This set of poems reminded me of the first time I read Jonathan Franzen’s essay ’Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books’. Briefly, Franzen’s essay asserts two forms of reading: the Contract Model and the Status Model. The contract model assumes an agreement between the writer and the reader, where one of the conditions is that the writer engages and entertains the reader. The status model is unconcerned with the average reader, and insists that writing is a work of art that cannot be appreciated by all.
Sivaramakrishnan’s poems, at first seem to fit into one or the other of these categories, before disregarding this binary altogether. ‘delirium tremens’ which refers to the confusion and withdrawal from alcohol, is simultaneously emotionally wrenching and dexterously crafted. Similarly, although ‘/&burn’ may initially have readers rush to look up this form of agriculture, it quickly extends this metaphor to a deeply personal image.
The most striking poem for me however, is ‘veramma’, particularly in its use of anaphora. The repetition of ‘already’ builds not just momentum — but far more difficultly in poetry — creates emotional suspense. And as the images travel through time, memory and language, the repetition becomes a sutradhar of sorts, holding together their complex emotions. It is always a delight for an editor to present elegant work, but with ‘veramma’ the poet in me takes greater delight in how a small choice can make a big — and memorable — difference.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
already no air pockets in the insulin pen. already the dose knob is dialed to a between. already your right thigh is rigged. you are running out of space. time for one more time. already you are a non-resident pronoun. this event of language is already a memory.
already the Raptisagar Express is moaning into Chennai Central. already the swell of propofol like a cat sneaking away with a paperclip called i. already pain as the retrieval. already you say one badusha won’t do anything. already the northeastern monsoon is delayed. when you speak in Tamil,
you ch– where you must s-. already your chivppu is not the same red as sivappu. the way certain vowels singe your velvet tongue when you biff them. the Raptisagar is mourning in. already you see the world as a whiz of vanishing rectangles. already my sister is crying by your knees.
already the ping-pong of your breath while we wait at the terminal where at least one train thrums in and two others scatter in a topple of steel screeches. the blood crumb at the tundra of that nose. already your who’s going to give me coffee early morning from now on to appa.
already your every inhalation with an ex nihilation. in my spasms the spam of your body. already the rosetta leaf i suck out of my latte. already the ping. the news on the verge of two blue check marks when i wake up in a valley a hemisphere away. the before of death before the death.
the rattles on the heft of fishplates when your spirit is torpedoed into an electric furnace. to say sacred & mean scared. already you are telling me I am not your amma. already i origamize you out of vera and amma, biffing an a from the middle. ‘another mother’.
like home/ a nearness sundered to infinity/ i clog at this boolean land/ the scream at the top of my lungs is yet to pass/ i am still far from the top/ there is a blob of howl in my throat/ my voice splinters/ phlegmatic curls/ there is a zone in my back that i cannot touch/ my hands exhaust their reach/ an itch swirling there is my god/ my roommate extends a bear claw back scratcher/ his back a gridwork of five lines/ his god happens, again and again/ to reach the top, there must be the top/ my roommate blips into Delirium Tremens i/ gibber/ isn’t languish a portmanteau of language and anguish/ my wordlitter omelet the gold of my glottal pot/ have you seen whales swim in their sleep/ they don’t/ they sleep like books on a shelf/ lone vertical slits/ a nearness superpositioning with infinity/ we reach the top, leaving the boolean lore of the traffic far below/ i doze in the even noise of the winter sun/ something like home/ my sleep profound as the prick of a ball/ it spills into a zone i cannot/ at the end of my lungs i cinch a spout/ it splinters into vocal noises into a spool of howl
we drive under a bangle of clouds
we silent as a chard seed buried before a rainswell
. before a rainswell the rainsmell before
. a lot of noise and no wasps and a maze
of dandelions no carrots
. under dollops of alluvial earth we chive
we ch/ we chh
ive we chh our
we dn’t /&burn
/& we dnt burn
.before the night walls us in
.the us the night walls
one of us overestimates it the other underestimates it
Shriram Sivaramakrishnan graduated from Boise State University’s MFA program in May 2022. Some of his recent poems have appeared in Rivulet, DIAGRAM, among others. Shriram tweets at @shriiram.