Joining the Dots: Rochelle Potkar's Four Degrees
by Mrinalini Harchandrai
Four Degrees of Separation
Rochelle Potkar’s material for Four Degrees of Separation was found in the interstitial spaces that loosely hang between relationships. Like the cover jacket that suggests the links between cellular DNA, the poems here show the liaison the poet harbours with and within her selves. “Relationships die before a person/relationships outlive a person,” is the “stray epiphany” at the beginning that sums this up.
From a zoomed-out perspective, the book itself has a rough-sketch structure from which the vines of her stanzas hang. There are seven sections with titles such as I and Her and Them and There. Like a stone cast in still pondwater, the waves extend outwards, beginning with navel gazing self-discoveries, spreading to love interests, to family ties and to associations with the larger social fabric. The poems within these sections offer slices of the poet, giving us delicious fragments of the imagined whole. For instance, the opener ‘Timely’ in the I section is a meditation on an internal clock – “Don’t ask a rose to wait/There is no time in its petals/only the saga of one sunrise/and one sundown” – or ‘Gathering’ in the Them section is about the nutty flavour of perceived family dysfunction, like “Cousin Milton who would talk about everyone’s pants and panties”.
The length of the poems is generally a decent serving, not too clipped, and not too long, a page or two, suitable for an iPad compatible reader. Yet Rochelle maximizes on adjectival description – “a scout-and-guide bonfire night”, “cloud-bitten biscuit suns” and, a favourite of mine, “My Pickwick, Marie, Parle G, Tiger,/Oreo, Bourbon, mall-shelved Belgian,/online baked-and-ordered/same old-same new,/premium cream-crunched love” – as a personalised annotation to invent language where it falls short for her. There is an everydayness to the poet’s themes of selfhood, womanhood, motherhood and town or city hood. But she cuts herself open to share the pain and odd humour in it – “When you ache for something deeply/you break,/shuddering in the slipstream/of a very cold laugh.”
Sensuousness is a tongue Rochelle speaks with ease – “Wet skins always wait to germinate pheromones/from the organic drug/of a blend of moons”. And she paints in the colour of Indian kitsch – “Network of smells, polythene armpits, plastic armbands,/open manholes,/promenades of fruit, vegetable, flower, and a missing park bench./Skyscrapers middle-fingering off blue shanties.” The poet has a special creation too which she calls a “chat poem” as in ‘Midnight Moon’ and ‘Six Minutes’. The concoction is a repartee device with alternating stanzas like a dialogue or, as she desi-fies, a “jugalbandhi”. Like so – “11.54 pm: O woman, my woman…into its volcanic ash./11.55 pm: O man, my man…like a candle in the wind, in the fire.” Literally separating the self from the other by the degrees of voice and emotion.