Mandira Pattnaik, Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople (Fahmidan Publishing, 2022)
‘Ιn eerily muddled prescient thoughts | of an eventual doom’… Mandira Pattnaik welcomes her reader to her debut poetry collection. Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople is, in the poet’s own words, a snapshot of ‘small-town India’ and ‘the changing dynamics of my country’.
In a climate crisis, catastrophe is never far from the poetic surface. In a recent interview with Fevers of the Mind, Mandira explained how climate-focused writing was her most meaningful. The fragility and necessity of climate writing quickly asserts itself on the collection. In the opening poem, the ‘lashing undue storm’ and ‘jingling leaves barely clinging to discordant branches’ give a sense of natural systems at tipping point.
Punctuation is thrown off course too: after the storm,
, praying again, for
an indulgent rain.
In a turbulent landscape, however, some pre-determined roles remain. ‘I scoop the soil in our backyard | as wives are expected to do’ the poet muses in ‘forever afternoon’. Yet even here, not everything is as it seems. When she plants seeds, she is ‘not dreaming of plucking fruits, | only a shade from the punishing sun’.
Motherhood is cleverly associated with climate breakdown in ‘Parturition’. The ‘three years of clinic visits | and three failed cycles’ bestow an ambiguity upon the miracle of new life. The hope of ‘a tiny fist in my palm, a heart | within ours’ is born of a broken cycle: as one reality ends so another begins.
Such interactions between different times and places are where Mandira is at her most perceptive. In ‘now and beyond’, she calls ‘the history of tomorrow’ the place where we ‘hang our wobbly world’. The present is constantly moving and the reader – disoriented, disturbed, delighted – must also adapt to a poetic landscape in constant flux.
Narrative heft intermingles seamlessly with lyrical flourishes. One minute, ‘Mum was struck | off the payroll’; the next ‘The beach was a cake, freshly baked’. Dreams are ‘scattered volcanic islands on placid lakes’. The poet revels in ‘lavender sky and candy clouds’. Abstract and concrete images team up in one of the collection’s best poems, ‘A River Name’: ‘While on a walk round the garden you | tended, I discover a tapestry of your thoughts…’.
Mandira’s keen descriptive eye and vivid imagery convert the twists and turns of doubt into an enriching journey. Navigating ‘the fog of | yesterday’ and ‘the palm of tomorrow’ could be a précis of the ongoing COP27 negotiations. Her climate warning is stark – and her poems are a reminder of the beauty and richness of life on our planet.
Mandira Pattnaik, Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople (Fahmidan Publishing, 2022). Available to pre-order here.