“..Glass-eyed, a mermaid swims in my washing machine, round and round swirls she, till rescued and spun in the dryer and hung to dry forked tail clipped, tears dripping from her ever open eye, detergent from her raven hair. A sad, wet, fish is she..”
– Mermaid: An Amphibian Romance
The above lines aptly convey the disarming informality and passion of the poems. And, there are loads of them in the collection. According to Ravi Shankar, the brave new poetic voice from Palakkad, poetic novellas should capture the plague of love and uprooting, loss and home. Even something as mundane as food becomes sensual under his poetic gaze. In A Strange Place Other Than Earlobes, an anthology of poems in English by five Kerala poets, poetic imagery has a wonderful fusion with basic craft which helps redefine the corporeal, and rescue the adjective from its banal literal meaning. As poet and critic K Satchidanandan says about the volume, “The poems are mostly visceral, direct and palpably sensuous where the human body is central as a source of feelings as well as metaphors.”
Ravi Shankar, “high on poetry,” and an adept translator, is not the only one featured here. There is something very refreshing about this anthology that was born of the relatively young ‘Facebook poets’ movement. The social media platform has become the to-be place for not only poets but also anyone wanting to share their hobbies with the like minded as well as critics. Sreelatha Chakravarthy’s (author and medical practitioner) stumbling upon Bini BS’s piece while browsing through Facebook feed was once such incidence. While going through Bini’s poems, she observed that they were rather interestingly strung together by a certain physicality defined vividly by Ravi Shankar (pseudonym Ra Sh), journalist Binu Karunakaran, and content writer Jeena Mary Chacko (pseudonym Mikim Bizii). This was when the very idea for the anthology was born.
Some time ago, Sreelatha got these poets into compiling an anthology of this genre from their existing works. Incidentally, all the poets belong to the state of Kerala; however, the local influence is hardly palpable in this collection of poems. “The ideas this anthology expresses are universal,” said Sreelatha talking to a daily.
The opening of the 70-poem anthology starts with Bini’s writings. While researching “illness narratives”, Bini found that her academic preoccupations often gave way to poetry. She is opposed to “the hierarchical distinction between the mind and the body which says the mind is superior and the body, stigmatised.” She finds the body’s desires, pleasures and sensuality just as important. Bini’s poetry says in a south India-based daily is a vivid “celebration of the flesh”, full of lush, intimate visuals that “make mysterious the mundane”. Jeena’s poems such as Womb Discourses and A Brief Account of the Body question the gender stereotypical perceptions of the body. “People often define the body by just its appearance,” she says. “I don’t see myself as male or female but as an ecosystem. I see the body as temporal and ephemeral.”