Followers of contemporary poetry who’ve heard Sonnet Mondal reading his poems at international festivals will know something of the distinctiveness of his voice and the philosophising delicacy of his work. In Karmic Chanting he has assembled many of his most beautiful recent poems. His is a poetry of light and shadow, of shimmering childhood and reflective adulthood: ‘My mind is heavier than my soul,’ he writes, and ‘I wish I had left myself / to the charity of wilderness.’ Here we find something of the tension between inner and outer worlds—and the way one betrays the other—as well as the remembered pain of such perceptions. Here is the poet ‘as a meditating owl / hooting mantras in the zero hour.’ His is a poetry of brilliant metaphors and similes, such as the sight of flags on their flag-poles ‘like fish / trapped by fish hooks’ or the human life lived by daylight assembled for the night as a heap of broken mirrors. A poet of both wilderness and solitude, he speaks to us of the sovereignty of love, of the elasticity and nebulousness of time, but also of the precise knowledge gained at the xiv end of things as he watches a corpse burning ‘in the burning ghat by the sea.’ As he says, so accurately, it’s not that he’s had a favourite face but a favourite perception. Whether he’s thinking of the WhatsApp selfie taken in a glassy arcade in Dubai or the four plastic sunflowers in his bedroom (a harvest from a toxic April in his life), he remains, at all times, the philosopher-poet, the one creating a balancing act between being and non-being. Here, then, is a poetic voice born in the loos, the hot summer winds of Northern India, a voice that speaks to our universal human condition; a poet who speaks to us in a voice as intimate as an eyebrow and as universal as a grandmother.
Thomas McCarthy (Irish Poet and Editor)