted and love shunned, Brahmachari has “wasted many nights” in “hope of a new country.” The search for country is the search for the self. The search for the self is the search for country.
Like rivers, like prayers
Like fever we rose, we gave
Some balm for our eyes
Some pain for our mind
Like placing a finger on the very place
Where the pain remains
And it all runs like a night train
Inside my heavy nerves now.
Like life itself, Brahmachari doesn’t offer answers. I was left with experiences, with images and memories. At the end of this poem someone whispers deep into Brahmachari’s ears: “How to put yourself into an exile/ And then crib about it?” I was left in the same predicament. Brahmachari, the writer, was like the anonymous person in his poem. Brahmachari whispered in my ear and then vanished. Poof! Like the wind, the air, or the currents of a river.
Get your copy here, before they disappear.