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Beginning Karmic Chanting with an epigraph about temporality is apt, as Sonnet Mondal attempts to capture in his book his fleeting insights about the world and human experiences. In the chiseled cadences of his lyrical poetry, the ephemeral is imaged as “the skyline impression of an aircraft,” or “a stranded kite between the melodious and the mysterious.” 

Akin to the English Metaphysical Poets, Mondal uses analogy to capture ideas about joy, sorrow, mundaneness, love, and separation. For example, in his poem about the evasiveness of joy, he uses the analogy of fishing. Joy “seems like the time taken by a fish / to reveal and conceal itself //in front of a fish hook.” Line breaks and stanza breaks offer us the visual picture of a fishing scene, the distance between the fisherman, the net, and the fish. Witness his lines about reverie: “Reflections as skipping stones are leaping over my melancholy.” White space between the word and the analogy offers us the visual image of the skipping stones on water. Loneliness is imaged as “a fallen leaflet lost in a crowd of leaves in despair.”  His poems “When I Hide,” “Differences,” “The Air around me,” beckon re-reading.

Through concrete images from nature and the everyday world, Mondal expands on his theme of body as cage longing for liberation. His powerful verbs such as “the lies we slither into” or the “limping grasshoppers” leaping across the “wall of illusion,” personification as in “my vain wish coughs like an old man,” or metaphors such as “touring” to depict cogitation, keep us tuned to the image music that his crafted lyrics bring us. Humor surprises us, as in “an owl sits in the roadside mahogany/ shooting me with a cryptic jargon — / which I prefer to the day’s cacophony.” Mondal allows us to join his imaginative flight into the mysterious beyond our senses.

Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County and co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival, is the author of Thirtha, Behind Dark Waters, Draw Me Inmost, Trace, Thirteen Days to Let Go, Slow Ripening, The Singer of Alleppey. An award winning poet, she teaches English and Women’s Studies at SUNY Nassau. 

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