Friday, 5 December 2014

Images of Life: Creative and Other Forms of Writing - Book Review

The market is now flooded with guides to writing. There are specialist guides for every genre, ranging from the many branches of branch of creative writing and subjective reflections on artistic practice, through to new media, skills-specific workbooks and academic writing guides. Standing out from the crowd is increasingly difficult in the ‘writing about writing’ marketplace. And so many guides simply recycle the same material tediously. In addition, there is the challenge and competition of online guides that distil the mysteries of aesthetic excellence into the seven golden rules of wordcraft. Genuine writers are constantly pressured to teach their craft; their creative space is constantly at war with the busy hoards of the World of Wordcraft.

So it is refreshing to come across a new anthology called Images of Life: Creative and Other Forms of Writing, which has been edited by Saptarshi Mallick and published in Calcutta, India, by Book World Publishers. The project was a global collaboration and therefore accommodates a variety of perspectives and approaches. This approach is refreshing as the creative departures and the critical methodologies take unexpected turns. The editor has wisely avoided a uniformity of tone and sameness of voice.

This book is neither a textbook nor is it an academic symposium. Rather, we are offered a banquet that will cater for all tastes, without the obligation to relish all of the dishes. This approach respects the unique quality of human endeavour and creativity, rather than imposing the methodological straitjacket of academia and pedagogy. Looking at this aspect of the collection from another point of vantage, the writers have also avoided the ‘lessons of the master’ approach. What we have instead feelings more like a generous offering; these are writers that seem to listen as much as they speak; rather than creative egotism what we are offered is the genial warmth of dialogue and the  exploratory free style of authentic conversation.

While the collection is not encyclopaedic, the coverage is ambitious: poetry (Debasish Lahiri); the short story (Paul McDonald); novels (Sarojini Sahoo); scripts (Jo Clifford); dialogue (Robert Masterson and Seth Michelson); travelogue (Pinaki Roy); book reviews (Pinkai De and Jaydeep Sarangi); reports (Naina Dey); film reviews (Shoma A. Chatterjee and Mini Joseph); and blogging (Jane Prior).

The second section is composed of more subjective reflective essays. Meena Alexander writing about ‘Questions from Home’; Julie O’Yang reflects on creative writing, and Bashabi Fraser contributes both an introduction and an essay on the √©migr√© at home. Saptarshi Mallik has assembled a diverse group of voices who engage with their subject in a manner that is both motivating and inspiring for the creative apprentice.

The journey begins with Bashabi Fraser driving back from Loch Fyne in Scotland. But we also venture out with Homer and then with Derek Walcott. Some of the journeys are more theoretical, taking us through Russian formalism and structuralism, but we are safely guided through the rocky terrain. On the first reading of Debasish Lahiri’s poetry chapter I found myself mainly disagreeing, while on the second reading I was in agreement. So the essays are creatively thought-provoking and often memorably lyrical. The writers have generously shared the distillation of their experience.

This book is an enjoyable and stimulating read that will appeal to students, or to non-students who are embarking on a more creative approach to their writing. A further advantage of this book is that it will help readers to sharpen their critical reading and it will encourage them to consider traditional forms of expression alongside the newer digital media.

Images of Life: Creative and Other Forms of Writing, edited by Satarshi Mallik, with an introduction by Bashabi Fraser.  315pp. Kolkata, India: The Book World.