“Annus Horribilis”: A collection of poetry that confronts loneliness, relationships and the many labors of love

instead of the moon

a cop’s Day-Glo vest

tangled high up in the branches

mark the anniversary

of you being misunderstood.

So begins the opening poem “Anniversary” in Avinab Datta-Areng’s Annus horribilis — a Latin phrase that translates to a horrible year. Recently published by Penguin Random House, the poems in the collection navigate the multilayered world of frayed friendships, the violence of thinking alone, and ultimately making sense of an increasingly chaotic world.

With titles such as “Ode to My Panic Attack” that likes a panic attack to a thought that is simultaneously “preserving and fucking you” — almost every second poem in the collection is wildly vivid from the previous one. The many parallels between the kaleidoscopic world of Diwali and a moon that seems like a “sick cleric spat it out”, is a refreshing imagery that stays with you.

Datta-Areng sat down with GQ India for a brief chat about the themes of the collection.

GQ: Reading the poems in this collection, one gets a sense that you are in a constant tussle against the status quo.

Avinab Datta-Areng: I think the act of writing itself is inevitably a constant tussle between opposing things, at least for me personally. Right from the beginning, between feeling that one cannot possibly write or even wants to write about anything and yet feeling it’s inevitable and necessary. If by order you mean form, structure, and craft and by emotion you mean feeling — poetry can often seem like a condition of being inexplicably haunted and the subsequent friction of relaying it into a coherent message that can be attempted to be understood.

“Mother” features throughout the collection in different ways. In what ways does confronting the mother give shape to your thoughts?

AD-A: The mother is a central theme of my work, symbolically and literally, and it’s something I’ve noticed myself along the way. The mother’s life or affliction or truth is something that I’ve considered, painfully, to be the source of my process and the reason for the continuity of the larger world. It’s a kind of myth-making, obviously. There are certain key incidents in her life that represent, for me, a silencing, a rupture, but that silencing is also something upon which speech, beauty, everything in the world is composed, which gives “shape to thought,” because she allows Item.

What was your larger frame of reference tying this collection together?

AD-A: A lot of harmful things, both inherited and self-inflicted, become a repetitive pattern through time and in the mind. I guess I wanted to write about the people and the voices living through that or have always wanted to write about them. As for the story behind the book, specifically, I’m afraid anything I say right now will inadvertently be mostly fabrication.

Your thoughts on the state of contemporary Indian poetry?

AD-A: It gets better and better, despite the odds.


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