Shelf Care: Reclaiming joy in Pooja Nansi's We Make Spaces Divine

Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi (left) shows how spaces can be reclaimed in this vibrant collection. PHOTOS: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY, MATH PAPER PRESS



By Pooja Nansi

Math Paper Press/ 2021/ 156 pages/ $26.75/ Available here

One is often told one must rethink space in the pandemic, but this vibrant collection from Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi shows how spaces can be reclaimed.

This book, coming seven years after her last collection Love Is An Empty Barstool (2013), shows all the benefits of letting your work simmer. It is rich verse, deepened and assured.

Nansi paints a city that she loves fiercely, though one she is not always sure she belongs in - the burgeoning aisles of shopping complex Mustafa Centre, the changing face of Marine Parade, the now-defunct nightclubs that were havens of her youth.

The collection is a mosaic of her past, present and possible futures, from the memories of her family, who emigrated from Gujarat, India, to Singapore, to the pop culture she grew up with.

She throws in references to songs like A-ha's 1985 dance hit Take On Me - and its 2017 acoustic cover, which lands differently more than 30 years later - and Bollywood legends Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit.

"Listen, I keep telling you I haven't met a man who can keep up with me to this beat, let alone handle the rest of me," she imagines Dixit saying.

"I hear a broken heart rattle in every bell on my anklet. I touch the sun and moon with my hips. Somewhere on the shoreline, the tide shifts. Everyone applauds."

The poems also tackle racism and sexism. They are at times raging, sorrowful or bone-weary. "I am so tired my skin feels fragile," writes Nansi in the wake of a litany of micro-aggressions.

Yet above all, the collection is shot through with a fierce and defiant joy, a determination to keep dancing in the face of detractors.

In a time when the pandemic has drawn out distances and deepened social divisions, poems like these are a reminder to make space for yourself and for others.

She writes: "Be that miracle/that listens only to itself."

Shelf Care is a twice-weekly column that recommends uplifting, comforting or escapist books to read while staying home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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