Poetry: Select Personal Reviews

George Szirtes & Carole Satyamurti talk about Shanta's poetry at a Poetry Reading @ Nehru Centre, London - 22 June 2010.

Comments on Shanta’s poetry include:

It was the Danish physicist, Neils Bohr, who said that a great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth. In poems rooted in the Upanishads, yet connecting through natural imagery with New England transcendentalism, Shanta Acharya summons courage to face such truths. It's hard to write 'mystical' poetry these days, yet no other overall vision seems likely to prevent 'the vulnerable plot of green', as she says, from being trampled by 'frantic minds' not yet clear enough 'to defend their humanity' by reconciling contradictions.

Anne Stevenson

Her clear vision has purged her writing of extraneous sentiment… She cuts to the heart of things when, in one poem, she advises her readers to ‘discover in loneliness the continents of yourself.’

Peter Porter

A profound receptivity to the world distinguishes Shanta Acharya’s new collection. Her acute eye and keen sense of form depict the outer world in vivid detail, invoking the inner world where human experience makes its reality. Here is a poet of much clarity of spirit and a wondrous gift for evoking place.’

Penelope Shuttle

Dreams That Spell The Light is a book of wisdom and travel. The travel is troubled and wide, reflecting on the precariousness of life; the wisdom is drawn from a humane understanding of our place in the universe. But there is room for humour and pity and much close observation in these finely honed poems that work across cultures.

George Szirtes

Her poetry shows a rare combination of lyricism, intelligence, sagacity and a wicked sense of humour. She is not afraid to tackle large themes, to take on the abstract, metaphysical, spiritual or to use the idiom such themes demand. It is refreshing to find these qualities in such an engaging and individual voice.

Mimi Khalvati

Her poems have a melody and at the same time a vivid and down-to-earth quality which is really rare today. They are, so to speak, at home with themselves and not at all self-conscious. She often seems to be rescuing real poetry from the kinds of post-modern poeticism which are current today.

Prof John Bayley

Shanta Acharya has deep roots in two cultures – her country of birth and her country of adoption. Both are represented in this rich and varied collection of poetry, drawing from her previous collections. Her poems are a vivid and thoughtful way of exploring and reflecting on the world – on nature, on the world of art, and on the ironies of the human predicament. They also convey a deep spiritual interest, sometimes as a way of interrogating personal relationships, and reflecting on loss and longing. Shanta is very good at paying close attention to what she sees and conveying it in precise language. She is interested in often neglected corners of experience. She is not afraid of writing about horror, nor does she shirk from revealing vulnerability. But she is good at humour too, at seeing the ridiculous side of things, revealing a capacity for playfulness. In language that is accurate, spontaneous, and often witty, Shanta explores ways in which the modern individual can find a place in the world, having floated free of traditional supports. These are brave and thoughtful poems..

Carole Satyamurti

Shanta Acharya's is the true voice of the poet. She writes with poignancy and gentleness, with a mildness of manner behind which lurk wells of sad expressiveness and occasional acerbities. She controls her phrasing meticulously and invites the reader to return to her poems again and again to explore more hidden resonances and insights.

Alastair Niven

The poems in Dreams That Spell The Light are most unusual; bold in their spiritual sense, intense in their vision of landscape. It is a remarkable book which can revive a tired reader’s vision, and alter their understanding of what poetry can do. I shall certainly think again about the scope of poetry – it’s easy to settle for too little.

Alison Brackenbury

Her growing mastery of idiom and an ability to express emotional states in images, which are not decorative, but convey a sense of touching vulnerability, is expressed in poems like “My Good Luck Home” where Shanta writes:  “Even Ganesha travels with me in my handbag, / to help me overcome obstacles in my adopted land.” Here Ganesha becomes a mascot, or something akin to a defensive pepper spray against muggers without his proverbial image as ‘remover of obstacles’ being desacralized.

Jaysinh Birjepatil, South Asian Review

There aren’t any trivial subjects in Acharya’s work. What I like about her writing is the unpretentiousness, the integrity, the direct struggle with language to make it speak truly about real concerns.

R. V. Bailey, Edinburgh Review

It is not often that poems like these, deeply rooted in personal experience, become such a sharply observed and cohesive sequence of 'meditations', a poetry in which emotions are not merely recollected in tranquillity but are understood as part of an emerging pattern of perception about life's journey.

Dr Roger Pringle, The Shakespeare Centre

Her poems are both solidly grounded and satisfyingly complete. Her language is never overloaded, yet is metaphorically rich. Her words, chosen meticulously, express perfectly well her calm observations.

Prof Cecile Sandten

Here is a ...distinctive, unclassifiable voice, very inward, private, solipsistic, drawing upon the reserves both of Western culture and Eastern spirituality, and reminding me of no-one else, though there are far echoes of T.S.Eliot.

John Coldwell, Iota Poetry Quarterly

Asserting the personal voice and developing a coherent personal vision that lets us be our own masters is radical, as radical as the rediscovery of the classical heritage would be with its emphasis on the individual as the measure and his fullness as the goal of living. Shringara drove me to this high estimate of Shanta Acharya’s power as a poet: it is a powerful book, the poems of loss possessing a depth of feeling and mastery that compels complete attention, while the entire work adds up to a book exemplifying and forwarding the modern poetic project.

Lance Lee, Envoi

... Out of the linguistic self-awareness come some convincingly accurate annotations of psycho-sprirtual states... Out of the tension between her two (or more) 'languages' is created poetry of a very distinctive cast, which registers the poet's Indian origins without ever being merely exotic.

Glyn Pursglove, The Swansea Review

Shanta Acharya’s Dreams That Spell The Light philosophise on the spiritual intersection between locus and human existence, dancing with colour and luminosity, her poems beautiful and considered.

Jane Holland, Poetry Review

‘Somewhere, Something’ is an important poem that argues that we do not travel “to explore another country / but to return home fresh, bearing gifts”. In fact, these gifts are for the self because all true experiences – thus discounting those of the ‘mere’ tourist – inevitably change us. The poem concludes, “Let’s fly free, not nailed to a mast; / see the universe with new eyes / not blinded by shadows that light casts”. Acharya’s natural form is not narrative but rather the kind of delicate perceptual lyric that records epiphanic moments, as suggested by one of the epigraphs to the collection from Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. The lines quoted above from ‘Somewhere, Something’ contain one of the many occasions when one of Acharya’s poems seems to want to move towards rhyme. This is in part perhaps to pleasure the reader but also as a reflection of the kind of harmonious metaphysics that seem to underlie her vision.

Martyn Crucefix

Shanta Acharya’s poems are inspired by her emotional experiences, for which simple but convincing words, phrases and sound effects have been found. There is nothing artificial in her statements and choice of forms. The complex and profound are equally well expressed in her imagery.

Nissim Ezekiel

Dreams that Spell the Light is about voyaging through life, returning home and finding it changed, about confronting change and absences, about continents left behind, and a search for signs and ‘scripted dreams’ that remain dreams. It is a book about secrets being locked up in sealed wells, and a “desire to fly free, not nailed to a mast.” Shanta Acharya speaks of self-doubt and self-realization, of the cussedness of reality, of bonding with nature and of “love under starlight/ brittle with frost and the sharp taste of blood.”

Keki Daruwalla

I like the uneasy tension that runs through the poems, the tension between home and abroad. One ends up asking “What is home, and where is it?” Home is, at best, a state of mind. We carry our homes wherever we go. We build our homes in our poems. This what Acharya has done, and she has done it without any melodrama. Memories of places known and loved turn up unexpectedly in the poems to achieve a kind of permanence. The poems successfully evoke the spirit of the places visited. One such poem is “Mosque of Wazir Khan.” The poem is a reminder of the truth that all things pass. Another is “Kandy Perahera” where the Buddha’s tooth is powerless to stem the tide of violence that sweeps through the island. The use of the myth of “The Churning of the Ocean” is a success. We need to “let the poison out.”

Rajagopal Parthasarathy

Her beautifully evocative and lyrical poetry combines, effortlessly, the metaphysical and the quotidian, the political and the aesthetic.

Mark Mathuray, Journal of Post-Colonial Writing

Reviewing Shanta Acharya’s previous collection of poetry, Shringara (2006), I had called it ‘a sheaf of grief, an elegiac volume about the loss of loved ones, through which a rawness of the pain still throbbed’. In the present volume, her fifth collection, we see her emerging out of that phase with the help of those precious resources which she has always commanded and which continue to sustain her in her diasporic life. These include a deep vein of philosophy which runs through all her poetry, a capacity for meditation that can draw peace, comfort, and hope from immersion in the simple phenomena of nature, remembered travels, vicarious journeys through the perusal of books and other documentary material, a wry sense of humour that does not abandon her even when she is clearly making a passage through tough times, and, of course, family loyalties and childhood memories.

Ketaki Kushari Dyson, The Book Review

Acharya’s Dreams That Spell The Light adds a crucial layering to the reflections in Shringara. Dreams That Spell The Light puts her in the middle of the argument we have been having with ourselves since Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God. Some affirm his presence, others that without him anything goes. Central to both approaches is the idea that meaning and value must be tied to some transcendental reality. Acharya offers a fresh way to affirm value and meaning without the usual props.

Lance Lee

These are poems of intense joy, where the author is completely at home with herself, and at one with the natural world surrounding her. Trees arching upwards are always important images in Acharya’s poetry. Here, the landscape described cannot but be England in spring, ‘bluebells waist-high, a purple haze on the woodland floor’ or in autumn, with ‘mosaics of maples in bronze, copper and ochre’. Yet the sentiments that underpin these particular poems have their source in the Advaita philosophy of Hinduism.

Lakshmi Holmström, Confluence

Shanta Acharya’s latest volume, Imagine, gathers work from over two decades of vigorous and vivid writing, and adds a generous section of new poems. Acharya is concerned with the big, often painful subjects – death and loss, love’s shortfalls, poverty and dispossession – but there are moments of humour and satire, and a rich aesthetic delight in the variousness of the world. Childhood memories and meditations in art-galleries reveal a delight in colour and light. Acharya’s poems are full of the pleasures of the unexpected.

Carol Rumens

Shanta Acharya has an uncannily poetic way of relating to reality that is deeply Indian without being insular. Hers is a meditative spirit which however seldom abandons its interrogative scepticism that shapes its subtle politics. Her poetry quarrels with power in all its incarnations, divine and human, without ever being loud, and her emotional range is wide, from the pains of a girl’s growing up in an unkind world to the pleasures of love and the abjectness of abandonment. She realizes that ‘knowing is all’ and with it too that knowing is agony. Reading these poems together is like entering a house with many windows, each opening on a different landscape. 

K. Satchidanandan