Local poetry is largely unheard of, especially among the younger generations who were fed mainly on a diet of Robert Frost and E. E. Cummings under the stifling glares of Literature teachers who dangle the prospect of their grades like a noose over their heads.
The sad truth is, it is difficult for an average iGeneration reader to appreciate any form of poetry other than Eminem’s latest hit single. However, Chandran Nair’s latest collection of poems, Reaching for Stones: Collected Poems (1963 – 2009), might just be the book that will cause strangers to poetry to fall in love with the English language all over again; this time, in the comfort of their own couch and minus the threat of a F grade.
Containing 101 poems that he has amassed over 46 years, local readers will find a better resonance with Nair’s wordplay, unlike the works of postmodernist foreign poets, due to influences from growing up in multi-racial Singapore and being the only Indian in a pre-dominantly Chinese neighbourhood during the 50’s.
Most creative writers tend to find themselves falling into the dangerous trap of regularity and monotonicity as they write, but Nair’s third collection of poems – after Once the Horsemen and Other Poems (1972) and After the Hard Hours, This Rain (1975) – is anything but contrived.
A master wordsmith, Nair’s language is clear and concise, trimming out the superfluous yet not compromising on the lyricism that words have to offer. He focuses not on the fancifulness of each individual text on the paper but the complexity of weaving each line and stanza to form a neatly stitched fabric of written communication, syntax and rhythm.
The poems shaped under his careful craftsmanship are accessible to the average reader; yet elaborate enough to satisfy a literary enthusiast.
As a testament to Nair’s writing skills, Prof Edwin Thumboo, the first receiver of the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 1980 and highly regarded as one of Singapore’s pioneers of English literature, described Nair’s work in his foreword as a “a rare privilege for us to share”.
With a number of poems dedicated to his family, friends and acquaintances, Chandran Nair allows his readers to sneak a glimpse of his private life, making the book an extremely intimate experience.
Title: Reaching for Stones: Collected Poems (1963 – 2009)
Author: Chandran Nair
Published by: Ethos Books