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Review: Dreams that Spell the Light, by Shanta Acharya

Dreams that Spell the Light is a collection about voyaging through life, confronting change and absence, continents left behind, signs and secrets, and the notion of 'return'. It is about a desire to fly free, not nailed to a mast'. One of the finest poems in the collection is Dispossessed, which seems to recount the fate of India's indentured labour to Fiji and the Caribbean:

We knew the islands were beautiful
when we stowed ourselves, leaving the rest to God,
praying to the immortal to bring us here.

Our country is closed in; our days clouded by war.
At night fear rose like the moon
spreading its shroud over death and hunger.

The next poem, Return of the Exile, is what academics might call a 'seminal poem'. It is autobiographical, beginning: After years of wandering, I return / to this strange place, the home I left, / forgotten in the land of my birth. The narrator comes back looking for certainties and finds the mansion, garden, the landscape of my childhood gone. And there is no one to comfort her through the long journey into light / or nothingness, redemption or oblivion ... In the end she manages to break loose, as in Going Home:

Having known many homes, many dreams
you learn finally to live with the freedom of a spirit,
heart like a prairie field, open -

A reviewer could lose his job if he doesn't cavil at some point. Acharya's ear doesn't always tell her when she lapses into prose, as with lines like the following from Beware:

It discourages enterprise and any form of self knowing
engaged perpetually in information processing,
leaving little time and energy for thinking.

The '-ing' endings also jar. Sometimes there is over-elaboration. Why should Venus tell us that I am the goddess of love and beauty . . . / identified with Aphrodite, emblem of fecundity . . . etc? But these are minor glitches. The book contains some humorous poems, like and one about Captain Cook. Acharya paints the English landscape very lovingly in some poems. And the piece de resistance of course is the extended metaphor of the voyage through life which runs like a thread through this fine volume.