Sudeep Sen Anthropocene, in the tradition of the 18th century British poet Alexander Pope, criticizes the hierarchy of man in the grand scheme of the universe. However, unlike Pope, Sen is neither didactic nor satirical. Sen’s philosophy seems to be inspired by the complex relationship between purusha and prakriti. His works – in this multi-genre book comprising poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and photography – are lyrical, meditative and poignant testimonies of the capitalist ruin of the planet. Well-known contemporary Indian poet, Sen lays out in depth the massive disappearance of biological and cultural diversity at the micro and macro levels.
The idea of the “Anthropocene” is fraught with lack of definition in the fields of anthropology, human sciences and environmental humanities. Critics like Donna Harraway, Jason Moore, Kim Stanley Robinson and Alf Horborg argue over terms like “Capitaloscene”, “World Ecology”, “The Dithering” to articulate current climate crises. In the given context, it is appropriate for a poet to speak. However, such a position specifically highlights the title of the book, its strengths and disadvantages. First, the book is open to theoretical examination which might surpass its literary appeal. On the other hand, the title offers itself a reliable voice. The time has come for the knowledge of a poet as an artist, of a citizen to enlighten those who choose to remain ignorant of the imminent danger of the earth. In the Yéatsian sense, only poets can relate the “falcon” to the “falconer”. This is the uniqueness of Sen’s Anthropocene – it delivers urgent messages on climate awareness through images, metaphors, rhythms and stories, instead of jargon. Like all good poetry, it is the marriage of truth and beauty. As Jonathan Safran Foer forcefully puts it: “History doesn’t just make a good story in retrospect; good stories become history.
The white and sandalwood-colored dust jacket of the hardback edition puts the reader in a state of tabula rasa. One should focus on the “three leaves of peepal” imitating the structure of the third eye and the quiet wisdom of the Buddha – the subtle paths of mukti, gyana and bodh. However, do not confuse Sen with a poet confined to monastic isolation. He opens the collection with a romantic association with Bangla, written in Bengali, a thirst for Tagorian rain:“Ami grisha aakaashe’r dikhe dekhi – / dhulo dhaka megh gulo jeno gorome kaapche – / kothai jal o bristhi? / Megh gulo doorer mirage’r moton. / bristhi’r aasha – otai ek shotti. (Bharateo Grisha). In his own translation, he reads: “I watch the smoking summer sky – / covered in thick layers of dust, clouds / earthquake – devoid of moisture, rain. / Cloudbanks seem distant, like mirages. / Dreaming of rain is the only truth. (Indian summer).
This return to the mother tongue is not only an opening towards a collected poetic story but the admission of a highly private premise. The poet longs for communication perhaps from a sweet beloved, just like the sick love Yaksa in Kalidasa’s Meghadutam. The Bengali verse is a hidden door to the poet’s microcosm, to “Anthropo-sen” – a poet’s prophecy of humanity’s prayer for hope amid melting ice caps, ice beds. endangered rivers, bush fires and the slow collapse of bodies infected with the virus.
Rilke-style uncertainty hangs over the book. Perhaps this explains the intertextual and fluid flow of the poems. The first poem, that is to say [That Is] highlights the lost value of listening: “Because you hear – / the sound / of an isolated leaf rustling – / you hear the sea.”
In Climate change, the poet weaves the domestic habit of “shelling freshly roasted peanuts” during Delhi’s declining winter with the way people have normalized rising temperatures. Several poems place the common life of street bastards and urban birds in the larger context of natural calamities. Sen consciously chooses clarity for his art in a book intended for all kinds of readers.
This collection, more than any other, shows Sen in his subjective avatar. He is keen to establish a link with his readers and to respond together to the emotional core of the collection: “In the company of myself, I reflect. It is time to call the family, a neighbor, a neglected friend – the time to read, to rejuvenate, to revive – to rekindle the lost labor of love – the time to savor the small joys of life. (Quarantine).
The poet’s dissent against apathetic regimes is expressed in the Corona Haiku Series: “Hunting jets water / flower petals on the poor – / why not food, money? ” (Rose petals).
Topics, Contagion, Ambience, Holocene, Consolation, Containment are charged with the poet’s emotional repair, alongside physical ailments and conflicting aspirations for isolation and companionship. The book offers what statistics can’t: courage, solace, and hope. The poet’s sincere call to prayer and conscience is the way out of the Anthropocene to a healthier world: “Inhale, exhale – eyes / Close. Sound of collective breath – / invisible song.
Skilfully tackling the pressing issues of climate change and the pandemic by subtly juxtaposing the sciences and the arts, Sudeep Sen’s Anthropocene is one of the most important books of 2021.
Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic, poet and author.