Poetry Markaz presents one of India’s most prized poets, Sudeep Sen. But first, Sudeep presents his new book, Red from which we share four poems…
RED by Sudeep Sen
Nirox Foundation, South Africa
Red is about South Africa, about the socio-paleo-geological highveld landscape of the “Cradle of Humankind.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site which occupies 180 square miles, contains a complex system of limestone caves, believed to be the home to the largest concentration of human ancestral remains anywhere in the world. It is about the landscape at Nirox Sculpture Park and its environs — simultaneously wild and tamed.
Red is equally about India and the world — about the borderless land, skies and oceans that connect us, and much more. It is about the secrets of dolomite and “my intimate skies,” about the community of artists (present and absent) engaging through intricate works of ekphrasis. It is about the politics of color, language, body — about the complex neural transmissions that link each cell and sub-cell.
Red extends and builds upon Sen’s last book, Anthropocene — pushing the debate wider and deeper. It is intellectually stringent, tightly wrought, amniotic, visceral, raw — yet poised, subtle, choral, and always elegantly crafted — a tour de force.
Four poems from Red by Sudeep Sen:
Before the Beginning
for Richard Forbes
Before you start grinding, shaping them into your own
narratives, you arrange the colony of history-soaked stones
in no particular pattern. But I see a coded striated matrix —
mapping an architecture of shapes, weights, hues.
Lying side by side, with no seeming purpose or quest —
luminous silver specks, flake off jagged stones’ surfaces.
Even before you begin, there is poetry in these assemblages —
stories embedded, hidden from the human eye, buried deep
in this old continent’s fossils and bones. Today, they are alive
again — new stories sculpted by fresh hands, eyes, minds.
Stone-art and stone-etched text, slow-sing simultaneously —
a song for our ancestors, from before the beginning.
for R F
In Kalahari, red is quartzite —
sometimes, even dolomite.
Red is a toucan’s fossil beak,
a clawed deranged head
on a decapitated pedestal —
a cleaved log, bleeding?
Red is a carved skull —
hypothalamus hollowed out,
its spinal apex, a perfect hole —
tunnel sucking everything in.
A vulva’s cocoon — where
passion and pain meet —
waiting for an elusive epiphany,
cosmic timelines away.
A balloon, a red meat slab
scored in white-fat striations.
Or is it an ordinary tomato
in shopping aisle’s ordinary?
Defiant, statuesque — beak red.
for R F
My memory is a decapitated head —
in its slow beheading, lies my mortality.
Propped on a blanched, wood pedestal —
it is a silent exhibit, whispering words.
I hear its muted murmur, quietly pellucid.
I pin my gaze on this floating visage,
as transparent-limbed osteo-fossils mill
around a rock-strewn gallery, searching.
Vesicle-like, the brain bleeds pink-white —
stone hues of the Namibian desert.
Weather’s mood and time cast their imprint
on the craft’s grafting. Even chain-saws,
grinders, buffers, polishers, cannot predict
its outcome — its shape, its sculpted intent.
Cranial Red, Bone Red
for R F
A ritual act. You place a section
of my ancestral skeleton on your head —
a quartzite cranial from a desert quarry
brought here from another country
for me, a temporary sojourner
from another faraway country.
Your stone is now ground, carved —
I have etched invisible text on it,
polished my blanched bone to red.
I have changed the rock’s light-pink
to my imagination’s rouge-red —
matching the autumnal hue.
Such are acts of transformation
in pre-destined friendships — intense,
short-spanned — lives shared over
simple meals, walks, work, silence —
chats, chores, conversation.
In this primordial landscape, lives
slow-churn inside out, and back in.
The southern stars, a constant witness
to our heart’s starling-murmuration.