A Book Review of “Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople” by Mandira Pattnaik reviewed by Sara Dobbie

“Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople” by Mandira Pattnaik

The twenty poems of this debut collection illustrate a world of simple people with complicated undercurrents. Drawn together through hardship, toil, and natural disaster, they strive to find strength and joy in one another. “Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople” by Mandira Pattnaik, launching on November 20, 2022 from Fahmidan Press, is a study in provincial struggle, both heart-warming and wrenching at varying points.

     From the first lines of the title poem Pattnaik takes us by the hand to guide us with stunning imagery through the small-town India of her heart and memory. The forces of nature play a large role as an overall theme, and immediately the tone of this ceaseless tug-of-war against the weather is set:

we barricade the windows, against a lashing undue storm,

and on the edge of land

hope for, just hope for, sunshine.

     Like a cross-section of the elements of community, Pattnaik puts her imagined town under a microscope slide by slide, beginning with the terrain. A major strength in these poems is an ability to paint a scene so vividly that readers are immersed in vision. The beauty of the landscape contrasted against the hard labor of the townspeople mixes a love of home with the effort to survive, allowing us an almost visual experience:

it’s an ancient metaled road

curving through Sal and Mahua, upon

the foisted earth and down the seasoned bend.

     Layers of nuance are defused through these pieces, perhaps the most powerful of which being the conflict of femininity. The soul of womanhood is woven throughout, from mothers calling their children to come home, to wives cooking “a watery broth” for their families, from a young woman yearning for a child, to an old woman looking back over life.  Feminine roles, duty and obligations are part and parcel of the storm-weathered quaint town. The woman in “Forever Afternoon” bemoans “I scoop the soil in our backyard, as wives are expected to do.” These subtle reminders of female contributions waft through rhythmic lines, creating a strong impression of deep roots. In “Woman Alone, on a Balcony” Pattnaik disarms us, hailing our attention:

hey there! woman alone!

distracted by fescues and

bleached days.

     Fading youth is transformed into a beautiful moment, a commendable one, and we feel the power of the “woman alone” growing as the poem progresses. It is clear that the foundation of community and family begins with women, as they knit together families with years of love and care.

Family too then, must be addressed and Pattnaik offers a darker portrayal in the haunting “Abeoji” when a girl meets up with her father:

it’s an accursed appointment

late on Sunday night

in streets without names

A boy journeys from the confusion of childhood to become a man in “Erosion.” Again the tone is suffused with a bleaker view, a profound sadness permeating the lines:

Hereto writes,

to his dead mother

unsure of the weave of words,

on parchment paper saved from

the last millennia.

Not lyrics, only cries.

This feeling of impending adversity is expanded on throughout Pattnaik’s exploration of the inhabitants of her storm-weathered quaint town. In “Correlation Between Fatigues and a Simple Cotton Dress” a woman laments the difficulty of separation from her soldier husband. In the ominous “Empty Pitcher in a Flooded Coal Pit” a trapped miner hopes for rescue, contemplating those who wait for him at home.

If they discover him drowned,

this yawning chasm will delicately wrap the

fabric of space for light years to come.

     The promise of this collection is its link to the future. In the closing poem, ‘Now and Beyond” the collective voice is almost chanting a vow, “we, the history of tomorrow, sow and reap the harvest of our deeds.” There iscomfort in the time-honored knowledge that through life’s arduous journeys, through toil and trouble, people can unite and take heart in their homeland, their community, and their family. Perseverance grants endurance and can be attained through joining hands with our neighbor. A part of the self is embedded in its original home, and the lure of ancestry will both pull back and push forward, into the next generation.

Bio: Learn more about Mandira with interview with Fevers of the Mind https://feversofthemind.com/2022/11/08/a-fevers-of-the-mind-quick-9-interview-with-mandira-pattnaik/

Bio for reviewer Sara Dobbie: Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her stories have appeared in Fictive Dream, Sage Cigarettes, New World Writing, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute, Trampset, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Her chapbook “Static Disruption” is available from Alien Buddha Press. Her collection “Flight Instinct” is forthcoming from ELJ Editions (2022). Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites. https://feversofthemind.com/2022/09/08/a-fevers-of-the-mind-quick-9-interview-with-sara-dobbie/

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Sara Dobbie

Q1. When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?

Sara: I’ve always written in one way or another, I can remember writing poems at a very young age about animals and flowers. In high school I started to get serious about writing short stories, and one of my teachers encouraged me to continue. I think my biggest influences have been women writers across different genres, Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf. Everything from Charlotte Brontë to Anne Rice to Miriam Toews.

Q2. Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Sara: I think I always knew I would write, but there was a distinct time when I was about 23 or 24 when I decided that I would work hard to make something happen. I was naïve and figured I could just write something great and find a publisher. I didn’t know how long it would take (20 years!) or how I would do it, but I felt it was what I wanted.

Q3. Who helped you most with writing and career?

Sara: I was always a lone wolf when it came to writing and I have no formal training. Back in the day I would send a typed manuscript via actual mail to a big press and wait 6 months to a year to get the SASE back with a rejection. It wasn’t until I discovered social media and the literary community on Twitter and Instagram that I was able to make real connections, as well as to find a wealth of places to submit to. Through volunteering as a reader at a few online lit mags I ended up making some great friends who’ve supported me and my work, and I’m very grateful to them.

Q4. Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Sara: I grew up in Southern Ontario and the area has definitely seeped into my writing. I’ve set stories near lakes and rivers and relied heavily on water as a theme or a metaphor, which I think comes from living so close to Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and of course, Niagara Falls. I’ve only travelled to a few cities, namely New York, Los Angeles, and Montreal, and I’ve written about them all. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to London, England, and though I haven’t started it yet, there is an idea forming.

Q5. What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Sara: I hope every story I write is meaningful in some way, but I suppose I’d have to say my novel, which is unpublished as of yet. I think I invested the most emotional input into that particular work.

Q6. Favorite activities to relax?

Sara: I love hanging out with my family, having picnics by the water. I love watching movies and reading everything I can.

Q7. What is a favorite line /stanza/lyric from your writing?

Sara: That’s a difficult question. I think opening lines make or break a piece when I’m working on flash fiction, and I use a fair bit of surrealism. As an example in “Beneath a Vacant Sky” which was published at Ruminate Online, I started with “The morning after the moon explodes, Marla wonders if she imagined the whole thing.” I was happy with the scenario that line creates.

Q8. What kind of music inspires you the most? What’s a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Sara: I love all kinds of music, but again, as with my writing influences, the songs that inspire me the most are by female performers. Chrissy Hynde from the Pretenders, Siouxsie Sioux, and Tori Amos are some of my favorites because they tell stories. I think Feist has such poetic lyrics together with a blend of folk/indie/punk music, like in her song “I Feel it All” for example, and that vibe somehow agrees with my whole way of thinking about writing.

Q9. Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc. that you would like to promote?

Sara: I have a flash fiction chapbook that came out July 24th with Alien Buddha Press called “Static Disruption” which is available on Amazon (link included below). I’m also very excited about my first full length collection of short stories, “Flight Instinct” which is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in late October. Pre-orders will be opening soon, so follow me on Twitter @sbdobbie for updates!

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her stories have appeared in Fictive Dream, Sage Cigarettes, New World Writing, Bending Genres, Flash Frog, Ghost Parachute, Ruminate Online, Trampset, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Her chapbook “Static Disruption” is available from Alien Buddha Press. Her collection “Flight Instinct” is forthcoming from ELJ Editions (2022). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, the Pushcart Prize, and is included on the Wigleaf Top 50 longlist. Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites. To read her published works check out her website: https://sarabeth1.wixsite.com/saradobbie