“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
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:
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/