Book-Review

Sense of Enigma (poems) by Jacob Isaac

Year: 2012, Price: US$6.95, Publisher: Media House: Delhi, ISBN : 978-93-7495-471-3

Reviewer : Dr. Anuradha Bhattacharyya
Department of English, Postgraduate Government College, Sector-11, Chandigarh. (India)
<an6radha@yahoo.co.in>


Joseph Isaac, a poet laureate has brought forth twenty two of his most appreciated poems in a volume titled Sense of Enigma in 2012. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs by John Mathew. They are black and white pictures agreeing with the colours of the paper and ink of the book.

The title poem, Sense of Enigma is a study in psychology where "Evaporation of emotions" and the "Evaporation of desire" are effected by a consciousness of society at the base. The lover implores only to be responded by her ‘reasoning clusters’ and the ultimate suggestion to ‘make a trip’ to an ‘elevation’ of ‘impulses’ rather than the gratification of the senses as the photograph suggests.

By contrast, the cover picture vividly elaborates on the psychology of the poet who is suffering in empathy with the sufferings of humanity in an authentically poetic rendition. The globe as it were is split by injustice into cracking, frothing and smoking fragments which the poet variously laments. In the poem, Indifference, Isaac critiques the "withdrawal vanity of the mind" and the "Prudence of the impulses/Beating the timeless efforts". The poem also refers to the failure of ‘words’ to eradicate both poverty and the indifference of the vain towards poverty.

The last poem, Snobbish Pronouncement reminds the reader of "the legacy of our relations yesterday" where one was subordinate to the rules laid down by another. It urges us to strive for a better tomorrow where "Knocking the power parade of false notions/Mocking the rigidity and walking with the/mandate" will create a new world "Touching real world". In Loading Suggestions the poet exhorts man to give utterance to one’s innermost impulses without restraint. It asks the reader to name the unnamable activities of the mind and give them recognition. The suggestions are powerful as they refer to something beyond the grasp of language. The photograph illustrates how saints from time immemorial have concentrated on the body as the source of all knowledge prior to any tutoring by the society by means of words.

Amazing Ride is a poetic comment on the attitude of the present generation such as ‘emotional haunting’, ‘the liberty of relations’ and the ‘false ego’. It is a compelling poem, expressing the helplessness of the poet to counter this attitude and effect a gentle interaction between divided groups of the society. The first line of the poem sets the tone of amazement and the second line highlights it with the sense of urgency against all odds. It is a profound utterance of ‘anxiety’ and ‘crisis’ in the modern mind which has become a kind of ‘acquired mouthpiece’ to mete out ‘the required current versions’. The poem complains not only about the condition of the mind as subjected to the dictates of the commercial society but also about the inability of the mind for original as well as spontaneous thinking.

Emptiness, vacancy, obsession, hypocrisy, relations, gap, legacy, amazing, impulses, limitations, words, withdrawal, time and rhythm are the most frequently used words in all the twenty two poems. Although written in free verse, the poems achieve rhythm through much use of alliteration and assonance. Sometimes syntax is confused to achieve an effect of complexity forcing the reader to ponder over the lines for meaning. It is more suitable to read the lines aloud to get a feeling of the moods which each of the poems draws one to. The poems are designed to create the sense of enigma the title of the book promises. The publisher might as well pay more attention to the editing of his books so as not to spoil the good effect of beautiful poetry by the reader’s sudden discovery of spelling/printing mistakes.

In his Foreword, Professor Dr. K.V. Dominic who is himself a poet underlines that "the poems are highly psychological and philosophical in themes". They are thought provoking as well as ‘conditioning’ the mind for ‘living art’.

Through this book, Jacob Isaac has proved that the power of poetry lies in startling juxtapositions and highlighting contradictions, whether in the mind or in the social order. He has used loaded words to arouse the reader from stupor and awake to the necessity of thinking apart.

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(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2014)