When I’m looking for something to read, poetry isn’t usually what I dive into. But thanks to a high school project about Sylvia Plath and social media’s fascination with Rupi Kaur, I’ve been trying to expand my horizons. Working through Debjeet Mukherjee’s VOYAGES Volume I - A Collection of Poetry was an interesting exercise in pushing myself to understand the written word in a different format than the dense history tomes that typically clutter my bookshelf. I was relieved to find that Mukherjee is eager to make his poetry accessible to any reader. In the preface, he openly admits that reading poetry can be a challenging experience, which can make newcomers to the genre feel more comfortable. Instead of taking on a pompous attitude, he earnestly encourages readers that they are better at poetry than they may realize.
That being said, I found that Mukherjee’s writing has not yet reached the caliber where I would present VOYAGES to a poetry connoisseur. He has a heavy dependence on simple rhyme (AA/BB/CC/etc. or A/B/A/B/C/D/C/D/etc.) which is not a problem on its own but can become a little tedious when it shows up on page after page. The lines themselves are passable, albeit unoriginal. I’ve seen phrases such as “Let people think whatever they like” (page 74) and “Hope is there till our very end” (page 3) in dozens of movies and books. Of course, everyone has their own preferences, but I would like his poetry to move away from such literal, unmemorable prose and work on a higher plane. To me, symbols, metaphors, and other such devices are part of the joy of poetry. I was also a little confused at the quotes that were beneath each poem — are they meant to be footnotes from the author? Is he quoting someone else, and if so, where is the citation? On the occasion that I did really enjoy a poem, such as “Snowy Winter,” which discusses what it is like to be a refugee, I would have enjoyed a little more context to it. Is it written about him, a friend, or a figment of his imagination? What inspired the poem? The slightly odd quote that followed the poem — “Seasons have a profound impact on the lives of men, Probably because there is no one to feel the weather on Mars!” (page 16) — did not assist me in this mission. I would also like to comment on my thorough confusion about a 2018 poem named “Modern Anne, Frank” (page 9). I’m usually pretty good at figuring out the meaning of a text, but this one escaped me. I dearly hope that I am incorrect in my hesitant conclusion that it is about a breakup, because I would strongly disapprove of a Holocaust victim’s name being used in such context.
However, great growth is seen from his earliest poems, written when he was fourteen in 2011. I think it takes a certain degree of bravery to put out older, less polished works into the world. I would note to readers, though, that since the poems are shown in reverse chronological order, the writing quality generally decreases throughout, which can make it difficult to inspire readers to keep going. In a future publication of Mukherjee’s, I would perhaps enjoy seeing poems grouped by theme, instead of by year. Still, labeling the year is certainly interesting and I appreciated that peek into his writing journey. I hope that Mukherjee continues writing and remembers one of his selected quotes — “[S]uccessful pilgrimages require well-paved roads” (page 18).