Hesitancies by Sanjeev Sethi
CLASSIX (July, 2021)
Available at Amazon
I read Hesitancies, front to back, for the first time while on vacation in the first half of August. We were relaxing in the Caribbean and reading this collection fell right into the easy groove of random associations; tied to sun, sand, rum-based beverages, and introspection. I have read it more times since then, finding many poems that resonate with me personally. I like how Sanjeev Sethi’s poetry makes me look inward while gazing into his own psyche. This collection does that well with a common thread throughout.
The title, Hesitancies, holds the clue to that thread. I note that a handful of poems (7, to be precise) have the word “hesitancies” in their texts. I appreciate the progression of the poems as biography/confession, observation, and inspiration; Sanjeev Sethi uses his personal condition to illustrate our human condition. The message throughout encourages me to overcome my own hesitancies to engage, take risks, embrace failure as the impetus to growth – and lighten up a little, laugh at myself a little, have faith!
I wanted a dialogue with the poet after my 3rd or 4th read of the collection, so I initiated one…
MH: I have had the pleasure of reviewing and selecting your poetry for Mad Swirl’s Poetry Forum since 2016. The two aspects of your style that stand out to me are your particular use of vocabulary (often I am driven to the dictionary for definition), the words you choose are typically outside my common (American) vernacular, yet when defined, inform the poem by meaning and by cadence; and, your use of the short form to communicate your message and image.
Talk about your approach to the language, about the choices you make, often outside of the common vernacular. How has your particular use of English come to be so prevalent in your work? (Note: I read work from most other poets with more rudimentary vocabularies; yours is definitely unique.) Talk about your approach to the short form; has this evolved for you over time? Has this been your choice of form from the start? Either way, tell us how so?
Sanjeev: I write the kinds of poems I like to read. Very early in my writing career, I was drawn to the short form. While reading, I never have the patience to peruse long-drawn poems. I guess as a corollary, I have chosen the short form as my medium. When the poetic thought engulfs me, it’s either an idea or the opening hook. I key it immediately and dwell on it when it calls out to me. I aim to create a little universe in the best possible manner I am equipped to do. When I am ready with it, it’s out to the world through the slush pile route.
It is the function of literature to employ language in all its possibilities. Poetry laden with an unusual word palette adds another layer to the reading experience. When in the throes of the creative process, words flow from within me. My aim is to employ the best option I can muster up then. If it is a five-star word or not is not my concern. Labels have never attracted me. It is the aptness that matters to me.
Vocabulary is a by-product of reading. I’m a severe reader: in a sense, I peruse each line and seek new words for further study. This way, I keep increasing my range, and then some of it seeps into my work.
MH: Your work primarily addresses aspects of the human condition; yours personally or ours in general. You don’t spend time in nature unless it has to do with human interaction therewith. Often your work is self-deprecating in a humorous way; sometimes confessional, exposing your vulnerabilities. How have you come to this view? Did you start with more descriptive and/or narrative modes before? Describe for us a little of your journey toward your current voice and style.
Sanjeev: I see poetry as an extension of myself. I seek it in most settings. Poems are my response to stimuli. They help me make sense of my situation. I wrestle for nuance by wrenching words and woes. Some poems dip into my emotional deposits; others document the demotic. The attempt is to arrest a moment of truth in a tasteful manner. In short, poetry is my engagement with existence.
I envy poets of yore as their poetic clay had Plantae, spaces, etc. In the kind of existence I lead in suburban Mumbai; I’m cooped up in a chilled vault. Even when I travel for work, an air-conditioned vehicle takes me to the airport, from the airport to an air-conditioned hotel. In such a scenario, there is little interaction with glens and grasslands. My life is locked in a sequence of silos where paintings embosk it for me.
So, in a sense, my poems mirror my truth: if nature is missing from my menu, it is because it has no way of entering my consciousness and hence my poems. The human condition interests me. The individuals aren’t important: their behavioral patterns are.
I began my career as a journalist. As a scribe, I was near celebs from different fields. What caught my attention was their quirkiness, and I wondered why they behaved the way they did. At some stage, I had my fill and called it quits on that front but continued as an understudy in the lab of human interactions. I guess that is why it shows up in my poems.
MH: With specific regard to Hesitancies; what time span in the evolution of your work is represented by this collection? How did “hesitancies” inform the selection and order of these poems? Is there an underlying message and/or image you wanted to communicate? And (I know how sometimes poets can be dissatisfied with a finished manuscript), are you personally satisfied with how this collection came out? Tell us why (or, why not).
Sanjeev: To answer this, I will have to offer a backgrounder. A month before Hesitancies, I had another release. Bleb was published by Hybriddreich in Scotland. In the last year or so, I have been intermittently published by Hybriddreich in various anthologies, chapbooks, and in their flagship magazine Dreich, so there is a certain comfort, and of course, mutual respect with Jack Caradoc, the dynamic editor. When I received an email from him towards the end of April 2021 asking me to send a manuscript, I jumped at the offer.
Bleb was launched on June 30, 2021. A week before its release, I received an offer with an advance royalty from Bitan Chakraborty and Kiriti Sengupta of CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal. I happily agreed and started putting across poems for Hesitancies. As anyone who the House of Hawakal has published knows, celerity is their middle name. Hesitancies was launched on July 28, 2021.
I have a vast body of published poems worldwide; all I had to do was let the selected poems flow steadily, so there is no jerk for the informed reader. A poetry book has a certain rhythm, a curve. I worked to get the correct meter. The basic premise is that these poems spoke to me the most while culling the manuscript.
Hindsight will answer the last part of your question. Every tenth poem uses hesitancies, so there are seven poems with the word. The book has a total of 78 poems. I, as a poet, am conscious of language and refrain from repeating words in a volume. In this book, I have used it as a literary trope showing the reader various kinds of hesitancies. It is the first time I have done something like this. All I know is that I made a serious effort to do the best I could; how successful I have been is for readers, literary critics, and editors like you to gauge.
By this editor’s gauge, Hesitancies is a perfect collection of journey, observation, and introspection – both for the poet and for the reader. Get yourself a copy and, I’ll say it, “Don’t hesitate!”