Book Review: Songs of a Solitary Tree by Arun M Sivakrishna

songs of a solitary tree

Book: Songs of a Solitary Tree

Author: Arun M Sivakrishna

Publisher: Partridge Publishing India

Genre: Metaphoric free verse poetry

In One Line: A collection of stark and heart churning verses

Characterisation: Arun writes with graphical details from incidents that we know of. That makes his poetry something that one can associate with. ‎For example, verse 35 that correlates the stampede at Sabrimala and India’s score of 190 against South Africa in 2011 or verse 39 on Shafquat Amanat Ali.

There are some verses that won’t make much sense in the first read. The second time it will. Like ‘A Tiny Feather, An Affirming Motif’.

There are some poems that you will read the third time too. These are those when you have closed the book and suddenly you remember an incident from your life and go back to the poem to re-read it. I, for instance did it with ‘I Call Him Dad’.

Language: Poetry is not what the poet writes but what he expresses in the layers that’s beyond the words. This is best done if he writes in a language that he’s comfortable with. Arun does that well because even though he is comfortable with the Queen’s language, he introduces Indian languages deftly. For example Hindi in ‘ An Eventful Day, Sometime Back’ and the chant of “Jaydev, jaydev” in ‘Ah, Mumbai, I’m All Ears’.

Poetry is not just about rhyme, rhythm and meter. It is more like painting a picture with limited number of words. This anthology of poems has verses that are of varied lengths and no specific meter. Some might not even called it poetry in the traditional sense of the word. They are more like stories that are sublime, true and hard hitting.

The poet also effectively uses imagery and metaphors to convey a plethora of emotions well – right from pain and tears to love and euphoria.

In ‘Birds with Clipped Wings’ he compares memories to birds with clipped wings that:

“…don’t fly away,

But limp around,

Only to come back to

Rip the heart again”

‎The poem on Mumbai sees him comparing people to packed iodized sardines “swaying in tin box of locals”. Probably this was the only line amidst the 50 verses where I giggled.

Plot Setting: ‎One poem is surely set in Mumbai and the word ‘tuk tuk’ in one seems to tell me that it’s Bangkok. I don’t know where the rest are set. But, for once, even one like me who has a penchant for knowing where incidents are happening, I didn’t care. The geographical location didn’t matter. It could rain anywhere, the home coming could be any where, the father dying could be anywhere, the war against the killing of the girl child could be anywhere – the place didn’t matter, the thoughts did.

Book Cover Art: The solitary tree in the almost sepia backdrop is simple ‎and to the point. I liked it. Would like to know if this is a photograph that the poet clicked himself.

How’s the Title: A tree stands grounded in one place for many years. Spreading it’s branches as it grows. The title of this anthology, ‘Songs of a Solitary Tree’, seems symbolic of this. The poet is like the tree, who knows his roots, who stands in one place, who weathers the storms of life without breaking, who grows branches as his circle of family-relatives-friends increase, and who is fearless enough to ‘sing’ songs of happy times and odes of sorrowful ones all alone.

Is The Blurb Catchy: Just two sentences. But the reader knows the kind of poetry the book would hold.

Learning From The Story: Budding poets can learn from his writing style. He doesn’t rhyme the words and he doesn’t follow the rules of poetry that we are usually taught at school. He writes what he feels. To the extent that some even read like entries from his personal diary. For example; ‘An Eventful Day, Sometime Back’ which says:

“Had marathon client meetings,

Productive, some not so great and

Towards the end of the day a reluctant

Revisit to a very difficult customer.‎”

But that’s the beauty of it. He emotes poignantly because he writes from the heart.

And my personal learning? 3-4 new words that got added to my vocabulary. ‘Bokeh’ was my favourite ‘word-learning’.

Areas Of Improvement: In between short lines, there are sudden long one‎. These make you pause and read again to understand the meaning. This pause takes away the flow of the read.

‎Found a handful of editing mistakes too. One is grammar, two are short forms and the rest are the formatting of the title. In the acknowledgement section, seeing ‘sis’ and ‘bro’ instead of sister and brother seemed too casual. Verse 2 has the line “Made it even worser.” Umm! ‘Worser’ was common in the 16th and 17th century but now it is considered non standard. It’s ‘worse, more worse, most worse’. Wondering if the poet was making use of what’s known as ‘poetic liberty’. OK, now grammar. “All my cousins, friends, employers and Spring Tunes, a music group in Face book all have helped….”‎ – The word ‘all’ has been used twice, it is not ‘in Facebook’ but ‘on’ and ‘Facebook’ is one word. Last is the formatting – why is the beginning alphabet of some titles all in caps lock while others have a hubble-jubble of both the small as well as the big hand? Although few, these were acting like tiny pebbles that marred the seamless flow of the beauty of the verses.

I wish the pictures that the collection has were in colour. For a photograph enthusiast like me, they looked like nice clicks. But the black and white has really blurred the images.

What Is ‘Said By Not Saying’: The poems say a lot of things – 60 different underlying meanings! But there’s one other thing too that the anthology as a whole screams out and says – “Don’t be scared to express. Be true to what you feel and see and melody will come out. You don’t need to follow the path that all tread on to create beauty.”

My Reaction When I Finally Closed The Book:   smile - smiley

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13 thoughts on “Book Review: Songs of a Solitary Tree by Arun M Sivakrishna

  1. Arun says:

    Thank you very much for your kind words. Nice to know that the birds set free, have found yet another hand which feed them


  2. Nilakanta Siva says:

    Was a little disappointed that my favourite verse failed to find mention:

    “You never realize I gave up my jaw
    to that creeping crab, for you to enjoy
    the smoke rings sent up like the cupid clouds
    that is shown in the cartoons your son.gleefuly watches.”

    As a cancer conqueror, I found this really touch my heart. Otherwise,a great review befitting a delightful cocktail of poems. If several poems prompted a reread several parts of this review did so too.


    • Aditi Bose says:

      Thank you so much for your appreciation. I guess when there are 60 poems to choose from, we form our own ‘best’ list 🙂 I loved the one about ‘Dad’ because even after a year I cry for the father who is no more with me.


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