Vol VI Speakeasy


This week’s poet Sudeep Sen  is widely recognized as a major new generation voice in world literature and one of “the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene. A distinct voice: carefully modulated and skilled, well measured and crafted” (BBC Radio). His awards, fellowships & residencies include among others the Hawthornden Fellowship (UK), Pushcart Prize nomination (USA), BreadLoaf (USA) . Sen’s many books include: The Lunar Visitations, New York Times, Dali’s Twisted Hands, Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Distracted Geographies, Prayer Flag, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Ladakh, Lettters of Glass: New & Selected Poems|Translations 1977-2012, Blue Nude (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize), and Whispering Anklets. He has also edited several important anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of Modern English Poetry.

He is the editorial director of aark arts and the editor of Atlas. [www.atlasaarkarts.net]

The following extract is from Sudeep Sen’s forthcoming book, Letters of Glass: New & Selected Poems|Translations 1977-2012 [USA: Wings Press]


There is something deeply arthritic about water and pain, the way water seeps into unexpected fissures in bones, the way it conducts pain itself — operatically and electrically.

This morning I woke up, as I usually do, in pain. It was a new sort of pain, a pain that I had not encountered before, so I didn’t know how immediately to respond or manage it. All this while, I had sorted and filed each type of pain into neat bearable files, each with their possible recourse to relief, albeit temporary.

It had rained all night, and this morning it continued without any relief. The sound of persistent rain once provided calm — but all this water-sound, its chaotic decibel, was annoying my breathing, heartbeat, and sight.

Whether my sight was blurring due to water battering my retina’s windscreen or whether it was triggered on by the slow accumulation of pain in my heart was difficult to measure or analyse. Only intensity and volume mattered — cubic litres, millilitres — almost any equation with letters and numbers raised to the power of three. Triadic superscripts — ‘n3’ — there lay some oblique clues, but perhaps only to the initiated or those who wished to be part of its intimacy.

The irony of intimacy is such that the closest in the family seem the furthest away. Their attempt to be interested, in spite of being uninterested, ultimately measures pain and its intensity. Intensity is a peculiar thing — its measurements are tactile and ephemeral, quantifiable and infinite. It is measurable, their heat and depth fathomable, all of this may even have a semblance of being well.

It is the ephemeral that is painful. Water creates all the confusion — its saltiness, its acridity, its mineralised purity, and all compete in ways that chemical equations find hard to support or balance.

Families of electrons, protons, and neutrons speed away, whirring in patterned loops, forgetting all the while that the heart of their orbit may actually feel and breathe. But in science, as in the ambitious ruthless route of success, there is no room for unscientific thought — as if science and the arts, coolness and emotionality were mutually incompatible or different from each other.

I am in pain, and I just want to cry, cry and cry — so that each searing cries can etch some fragment of a note, which has gone unnoticed, so that each measure of pain is no longer diluted for people who listen because they have to.

I wish to paint a canvas that invents new indices of pain and water, for anybody who wishes to listen and bear, for anyone who wishes to understand it, not because they are meant to or rely on sitting comfortably straight-jacketed, but because they are moved by it. We need to be moved, moved by the finer chords of music and paint, so that both electricity and opera can operate as it always did, in tandem.

But heavy heart like heavy water is difficult to dissolve — their melting and boiling points register unusual scales — scales that peal and peel, echo and layer, untying each and every fibre that breath requires in order to survive.


The night ward’s blue curtains that surround me drip colour and deceit — each and every pleated-flute of cloth hiding some half-truths like the half-lives of atoms. Only here, the arithmetic surety of fission does not wish to match the nuclear chemistry of my blood’s trans-fusion.

The night nurse peeps in to assure me that blue is not all black, that red is not grey, that the colour of my skin does not reflect the colour of my life. I wish I could agree with her consolations.

Yards of white and blue linen that wraps my slow generous chill, knows the real secret of my floating corpuscles — the flotsam larvae — their ancient silk, that gently threads my nearly-finished mummy.


Cold blast from an electric vent bites my skin — this comfortable discomfort, prickling my pores bathed in acrid glaze, transforms to frozen gold-salt.

Attaining instant freezing points might be a rare marvel of science; I like this hellishly good-blast that shakes all the embedded molecules in my bones —

bones that are parched in heat, turn to skeletal icicles — a beautiful ballerina-geography of stalactites and stalagmites — each needle-end point towards the other

like the two longing finger-tips in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel — desiring — a touch.



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