Vol. 2 No. 1 (2022)


A Witch Like You by Shruti Sareen (Review)

Supriya Daniel


A Witch Like You by Shruti Sareen, Girls on Key Poetry, 2021


Source: https://store.pothi.com/book/shruti-sareen-witch-you/


Shruti Sareen’s debut full-length poetry collection A Witch Like You is a collection of emotions traversing in the liminal spaces of time and space that is filled with nostalgia. In the “Acknowledgements,” she elucidates the origins of the title as being part of a dream and further explains how this “ambiguous” (4) word indicates being bewitched, entranced, influenced which is neither good nor bad, positive nor negative, right nor wrong (4). This in fact reflects the essence of this collection, which floats between these extremes of good and evil, narrating her myriad experiences from different stages of her life.


The “ambiguous” (4) is explored mainly through the fluidity in the self and an uncertain relationship with the “other”—the “other” being friend, teacher, lover, mother, land, language, and even the “Split-selves.” The first poem in the collection titled “Split- Selves,” sets the tone of this ambiguity as the poet accords Fate with having split her personality into two. A true Gemini, she is torn between the quiet and the rebel within her, with inheritances both from her father and mother and with certain legacies that she cannot trace. For instance, she lists how her hair is from her mother, forehead from her father, memory from her grandmother and “whobody’s brain” (14). In spite of her belief and perhaps a certain celebration of the post-modern pluralities, she yearns for a unified identity. The yearning, not always for an identity, is a constant emotion that runs through several of the poems. In fact, the first poem, like a model exposition scene of a play, sets the major themes and the setting of the given collection of poems.


The first poem also signals a certain chronological order in which the poems are placed. This poem goes to the very beginning of her birth and to her inheritances. The second poem, “Requiem for a Dream,” travels to her school and her ambivalent relationship with her teacher. The third connects her teacher to her older self who is trying to follow the suggestions of her therapist. The subsequent poems also follow this pattern of revisiting her younger self—as a teenager and college going student. While doing so, she explores her relationship with the people and the places associated with these different stages of life. For instance, “Ode to IP College, October 2010,” “Snapshots,” and “Betrayal: Dedicated to IP College” are a set of poems that follow one after the other, giving different perspectives of her college and the life there. What is noticeable is that more than the narration of events, it is her raw and visceral emotion that springs from these associations and gets eventually filled in the pages with the same intensity.


These kaleidoscopic emotions range from betrayal, love, passion, acceptance, fear and nostalgia; and every other of these emotions again evokes certain people and places. In “Your Fear Brings Me Closer to you,” (36) there is a bond that she tries to portray between herself and the other through “fear.” It is the fear that brings them closer and brings healing to her. This constant overlapping of the emotion with self and other emerges in almost all the poems in this series. This entanglement of emotions then makes the self and the other “Inseparable,” (33) which is very evident in the line, “How do I escape from you now/ without losing myself?” (33). This sentiment is again and again reiterated. For instance, “Because you are/ therefore I am” (50) is reminiscent of her knitted life with the other who becomes part of herself.


There are a series of activities that also are woven into this journey of emotion and bonding with people. Be it the cutting of the hair (44), adorning hair with flowers (42), navel piercing (44), tattoo (47), or wearing a Mekhalo Sador (51), there is again a spontaneous overflow of feelings. As evident in the line, “My hair is emotion for me” (44), the set of activities that are described in the collection has a certain emotional currency to it. Again, these activities are not vainly performed, there is relation to another person that gets weaved through each performance. Like we witness in the poem titled, “A Navel Piercing is an Umbilical Cord,” the act of piercing is “To reach you by becoming you” (46), though the attempt might not be fully realised at any point in time, wherein lies the frustration.


The style of writing is heavily borrowed from the stream of consciousness technique that the likes of Sylvia Plath employed in her poems. A certain foreshadowing of this is explicitly given in the second poem, where she declares that “One day the dream will learn from Sylvia Plath and Lady Lazarus and rise again” (15). She also uses her native language Axomiya and intersperses certain poems with Axomiya. It is not just the language but her experiences—personal, social and political—that gets reflected in the poems. The influence of her native language is twinned with the influences of English Literature. As already cited, Sylvia Plath is conjured now and then in the collection. Few other names and references are Spivak, T.S Eliot, and Keats, which any student of English literature would be able to trace.


As mentioned earlier, there is a certain chronological placement of the poems from her childhood to adult life. It is, however, not just the events but also an evolution of character and self that is filled with bewitching influences. From “Split-Selves,” (the first poem) the collection travels through different thoughts, experiences, influences, and emotions to finally come to the “Reclamation” (the last poem). There is a marked difference between the tone of the first and the last poem. The self-doubt is replaced by a confidence in what she is; perhaps more bruised from the first utterance, nevertheless, an assurance in the scars and bruises. She seems to have come a long way from being unable to find a footing with the mixed inheritances, to a person who knows that she “can still be beautiful” (149).


A rollercoaster ride of a woman’s psyche, this collection of poems is worth the read even if to glimpse at our own apprehensions and uncertainties to finally find hope in the bewitching lines.


About the Author: Dr. Supriya Daniel is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, SRM University AP.