Review: Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets

by Chaitali Sengupta

The latest collection of poems by the Kolkata-based, bilingual, and well-known poet Gopal Lahiri has a very intriguing name, to begin with: “Alleys are filled with Future Alphabets.” When you turn the last page, you realize that not only is the name intriguing, but the poems are also alluring for their lyrical quality, distinct deeper meanings, underlying pathos, and are satisfying on both aesthetic and
intellectual levels.

This elegant-looking book, published by Rubric Publishing, contains 102 poems in its beautifully carved alleys. These poems have been published earlier on prestigious literary journals; some have been part of reputed anthologies. The poems nestle cozily in the seven alleys named as, “Voyages in”, “Voyages Out”, “Cityscape Silhouettes”, “Macrocosm”, “Haiku Series and Micro Poems”, “Travel Diaries”, and “pandemic and Resilience.”

Needless to say, each of these alleys is a beautiful place, full of riveting thoughts which the poet tries to paint with words of longing, pain, intimacy, and most importantly, hope. My most favorite lines (There are many though!) in this book are the very last ones, from the poem called ‘New World in the waiting’: “A certain beauty is waiting on the street/ with something that cares, that cultivates.” This hope on the part of the poet is a heartfelt one, burning bright with his sincere honesty and it is something that lingers with us, as we close the book.

In the beautifully worded preamble, famous poet Sharmila Ray rightly says: “The capacity to expand a fleeting experience into dense and complex, satisfying both instinct and intellect, is an art the poet [Gopal Lahiri] is very much at home with.” These lines from the poem “Departure” are suggestive of separation, as he describes a mundane scene on the railway station. But in the deft hands of the poet, this commonplace experience becomes colored with a deep sense of pathos, of leaving behind memories and loved ones. While people travel on “A parallel path of lights/ they are fresh from the other world, / they carry that beauty; they remember
that magic,”
we as readers, marvel at his ingenious use of words, that tries to connect the earthly with the sublime.

Images in Lahiri’s poems are a visual, auditory, and sensory delight and give life to his words. His words are minimalistic and unpretentious, and take us deeper into the wonder and symbolism of Nature, the rhythms of the cosmos. He takes us
along ‘A diagonal swath of galaxy path and my life/ shouting and dancing inside along the shallow coral line.’ (Invisible Target), and peeps into ‘God’s room’ where ‘oil lamps come alive in words, / Whispered sentences pass around the round table/’
(Blue Universe),
creating a universe where his senses are in harmony with the surroundings. The readers become at once aware of the poet’s experience of a moment and discover the deep feelings of contemplation.

Keen observation, delicate, heart-felt descriptions, and emotional intensity are at the heart of Gopal Lahiri’s poetry. The poems in this impressive collection reminded me of a definition I had read sometime back. Poetry is observation and poets are observers.
Throughout this collection, we see the poet carefully observes, embraces his findings, and pens them down to make us both wonder and observe. The section ‘Travel Diaries’ depicts a vivid sense of place that wants us to be there, in his world. In the poem titled ‘Sunderbans’, he takes us to the crossing of the Pitchkhali river, talking about ‘two collared kingfishers on the bank/ soaking the soft morning light, / staring at the billowing clouds, / after the glow worms vanishing in the light, striated heron and egrets/ flapping their wings, / making a strange sort of a music that determines the day’s trajectory.’ Here too his keen-eyed observations of his city have a long-lasting effect.

My personal favorite section- the favorite alley- in this collection is the one titled “Haiku series and Micro poems.” Gopal Lahiri is well-known for experimenting with the form of Haiku, the best-known Japanese form of poetry. His words carry beauty and a gossamer-like sensitivity when he depicts Nature through his Haikus. Expressions like, ‘raindrops/ dead leaves/quivering’ (Haiku series-1); or, ‘the mist departs/perfect sunbeams/prattle of birdsongs’ (Haiku series-2); or, ‘seabirds/take with them/ the mountain shadows’ are at once soothing and evocative of the natural scene of bewitching beauty. These stirring poems, and many like these, focus on a brief moment in time, juxtaposing two images, and leave the readers with a strong impression of the very nature of existence. Each poem in this section is unique, extremely suggestive, never lacks clarity or conciseness. ‘Mother earth/bleeding/molten lavas’; or ‘edges of dawn…. / goodbyes/ litter sidewalks’; and many such magical lines are like flowing brushstrokes of color and ink.
Lastly, this review would be incomplete if I fail to mention the last segment in this volume. This is titled ‘Pandemic and Resilience’ and in these ten poems, the poet talks about death, gloom, and the numbing isolation of living through the pandemic. We hear the ‘ambulances whizz past, sire blaring-/ people with masks calling bodies’ name.’ (Transition) We hear the poet’s desperate yearning when he says, ‘imagining the night birds carry breaths on their tiny lips, / filling up lungs, rewrite the death certificates. / If I could, I would take you to the land of love and light.’(Dreams) The poet is moved, he’s mourning the loss of lives, and we see his introspection of the crisis throughout this section. Yet, he is hopeful, he encourages us to look for hope, for human survival in a world where ‘alleys are filled/ with future alphabets.

The volume has a wonderful Postface by the poet John Thieme, who very rightly says: ‘…the imagistic underpinning of Gopal Lahiri’s verse consistently questions the possibilities of extracting meaning from both the ephemeral present and the partially remembered past. Refusing the seductions of easy answers, the poems move restively between despair and hope, staging a dialogue in which the former looms larger.” The book has an attractive cover design by poet Jharna Sanyal titled ‘Uncanny’ that is both abstract and yet indicative of the thematic mood of the poems.

The poems in this collection question our perception of the world and invite the readers to ponder over the existential uncertainties. These poems are also strangely evocative, shifting effortlessly from the mundane to the sublime, constantly re-aligning and
re-working on the interpretation the poet wishes to pen. They are complexly delicate and speak to the readers at diverse levels. This collection is a delightful read and is a treat to be shared.

Book Name: Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets
Author: Gopal Lahiri
Rubric Publishing, Greater Noida, UP, India, INR-275/-

About the Author:

Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, poet, translator, and journalist based in the Netherlands. She has contributed largely to the esteemed international anthologies and online/print journals. “Cross Stitched words”, her debut collection of prose poems, has been recently published in the USA. Her two translated works are “Quiet whispers of our heart” and “A thousand words of heart”.


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