Reviewed by Judy Swann
Ebullience & Other Poems
by Bhupender K Bhardwaj
ISBN: 978-1-949229-80-6, Paperback, 42pages, March 2019
If you are looking for a farrago of old-school romanticism, Neoplatonism, Whitmanian excess, and Hindu plenitude, you have come to the right place. There just aren’t enough descriptors in the lexicon to do justice to Bhupender Bhardwaj’s Ebullience & Other Poems.
The first ten or so poems are the most ebullient, and they are both narrated by and meditations on Bhardwaj’s flaneur:
In the brightness, he was an ambitious flaneur who loved
to skim the many avenues and by-lanes of the textbook
of his hometown, whose contents remained inexplicable (“Pristine Voyages,” 22)
This flaneur is a master of piling ‘Pelion on Ossa’, as we see in “Haven” (11) where the nature-as-book metaphor that comes to us from Plotinus, joins the sun as an artisan in the anthropomorphic presence of a tower, simultaneously frowning and defunct:
Propped up against the page of the sky
were the brown letters of the bricks
that forming into a kiln were fired
by the overhead furnace of the sun
so that its chimney tower, now defunct
frowned in disgrace…
Other themes and techniques in “Haven” are echoed in subsequent poems: nature as a salvific force, the common man versus his corrupt city counterpart, unexpected reversals and curated sonics. “Ebullience” (12) for example takes us from paths with egg-shaped boulders, to conviction and hearts, and into a valley. Listen to its sonics:
Through the dense grass, the wild
bushes, the lemon trees and lands you
in the folded palm of the earth
which is this vaporous valley.
So lovely! Sometimes, though, like that tangle of invasive buckthorn in the meadow behind your house, you are left longing for a suite of raised beds (and by this I mean a cohesive conceit).
The line breaks are as free as any flaneur would have it, yet it is not clear what the enjambment after “oscillating” does in the quote that follows, except that it compensates on the printed page for “grandfather’s” three syllables. I can discern no metrical or semiotic imperative:
Between the initials deeply imprinted
on its worn-out handle
your grandfather’s spirit oscillating
with ebullience can be easily discerned.
And here, lodged quietly in “Ebullience,” is a small image that channels Williams:
…if you look closely
at the wooden plow
ranged against the furrowed field
In “Pastoral Snapshots,” (13) an image of country exotics outshines its presumably urban audience, which consists of the flaneur from “Pristine Voyages” (22) the “foppish architects” of “Ars Poetica,” (38), the spoiled brats with pierced ears (“The Meadows Poem,” 26) and the self-possessed person who twirls his mustache and pats his wallet (“Bridging the Gap,” 28):
In the distance, cattle munching on their fodder in the rusted barn
creak of the pulley, water being withdrawn from the well
and the moonlight painting the thatched houses white.
The characters are all male. Well, there is the occasional lady with a stylish mane (“When the Fulgent Goats…” 14) or a woman in a night-gown (“When the Sloping Earth…” 15).
Whether because I-the-Reader equate control with craft or because Bhardwaj’s tribute to his father strikes a filial cord in me, I believe “Inheritance” (34) is the best poem in the collection, especially its third stanza:
Adept at drawing out the precise quantity
of the ingredients and mixing them up
in right proportions in little white-rimmed
bowls with grey bases, his hands created
their own music, though the pounding of medicines
resembled blackboards scraped by nails
or seawater splashed by oars.
Here we have a discordant element (“resembled blackboards scraped by nails”) functioning as a comparison for the beloved person that is worthy of Chaucer’s Alison in the Miller’s Tale (“as any weasel was her body graceful and slender”). And yet the whole of the poem is discrete, its emotions honest, its details vivid.
About a quarter of the poems in this collection appeared first in venues such as The Galway Review, Madras Courier, the Kingston Creative Writer’s Blog and The Legendary. This latter is now defunct and not fully archived anywhere, even on the way-back machine, although it has published the likes of Sergio Ortiz and many another fine poet’s work, including, in the archived Issue 68, three by Bhupender Bhardwaj! https://web.archive.org/web/20170428041208/http://www.downdirtyword.com:80/poetrypage.html
About the reviewer: Judy Swann is a poet and essayist. Her work includes Fool (Kelsay Books, 2019) and Stickman (John Young, 2019). She lives in Ithaca, NY.