Kavita A. Jindal reviews a collection of poetry that explores the notion of disrupted connectivity.
Yogesh Patel, The Rapids (The London Magazine Editions, 2021), 94pp.
From birds in Africa which sing of sweet worms to lost whales in the Thames to tales from Hindu and Greek mythology, Yogesh Patel dives headlong into his learning and journeys from his origins to the present. The rush of words that whirl in his head whenever he sees something that resonates forms the germ of these poems, many of which have been further crafted into the new poetic form that gives title to his most recent collection, The Rapids. The rules of the form, invented by Patel, are explained in the book, but in essence the form is a 5-1 sestet of short lines, and the idea is to express a disrupted connectivity as well as use folklore or myths to convey grand themes. The form utilises gaps between words for emphasis and through which meanings are to be taken.
Patel has a complicated backstory featuring journeys from Kenya to India, and then to-ing and fro-ing from the UK, where he was sent as a “foreigner” by the Indian authorities. He was a British citizen born in Kenya but was also deemed “foreign” on landing in the UK (despite clutching his British passport). He was denied entry at first, returned to India, and sent back again. He was imprisoned at Harmondsworth a second time before being let go to settle in the UK. This unknown history of some of the British Asians from Africa is only now being discussed.
At the age of eight Patel was sent for his safety from his childhood home in Kenya to live with his grandfather in India. In this collection, it seems that those three weeks on a ship in solitude at a tender age continue to play out for him:
The loneliness wants to take me
to a park in Surat where grandpa
is not holding my hand anymore
grandma was gone I was there
Not every Dora gets Kafka’s
Letters They wait in the attic…
(“Kafka’s Letters, VII”)
Patel’s poems range widely in their inspirations and references, and there are six pages of notes at the back of the book that explain some of the stories and allusions. The reader does have to pause at points through the poems to properly catch all of the connections, figure them out and reflect on them. At the same time, by drawing on many different references from literature, religious texts, mythology and history, Patel is playful with observations and life wisdom:
I should walk downstream as that would be life
(“Kafka’s Letters, IX”)
The knickknacks on the dressing table / perhaps knew you better.
All mythologies make gods human
(“All paradises can do with Wendy Cope”)
Even while gently mourning his losses and the leaving of loved ones, Patel makes the most of his ups and downs, as writers do, using quickfire phrases to suit the playful “Rapids” form:
I am always getting undone
like my shoelaces
oo}ping the Colour”)
Ecology and environmental concerns flow through the poems, unsurprisingly, as the poet is a regular walker by the Wandle River in Morden Hall Park. Many of his ruminations are sparked on these walks with water becoming a recurring feature of his poetry, not just in the title The Rapids, but in several upstream and downstream associations. He sees himself in water:
Like me, it has made journeys only to forget.
Contemporary events are also covered, such as the strong poem “Fireflies,” about the Covid deaths in India, in this instance in Delhi in May 2021. It starts:
Each plight of sparks enlightens a crackled sky
Ashes drifting in gasps
The oxygen never arrived
like promises and hopes
And moves on to:
A doctor comes out for a smoke
but runs back inside
filled with the dead lurking
in his lungs as ashes
Despite being shunted between lands and labels, Patel writes nonetheless with love of all the places he calls home. It’s never the fault of the land, of course, and his generosity of spirit finds beauty in each space. In immersing himself into the silences that we don’t get much of in this world, he also discovers his equation and parallel journeys with birds, animals and even inanimate objects. Loneliness, retirement and the passing of time are all tackled in a contemplative mode, and the more gentle the poet is, the more poignant everything seems:
Each day rakes at something in me.
that’s an old smile you’re wearing
and I am the new boring I am carrying!
(“ΔS ≥ 0”)
Muted sorrow is the undertow in this collection, while the surface hosts swans oaring with their webbed feet and kayaks tossing in the swells. This liveliness includes the reader who has to figure out the allusions and histories embedded in the text.
For me, the heart of the book is encapsulated in the poem “To write what a tree couldn’t,” where in twenty lines Patel distils his ocean voyages and the philosophy that has shaped his life and his desire for achievement:
It was up to me to hold that pencil,
a feather without a bird, write a song
that the tree adrift in the sea couldn’t.
Kavita A. Jindal is an award-winning poet, novelist and essayist. Her novel Manual for a Decent Life won the Brighthorse Prize and the Eastern Eye Award for Literature. Her poetry collections are: Patina, Raincheck Renewed and Raincheck Accepted. Selected poems have been translated into several languages. She is the co-founder of “The Whole Kahani” writers’ collective.