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Writers International Edition

‘Not in ideas, But in things’: A peep into the Poetics of Dr. Molly Joseph through her latest Book, Voice over the Waves

As a poet Dr. Molly Joseph, I believe, declares her credo in a short poem titled “Poet” in her previous anthology of poems Songs of Silence. She writes: “Life touches … / You script it out / immersing / not in ideas, but / in things / slowly / subtly / becoming / everyone/everything…” The desire not to immerse in ideas, but to be everyone and everything, slowly and subtly, signifies the poet’s desire for non-theoretical and non-judgmental participation in the life of things rather than her being a mere detached observer. This is true of Dr. Molly’s poetry too as it demands an immersive response from us, that is, her readers. The intensity of her poetry, leaving no alternative to the reader, demands enraptured immersion in its life. The reader enters the life of her poems, and becomes the poems s/he reads, slowly, subtly and unselfconsciously.

Such a response constitutes the opposite end of the reading spectrum which Toby Litt in his text Mutants (2016) terms as ‘disenchanted reading’, the kind of stylistic reading promoted mostly in academic poetry workshops. Litt calls stylistic reading as ‘reading done by a low-grade computer.’ One can add to it the fact that poetry itself compels the reader to respond in a certain way, and Dr. Molly’s poems elicit enraptured responses from us. This is despite the fact that the very typography of her poems draws our attention to their textuality, to the words and their very arrangement.

How does one respond to this kind of typographical arrangement that claims its poetic status? How does one respond to the dancing, playful words on a page, words polyvalent and gesturing tentatively into multiple directions, words – to borrow the very title of Dr. Molly book – that are ‘voices over waves’ containing sea-deep secrets that are transmogrified into silences and blank spaces on the page, each word prismatic like the rainbow-coruscating droplets in a misty spray when the fervent waves strike against a rock, words musical with their intermittently sustained and syncopated rhythms, words magical performing the miracle of the love of life on the page, words endeavouring to go beyond their own quiddities, and words that make us wonder at the richness of life beyond words, that life which the words themselves bring alive?

Dr. Molly Joseph’s poems come to us with such interesting queries and proposals. The poems cast their spell, enthral us with the life throbbing in them. The poem “Life” in the present anthology gives us ample evidence of the author’s preference for a pulsating life of becoming: “Life … How you pulsate / the vital / energy/coalescing/cascading / in an / upsurge / to upend / aspirations, / always / in the / tumult / of creative / confusion. . . life pulsates / unbeaten / in forms/variant / in shifting / shadows / that play / endless / hide and seek . . .” Apart from the dynamism of life, this poem conveys, the most significantly operative image in it is that of the throbbing, thrumming, continuously changing life that upends all aspirations. This is how, with a consummate economy of words, the poet underscores the mercurial nature of life. In suggesting that life is unpredictable, real and unreal (a shadow) at the same time, and is outside human control and structuration, the poet reminds the reader to give up their grand Faustian aspirations to control life. Thus, the deeper message is not obtrusive as the poet does not don the robes of a preacher.

Dr. Molly’s themes are varied; they are supratemporal though they refer firmly to the present times. For example, her love for nature does not exist in a temporal vacuum, rather it has a distinctly contemporary ring to it. She questions the very idea of progress we are so much besotted with in the poem “Hmm… Progress!” The very colloquial-sounding title ending with an exclamation mark itself announces the ironic aims of the poem. The poem lays bare the fact that what we call progress is pitted against nature and by pursuing this chimaera we are depriving green rights to future generations. The poem “Freedom” voicing similar concerns about the idea of progress weaves into its rich tapestry the intolerant and anti-democracy thrust of contemporary politics dominated by demagogues and rabble-rousers who nurse their vote banks by dividing the gullible with their desperate ‘isms’.

She yearns for oneness with nature as is evident from her poem “My Moon.” The poem begins with a sense of regret at the moon’s aloofness: “Oh, moon, my moon / up above you stand/refusing to land…” But it concludes with an entreaty: “O moon, / up above, / come down… / together / we can stretch / selfless, silent, smooth / over meadows we tread / mindscapes that spread…” She also knows that this is just a dream, but then poets are dreamers! However, this poem foregrounds how the human will has no way with or control over nature. Nature is what it is, beautiful and life-affirming but evanescent like the last flicker of the setting sun that lends its golden glow to the evening shadows in the poem “The Last Flicker.”

Feminist concerns reverberate in Dr. Molly’s poems. The poem “Woman” begins with a sense of wonderment: “Where else is a better poem / than you!” The woman is a poem that bears all the pain to give birth to a new life. This metaphor of a woman being a poem actually expresses the wonder of being a woman, a poem: “You need no acclaim, / space special doled out / since you are born special/unique, rising from ashes / resilient, rejuvenating, / with the seed power /of creation…” like the Mother Earth. Thus this metaphor of woman as a poem is a highly condensed trope in which creation, poetry (as creation), nature (as Mother Earth) and woman comingle. Another poem “When you give bath to your newborn…” is a beautiful, delicate poem which adds a spiritual dimension to a very quotidian act of a mother giving a bath to her newborn daughter. The mother messaging the neonate with coconut oil she has extracted herself from the grated coconut juice is a sculptor carving “out a future/beauty / of feminine / charm …” This poem appears to be symbolic of Dr. Molly herself sculpting new realities and universes with her words in her poems – her babies, in a way – like the mother carving out a future for her newborn daughter. In her poetic micro-worlds, Dr. Molly is able to weld memories, thoughts, and experiences with very keen observations on contemporary issues in a language bare and simple. The easy flow and uplifting lightness of her verses coax the readers to inhabit these micro-worlds, make these small universes their home and live in them.

I am sure the Voices above the waves will find an echo in the minds of the readers and they will respond with the same gusto with which these voices have been sculpted.

Prof. Swaraj Raj
Professor of English, SGGSWU University Fatehgarh Sahib,
Punjab, India

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Irene Doura
Irene Doura
11 months ago

A wonderful review on the beautiful verses of Dr Molly Joseph, full of vivid imagery and hidden messages for the reader to decipher. Congratulations!

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