Samiksha Ransom reviews Kuhu Joshi’s poetry collection My Body Didn’t Come Before Me (Speaking Tiger, 2023)
I read Kuhu Joshi’s My Body Didn’t Come Before Me in a single sitting while recovering from an illness, and it turned out to be a delightfully refreshing read that was hard to put down till the end. Something that really caught my attention was the structure of the book.
The first poem arrests you and ushers you into Kuhu’s world full of layers, complexities, and varied dimensions. The stakes rise, ideas play off each other, and it feels like you’re riding a wave that only rises but never settles. And that is where Kuhu decides to leave the reader – at the peak of this wave, desperate and craving for more! A very clever structure, for a book of poems.
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The poems are fresh, gripping, and also in a sense, a coming-of-age-through-sickness. More like the self, emerging from sickness – or despite it, however, you may like to put it. There is an underlying current of set-apart-ed-ness in every poem, whether emerging from Kuhu’s illness or her constantly developing strong sense of self.
At the hospital, at school, during MRIs, she is aware of her difference – something she has or lacks, that others don’t. Unfortunately, hospitals and clinics, where she spends a lot of hours, make one very aware of the fact.
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This note is introduced in the first poem itself where she writes,
“And I tell myself / I am beautiful / so I do not feel the need / to be normal. I tell myself / I am beautiful / so I do not feel the need / to be something I am not.”
Kuhu explores the relationships in her life – with her mother, who seems to be the most cherished; her grandmother, her little brother and other women in her life such as her maid and the maid’s daughter. These women, she observes, socializes with, and fends for. Her relationships with her lover(s) and her father are more complex though, and pop up every now and then, in various poems.
However, through all of these relationships and experiences, emerges the most complex yet liberating relationship – the one she shares with herself. I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult the process of writing these poems would have been, and what great personal healing it would have taken to revisit and put out one’s vulnerable moments from a place of strength.
What are poems, if they aren’t brutally honest and vulnerable? Kuhu Joshi understands this. Her poems can be surmised in two words – aggressive liberation.
There are other relationships – with the doctor, the hospital, her body, the cast around her body, the rods inside it, the MRI machines, religion, god, sickness – gosh, overwhelming! And yet she addresses and comments on all of these through her experience of scoliosis.
It ends up sounding like effortless passing remarks, which is perhaps what makes her imagery, which is vivid, even more uncomfortable, and disturbing. Something that sticks to the mind even long after having read the poems.
I want to talk about the title – I have been following Kuhu on Instagram for a long time, and when I learned she had a book out, I sure wanted to check it out. But having learned the title, I knew I had to get it!
The title is a declaration of self-assertion; of the internal, existential self-hood superseding the external and bodily self, a reclamation and demonstration of the self and agency. My Body Didn’t Come Before Me is a beautiful book of poems that nudges you gently but repeatedly, demanding acknowledgment of its presence in the world. A must-read!
Favourite Quote by Kuhu Joshi
Between every roll / I pull down layers / of shirt and sweater / sky grass pull sky grass pull / I cannot bear my flesh / Who taught me this?
Have you read this soul-stirring poetry collection? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!