Subtle acts of making

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiMay 25, 2015 | 15:38

Subtle acts of making

It must be the heat. When a body is incapable of thought or movement, it is hard - I know this - to even begin to conceive of making things let alone writing poems about the process of it.

So I am unsurprised by the meagreness of the submissions this month. What I am surprised by, however, is what the poets consider 'making' in the two poems I will discuss today: one poem is about making coffee when the person who used to make it has gone; the other is a close response to the Seamus Heaney poem I used as an example in my prompt column, without actually describing any actual act of making anything.


That surprises me a little. I had imagined a greater variety in the labour described. Perhaps I had wanted grander enterprises; but urban lives call for greater attention to more subtle acts of making and after all, that is what these two poems celebrate.

In David Jairaj's poem 'Liberation Brew', the best lines are those that have nothing to with the making of coffee. He begins with an excellent line:

  • When you left, my morning coffee died.
  • For weeks I tried takeaways from shops;
  • Ill-conceived consolations. I cried.

I think 'cafes' would be a better substitute for 'shops' but the first three lines make for a good opening, making clear the state of mind in which the speaker is induced to attempt the delicate task of making a good cup of coffee.

What follows these lines is both a little sad and comic in the way the speaker displays his ineptitude: he boils a cup of water with his 'seething heart'; tries to crush the beans with his 'ailing fist' and when he 'rough[s] up a block of jaggery' you want to tell him, 'this is not the way to make coffee!' The horror! The horror!


It's not hard to see that Jairaj is attempting to transfer the anger and loss he feels to the small processes that add up to a good cup of coffee; but it's a fine balance between making that ineptitude clear and making the lines themselves sound clumsy. Jairaj doesn't quite achieve that balance, though he does find some kind of calmness at the end, sipping whatever concoction is in his 'many cracked mug' (just 'cracked' would do), watching 'A live sparrow was cooling its feet on my window sill'.

Now, sparrows don't have heels so they can't cool them, but I'm not sure how they can cool their feet either, unless it's in some kind of bird bath placed there. At any rate, their feet don't seem to have much figurative weight.

In Amlanjyoti Goswami's 'Sweat', the labour in the poem is negligible, being as it appears to be, the act of wiping sweat from the brow. What work there is, lies in the past or in some unrealised future. The poem responds closely to the Heaney poem, so its subject is digging - whether for water or oil - but the labour itself is imaginary, even invisible.


For all that, something subtle is happening in the poem, and the question of the invisibility of labour is central to it, as it is in the act of writing. This is why I say it responds closely to the Heaney poem, in that it reworks the way he relates digging to writing. Here, Goswami describes the act of wiping sweat off the brow, its mingling with a drop of rain and the question of what remains and how to detect it.

Here is the poem in full:

  • Sweat
  • Amlanjyoti Goswami
  • carve the sweat of your brow
  • dream your father's dreams
  • even the ones taken away
  • today holds no promise
  • the soil, yours to toil
  • one day, water or oil,
  • will burst and flow,
  • the salt of hope
  • drips, trickles, eddies
  • the clutch of your palm
  • and if, there was never, any
  • water, if the day went by,
  • invisible as you, and as solitary
  • you still dug at something!
  • the raindrop, fallen,
  • asks the line, blurred,
  • isn't there something else here?
  • and the line replies,
  • a touch pensive,
  • yes, if you can still feel it.

There are some entries I have not discussed because they did not have even a tenuous link with the prompt. But for those who submitted, thank you and I hope you will continue to write.

The Sideways Door will return in early June with a new prompt. Do look out for it and submit.  

Last updated: May 25, 2015 | 15:38
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