by Joe Winter


In 1994 Joe Winter left London for Calcutta. This volume of his poetry records the experience of being welcomed into a foreign country. But this is a side-effect: the whole is instinct with India, a festival in honour of Saraswati (goddess of poetry and the arts). The first part (that gives the whole its title) is a sonnet-sequence: 50 rhymed and unrhymed 14-liners that accumulated over seven years. Gradually an identification of sorts is made with the city and country in its tangible immediacy and its invisible flame. Arguments with landlords come into it, a half-concealed love story, encounters with place and person, a kind of learning-to-be. The second part is a graphic five-part poem, Earthquake at Kutch, in memory of the victims of the Gujarat earthquake in 2001. It has been described by an anthropologist as “thick”, a reference (to the author’s relief) to the depth of descriptive experience it carries. Then a long poem of a very different nature, a life-reminiscence of an octogenerian. The subject had been a professional soldier and later took up astrology. The Undefeated takes us in four stages (Uncle Kanai, Soldier, Seer, Highway 34) through the life and times of an unusual man. Finally a poetic essay, as it might be called, on the festival of Durga Puja. Each autumn this lights up Calcutta and the whole of West Bengal. Few Westerners are familiar with this Calcutta, a far cry from the unfortunate and misleading stereotype of the city. Meditation on the Goddess in a loose-knitted sequence of 19 poems (each carefully-worked in its different way) conveys the mixture of private and public of any Indian festival; and the extravaganza of the whole. The city comes to life. The volume is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a travel-book. Guest and Host has a quality of the here-and-now, and a sheer poetic abundance, that refreshes the sense not only of India but of living itself.

Joe Winter’s Guest and Host is published by Meteor Books, in agreement with Anvil Press Poetry, for sale exclusively in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and in open market in all other territories outside the European Community, U.S.A., Canada and Australia.