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This review is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

Cover of This Is Then, That Was Now
Paul FranzNo Wand Then
This Is Then, That Was Now, Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf) $24.00
Born in Bangalore, India, and raised in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the poet and essayist Vijay Seshadri has now, decades after an itinerant youth in the Pacific Northwest, the settled restlessness of the New Yorker. (He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Sarah Lawrence, in Yonkers.) ‘I’ll meet you if you really want to meet,’ a speaker in his new book declares, ‘But I won’t meet for long, / and not for a minute will I look at you in your isolation, / your human isolation.’ The proverbial New York minute is not to be given lightly. Why not? Because ‘Looking at yours makes me look at mine – / transparencies of each other are they, yours and mine – / and I don’t have time for mine, so how could I have time for yours?’

Seshadri is a poet of uneasy rumination, with several distinct but related styles: digressive meditations in long, loose lines; prose ‘memory fragments’; and shorter poems in stanzas, often casually rhymed. These styles share a plainness and an elusiveness. Consider the new book’s centerpiece, an elegy for the poet’s father. Its first section, written in the meditative style Seshadri has traced to Ashbery and Wordsworth, draws an extended inverse comparison between the elegy’s subject and a river. (Likely the Staunton River in Virginia, recalling the immigrant father and son’s shared obsession with the American Civil War, recounted elsewhere.) ‘Never not meaning what you said, never not transparent,’ Seshadri writes, ‘Never could you have been like this river, / acquiescent to, and companionable with, Earth, / supple, reconciled, patient…’ And so ...


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