4 Poems - Paige Lewis
"Do they still count if I'm saving all of my shiniest thoughts for you?"
I have a weakness for the feeling of chanchaltha - a kind of ‘restless ecstasy’, a lightness - de-light, constant movement, playfulness, like the deer in miniature paintings of the Ragini Todi. I have spoken about Todi miniature paintings before, yes, but when I think of chanchal, I think of that prancing deer. The morning is chanchal sometimes, a dancing speck of light reflected off a writer’s gold watch on a wall made dark by blinds. I do not mean an energy that is dissipated or an engagement that is scattered, I imagine, rather, a kind of light that transforms everything it touches, the way flowers nod quietly at the sun. In that touching there is togetherness, like this poem…
This poem is a koyal doing the bharatnatyam head movement yes-no-yes-no - it just can’t decide - no, but wait- it is beyond decision-and-indecision! The sunlight streams through the rafters of this leisure, this playful love that the poet weaves as deftly as small talk. I like Paige Lewis’s timbre of voice very much. I like the way they make small poems that say big things, or inconsequential things without which this life would be empty, and the way they uncoil suddenly in an explosion of stars. They do it, sometimes, mid-poem, turning into something else, a stream-of-consciousness slur that eats its own tail, and just when you’ve gone off into the poet’s day dream, they gently pull you back and remind you of you. I love, also, how they call their lover ‘beloved’ in poems, and the unselfconscious persona that is excited by the world, and can’t stop tasting every bit of it. They are skipping through a buffet of experiences, slipping in sudden bursts of empathy, and leaving a silver trail of pixiedust on the world. The trill of their music rings through their poems and we all know that good poets understand the sonic splendour of words. Is this a chanchal poet? In an interview, they talk about their style of writing, and why poetry allows them space to ‘be true’:
…I’m an incredibly anxious person. When I’m headed to a social event, I’m constantly rehearsing imaginary scenarios in my head and trying to figure out how to react properly to them. I am always grateful for people who like to talk a lot because it takes the pressure off of me. I’m much better at being the observer—a quiet absorber. One wonderful thing about writing poetry is that I’m free from that pressure of the immediate response that a face-to-face conversation requires. I have as much time as I need to compose my thoughts, to say something exactly as I’d like it to be said.
How cannily Lewis tipsytoes around the room of the self and surrender, ‘you’ and ‘me’, independence and companionship. With what nervous abandon they throw open the windows, peering out to see what is outside, only to compare it with what is within, and to smile enquiringly, because there really isn’t just one answer, is there? I like poems like these, where the questions are speckled shells washed up on the beach of open secrets. But they’re shells from different seas. That line, for instance - “and I think/ about how hard it is for me to believe/ in the first Adam because if Adam/ had the power to name everything,/everything would be named Adam.” - is it from the sky of this poem? Now that it is there, it looks nice, like a cloud that was always meant to be!
The other poem I like from the poet’s collection ‘Space Struck’ is about the golden record - a personal favourite anthology of “cultural events”, a time capsule sent out into space in case there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, and they “like what they see” and would like to make contact.
It is strange, but of all the senses, the sense that feels most real to me after reading a Lewis poem is the sense of touch. It is as if the words have made a noiseless impression on the soft clay of this breathing skin. The questions asked, without ceremony, or in sudden ecstasy, betray an anxiety of belonging, but also, moments of unabashed surrender. This is something unique, an articulation that lets us down gently, echoing an attitude that holds mystery alongside the light of epiphany, and circles back on the joy of not knowing. Read another poem, bite this this synesthetic sharpening of the self on the whetstone of the living world. This is the last Lewis poem for today, I promise.
Die slowly, now.
Note: The poems shared in this commentary are from Paige Lewis’s collection of poetry, Space Struck, Sarabande Books, 2019.
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