Why We Chose Sumita Chakraborty’s Arrow for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club
I took up crochet last year as a way to both rehab the arm I’d shattered on ice-covered concrete the winter before and to pull myself away from social media. It’s a hobby that requires both hands and my attention so as not to lose count of stitches or lose track of where I am in the pattern. There’s a moment when I’m starting a new piece where I look at the handful of rows I’ve completed and I’m pretty certain I’ve messed something up and will have to unravel it all and start over. Sometimes I do, but more often these days I just trust that what I need will appear as I work.
I had a similar experience in reading Sumita Chakraborty’s Arrow, in the sense that her poems engrossed me, especially the longer ones, and took me to places I didn’t expect but somehow needed to visit—but only if I was paying attention to the patterns that weren’t evident at the start of my reading. The poems in this collection reward close, undistracted reading, and the one I want to focus on here is its titular poem.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Arrow, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Sumita Chakraborty, you’ll need to subscribe by July 15!
The lines in “Arrow” are on the long side, nineteen or twenty syllables on average, and the voice is conversational. The poem is in sections, with six lines to a page, mostly, with an occasional three-line section popping up. Each section is marked by a what looks at first glance like a crescent moon, or series of phases of the moon. The first section begins with the line “No one likes an essay that begins with a remark about the birth of Earth. / Still, indulge me.” Now, “Arrow” is one of the last poems in the book, and by this point I’ve already been convinced that Chakraborty can pull off a long poem exquisitely because she’s done so twice in this collection, so I’m ready to indulge this speaker.
The poem’s second section, marked with a single crescent, addresses the reader directly. “Picture, for a moment, ire. Imagine everyone you know wishes you dead. / Imagine their wishes as a planet. World such as this have terrible gravity: / fit to lasso moons, to make them crash to the ground in a blur.” Chakraborty spends a lot of time in this collection exploring these powerful forces, and at this point I’m sensing that she’s aiming big: the images are about planets and eclipses and gravity while the voice is a speaker who is sometimes talking out loud to the world and other times speaking directly to the reader.
I want to say I was just over a third of the way through the poem, which is twenty-four sections long, when I started noticing the larger pattern, the repetition not just of section length and thematic elements, but of the places that particular elements were appearing on the page. I was looking for something because while I hadn’t quite figured out what the marks at the beginning of each poem represented, I trusted that they were there for a reason. The words “course,” “dead,” “eclipse,” “gravity,” “roll,” and “blur” were popping up a lot, all at the ends of lines. But “Arrow” isn’t just one sestina; it’s three sestinas, all interwoven, with one section per page, and with two envois each. And, it all holds together as a single poem.
I can’t even begin to tell you the glee that discovering this gave me. I feel like someone could write a book, or at least a very lengthy chapter, on how Chakraborty pulls this off just in terms of craft. And, it makes me even more excited to revisit this collection with the members of our Poetry Book Club, as well as in our exclusive author chat with Sumita. This book is a treat on so many levels. If you join the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by July 15, you’ll receive your early copy of Arrow and will be invited to take part in our exclusive online chat with Sumita Chakraborty in early August. I hope you’ll join us!