Two long poems on philosophy and yoga, respectively, take meditation and introspection to strange places.
In the middle of his book’s first poem, “Philosophy,” Bhattacharyya (Rise of the Native, 2016, etc.) offers a footnote-style explanation of his use of numbers in his verse: “In a nut shell, Ignorance scores as 5, Disability as 28, Contentment 9, Success or Grand Success 8.” Like much of the content of this book, this information poses more questions than it answers; are these number assignments pulled from an ancient tradition or are they completely arbitrary? Similarly, the personifications of mankind and nature that drive the first section feel like both a classic origin story and a surrealist jumble: “In a rapid move, Primal-Nature / emerges before Cosmic Man….‘I have seen her,’ one stands indifferent / ‘I have been seen,’ desists the other.” The second poem, “Yoga,” is more grounded and digestible, reading like an ontological examination of the titular practice: “Thus the initiation of yoga / When yoga regulates the mind amused / comes the moment, the Seer sees his true self / the Self for a moment exposed.” Distorted illustrations, including one that shows the outline of three ballerinas jumping from a photo of a pond, accompany the verses. Although these images contribute to the text’s serene, surreal atmosphere, they fail to ground or guide readers. Instead, Bhattacharyya delves directly and deeply into an unusual landscape of introspection, obviously inspired by Eastern philosophy, but he presents it entirely without context or explanation for a wider audience, who may wonder whether these verses are the author’s own reinterpretations of classic yoga sutras or a translation of the foundations of Hinduism. Concrete answers never arrive, so some may find the poems to simply be a disorienting mishmash of New-Age aphorisms. However, Bhattacharyya’s unusual rhythms do take on an entrancing, ethereal, and even transcendent quality the more time one spends with them, which calls to mind an early verse that he simultaneously directs to strangers, neighbors, and himself: “Every time I reflect / The less strange you appear.”
A work so surreal that it initially seems absurd, but its sense of mythology, mysticism, and introspection will still give patient readers a sense of the uncanny.