Mamang Dai (India, 1957) is a poet and novelist. She lives in Itanagar in the North-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. She has one collection of poetry, River Poems, to her credit. Her next collection, Midsummer-Survival Lyrics, is due for publication in 2011. She writes in English. […]
Dai’s poetic world is one of river, forest and mountain, a limpid and lyrical reflection of the terrain of her home state. Nature here is mysterious, verdant with myth, dense with sacred memory. There is magic to be found everywhere: in the way lilies “navigating on a heartbeat . . . are shooting up like swordfish”, in the quiet equipoise of “cool bamboo,/ restored in sunlight”, in the “speechless ardour” of mountains. And there is no doubt whatsoever that “the river has a soul”.
You might be inclined to wonder initially if this is a somewhat facile lyricism. But as you read closer, you sense a more sinister undertow: you realize this paradisiacal landscape is also one of “guns and gulls”, punctuated by “the footfall of soldiers”. You also realize that the simplicity of Dai’s verse is not without guile. It possesses a gentle persuasive riverine tug that can lead you to moments of heart-stopping surprise. Consider the poem ‘Small Towns and the River’, where the reiteration of the river’s soul coexists with a mounting sense of human anxiety, leading you to the unexpected close: “In small towns by the river/ we all want to walk with the gods.” […]
The strength of this poetry is its unforced clarity, its ability to steer clear of easy flamboyance.
So when she describes herself as a member of a tribe of “ten thousand messengers/ carrying the whispers of the world”, you realise you have a pretty succinct definition of what being a poet means to Mamang Dai. You also realize what makes Dai such an effective messenger.
Source: Mamang Dai (poet) – India by Arundhathi Subramaniam, Poetry International, Saturday 1 May 2010
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