Black Coffee – Book Review

I realized I had been reading a lot of prose in the last few months – an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction – but barely any poetry featured in my reading lists. At the most, a few poems in between the prose books – predominantly in different languages when I wanted a break from too much English. And that appeared like a gaping hole as far as my reading was concerned. So this year I decided to fill in that cavity with ballads and verses, and have been making a conscious effort to search for more titles. After the last two books on acrostics, I came across this simpler one comprising (mostly) couplets and (some) verses.

Title – Black Coffee

Author – Suresh Dalal

Genre – Poetry

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“I like black coffee
Because it tastes bitter
It continuously reminds me
of our relationship.”

“Black Coffee” is a collection of Gujarati poems written by Dr. Suresh Dalal. None of the poems are titled. They are either couplets or verses that begin and end abruptly – and the poet’s relationship with poetry comes forth similarly throughout the book; his poetry flows through and from him, with no beginning or end. He touches upon various subjects like language, art, wealth, deforestation, dedications to historical personalities, books, travelling, odes to cities, religion, writing, love, longing, nature, and lots more.

“No poet is a stranger to me.
No one is Russian or Persian
Or French or Gujarati or Bengali.
For me a poet is a poet.
I have a blood relationship with poets.
Different languages, different words…
That’s all.”
“With clipped wings
The whole world is a cage for a bird.”
“Reflections cannot be changed
by changing a mirror.”
“Steps do not go up
nor do they come down.
They remain where they are
Immovable and still.”
I read the English version and I’m not sure how much of it might be lost in translation, but on account of not knowing the original language I had to settle for this one. The English translation comes across as a tad too simplistic – like the poet just put down whatever came to mind, without any effort on language usage. The book does not credit the translator, so one does not know if the poet has translated his own work or someone else is responsible for the translation. This is a difficult book to review because the English version offers nothing remarkable. I am rating it on the basis of the quality of thoughts put down on paper; not range of lexicon per se. There are bursts of brilliance – some of the poems are really good, but the majority fall flat. The book is a tad lengthy, and considering the poems are presented in the form of couplets of verses, there’s quite a bit on blank space on most pages which tends to be a drag while reading. Staying true to its title, “Black Coffee” leaves you with a slight bitter aftertaste. Recommended for a one-time read, or if one wants a short break from prose or any heavy reading. And of course, nothing like it if one is proficient in Gujarati and can read the original.
Rating – 2/5

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