Thayil’s is a distinct and versatile poetic voice. His idiom is the result of a cosmopolitan blend of styles, and is yet, quite clearly, his own. The strength of this writing is that it has been able to locate that elusive, borderless terrain between the musical cadence and the spoken voice, between lyric power and intellectual rigour.
In these poems from a recent book, These Errors Are Correct (published only in India), the theme of belonging is implicated in a variety of idiosyncratic ways: whether it’s belonging to a drug (“the thick sweet amaze of heroin”) or to a tribe empowered by metaphor (“it takes a lot/ of cash to keep me/ in the poverty to which I’m accustomed.”); whether it’s belonging to the hard-won zones between the local and the global, “between the spirit and the flesh” or to the spaces “between/ thought and its correct/ articulation.”
Thayil’s poetry leaves the reader with a sense of danger, of language teetering wildly on the edge of some precipice, between centuries, between continents, between fleetingly improvised realms, suspended somewhere between history and invention, reality and nowhereness.
As a reader, you’re convinced that something’s got to give; you’re convinced that this precarious equipoise between music and metaphor cannot hold. That it does — and sometimes spectacularly — is tribute to the fact that for all its praise of “a mind of sky, of rubber”, Thayil’s work is grounded in an internalised and finely honed understanding of poetic form.
These Errors Are Correct, Tranquebar Books (EastWest and Westland), Delhi, 2008
English, Penguin, Delhi and Rattapallax Press, New York, 2004. ISBN 1-892494-59-0
Apocalypso , Aark Arts, London, 1997, ISBN 1-89917901-1
Gemini-2, Penguin-Viking, New Delhi, 1992. (two-poet volume )
The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets: Bloodaxe, U.K, 2008, Penguin India, forthcoming.
Divided Time: India and the End of Diaspora, Routledge, 2006
Give the Sea Change and It Shall Change: 56 Indian Poets, Fulcrum, 2005
Vox2: Seven Stories, Sterling Newspapers, India, 1997