Title: The Reciting Pens
Author: Kiriti Sengupta
Reviewer: Don Martin
Editors: Stephen L. Wilson & Kate Lantry
Foreword By: W.F. Lantry
Cover: Partha Pratim Das
Illustrations: Pritam Ghosh
Publisher: Inner Child Press (US)
Price: 270 INR (Approximately $4.35 US Dollars)
One of the nice things about being an editor and reviewer is I sometimes get to read some books I never would have chosen myself. The Reciting Pens, by Dr. Kiriti Sengupta, is one example of that. Pens is just not a book I would have chosen myself off the shelf of my local bookstore. But I am very happy I read it!
I should probably say up-front that Dr. Sengupta is himself a poet of some note. He recently published his first English-language non-fiction, The Unheard I. That book, like this one, discusses among other things challenges in translation, especially with respect to poetry. His poems have also appeared in Twist Of Fate, a charitable work. He also has a number of non-English books out there. Dr. Sengupta knows his subject, and he knows what he is talking about!
Pens is an exploration of Bengali poetry. In his Introduction to the book Kiriti says his goal is to expose English-speaking readers to this unique art form. He further says that Bengali poetry is an under-represented genre in modern literature, and he is probably right about that. The book explores, among other things, the reasons for that, in a quite understandable manner. He presents three notable Bengali poets, all of them contemporary: Joya Mitra, Ranadeb Dasgupta, and Suddhasatya Ghosh. Not only does Dr. Sengupta present their poems for our consideration, he also gives us quite a bit of background on the poets. Going even further, Kiriti also interviews the poets, which gives us some context on their work. But more about that later.
Mitra is a poet who says she writes from her “quietude.” She explores those silent nooks and crannies we all have in our minds, but we just don’t talk about much. Her poetry is eerily haunting, and she writes with a lot of deep meaning. Dasgupta could be considered a dark and brooding poet. An avowed communist, he writes about the ordinary travails and struggles of life, without being overly political. Kiriti finally describes Ghosh as a “lavish” poet. His poems are rich in descriptions of scenery and events, as well as emotions. One thing I like about Pens is the poets are all so different, and each offers a different glimpse into their work, and into poetry as a whole.
Poets are funny, because they don’t always say what they literally mean. So you don’t always know. They use literary tools such as the metaphor to put their meanings across. Pens allows the reader to go beneath the surface meaning of the poems, and see what they really mean. This is where the background and interviews in Pens comes in handy. Having the poet explain their work, in their own words, adds a lot of context, and allows the reader to more correctly interpret their poems. I appreciated that aspect to a book of poetry, which I rarely see.
As with any translated work there are always two risks. The first is the translator must be faithful to the original work. Closely related to this is that the translator must be very careful with his word choices. Dr. Sengupta, as the translator, does a masterful job here. In his Introduction he says right up front he is not going to change much. That’s a refreshing change, because I see too many translators who essentially become co-authors. They change so much they are basically rewriting the entire thing. Pens is pretty much the words the poet actually used, without any modification or editing. This allows the reader to gain the true insight into the poet’s intent. The translations in Pens are very good, and they are faithful to the poet’s original intent.
The other thing related to translation are the word choices. There are just some words which don’t translate into English very well. This is especially true with a language like Bengali, which is very descriptive (you might even call it “flowery”). Bengali words sometimes have two, three, or even more meanings, all of which are correct. How does the translator know what the poet really meant, what his real intent was? For example, the translation of the Bengali word for “friend” can have any number of meanings, so the translator has to be very careful which English word he picks. Kiriti does a fine job of presenting the translated poetry which is true to the poet’s original meanings.
A big bonus to the book are the interviews. Most poets don’t like to talk about themselves or their poetry much. Dr. Sengupta has a knack for getting them to discuss it. His interview with Dasgupta was a little testy, as I read it. But Kiriti persisted, and probably got Mr. Dasgupta to reveal more about his work than he ever has before.
This is one of the most interesting things about the book. Kiriti delves deep into the poets. Why do they write what they do? How do their life experiences color their work, and what motivations might they have? For a non-Indian, such as myself, that allows me to read their work and get something meaningful out of it. The three poets profiled could be said to be complex, drawing their inspiration from their spirituality, their political activism, or even just from the beauty of nature or the flow of society. After reading Pens I really felt I knew these poets, on more than in just a, “Yeah, I’ve heard of them” basis. And that, as I see it, is one of the big advantages of the book. Plus, if you enjoy Gothe, Shelley, and Tagore there is plenty there for you to think about.
All-in-all The Reciting Pens is a must read for any serious student of poetry, and especially any student of poetic translation. I really admire Dr. Sengupta’s ability to put it all together – the background, the interviews, and the poems themselves, in such a way that the reader gains deep insights into the poets and their work. It’s a rare talent, and you can’t go wrong with this book!
Highly Recommended/ 4.5 of 5 Stars
– As Done 10/8/2013 – ( Source: https://www.facebook.com/don.martin.969?hc_location=timeline )