Sudeep Sen

4 July, 2023

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
ISBN 978-0-6397-8398-7


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.

Toucan’s Beak

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.

Memory: Head

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.


Sudeep Sen is widely recognized as a major new generation voice in world literature and “one of the finest English-language poets in the international literary scene” (BBC Radio), “fascinated not just by language but the possibilities of language” (Scotland on Sunday). He received a Pleiades Honour (at the Struga Poetry Festival, Macedonia) for having made “a significant contribution to contemporary world poetry.” His prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury), Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann, 2021-22 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize winner), and Red (Nirox Foundation, 2023). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann). Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize), and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, pbs, cnn ibn, ndtv, air & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Random House/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently on a fellowship as a writer-in-residence at the Nirox Foundation (South Africa). His professional photography is represented by ArtMbassy, Rome. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.” Sen is the first Asian honored to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival.

Anthropoceneborderless landfriendshipIndiapoetrySouth Africa

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