Two Full Moons review: Vinita Agrawal's intimate new book is a nourishing mix of imagistic, surreal poems

Vinita Agrawal’s fourth book of poems, Two Full Moons, published by Bombaykala Books, is a constellation of moments that are hauntingly visceral one second and deeply intimate in the very next. The title and the many moon poems in this collection made me think about the historical relationship of poets to the moon. Wordsworth, for example, was moon obsessed and wrote several sonnets and odes to the queen of stars. Emily Dickinson befriended the mysterious orb as a metaphor for all types of moods. Once, she spoke of it as a familiar reflection of her own strangeness, "I watched the Moon around the House / Until upon a Pane – / She stopped – a Traveller's privilege – for Rest – / And there upon / I gazed – as at a stranger –." In Full Moon and Little Frieda, Ted Hughes made another layered discovery, "'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!' // The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work / That points at him amazed."

Like Hughes, for Agrawal, the moon oft-times becomes her dutiful muse but also morphs into a storekeeper of everything the (now mature) speaker has journeyed through so far. In Behind The Moon, the collection’s opener, the speaker begins by asking, “Can I hide behind your calm facade, Moon” and traverses finally towards, “Settle me into your journeys/ I’m tired of standing and waiting/let me share with you the echoes of my solitary existence.” As if the poet’s many silences can be subsumed by a larger, whiter, silence in the sky she walks under. This is a deep, full-bodied voice that wants to find all ways possible to negotiate with silences. This is a poet whose mind is in transit.

 Two Full Moons review: Vinita Agrawals intimate new book is a nourishing mix of imagistic, surreal poems

Two Full Moons, by Vinita Agrawal

Poems throughout the book inhabit several rooms of transience, like an unfinished conversation with grief, a distinct memories of almost-lovers. The poem Already exhibits this sense of fleetingness. “A day lodged whole in the esophagus/ a start slapped to the finish line like an unhedged bet.” Writing from the break of dawn, the speaker in Already sits on the cusp of everything and nothing. She brings the mammoth exterior (a day whole) smoothly into the narrow interior (esophagus). She is no longer afraid of nothingness, but seeking a way forward, and “seems to reach for something that lies just beyond (her) grasp,” as poignantly mentioned by Arundhati Subramaniam. The poet’s search travels far and wide. From the ghats in Varanasi to the Bean in Chicago and to the bridges of Madison county, no sky is too far for her reach, and no ask from nature unimaginable for her desires.

Over the length of the book, the poems are divided into nine sections, each alive with a nourishing mix of imagistic and surreal poems. Agrawal is adept at bringing alive scenes that allude to specific moments in the speaker’s life as seen in the poems My Father Made Me A Balance, Ventilator and Visiting Dust. They allow the reader a sense of close intimacy into the speaker’s life as the voice handholds us gently into the deliverance of unresolved emotions. Images here are sharp as they are evocative. From Vanishing Dust, “The cry of an eagle circling above pierces the lock, talon-clasps all the nostalgia within.”

As precise is Agrawal’s ability to cut to the heat of a tangible scene, equally commendable is her prowess in conjuring beauties of the absurd or unnatural. In the list poem Ten Perfect Dreams, she brings together “Mirrors that instruct self-loving/Narcissistic enemies”at once dream-like, yet philosophical. She calculates and re-calculates every cyclical occurrence of season: of nature and of body with innocence and willful curiosity. As she confesses confidently in Jantar Mantar, “Bafflement is also a science of sorts.” Formally, we encounter several free verse and lyric poems, list poems as well as a ghazal. Though many poems begin in personal memories; towards the close of the book the writer’s eye and heart expand towards the bigger experience of living in a world fraught with violence. That of abuse against women, against marginalised populations and the aftermath of any war, big or small on body, culture and community. Full of compassion and defiant in their storytelling, poems here ask us to take a hard look at the world we live in.

Braiding together the speaker’s personal yearning for some sort of deliverance: from grief, from waiting, from familial losses and her humane and feminist asks, the soul of Two Full Moons can be best and wholly realised through these lines:

For once what lies behind us
no longer raises its head,
nothing forgotten or remembered;
just laid to rest like another beautiful child
in the cemetery of injustices.

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2018 10:00:59 IST