Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Better Monsters - Puneet Dutt (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Better Monsters.  Puneet Dutt.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

The poems in the first part of Puneet Dutt's bracing and honest The Better Monsters come from the voice of an outsider.  Dutt's voice has been in camps, heard gunfire at night.  But by the time we are finished Dutt is insider enough that she knows exactly how to reach us.

Whether in Jalalabad or Kabul Dutt's world-weary voice always remembers that:
                                                "to see fighters
                                  from another country with guns
                                  in my local market everyday
                                  not knowing what they were doing
                                  I would hate them"
                                                              Over Cider And Whiskey In Hotel Rooms

Dutt's voice is also inhabited by those same fighters, lost in a world foreign enough to them to allow any extravagance or insanity.

Alien Alien
"he pays cash, that's why he's called Mister."
            - Oswald Joseph Mtshali

never had an education
took a talvar to school
and fled the country

records of Saturday Night Fevers
bell bottom stone-washed jeans
played his youth

eyes closed
he reached Queens

doors closed to his
dark room body
doors always closed
no matter the knock
we were toes and whispers
children of his parent's eyes

he left his records behind
walled open to VHS's
Deep Purple Aerosmith Bon Jovi
another hit

long drives
alone in a white U-Haul
and all the trucks he ever haggled for
that broke down from so many miles

Hey God, I'm just a little man got a wife and family
he knew the songs
the CK jeans
Yankee's cap
they sold him

her and him
two suitcases each
so fast they left us
to get there

Memphis to New Orleans
i asked him
what did you see
criss-crossed veins
alligators and beads
the giant peach
what did you see

dekhna kyah tah
what was there

we'd long for postcards
Mount Rushmore Gettysburg America
5 a.m. and stand
fleamarkets sun under tarp
until now they can't stand anymore

i find them again
on the same street
weary of motels and rest stops
bruised soap souvenirs
of what they've been
back to where they started
97 to 95

from Georgia and back
all along the coast
boxes we'd help make
thought it was a game
hide and seek
perfumes scrunchies barrettes
whatever they could buy

whatever they could sell
always afraid of who was at the door

she kept chipped bottles
Testers without caps
fingered blue RI, America
gifted us Caution: Flammable
and sprayed
stars and stripes

we got through school this way
not being stinky Pakis
go home
we bought
like good greencards
when they asked
we bought
swore allegiance
to clothes and movies
credit card after credit card
found a way to stay

that English
fly tape ensnares flies with appealing colors
Made in USA
so much about
Manifest Destiny
Christopher Columbus

that America
and when they try to make the rent
next month  we have it next month
we scattered
kids and weddings
north and south
they still ask us where
we're really from

implies place
when i slip a hundred in her purse
even when i dye my hair blonde
my tongue lashed by ESL
i can only interpret
a weekend
so many of us
the odds are bet against us
              we alien alien


Time and distance take new shape when you are on the other side of the world from where you started, the earth your toes remember both too far away to touch and too long ago for warmth.

Punnet Dutt's tender and tragic poems seat the reader in the empty space endured by those who are forced to leave their own terra firma, their own culture, their own countries.  Dutt makes it real on the page.

Today's book of poetry thinks that Puneet Dutt talks from both sides of the invisible fence that impedes all our human travails and this encompassing vision serves her well.  As harrowing as some of the moments these poems endure, Dutt's voice ultimately never gives up hope and that's the magic.


it's 4 a.m. and clear
             13 degrees centigrade
             in Jalalabad

             Google can't calculate the drive   the
walk    or how long it will take by TTC
             only shows the expanse of impossible
             the mouth of the South Pacific
             the fingernail of Chile
             and Hawaii         the crumbs

             i type:
"calculate distance between two coordinates"
and receive
the haversine formula

to calculate distance between two points--that is
the shortest distance over the earth's surface
and the bearing between two latitudes promises
the distance formula   its origin   its use
the length of hypotenuse   is the distance between two

says to just type your equations and let the calculator do
the rest!
to find the distance between two points
(X1,Y1) and (X2,Y2)
all that you need to do is use the--

                but all i want to know is
how far
from daughter
from mother
from herself she will be
                from me
when she returns


Our morning read was a little more low key than usual.  Apparently our entire staff, moi included, decided that we could drink all the red wine we could find in the bar.  Amateurs that we are we left three bottles standing at the end of the night but we'd admirably polished off several of their friends. The morning read was subdued intensity tempered by aspirin.  But Dutt's voice was clear, despite our fumbling efforts, these poems worked.  They have been tempered over hotter flame then any of us will endure.

Reasons To Throw Stones

America begins
this way
48 Trenton St.
where i slowly ask
what i'd thought of for a year--
why did you leave me behind?

she sniffs and
immediately pulls me toward a bath alarmed
by the size of my long loose undergarments
stitched in India elastic frills and ribbons at
each end you can't wear those!
i'll have to take you
sluicing me over the head with measuring
cups of soap

immediately America begins with a vigorous
scrubbing immediately i change and please so
immediately i know America is not for big
open questions my mother brandishes card
after card slashing through lines builds my
closed of each auditions next day don't give
them reasons to throw stones this she gives me
now i arrive in Canada i don't know what to
do immediately when i arrive to Canada what
to do immediately?


Today's book of poetry thought Puneet Dutt's poems were human in a way that allowed all readers to get to the center of them.  But once there Dutt isn't reluctant to insist you see the battles and the battle scars from a new position.  Dutt aims for The Better Monsters amongst us human beings and emerges at the end of her harrowing journey still embracing hope.

That's courage.

Punnet Dutt

Puneet Dutt received her MA in English from Ryerson University. She is the author of the chapbook PTSD south beach (Grey Borders Books), which was a Finalist for the 2016 Breitling Chapbook Prize (Phantom Books). Her work has been published in a number of journals and in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She was born in India and raised in New Jersey. She now resides in Toronto with her husband, where she is an editorial board member at Canthius and a creative writing workshop facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective. She can be found online at

“Fierce and finely crafted, The Better Monsters distils life’s strangeness in poems that bridge the gap between warning and augury. A tour-de-force from one of Canada’s most promising writers.”
     —Jim Johnstone, author of The Chemical Life

“In this gripping first collection, Dutt evokes innocence within and despite the cruel enigma of inevitable arrival. She masterfully connotes this ironic centre—the empty solace of truth telling: ‘so fast they left us/to get there.’”
     —Hal Niedzviecki, Broken Pencil Magazine

“The poems in The Better Monsters teach us how humanity is its own greatest threat but also its greatest salvation. Dutt’s world is one of greater and lesser evils, where the only virtue is the beauty that her language provides. Yes, perhaps her poetry is our best chance to escape our everyday monsters, our monsters within.”                                                                                                                     —Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Pushcart Prize nominated poet, New York University, United Nations                                                     consultant


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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